I grouse about how my husband loses things, but he’s also a great finder. He uncovers his keys, his glasses, and his wallet nearly every week.

Last New Year’s, though, he found a twenty-five-year-old retirement account. It wouldn’t change our retirement, but any more money in the coffers was appreciated as we checked the last boxes for retirement.

 The discovery began with a financial review with our online Social Security statements. We generally checked them each January, but approaching retirement we were a little more thorough.

My husband remembered a small 401(k) his boss set up for their consultancy back in the ’90s. The owner couldn’t set aside funds for himself without setting up an account for David, so the retirement account was created with a small contribution. He changed jobs a couple years after that. 

“What ever happened to that account?” he now wondered.

Finding and consolidating individual and retirement accounts is an important part of retirement preparation. Your main sources of future income will be familiar by this time, but you may have lost track of retirement accounts from employers in your early working years. This is the time to review your career’s financial details.

Your goal is to discover scattered accounts to simplify and combine for your non-earning years. Did you work summers as a student where you or your employer contributed to a retirement account? Have you moved at some point and forgotten about or given up on an insurance or other payment that was owed you? Who might be holding your funds?

A good first step is accessing the Social Security website, where you can view the official list that the federal government is using to track your earnings and contributions. Check out any missing years or employers.

Summer or part-time jobs may no longer be relevant for your Social Security check alongside a long career record, but they may spark a memory of other retirement contributions. I received a letter from Social Security titled “Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information” which prompted me to check on a potential pension with my first post-college employer.

For an errant 401(k) account, start with the employer. Schwab describes the process when the employer no longer exists: “Contact the plan administrator. If you don’t know the name of the plan administrator, search the Department of Labor website for the company’s Form 5500 (5500search.dol.gov), which will list their contact information.” You can also search for unclaimed pensions at: Pensions from Former Employers.

Sometimes insurance companies hold money from disbursements when they can’t locate the owner. Perhaps you are owed money from a personal lawsuit, or you were a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit whose payout never found its way to you.

When financial institutions cannot find the owners of accounts within three years, they are required by federal law to relinquish the money to the appropriate state.

You can pay someone to seek unclaimed property for you, but the information is available for free on the government’s Unclaimed Money website.  This site provides leads on uncovering VA insurance claims, FHA mortgage funds, tax refunds, bank failure deposit money, treasury bills, unclaimed bankruptcy funds, and much more.

In the case of my husband’s missing 401(k), a little sleuthing resulted in the anticlimactic answer that he had rolled it over into a larger tax-deferred account in a previous consolidation effort. Nevertheless, I was grateful that he searched. In his advancing years, his frustrating track record of losing stuff is now matched by his unerring ability to find them, eventually.

As I age alongside him, I find myself using his finder services to great effect. Whether it’s an iPad, an earring, or a bank account set up to take advantage of an offer of free flight miles, he will track it down. It’s a job from which I hope he never retires.

Karen Telleen-Lawton

Karen Telleen-Lawton, Noozhawk Columnist

Karen Telleen-Lawton is an eco-writer, sharing information and insights about economics and ecology, finances and the environment. Having recently retired from financial planning and advising, she spends more time exploring the outdoors — and reading and writing about it. The opinions expressed are her own.