How One Phone Call Made Me Over $11,000 Richer

This is a true and inspiring story!


“Deb,” an old friend of mine who lives in my neighborhood, started teasing me yesterday about the envelopes I’ve told her that I used to get from TIAA-CREF and put aside, unopened. At some point they stopped coming and I stopped thinking about them.

It is perhaps relevant that Deb now works for TIAA-CREF and also that she is, like, ten months older than I am and so is liable to talk to me like she’s Cher and I’m Tai.

“You should call them,” Deb told me. “Give them your social security number and see if they’ve been holding onto your money for you.”

Doubtful, but why not, right? So at 5:40 PM while getting everything together to pick up my kid from Pre-K, I dialed up the TIAA-CREF help line. Here’s what happened next.

[Ring, ring]

ME: [to myself] I’m on a phone! How old school.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Please press a button that corresponds to your reason for calling.

ME: There is no button for this.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Thank you, please wait.


REAL VOICE: Hi, this is a person! How may I help you?

ME: This is going to sound really silly, but I may have an account with you and I’m wondering if there’s any way to check?

RV: Sure! What’s your SSN? … Thanks. And can you verify your full name, birth day, and the last pay period during which you might have contributed to this account? … Great! Yes, you do have an account with us. We’ve been trying to reach out but the only address we have is out of date. Your holdings total just over $11,300.

ME: I’m sorry, what?

DEB: I told you I’m always right!

When I began my last FT job at a nonprofit that has since gone under, I must have agreed to have part of my earnings put automatically into a 403(b), and the company matched my contributions. I remember none of this, so maybe I was under anesthesia at the time, or maybe, like many of us, I signed a lot of papers upon beginning my employment and didn’t retain a strong impression of what they all were.

In any event, I was in that job for four years, and each pay period, some of my money and some of my employer’s money was diverted to a retirement account to which I had never given another thought. And since July 2013, that pile of cash has been sitting there, unnoticed and unloved like little orphan Annie, looking wistfully out the window and dreaming of the parents who are bound to come back and rescue her.

I’m here, Annie, I’m here! I may not be a great steward of funds, but I know enough to know that your current situation, in which you’ve been making zero interest, is sub-optimal. It’s out of the orphanage and into the work-house for you, missy. Er. Maybe this metaphor is failing me.

In any event, the TIAA-CREF lady was quite nice and said that I can call back today and someone will help me transfer my retirement funds into an account that will start accruing some real interest. I feel a little dumb for having lost track of the funds in the first place, and for not taking advantage of them sooner, but hey, I’m on track now, and that’s what counts. Besides, how many times can anyone say they’ve found $11,000? Hey, look what was in the pocket of this winter coat? Enough to fund six months of retirement!

Lessons learned:

  • Mail is annoying. Maybe open it anyway, at least if it’s from a financial institution.
  • Five-minute-long phone calls can make you richer!
  • Try calling TIAA-CREF, or an equivalent company, to see if you too have an orphan Annie retirement account thanks to your employment at some old job. It’s a D1T that could pay — yup, I’m gonna say it — dividends.

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