Retirement & Financial Planning Report

Over a career many workers accumulate numerous and scattered retirement savings accounts, making it hard for them to get a comprehensive view of their retirement savings—and worse, risking that they will leave money behind because they totally lose track of some accounts, according to a study done for the Brookings Institute.

It cited Labor Department data showing that workers between 56 and 63 have had an average of 12 different jobs. “As a result, workers may have to keep track of multiple retirement plans from past jobs, some of which may date back several decades,” it said.

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In particular, it noted that under the growing practice of automatic enrollment—a policy the federal TSP also adopted in recent years—employers create savings plans that employee may not even realize they have because they were not required to take any action to create them.

It suggested creating retirement “registries”—online sites “where people can see all their retirement benefits, including Social Security, employer-sponsored or “occupational” plans, and individual retirement accounts, and find contact information for the administrator of each plan or account.” The governments of some other countries have created such resources, it said, and it might be up to the government to do the same in the U.S. because financial services companies have not stepped in.

It added: “Finding lost or missing accounts or participants is not easy. Several federal agencies offer resources, and states maintain unclaimed property data bases, but – separately and in the aggregate – they are far from comprehensive. As a result, it is difficult to estimate the number of lost accounts or the associated balances.”

It said a GAO report from 2014 found that in the prior nine years “workers had left about $8.5 billion at their previous employers in more than 16 million accounts of $5,000 or less. Including larger accounts, GAO estimated that workers had left behind 25 million accounts. The report does not estimate total lost balances.”

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