How to Handle Abandoned 401(K) Accounts Amid the Great Resignation

Oct 26, 2019


Welcome to McHugh Kathleen R, CPA, the trusted resource for all your finance, accounting, and auditing needs. In this article, we will explore the topic of handling abandoned 401(K) accounts amid the great resignation. As the workforce undergoes a significant shift, it is crucial for employers and employees alike to understand the best practices involved in managing these abandoned retirement accounts. Let's dive into the details.

The Great Resignation and Abandoned 401(K) Accounts

With the rise of the great resignation, where employees are leaving their jobs at unprecedented rates, there has been an increase in the number of abandoned 401(K) accounts. When employees switch jobs or decide to exit the workforce, they often leave behind their retirement savings in their previous employer's 401(K) plans.

This phenomenon can cause various issues for both employers and employees. Employers may face administrative challenges in managing these accounts, while employees might be unaware of their options and the potential consequences of leaving their retirement funds untouched.

The Impact of Abandoned 401(K) Accounts

Abandoned 401(K) accounts can have significant consequences for employers. Firstly, employers are legally required to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities towards these accounts, which include monitoring investments, providing necessary disclosures, and ensuring the accounts are prudently managed.

Failure to meet these responsibilities can lead to penalties and legal consequences for employers. Additionally, these abandoned accounts can negatively affect the overall plan performance, potentially impacting active participants' retirement savings.

For employees, leaving behind their 401(K) accounts can result in missed opportunities for portfolio growth and potentially paying unnecessary fees. Furthermore, keeping multiple retirement accounts scattered across various employers can make it challenging to manage investments effectively.

Best Practices for Handling Abandoned 401(K) Accounts

It is crucial for employers to implement effective strategies to handle abandoned 401(K) accounts and mitigate potential risks. Here are some best practices:

1. Proactive Communication and Education

Employers should proactively communicate with employees regarding the importance of managing their retirement accounts and the options available to them when leaving a job. Clear and concise communication can help employees make informed decisions and avoid unintentionally abandoning their 401(K) funds.

2. Consolidation and Rollovers

Encourage employees to consolidate their retirement savings by rolling over their abandoned 401(K) accounts into their current employer's plan or an individual retirement account (IRA). Consolidation simplifies investment management and allows for better oversight of retirement funds for both employees and employers.

3. Implementing Automatic Rollovers

Employers can consider implementing automatic rollover programs, where small balances in abandoned 401(K) accounts are rolled over to designated default IRAs. This helps minimize administrative burdens and ensures that employees' retirement savings remain intact and continue to grow.

4. Providing Guidance and Financial Education

Offer employees access to resources, such as retirement planning seminars or educational materials, to help them make informed decisions about their abandoned 401(K) accounts. Financial education can empower employees to take control of their retirement savings and make the best choices for their future.

5. Regular Plan Audits

Employers should conduct regular plan audits to identify and review abandoned 401(K) accounts. These audits can help ensure compliance with regulations, uncover any potential issues, and take appropriate actions to minimize risks associated with these accounts.


Handling abandoned 401(K) accounts amid the great resignation requires a proactive and comprehensive approach from both employers and employees. Employers must fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities and implement effective strategies to educate and guide employees about their options. Employees, on the other hand, should be aware of the potential impact of leaving behind their retirement savings and take necessary steps to secure their financial future.

At McHugh Kathleen R, CPA, we understand the complexities of navigating the financial landscape. Contact us today for expert advice and personalized assistance in managing your abandoned 401(K) accounts and other finance-related matters.

John Younger
I never knew managing abandoned 401(K) accounts could be such a challenge during the Great Resignation. This article is a lifesaver for employers and employees wondering how to handle this situation effectively. Definitely worth reading!
Nov 11, 2023
Sarah Saxe
This article provides valuable insights on managing abandoned 401(K) accounts.
Oct 5, 2023