Leave It With Your Former Employer
If you have more than $5,000 invested in your 401, most plans allow you to leave it where it is after you separate from your employer. If it is under $1,000, the company can force out the money by issuing you a check, says Bonnie Yam, CFA, CFP, CLU, ChFC, RICP, EA, CVA, and CEPA for Pension Maxima Investment Advisory Inc. in White Plains, N.Y. If it is between $1,000 and $5,000, the company must help you set up an IRA to host the money if they are forcing you out.
If you have a substantial amount saved and like your plan portfolio, then leaving your 401 with a previous employer may be a good idea. If you are likely to forget about the account or are not particularly impressed with the plans investment options or fees, consider some of the other options.
When you leave your job and you have a 401 plan which is administered by your employer, you have the default option of doing nothing and continuing to manage the money as you had been doing previously, says Steven Jon Kaplan, CEO of True Contrarian Investments LLC in Kearny, N.J. However, this is usually not a good idea, because these plans have very limited choices as compared with the IRA offerings available with most brokers.
If you leave your 401 with your old employer, you will no longer be allowed to make contributions to the plan.
Retiring Early Avoid The 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty
If youve decided to retire or have been forced into an early retirement, you do have options available to help avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty. You are not subject to the 10% penalty if you take a hardship withdrawal. Some of the more common hardship withdrawal exceptions include being deemed totally and permanently disabled, losing employment when youre at least age 55, or having a distribution mandated from a Qualified Domestic Relations Order following a legal divorce.
Withdrawing Money From A 401 After Retirement
Once you have retired, you will no longer contribute to the 401 plan, and the plan administrator is required to maintain the account if it has more than a $5000 balance. If the account has less than $5000, it will trigger a lump-sum distribution, and the plan administrator will mail you a check with your full 401 balance minus 20% withholding tax.
Before you can start taking distributions, you should contact the plan administrator about the specific rules of the 401 plan. The plan sponsor must get your consent before initiating the distribution of your retirement savings. In some 401 plans, the plan administrator may require the consent of your spouse before sending a distribution. You can choose to receive non-periodic or periodic distributions from the 401 plan.
For required minimum distributions, the plan administrator calculates the amount of distribution for the qualified plans in each calendar year. The 401 may provide that you either receive the entire benefits in the 401 by the required beginning date or receive periodic distributions from the required date in amounts calculated to distribute the entire benefits over your life expectancy.
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Alternatives To Rule Of 55 Withdrawals
The rule of 55, which doesnt apply to traditional or Roth IRAs, isnt the only way to get money from your retirement plan early. For example, you wont pay the penalty if you take distributions early because:
- You become totally and permanently disabled.
- You pass away and your beneficiary or estate is withdrawing money from the plan.
- Youre taking distributions to pay deductible medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
- Distributions are the result of an IRS levy.
- Youre receiving qualified reservist distributions.
You can also avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty if early distributions are made as part of a series of substantially equal periodic payments, known as a SEPP plan. You have to be separated from service to qualify for this exception if youre taking money from an employers plan, but youre not subject to the 55 or older requirement. The payment amounts youd receive come from your life expectancy.
K Withdrawal Rules: How To Avoid Penalties
401k plans, IRAs and other tax-advantaged retirement savings accounts are common ways to save for retirement, and millions of Americans pour money into them every year. Its generally wise to avoid withdrawing money from your 401k, as there are often hefty penalties and taxes to consider for early withdrawals.
Sometimes, however, unplanned circumstances force people to withdraw funds from their 401k early. So if you find yourself in a place where you need to tap your retirement funds early, here are some rules to be aware of and some options to consider.
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What Is The Rule Of 55
Under the terms of this rule, you can withdraw funds from your current jobs 401 or 403 plan with no 10% tax penalty if you leave that job in or after the year you turn 55. It doesnt matter whether you were laid off, fired, or just quit.
The distributions are not completely tax free: Like all withdrawals from a traditional 401 or 403, you do have to pay income tax. Only the 10% tax penalty is bypassed in this scenario.
In addition, note that employers are not obliged to allow early withdrawals and, if they do allow them, they may require that the entire amount be taken out in one lump-sum withdrawal. This could expose you to a higher income tax.
This rule applies to current not former 401 or 403 plans. The government does not permit penalty-free withdrawals before 59.5 from plans you had with a previous employer. If you want access to that money under the rule of 55, you would have to transfer those funds into your current 401 or 403 plan.
Ways To Withdraw Your 401
There are several ways to go about withdrawing your money in retirement.
- Rollover your funds: Instead of keeping your money in a 401, you can roll it over into a new account to keep it growing in retirement with more investment options.
- Take regular distributions: You can contact the financial institution managing your 401 and set up periodic payments to give you a fixed stream of income, much like a paycheck. You can also opt to take the distribution as you need them, as long as you take out the minimum required amount.
- Purchase an annuity: You can also purchase an annuity to ensure a fixed stream of payments.
- Take a lump sum: This is often not recommended by financial experts, but you have the ability to take out the money all at once.
Which option you pick will depend on your financial situation and goals in retirement. A financial planner can help you develop a plan that fits your needs.
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Compare And Contrast Your 401 To An Ira
Your 401 was probably set up through your employer, and it may have gotten employer-sponsored contributions. Plans can sometimes have limited payout options, high administrative costs, or subpar investment choices, however if youve got one of those, you may want to move your funds into an individual retirement account . An IRA is a tax-deferred retirement savings account you can set up and manage on your own. You can establish an IRA with a bank, brokerage, or investment firm and use the account to capitalize on stocks, bonds, and other investment options.
Watch Out For Penalties
If you retire before traditional retirement age, youll need to be extra careful where you withdraw the money from.
Withdrawing from certain accounts before you reach the retirement age required could result in a 10% penalty for early withdrawals or early distributions.
You can withdraw money from IRAs and 401s without a penalty after reaching age 59 ½. Withdrawing before that age could result in penalties on 401 and IRA distributions.
There is a special rule for 401 accounts that may allow you to withdraw funds at age 55 without an early withdrawal penalty.
If you were still working at the employer that held your 401 in the calendar year you turn age 55 and retire, quit or are fired, you can withdraw money from that account without penalties.
This only works for money in the 401 at that employer, though.
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Taxes On Roth 401 Plans
Some employers offer another type of 401 plan called a Roth 401. These savings plans take the opposite approach when it comes to taxation: Theyre funded by post-tax income. This means your contributions wont lower your AGI ahead of tax-filing season.
The biggest benefit of a Roth 401 is that because youre paying taxes on your contributions now, you can withdraw the money tax-free later. A few other important notes:
You can begin withdrawing money from your Roth 401 without penalty once youve held the account for at least five years and youre at least 59½.
You can withdraw money from a Roth 401 early if youve held the account for at least five years and need the money due to disability or death.
Roth 401s also require taking RMDs.
Continued Growth Vs Inflation
Remember that your retirement savings accounts don’t grind to a halt when you begin retirement. That money still has a chance to grow, even as you withdraw it from your 401 or other accounts after retirement to help pay for your living expenses. But the rate at which it will grow naturally declines as you make withdrawals because you’ll have less invested. Balancing the withdrawal rate with the growth rate is part of the science of investing for income.
You also need to take inflation into account. This increase in the cost of things we purchase typically comes out to about 2% to 3% a year, and it can significantly affect your retirement money’s purchasing power.
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When You Retire You Have To Decide What To Do With Your 401 Money Generally Speaking You Will Have Some If Not All Of The Following Five Choices: Leave Your Money Parked In The Plan Take A Lump
Keep in mind, not all employers allow retired workers to remain participants in their 401 plan, but if yours does, here’s a quick look at the pros and cons of the various distribution options:
If you need a wad of cash right away, this option will serve that purpose. There are two key downsides: you forfeit the benefits of tax-deferred compounding by cashing out all at once and you’ll have to pay income taxes on your distribution for the tax year in which you take it, which can be a big bite out of your nest egg all at once.
Leave the money as is
Financial advisers often recommend retirees tap taxable accounts first in order to keep as much money growing tax-deferred as possible.
So if you’re retiring and have money outside of your 401 that you plan to live on, you may leave your account untouched until you’re 70-1/2. That’s when Uncle Sam requires all retirees to begin taking mandatory annual distributions from their 401s and traditional IRAs.
Of course, if your plan’s investment choices are very limited or have performed poorly relative to their peers, you might be better off rolling the money into an IRA.
Rolling money into an IRA
This is the option often recommended by financial advisers since an IRA offers greater investment choice and control, and is especially recommended if your plan has few investment options and not very good ones at that.
There are two advantages your 401 has over an IRA.
What Is A Withdrawal Buckets Strategy
With the buckets strategy, you withdraw assets from three buckets, or separate types of accounts holding your assets.
Under this strategy, the first bucket holds some percentage of your savings in cash: often three-to-five years of living expenses. The second holds mostly fixed income securities. The third bucket contains your remaining investments in equities. As you use the cash from the first bucket, you replenish it with earnings from the second and third buckets.
Potential advantages: This approach allows your savings to continue to grow over time. Through constant review of your funding, you also benefit from a sense of control over your assets.
Potential disadvantages: This approach is more time-consuming.
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Early Withdrawals From Roth Retirement Accounts
You may be able to withdraw funds from Roth retirement accounts early without penalties, too.
In general, you can withdraw only the money you contributed without paying taxes or penalties. This is because you already paid income taxes on this money.
Things get more complicated if you withdraw earnings early. In some cases, you can withdraw earnings penalty and income tax free, too.
To withdraw earnings from a Roth IRA without paying penalties or income tax, you must take the withdrawal:
- at least five years or more after you open the account, and
- be withdrawing money because you suffered a disability, or
- youre using up to $10,000 for a first home purchase within 120 days of withdrawal.
If Youre Thinking Of Quitting Your Job
Timing is important here. If your company offers matching contributions, dont walk away and leave that money on the table. Check your plans vesting schedule to see whether working longer will let you vest more in your employer contributions. Also, find out when matching contributions are deposited into your account. Some companies make the deposit every pay period some only once a year. If you leave before that years contribution is made, youll lose it. *
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How Does A 401k Work
A 401k plan is a benefit commonly offered by employers to ensure employees have dedicated retirement funds. A set percentage the employee chooses is automatically taken out of each paycheck and invested in a 401k account. They are made up of investments that the employee can pick themselves.
Depending on the details of the plan, the money invested may be tax-free and matching contributions may be made by the employer. If either of those benefits are included in your 401k plan, financial experts recommend contributing the maximum amount each year, or as close to it as you can manage.
Why Employers Offer 401s
In 1978, when the law authorizing the creation of the 401 was passed, employers commonly attracted and retained talent by offering a secure retirement through a pension . The 401 created an entirely new system, with more flexibility for both employer and employee. One of the ways it did so was by giving employers the option to match employee contributions.
Matching is a very transparent process: for every dollar you put into your 401, your employer also puts in a dollar, up to a certain amount or percentage of your income. Theres no mystery here. If your employer promises to match all 401 contributions up to 5% of your income, and you contribute that amount every month, your employer will match you dollar for dollar, every month. Its a win-win situation. You are doubling your money, and your employer is building a happy workforce.
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When To Take Qualified Distributions
Its important to note that there are other considerations related to your 401 when planning for retirement. The first is understanding when you can start taking qualified distributions thats the technical phrase for tax-free and penalty-free withdrawals from an IRS-designated qualified retirement plan. To pass as qualified distributions, funds are typically withdrawn after age 59 ½ or under some specific extenuating circumstances.
Although there is no penalty to withdraw your money from a traditional pre-tax 401 after age 59 ½, you will still pay ordinary income tax on those qualified distributions.
Traditional Ira Vs Roth Ira
Like traditional 401 distributions, withdrawals from a traditional IRA are subject to your normal income tax rate in the year when you take the distribution.
Withdrawals from Roth IRAs, on the other hand, are completely tax free if they are taken after you reach age 59½ and see out a five-year holding period. However, if you decide to roll over the assets in a traditional 401 to a Roth IRA, you will owe income tax on the full amount of the rolloverwith Roth IRAs, you pay taxes up front.
Traditional IRAs are subject to the same RMD regulations as 401s and other employer-sponsored retirement plans. However, there is no RMD requirement for a Roth IRA, which can be a significant advantage during retirement.
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How Much Income Do You Need To Retire
Hopefully, you’ve already done some retirement planning in advance of making your decision to retire. But if you’re currently in planning mode, a great place to begin is with a retirement savings calculator, which can be a quick way to know if you have enough savings and income to retire. For help determining how much you might need, you could also try a retirement cost of living comparison calculator.
Common Pitfalls Of Using Your 401 After Retirement
You ultimately have three options for how to use your 401 after retirement: Receive your funds, keep them intact, or move them to a different type of retirement account. The ideal way to use your retirement plan depends on your financial situation and how you want to use your money, so consider all options carefully.
Failure to conduct a thorough review of retirement fund options can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars. It can also cause you to face tax penalties or miss out on other potentially high-value investment opportunities.
Meeting with an independent investment advisor can provide an excellent starting point for getting the most value out of your 401. They can help you assess the pros and cons of the myriad ways to use your retirement funds. They can also produce a personalized plan to ensure you can accomplish your financial goals in retirement.
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