On Bureaucracy

Maybe this story is amusing to no one, but me, but I liked it so much, I have to share it. I ended my tenure with the government in late July. I was 11 months short of being fully vested (yes this is a story about retirement accounts, so possibly you may wind up bored to death) which means I left a fair amount of money on the table. I had weighed the options and decided this was the best course of action, so I wasn’t blindsided, but I was disappointed and determined not to lose anymore money in this process. So, once I became settled in my new role, I started the process of transferring the money I did have and could move to my new 401k.

At the government, I had two retirement savings vessels. The first was my pension. My portion of my pension was automatically deducted from each paycheck starting with the very first one. That money is mine, but it’s nearly impossible to move, so it’ll stay there until I retire. The portion of my pension contributed by my employer was what I lost when I left before the 5 year mark. Water under the bridge. The money I’m talking about was in the second savings fund which was a 457b (the gov equivalent of a 401k). While I had the option of leaving that money alone and, again, collecting on it when I retired, 457bs and 401ks and most savings accounts accrue interest based on the amount of money in the account. The more you have in the account, the more interest you accrue in a period when your investment fund is earning money. In case you forgot what that means, prior to 2008, investments in the stock market used to generate returns rather than hemorrhage money. Anyway, it doesn’t make sense to have multiple smaller funds generating smaller amounts of interest when you can have one larger fund generating larger amounts of interest. #econmajor #stillpayingforitsoimightaswelluseit.

Ok, so Step One was to determine what my 457b account needed in order to release the funds. They said, “Fill out this form, have a representative from your new 401k sign it, return THE ORIGINAL FORM, and we will transfer the funds.” Great! So, I called my new plan and they said, “We don’t accept original forms. Everything we receive is a copy. We can provide you with a letter in place of a signature.” Ok. Cool. Called 457b back; they agreed with this plan. Awesome! We are rolling. This is not bad at all.
I gave each fund the information they needed by the middle of October.

On November 5, I got a letter from 457b with the information they needed from me returned saying it could not be processed because they needed the information from 401k. On November 7, I got a letter from 457b with the information from 401k returned saying it could not be processed because they needed the information from me. On November 11, I got a letter from 457b saying my former company would not confirm with them that I no longer work there. Excellent. Everything is going according to plan.

Did you catch that? Because my information came in pieces, it was processed by two people who never communicated with each other and each sent me back the piece the other needed. It’s like The Gift of the Magi only less heartwarming. Also, my old company needs my signature to tell their own plan that I quit? That’s just strange. Luckily, everyone in this process has been exceedingly nice if not outstandingly effective. I called 457b and they told me I needed to return all the originals to them. Only they sent me copies. They have the originals. I know because he told me they were in the system. “Can you link them?” I asked optimistically. “No, but I can notify the people involved, and maybe they can. Call back in a week.” Super. Amazingly, I never broke down screaming “GIVE ME MY MONEY!” throughout any of this, which is a personal point of pride. But seriously, GIVE ME MY MONEY!


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