Missing Assets and Unclaimed Money

Missing Assets: Unclaimed Pension and Retirement Account Search

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► Traditional IRA and Roth IRA
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► Rollover IRA  - Automatic rollovers for non-responsive participants

When employees leave a company with a defined contribution retirement plan such as a 401(k), the majority rollover plan benefits to other tax-qualified accounts themselves. A significant number neglect to do so, however, allowing assets to remain in the plan after employment ends. The Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) amended the IRS code to allow plan sponsors to establish Rollover IRAs for missing and non-responsive plan participants with balances less than $5000.

On 28 September 2004, the U.S. Department of Labor published guidelines establishing safe harbor provisions for rollover distributions that would satisfy the plan sponsor's fiduciary responsibilities to participants under ERISA. The plan sponsor must provide information about the automatic rollover process in the Summary Plan Description (SPD) or Summary of Material Modification (SMM) given participants. They must enter into a written rollover agreement with an IRA provider stipulating the amount of the initial investment, as well as services to be provided, fees and expenses.

The rollover IRA must be established at a state or federally regulated financial institution, such as a bank or credit union, trust or insurance company. The IRA must be rolled over to an investment vehicle that preserves principal, minimizes risk and provides a reasonable rate of return while maintaining liquidity; such as an interest bearing savings account, certificate of deposit or money market fund. Fees and expenses cannot exceed those normally charged by the provider for comparable IRAs.  

Missing Money and Abandoned Funds Search

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► Lost or Unclaimed IRA Individual Retirement Accounts 

There is no limit to the number of Individual Retirement Accounts that an individual can have. IRAs may contain a variety of investments including bank accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds, precious metals, commodities, and even real estate; but half of all IRAs are administered by and invested in various mutual funds. About one-third are held in brokerage accounts, while bank deposits and life insurance annuities make up the remainder.

Earnings on Traditional IRAs grow on a tax-deferred basis until withdrawals begin. About 15% of IRAs - totaling some $450 million - are held by those aged 70 and above. The average account value is around $100,000.

Due to the long term nature of this type of investment, each year large numbers of owners and heirs - who may not be aware of a deceased family member's IRA or rollover 401(k) - fail to claim accounts to which they're entitled.

While unclaimed 401(k) retirement plan assets are subject to federal guidelines mandated by ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, most dormant and forgotten IRAs at banks, brokerages and insurance companies are not.

They come under the purview of state unclaimed property statutes, whereby a trustee takes custody of the funds based on a legal doctrine known as ‘escheat.’  It’s important to note, however, that in some cases 401(k) plan assets can lose their ERISA pre-emption and become subject to state escheat.

The rules for determining how a dormant and unclaimed IRA is treated depend on the type of account and the owner’s state of residence. Generally speaking, a Traditional IRA is considered unclaimed if a withdrawal is not made by age 70½; the age at which non-withdrawal triggers a 50% tax penalty under the IRS code. Both Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs may be considered abandoned if one or more distribution checks remain uncashed, which can occur when the owner reaches age 59½ or before, if early withdrawal is taken.



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