Defining Terms: What’s A 401
A 401 plan is a tax-advantaged retirement account typically sponsored by an employer.
The traditional form of the 401 works much like a traditional IRA: Your contributions in a given year reduce taxable income for that year. In a simplified example, if you earn $75,000 and contribute $10,000, your earnings fall to $65,000, saving you tax dollars up front. Your withdrawals will eventually be taxed, though.
401s differ in a few meaningful ways from IRAs:
- Contribution limits: 401s have much higher contribution limits. These typically change annually, but generally you can contribute about three times as much money to a 401 as an IRA.
- Investment options: 401s typically provide limited investment options, with most offering a dozen or fewer mutual funds. In IRAs opened at brokerages, you can invest in virtually any stock exchange-traded fund , or mutual funds.
- Matching funds: Many employers match employee 401 contributions up to a certain percentage of pay.
Pick An Ira Account Type
There are two main types of IRAs that you can transfer 401 funds to: a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. As we mention above, most people roll over their money into an account that has the same tax benefits as the one theyre transferring from.
For instance, lets say you have a traditional 401 account that allows you to contribute money and deduct it from your taxable income, all while staving off income taxes until you withdraw in retirement. In order to maintain this tax-deferred status, youll need to roll your 401 asset over into a traditional IRA. You still have the option of rolling over to a Roth IRA, though thatll mean youll pay taxes on that money for the current year.
On the flip side, those with a Roth 401 gain the perk of tax-free growth since the money they contribute has already had taxes paid on it. Because of this, the IRS does not allow Roth 401 account holders to roll funds over to anything but a Roth IRA or another Roth 401.
Only you can choose which type of IRA is best for your situation. If you can figure out whether your tax rate is higher now than it will be in retirement, then that should lead you in the right direction. You could also speak with a financial advisor if you have further questions.
When To Roll Over Your 401 To An Ira
Rolling over your 401 to an IRA is possible only if you’re leaving your current employer or your employer is discontinuing your 401 plan. It is an alternative to:
- Leave your money invested in your existing 401
- Rollover to your new employer’s 401
- Withdrawal from your 401, which would trigger a 10% penalty if you aren’t 59 1/2 or older
A rollover or IRA) does not have tax consequences. This would not be the case if you do a rollover to a Roth IRA.
Rolling over a 401 to an IRA provides you with the opportunity to choose which brokerage you want to hold your retirement funds. It may be the right choice if:
- Your new employer doesn’t offer a 401 plan
- You cannot keep your money invested in your current workplace plan because your plan is being discontinued or your 401 administration won’t allow you to stay invested for some other reason
- Your new employer’s 401 plan charges high fees, offers limited investments, or has other drawbacks
- You’d prefer a wider choice of investment options
However, there are some downsides to consider:
- While 401 loans allow you to borrow against your retirement funds, no such option exists with an IRA.
- Transferring company stock can be complicated account, read up on an “NUA strategy” that could save you a lot of money.)
If these downsides aren’t deal breakers for you, the next step is figuring out how to roll over your 401 to an IRA.
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S To Roll Over Your 401
Before you can roll over your 401, youll need to open an account to roll it into. Consider your options, like your new employers 401 or an IRA.
Contact Your Current Plan Administrator And New Plan Administrator
The easiest 401 rollover option is to get your old plan administrator to transfer your balance directly to your new account. This is called a direct 401 rollover, and it frees you from having to worry about tax consequences or early withdrawal penalties.
Speak with your new plan provider about getting an account number, then provide the information to your current 401 administrator. Theyll take care of the rest.
Be aware that not every plan administrator will perform a direct 401 rollover. In this case, the plan administrator cuts you a check for the balance, and its up to you to send the funds to your new 401 plan provider. You have just 60 days to redeposit the balance in your new plan. Otherwise its treated as an early withdrawal that incurs a penalty and income tax liabilities.
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Changing Jobs Dont Forget To Transfer Your 401k Retirement Account From One Company To Another
Founder and President of Hudson Companies, Financial Planner and SEC Registered Investment Advisor
Employees often make the mistake and dont transfer their old 401k retirement account from one company to another when changing jobs. While its perfectly legal to do this, there are financial advantages when you move your 401k to another company. An old retirement account can be transferred to an IRA or a new employers retirement plan.
Here are five reasons why you should consider taking the route of transferring your 401k rather than leaving your old retirement account behind.
How Long Do I Have To Rollover Really Old 401s
Itâs easy to lose track of 401s youâve held at former employers. At the rate Americans change jobs, itâs possible to have 401s outstanding at multiple employers.
Human resource departments and plan administrators can lose track of 401 accounts of former employers, causing them to sit in the plan untouched for years.
There are no specific time constraints with these plans. However, if the plan were to cash out your old 401, youâll have 60 days from the time they terminated the plan to roll it over to another retirement account.
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Roll Over Your 401 To A Roth Ira
If you’re transitioning to a new job or heading into retirement, rolling over your 401 to a Roth IRA can help you continue to save for retirement while letting any earnings grow tax-free.2
- You can’t borrow against a Roth IRA as you can with a 401.
- Any Traditional 401 assets that are rolled into a Roth IRA are subject to taxes at the time of conversion.
- You may pay annual fees or other fees for maintaining your Roth IRA at some companies, or you may face higher investing fees, pricing, and expenses than you did with your 401.
- Some investments offered in a 401 plan may not be offered in a Roth IRA.
- Your IRA assets are generally protected from creditors only in the case of bankruptcy.
- Rolling over company stock may have negative tax implications.
When You Don’t Roll Over
Cashing out your account is a simple but costly option. You can ask your plan administrator for a checkbut your employer will withhold 20 percent of your account balance to prepay the tax youll owe. Plus, the IRS will consider your payout an early distribution, meaning you could owe the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty on top of combined federal, state and local taxes. That could total more than 50 percent of your account value.
Think TwiceThe repercussions of taking money out now could be enormous: If you took $10,000 out of your 401 instead of rolling it over into an account earning 8 percent tax-deferred earnings, your retirement fund could end up more than $100,000 short after 30 years.
If your former employers plan has provided strong returns with reasonable fees, you might consider leaving your account behind. You dont give up the right to move your account to your new 401 or an IRA at any time. While your money remains in your former employers 401 plan, you wont be able to make additional contributions to the account, and you may not be able to take a loan from the plan. In addition, some employers might charge higher fees if youre not an active employee.
Further, you might not qualify to stay in your old 401 account: Your employer has the option of cashing out your account if the balance is less than $1,000 though it must provide for the automatic rolling over of your assets out of the plan and into an IRA if your plan balance is more than$1,000.
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Make The Best Decision For You
When it comes to deciding what to do with an old 401, there may be factors that could be unique to your situation. That means the best choice will be different for everyone. One thing to remember is that the rules among retirement plans vary so it’s important to find out the rules your former employer has as well as the rules at your new employer.
Do also compare the fees and expenses associated with the accounts you’re considering. If you find it confusing or overwhelming, speak with a financial professional to help with the decision.
Benefits Of A Rollover Into A New 401
Distributions at 55: Under an IRS provision known as the Rule of 55, you can withdraw funds from your current companys 401 penalty-free starting at age 55, instead of 59.5 . By combining 401s, you may have access to your older assets at 55.
Loan options: By rolling over an old 401 into a new plan, you may be able to borrow against the account, which is not an option with a 401 that remains with a former employer.
Lower fees: As stated above, the fees associated with your new employers plan may be lower than those of your former plan or a future IRA.
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You May Be Able To Leave Your Account With Your Former Employer At Least Temporarily
Changing jobs is stressful, even in the best of circumstances. If youve lost a job and are scrambling for re-employment, youre likely focused on that. But eventually you will need to figure out what to do with your 401.
If your balance is $5,000 or more, you can leave the money right where it is which will give you time to decide the best course of action for you.
What you should do right away, regardless of the 401 balance in your old plan, and as early as your first day at the new job, is to sign up for your new companys 401 plan. Even if your new employer has an automatic opt-in feature that does not kick in for one to three months and if you rely on that, rather than taking the initiative you can miss 30 to 90 days of contributions and matching funds, Bogosian advises.
After six months, youve got a handle on the job, know youre going to stay and have some experience with your new plan. Youre now in a better position to compare your last 401 plan with this new one, including the diversity of the investments and the costs.
But what happens if the balance in your old 401 is less than $5,000? Your former employer may force you out of the plan by placing your funds in an IRA in your name or cashing you out and sending you a check.
Some companies have recently adopted auto portability meaning your small balance may automatically transfer to your new employers plan. Check with your HR Department or plan sponsor to see if this applies.
Can I Bring My 401 Funds To The Plan At My New Job
Yes. You can transfer your current assets from your old 401 plan or your transitional IRA without having any tax consequences, provided the new employers plan allows for rollovers. This is called a direct rollover. Its another way to continue enjoying the benefits and ease of a 401 plan. Consider these pros and cons of transferring these assets to your new employer’s plan:
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Is It Better To Roll Over A 401 To An Ira
If you like your former employers 401 plan the investment options and the expense ratios on the investments then it wont necessarily be better to roll it over into an IRA. But you may find that if you roll your 401 into an IRA, you may have more investment options. Compare expense ratios and fees to see which option is best for you.
Kaleb Paddock, a certified financial planner at Ten Talents Financial Planning in Parker, Colorado, says a typical 401 plan only has approximately 20 to 40 mutual funds available. But an IRA could give you access to thousands of exchange-traded funds and mutual funds.
Another reason might be, if you want to invest in socially responsible funds or funds that invest according to a certain set of values, those funds may not be available in your 401 or your prior employer 401, Paddock says.
But by rolling it over to one of these large custodians, youll likely be able to access funds that may be socially responsible or fit your values in some fashion and give you more options that way, he says.
Plus, rolling over your 401 to an IRA may result in you earning a brokerage account bonus, depending on the rules and restrictions that the brokerage has in place.
Not Sure How To Get Started
If youre just starting out, and arent sure how to proceed, a target date fund is always a good idea. Sharma says if youre in doubt and need to make a quick decision, these kinds of funds can be a good starting point.
Its basically a low-fee fund offered by companies like Vanguard and Fidelity that has a year next to its name representing the year when youll approximately retire . The fund automatically buys a mix of stocks and bonds and adjusts it over time, he says.
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How A Roth Ira Conversion Can Leverage Currently Low Tax Rates
One of the potentially overlooked silver linings of the past years economic challenges is a favorable income tax environment created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. If youre considering a Roth IRA conversion1 from your 401, youll be paying some of the lowest tax rates in history on those converted assets and doing it all at one time. However, if you went with a traditional IRA rollover, you may pay higher taxes in retirement on your RMDs.
If youve lost your job, or your income level drops, you can convert your 401 assets at your new, lower, tax bracket. Say, for example, you convert your 401 assets to a Roth IRA, you may be paying taxes at a reduced rate right off the bat, explains Markwell. And if taxes rise between now and your retirement target date, at which time youd otherwise take distributions, you will have further benefited tax-wise from that earlier conversion.
Keep in mind that establishing an IRA with efficient growth goals may call for more active management on your part, depending on your retirement goals. A financial professional can help tailor your investments to your individual strategy and also help you revisit and refine that plan as needed.
Establish An Ira Rollover Account
First, you must have an IRA account opened and an account number. You can open an account with your chosen financial institution without putting any money in just let them know that you will be transferring a 401 or another retirement account into that IRA.
Next, contact your old employer or retirement plan administrator , and let them know that you would like to roll your 401 money over to your IRA. They probably will send you paperwork that you must complete. Some companies will process the rollover via phone if you provide them the new custodian’s information and your IRA account number.
Many retirement plans insist on mailing the check to you, and it will be up to you to quickly get it to your new IRA custodian. The IRA rollover must be completed within a 60-day time frame, or it will be considered a taxable distribution.
Some retirement plans will wire the funds or mail them directly to your new IRA custodian. Ask whether they offer that option, and if they do, it may be best for you to let them send the funds directly.
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