Rolling over a really old 401k
September 2, 2015 5:27 AM   Subscribe

I realized recently that I have a 401k from a previous job many years ago that I haven't rolled over. What should I do? I know YANML, but are there any legal issues here?

I would like to rollover this account now and consolidate with an IRA through a different institution than the one my old company used for its 401k plan. I don't know the account number anymore and I think it was set up with my old work email. Who do I contact about this? The bank issuing the 401k? Should I reach out to HR at the company for help? If I call a major investment bank and tell them "I forgot my account number" are they going to be able to help me?

I'm a little paranoid about these things, and I feel stupid for forgetting this. Are there any legal or tax problems I could run into now? Would this be better handled by paying a professional to do it for me?
posted by deathpanels to Work & Money (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd start with the company you held the 401K with. They should still have that information. If not, contact the bank.

If you've done nothing with your 401K that's taxable (and by forgetting it, I'm assuming there's no activity that would be taxable), you should be fine, but first you have to find the information about it.
posted by xingcat at 5:41 AM on September 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Any of those options could work.

You seem anxious about this, and you should reframe your thinking to be less like "what are the consequences for me?" and more like "what are the consequences for them?" because it's your damn money that they've got, and you deserve to know what's going on with it so you can get it. Not sure why they wouldn't answer your tax questions either.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:17 AM on September 2, 2015

I have several old 401ks, and there are no issues to worry about and you can def handle yourself. I. Fact, you do t even have to roll it over if you want to be extra lazy (I am).
Contact the 401k issuer and tell them your situation and that you need to update the address on the account. You might have to verify your old address or otherwise prove it's really the same you. I doubt this would involve calling your old company to verify your work dates but that is era rally the only reason they need to be involved.
Then your statements will come to your current address, and you can decide whether you want to rollover. If you do, it's just a form from your bank or Ira with the info from the 401k.
posted by rmless at 6:19 AM on September 2, 2015

Best answer: This is super common and you're not stupid. Call your old company and tell them you need to roll over your 401k and they will walk you through the whole process. It doesn't matter how long it's been since you worked there.
posted by something something at 6:24 AM on September 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

I had the same issue with a company that I had worked for and an old 401k. The route I took, which was very easy and took no time at all, was to call the HR department at the company I had worked for to get information on the company they were using for our 401k program. They provided me with the information and the phone number I needed to call.

I contacted the company and they simply asked me some security questions to verify it was me. They were able to pull up my account. They emailed me the paperwork to roll over my 401k and everything was taken care of within 7 days.

It is not something to worry about. Once you get in contact with the right individuals it is an easy process.
posted by STwRP at 6:31 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Besides being simple, it is a very good idea to roll your 401k into an IRA. 401k's usually have very high management fees which eat away at your investments. You're likely to save a lot of money over the long haul by moving the money to an IRA.
posted by alms at 6:49 AM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have a 401(k) plan with your current job?
Do you have an IRA?

This is something that could easily be handled yourself.

1.) Call the company that holds your old 401(k) plan and ask them for a check for the current balance to be used to roll over the 401(k) into an IRA.
2.) When you receive the check, visit a brokerage firm of your choice and ask to open an IRA with the check you got. Tell the brokerage firm it must be processed as a rollover deposit (otherwise you'll be taxed on the amount).
3.) Sit back and relax.

If you choose the same company to open an IRA with as holds your old 401(k), they can do steps 1 and 2 together without even sending you a check.
posted by tckma at 6:52 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your former employer may be paying the management fees associated with the 401(k). The funds that you are invested in will probably be in a class with lower fees than you can get in an individual IRA rollover. Once you find out about your account you should try to compare the fees that are currently being charged to those that would be charged in the rollover account.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 7:12 AM on September 2, 2015

I am just about to finally roll over my old 401K which I had from when I worked at Arthur Andersen! (which folded in the early 2000s!) I'm only finally doing it because they are rolling everyone over into something else because I guess Arthur Andersen is truly truly dead now. So don't worry this is not an unusual situation!

I'm going to roll over into my current work 401K because it's easy mostly.
posted by vespabelle at 7:41 AM on September 2, 2015

This happens all the time. Employers are required by law to maintain 401(k)s that meet a minimum balance threshold, so there are tons of people who just leave them be when they move to a new job. If you know who the bank is that is servicing your account, you can contact them and they will guide you through the rollover process. You might have to provide them with some identifying information if you don't know the account number.
posted by bedhead at 8:35 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

it is a very good idea to roll your 401k into an IRA. 401k's usually have very high management fees which eat away at your investments. You're likely to save a lot of money over the long haul by moving the money to an IRA.

This is in no way a sure thing. Depending on where you set up your IRA and which funds you invest in, you may or may not pay lower fees, but if you worked for a giant company chances are they get a pretty good break on fees from their management company.

I'd also be leery of leaving money in your 401k as-is because the plans and plan options can change whenever they like and it sounds like you'rte not getting any communications from your old company about it. Be aware most any financial provider will offer what's called an "IRA Rollover" account-- once money goes from a plan like a 401k into an IRA it can't go back into a 401k, but if you keep the money in a separate IRA Rollover account so it's not comingled with personal IRA money (I have no idea what kind of cooties it has, but such are the vagaries of tax laws) you can move the money back into another 401k in the future if you wind up with an employer plan you like. That offers the most flexibility for your situation (I think).
posted by yerfatma at 10:26 AM on September 2, 2015

One corrective point: Once you find out the custodian and account number, the safest way is not to ask the custodian to write out a check, but rather to have the new custodian of your new IRA make the contact with the old custodian to arrange what is called a "trustee-to-trustee transfer" of the funds. If you have a check made out to you, you have a limited period of time to get it back into sheltered status. You might forget. It might get lost. Let them deal with each other. They do it on a daily basis.
posted by yclipse at 1:20 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

What yclipse said, which I knew (and have done) as a 'Direct Rollover". You open a Rollover IRA account with someone, and then you request a Direct Rollover from your former 401K provider to your new Rollover IRA account. I did this with several accounts last year and it was completely painless - no tax implications whatsoever, I never touched the money directly, and a direct rollover is not a taxable event. Nothing to fear except lower fees and more flexibility in how your money is invested.
posted by namewithoutwords at 4:58 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

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