S To Take Now To Improve Your Retirement Readiness
While the average 401k balance at pre-retirement age is around $600K, that balance still falls far below even the no growth column of the savings potential chart for the same age. And while $600,000 is no chump change, its also probably not enough to retire comfortably for most people.
Needless to say, many people are falling way below their savings potential. But the good news is, its not too late to turn things around.
Search For Unclaimed Retirement Benefits
When all else fails, search for yourself in the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits. Not all employers participate in this service, but many do because it provides benefits that help them meet their legal requirements. It’s a free service, and it only requires your Social Security number.
Roll It Over Into An Ira
If youre not moving to a new employer, or if your new employer doesnt offer a retirement plan, you still have a good option. You can roll your old 401 into an IRA. Youll be opening the account on your own, through the financial institution of your choice. The possibilities are pretty much limitless. That is, youre no longer restricted to the options made available by an employer.
The biggest advantage of rolling a 401 into an IRA is the freedom to invest how you want, where you want, and in what you want, says John J. Riley, AIF, founder, and chief investment strategist for Cornerstone Investment Services LLC in Providence, R.I. There are few limits on an IRA rollover.
One item you might want to consider is that in some states, such as California, if you are in the middle of a lawsuit or think there is the potential for a future claim against you, you may want to leave your money in a 401 instead of rolling it into an IRA, says financial advisor Jarrett B. Topel, CFP for Topel & DiStasi Wealth Management LLC in Berkeley, Calif. There is more creditor protection in California with 401s than there is with IRAs. In other words, it is harder for creditors/plaintiffs to get at the money in your 401 than it is to get at the money in your IRA.
If you have an outstanding loan from your 401 and leave your job, youll have to repay it within a specified time period. If you dont, the amount will be treated as a distribution for tax purposes.
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Your best bet is to visit FreeERISA.com, which can help you track down your old 401 using the following website tools:
- Code search: Find employee benefit and retirement plan filings by location.
- Dynamic name search: Find 5500s even if the plan sponsor’s name changed.
- Instant View: See benefit filings right in your browser instantly.
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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What Happens To Old 401s
401 administrators have different procedures for what to do with left behind accounts. Depending on the amount, they could be distributed directly to you, transferred to an IRA on your behalf, or sent to a separate holding account until you claim them.
Unwilling to bear the burden of maintaining vast amounts of accounts from former employees, 401 plans prefer to unload them any way possible. This can make it challenging to find your old 401s.
Option : Roll Over Your Old 401 Into An Individual Retirement Account
Still another option is to roll over your old 401 into an IRA. The primary benefit of an IRA rollover is having access to a wider range of investment options, since youll be in control of your retirement savings rather than a participant in an employers plan. Depending on what you invest in, a rollover can also save you money from management and administrative fees, costs that can eat into investment returns over time. If you decide to roll over an old 401 into an IRA, you will have several options, each of which has different tax implications.
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How To Check Your 401 Balance
If you already have a 401 and want to check the balance, it’s pretty easy. You should receive statements on your account either on paper or electronically. If not, talk to the Human Resources department at your job and ask who the provider is and how to access your account. Companies dont traditionally handle pensions and retirement accounts themselves. They are outsourced to investment managers.
Some of the largest 401 investment managers include Fidelity Investments, Bank of America – Get Bank of America Corp Report, T. Rowe Price – Get T. Rowe Price Group Report, Vanguard, Charles Schwab – Get Charles Schwab Corporation Report, Edward Jones, and others.
Once you know who the plan sponsor or investment manager is, you can go to their website and log in, or restore your log-in, to see your account balance. Expect to go through some security measures if you do not have a user name and password for the account.
Much of this should be covered when you initiate the 401 when you are hired or when the retirement account option becomes available to you. Details like contributions, company matching, and information on how to check your balance history and current holdings should be provided.
Finding a 401 from a job you are no longer with is a little different.
Read more on TheStreet about how to find an old 401 account.
Contact The 401 Plan Administrator
If your employer is no longer around, try getting in touch with the plan administrator, which may be listed on an old statement.
If youre unable to find an old statement, you still may be able to find the administrator by searching for the retirement plans tax return, known as Form 5500.
You can find a 5500s by the searching the name of your former employer at www.efast.dol.gov.
If you locate a Form 5500 for an old plan, it should have the contact information on it.
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But while this recent bout of inflation is fairly extreme, some degree of inflation is normal, especially over time. In fact, if you’re many years away from retirement, you can bet that pretty much all of your expenses will end up rising substantially between now and the time you leave the workforce for good.
Move Your Retirement Savings Directly Into Your Current Or New Qrp If The Qrp Allows
If you are at a new company, moving your retirement savings to this employers QRP may be an option. This option may be appropriate if youd like to keep your retirement savings in one account, and if youre satisfied with investment choices offered by this plan. This alternative shares many of the same features and considerations of leaving your money with your former employer.
- Option not available to everyone .
- Waiting period for enrolling in new employers plan may apply.
- New employers plan will determine:
- When and how you access your retirement savings.
- Which investment options are available to you.
Note: If you choose this option, make sure your new employer will accept a transfer from your old plan, and then contact the new plan provider to get the process started. Also, remember to periodically review your investments, and carefully track associated paperwork and documents. There may be no RMDs from your QRP where you are currently employed, as long as the plan allows and you are not a 5% or more owner of that company.
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Drawbacks Of 401 Trading
Day trading in a 401 account has some limitations. One of these limitations is that aggressive trading may result in losses if you take too many risks. Day traders buy and sell funds based on daily price fluctuations, and it can be a gamble making accurate predictions. Most investors find it difficult to outperform stock indexes when investing in the long term.
Also, if you break the 401 rules for day trading, the plan sponsor could lock you out from using your 401 to trade. This may occur if you exceed the number of trades allowed within a specific period, or if you take too many risks.
You’ve Found Your Old 401s Now What
Once you’ve located your old 401s, you have a few options. Some come with penalties, some require taxes to be paid, and some don’t require either.
You have the option to cash out all of the funds in your old 401s. However, the IRS will charge you a 10% early withdrawal penalty. In very few cases, can this penalty be waived, so it’s best to leave it saved until you’re at least 59Â½.
Secondly, you can rollover your old 401s into your current employer-sponsored plan. This comes with no penalty or taxes. Because you are rolling it over into another retirement account, you won’t incur any additional costs in doing so.
Lastly, you can consolidate your 401s into an IRA. Like a 401, an IRA is a retirement account, so it’s free from any penalties and taxes. These are held outside of your employer’s 401 plan, but they’re easy to set up and come with many more investment options.
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Find Your 401s With Your Social Security Number
If you don’t have any of the information mentioned above, you’re not out of luck just yet. You can use your social security number to search for and find old 401s.
When you join a 401 at work, you’ll provide your social security number. This ties your 401 to any tax responsibilities you may have but also permanently stamps your 401 to your identity.
There are a couple of places to search for your old 401s using your social security number.
Changing Jobs Options For Your 401 Plan
Make the smartest decisions for your retirement plan as your career evolves.
- Employees who leave their companies have several options when it comes to their 401 plans, and each option has advantages and disadvantages.
- Options include keeping your existing plan where it is and starting a separate one at your new company, rolling it over to an IRA, or transferring it to your new companys plan.
- While its tempting to take a 401 distribution in cash to fund a dream vacation or other treat, it carries serious consequences and is not a good option for most people.
If you have a 401 plan, you are familiar with the benefits afforded by these popular retirement accounts. They are a great way to set aside pre-tax earnings and enjoy tax-deferred investments that can grow handsomely over the years, especially if your employer matches your contributions.
But what will happen to that nest egg if you leave your company to take another job? Maybe little or nothing at all, if you transfer the money to another qualified plan. Or, you might face a big tax bill and a government penalty if you prematurely withdraw funds. It depends on what you decide.
Employees who leave their companies have several options when it comes to their 401 plans, and each option has advantages and disadvantages.
Keep your old 401 where it is and start another one at your new job
Roll over existing 401 assets to an IRA and start another 401 at your new job
Take some or allof the money and run
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Look Through Unclaimed Property Databases
You can also search the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits Opens in new window to find plans under your name.
Once you find one account, you can potentially spot a few more, as theres a possibility you have multiple plans hosted by the same company. The other accounts should come up as you log into the management companys website.
Determine If Your 401 Account Was Rolled Over To A Default Ira Or Missing Participant Ira
One possibility is your employer rolled the funds over into a Default IRA.
If your employer tried to contact you for instructions as to what to do with your account balance, and you fail to respond, you may be deemed a non-responsive participant.
If they are unable to locate you altogether, you may be deemed a Missing Participant.
In either scenario, if the plan is being terminated, your employer may have put the funds in a Missing Participant Auto Rollover IRA.
This is an IRA account set up on your behalf to preserve your retirement assets until they are claimed by you or your beneficiaries under Department of Labor regulations.
To qualify for a Missing Participant or Default IRA, the account balance must be greater than $100 but less than $5,000 unless the funds are coming from a terminated plan, then the $5,000 ceiling is waived.
Finding a Missing Participant IRA
If your money has been transferred to a Missing Participant IRA, you should be able to find it by searching the FreeERISA website.
This search is slightly more time consuming than the national registry. Registration is required to search the database, which contains 2.6 million ERISA form 5500s, covering 1.3 million plans and 1 million plan sponsors.
If you know your money has been transferred to one of these default accounts, you should get it out into a standard IRA account.
Typically, these accounts must be interest-bearing, bear a reasonable rate of return, and be FDIC insured.
Here’s the bad part:
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If You Find The Money
What to do with your 401 funds when you find the account largely depends on where you find it.
If the account resides in your employer’s plan, you do have the option to leave the money and the account there — just note you can no longer contribute money to it.
To get back in the game with your sidelined 401, roll it over into an individual retirement account or a current employer’s 401 plan. That way you can put the fund money to work by investing in stocks, bonds and funds that appreciate in value and accumulate more money for your retirement, on a tax-efficient basis.
What Is A 401k
A 401k is an employer-sponsored retirement account. It allows an employee to dedicate a percentage of their pre-tax salary to a retirement account. These funds are invested in a range of vehicles like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and cash. Oh, and if you’re curious where the name 401k comes from? It comes directly from the section of the tax code that established this type of plan specifically subsection 401k.
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National Registry Of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits
The National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits helps employers connect with their former employees to returned unclaimed retirement accounts.
Using your social security number, they will search their database for any accounts associated with you. If one is found, they will provide you with the contact information for the plan’s administrator. Or if you’d like, they will contact your plan for you.
Then, you’ll receive information and a form to select how you want your 401 sent back to you.
This resource is only for unclaimed 401 reported by your former employers. If they havenât reported your 401, it will not show up in the database.
A Beginner’s Guide To Understanding 401k Plans
The word 401k is synonymous with retirement, but how many of us actually know all the rules around 401k accounts? We’ll walk you through all the finer details, but we also know you’re busy, so we’ve also whipped up this handy table of contents for you, too. Feel free to self-serve some of the most frequently asked questions about 401k plans, or binge it all, top to bottom.
Now, onto the good stuff:
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