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I had a 401k plan with a company that I left several years ago and since went out of business and so their 401k plan was rolled over into a generic IRA plan.

I want to roll the IRA over into the 401k plan for my current company. However, the old company had entered my birthdate incorrectly in the account forms. So when I call the company now or submit forms to them, they claim that they are not able to verify my identity and thus they won't talk to me.

What recourse do I have?

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    You need to talk to someone at the IRA custodian to update your account. There are pros and cons to rolling in to an employer 401k, you may not actually want to do that either way. But you don't need recourse, you just need patience and the appropriate person at the IRA custodian. – quid Jun 26 at 22:04
  • What are the cons? – kjgregory Jun 26 at 22:36
  • For the cons, you may want to read this question and its answers. Quick summary: 401k plans have higher fees and offer you less options/control than do IRAs. The main advantage of the 401k is the employer match, which you don't get from a rollover. Note: you can still roll this IRA over into another IRA with a different custodian. Regardless, you want to fix the account so that you have control, even if you leave it with this custodian. – Brythan Jun 27 at 2:47
  • @quid: Why do you think "the appropriate person at the IRA custodian" does not qualify as recourse? – Ben Voigt Jun 27 at 3:30
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    @BenVoigt Probably depends on which sense/meaning each person is using. According to Google it can be either "a source of help in a difficult situation" or "the legal right to demand compensation or payment". At this stage, seeking the first sense is reasonable, but (unless or until the custodian refuses to cooperate), it's probably too soon for the second sense (which, I suspect, is what @ quid is meaning). – TripeHound Jun 27 at 10:38
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The Problem

You obviously have a legal right to control over the IRA. However, in deciding how to get to a position whereby you can reassert that control, it will help to consider things from their point of view:

  • They have a "several years" old, dormant account. It will have certain details associated with it, including the name of the (now defunct) company that ran the original 401k and (what they believe are) the details of the beneficial owner (name, address, date-of-birth, etc.).

  • "Someone" contacts them claiming to be the original beneficiary. That person has (or claims to have) the same name, (presumably) can quote the original company name, might or might not live at the same address, but whose (presumably provable) date-of-birth does not match what they have in their records.

At a time when the threat of identity theft is (at least perceived to be) high, it is understandable if they do not immediately turn control of the account over to you. There appear to be a dozen K J Gregory's on Facebook, so (from their point-of-view) it's quite plausible that the person contacting them is not the same person as the whoever originally owned the account.

In short: they are (almost certainly) not denying you access out of spite or malpractice (that would warrant a legal solution)... they are simply being cautious (perhaps over-cautious) about identity theft.

The Solution (or, at least, the next steps)

You need to remove their doubts that you might not be who you claim to be, and are – in fact – the original owner of the account.

Calling on the 'phone or submitting online is not the way to handle this. As noted elsewhere, customer service people have limited flexibility and online processes have almost no flexibility.

Instead, I would suggest you gather together any applicable evidence you have easily to hand, for example:

  • Documents from your time at the original company, especially:
    • Anything to tie you to the original 401k.
    • Anything to tie the owner of that 401k to your real date-of-birth.
  • Proof of your real data-of-birth.

  • If you have moved since that time, anything to tie you to the address they have on file.

Essentially, you want to show something like IRA number XXXXXXXX (against which they have the wrong DOB), came from 401k number YYYYYYYY and that the owner of that policy had your real DOB.

Send what you have with a firm, but polite covering letter setting out the situation, including your belief that an incorrect date-of-birth got entered somewhere along the line. Include copies1 of whatever supporting evidence you have. State that you believe this demonstrates your right to control of the account, but that they should let you know if there is anything else they require.

Ideally, see if there is a department dealing with unclaimed/dormant accounts that you can send it to. Otherwise, a "dispute resolution" department of something like the "Customer Service Manager".

Only if they are completely unresponsive to this type of approach would I consider "lawyering-up".


1 It's possible they will want to see originals at some point, but I would send copies initially.

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This becomes a legal matter. They are a trust holding an account where you are a beneficiary, and preventing you from exercising your rights regarding that interest.

Escalate over the phone to a supervisor if you can, but don't waste too much time. It is usually way much more effective to write to their regulator. It should state who their regulator is on their web site or on any correspondence you have received. Open a complaint with the regulator. If the regulator has a form on their website, even better, otherwise you have to write a letter.

For the cost of a stamp and waiting a week or two, the resulting difference in behavior can be startling.

I have often gotten a flustered voicemail from someone high up in the executive's office telling me that the issue has already been resolved.

If you don't have luck that way, you can go to court. Get a lawyer, and claim back the money you had to pay him to get them to do what they were supposed to do in the first place.

These are all techniques to circumvent the traditional customer service channels - when they are not working, you have to take another approach. Letters (to the company) in writing; Letters (from the regulator); and Notices (from the court) usually get more attention and escalate within the organization more quickly as the penalties for ignoring them are much more severe. Regulators can put them out of business, and courts can seize their money and assets.

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    Jumping from "over the phone to a supervisor" to "Open a complaint with the regulator" seems a little drastic... a firm, but polite, letter to the custodian would seem a more measured approach. – TripeHound Jun 27 at 10:41
  • The in-between step is sending them a written letter, but often it is not always effective and quite time consuming. – xirt Jun 27 at 11:03

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