How to Find Old 401(K) & What to Do Next

July 27, 2023

In order to understand the significance of the employer-sponsored retirement plan, I think that it is important to understand its history.

Did you grow up in a household where longevity at a company led to a pension and security in retirement? Well, I did. The pension - and all of its perks - encouraged employees to “stick it out” and power through because the prize of a cushy retirement awaited them at the finish line.

That is not the same for the modern employee.

This order of “get a job and stay for the pension benefit” for most ended when congress passed the Revenue Act of 1978. The new legislation included  a section - provision 401(k) - that allowed employees to make tax- free deferrals to their retirement from bonuses and stock awards.

Yet, it wasn’t until 1980 when the 401(k) began to reflect what we know it as today: pre-tax contributions from an employee's salary which helped to spread the retirement vehicle like wildfire.

By 1990, 401(k) plans held more than 384 billion in assets and had over 19 million participants. Just six years later, 401(k)’s held over a 1 trillion dollars and today we see 401(k) plans holding more than 4.8 trillion dollars in assets and it’s the leading engine for a secure retirement in America.

Often, my firm, Yarnway Wealth, comes across new clients that want to secure their retirement but have no idea where to start. The best place is to start with your old retirement accounts.

Below, I outline a 4  step framework on how to plan for retirement starting with your old employer-sponsored retirement plans:


When planning for your retirement, the first step is to gather all of the information on old retirement plans. Today, the average American will change jobs not one, not two, not three but twelve times. With this movement, it is very likely that you’ll have retirement accounts left at other places along the way. According to US News, as of May 2023, there 29.2 million “left-behind or forgotten” 401(k) accounts in the United States which held over 1.5 Trillion dollars in assets.

To locate your retirement accounts, there are four things that you can do. The first - and path of least resistance - is to contact your former employer. They’ll be able to provide you with the financial institution that likely holds your retirement assets. After receiving the name and contact information of the financial institution, you can call them to login to your account to obtain detailed information on your retirement funds.

If your employer no longer exists, the next option is to find 401(k) plan documents. Have an old statement or login? These documents will give you information on the account, its growth and investment holdings. If you know the financial institutions where the funds are held, it’s best to start here.

Next, government agencies hold 401(k) plan information that otherwise plan participants may have forgotten about. By visiting the National Registry of Unclaimed Benefits, you can search for your retirement assets.

If you think there is a possibility that you may have a pension, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation is your one-stop-shop to locate any pension plan assets.

Lastly, if none of these options work for you, by checking your old pay stubs or tax files, you can find retirement account deferrals. If you do see line items for retirement contributions, this is an indicator that the funds were sent to a financial institution. Your best bet is to call the  payroll company to find out which institution the funds were sent to.


Consolidation is a long debated topic in the financial services industry with most advisors taking the options that benefit them the most. In reality, there are only two options that you have to consolidate your investment accounts which each have pros and cons. The options are:

  1. Move your old 401(k) to your new employers retirement plan
  2. Move old 401(k) to an IRA

By consolidating your old accounts, you’ll be able to view your retirement assets in one place, track performance and have a clear view of all of your retirement investments. No matter which option you choose, consolidation can help to bring clarity to your retirement.


One of the pros of moving your retirement funds to an IRA is the structure and planning that you could receive by working with a financial advisor.

When you’ve consolidated your account, this is the time to think about the time horizon for retirement, your ideal life and any goals in-between and your golden years that may be risks to the plan.

When planning for your retirement, you should be thinking about:

  • Not running out of money
  • Tax-efficiency
  • Cost of Fix Expenses
  • Guaranteed Income Sources
  • Medical Insurance

These are the cornerstones of beginning to construct a sound retirement plan.


Locating your old retirement accounts doesn't mean that the job is over. In fact, it only signifies the beginning of the journey towards a secure retirement. To ensure that you are on track to meet your retirement timeline, and income goals it’s important to invest. By looking at today’s cash flow needs, you can plan additional contributions that can help to ensure that the transition into retirement is smooth.

As  mentioned in our blog entitled, 5 Signs That You Might Be a Speculator, if you invest often and consistently you increase your chances of compounding your money over the long term which will help in planning for retirement and beyond.

Trying to find your old retirement accounts and prepare for retirement? You don’t have to do it alone. Schedule your call with Yarnway Wealth Management today.


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