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Ex-Employee Investigates 401(k) Debit

August 13, 2000

Q: During my 14-month tenure with a local software corporation, I contributed to a 401(k) fund. After being asked to resign, I kept my contributions in the fund until recently transferring the money into a better performing fund with the same institution.

During a conversation with an account representative with the mutual fund, I was told that someone had withdrawn $294.

I asked my former employer two months ago about the withdrawal but have not received a definitive response about what might have happened.

I would like to know how much time my employer has to respond to my inquiry, and whether the company is liable for damages, such as lost interest, if it withdrew the money. --A.G., Mission Viejo

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A: First, you should review the plan's summary plan description, which will let you know how to file a claim for benefits.

This document will state how long your employer has to respond to you. If the employer does not respond in a timely manner, or you are dissatisfied with the response, you can seek the assistance of the local office of the U.S. Department of Labor.

If someone has improperly withdrawn assets from your account, you are entitled to have those amounts restored, plus the interest you would have earned on those amounts. However, it is possible that the costs of administering the plan are borne by the plan participants and that this withdrawal simply reflected your share of those administrative costs.

--Kirk F. Maldonado

Employee benefits attorney

Riordan & McKinzie

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