What Is A 401
A 401 is a retirement savings plan offered by employers that allows workers to defer a portion of their paycheck into a long-term investment account. Some employers match a portion of contributions, while others just provide the 401 accounts themselves. By investing your money, you let it grow through the power of compound interest. A 401 is just a handful of tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles available. Other options include an IRA for self-managed retirement savings, a 403 for public school employees and tax-exempt organizations, a 457 for state and local government employees and some non-profit employees, and a TSP for federal government employees.
How 401 Rollovers Work
If you decide to roll over an old account, contact the 401 administrator at your new company for a new account address, such as ABC 401 Plan FBO Your Name, provide this to your old employer, and the money will be transferred directly from your old plan to the new or sent by check to you , which you will give to your new companys 401 administrator. This is called a direct rollover. Its simple and transfers the entire balance without taxes or penalty. Another, even simpler option is to perform a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer. The majority of the process is completed electronically between plan administrators, taking much of the burden off of your shoulders.
A somewhat riskier method, Ford says, is the indirect or 60-day rollover in which you request from your old employer that a check be sent to you made out to your name. This manual method has the drawback of a mandatory tax withholdingthe company assumes you are cashing out the account and is required to withhold 20% of the funds for federal taxes. This means that a $100,000 401 nest egg becomes a check for just $80,000 even if your clear intent is to move the money into another plan.
Option : Cashing Out Your 401
While withdrawing your money is an option, in most circumstances, it means those funds will not be there when you need them in retirement. In addition, cashing out your 401 generally means you’ll have to pay taxes on the withdrawal, and there’s typically an additional 10% tax penalty if you’re younger than 59½, unless you left your employer in the calendar year you turned 55 or older.
Net unrealized appreciation: special considerations for employer stockIf you own stock in your former employer and that stock has increased in value from your original investment, you may be able to receive special tax treatment on these securities. This is referred to as net unrealized appreciation . If you roll the employer stock into a traditional or Roth IRA or move it to your new employers plan, the ability to use the NUA strategy is lost. NUA rules are complex. If you’re considering NUA, we suggest consulting with a tax professional prior to making any decisions on distributions from your existing plan.
Should I roll over my 401?The decision about whether to roll over your 401 is dependent on your individual situation. A financial advisor will work with you to help identify your goals and determine what’s important to you. By understanding your investment personality, he or she will be able to advise if rolling over your 401 is the best option for you.
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What Happens To My 401 If I Quit My Job
You have several choices. You can leave your 401 with your former employer or roll it into a new employers plan. You can also roll over your 401 into an individual retirement account . Another option is to cash out your 401, but that may result in an early withdrawal penalty, plus youll have to pay taxes on the full amount.
Traditional Vs Roth: Which Type Of Ira Should I Roll My 401 Into
Now, the type of rollover IRA you transfer your money into depends on what type of 401 youre rolling over.
If you had a traditional 401, you can transfer the money into a traditional IRA without having to pay any taxes on it . Likewise, if you had a Roth 401, you could roll the money into a Roth IRA completely tax-free. Easy, right? Traditional to traditional, tax-free. Roth to Roth, also tax-free.
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Leave Your Account Where It Is
Many companies allow you to keep your 401 savings in their plans after you leave your job. Often that’s only if you meet a minimum balance requirement, typically $5,000. Since this option requires no action, it is often chosen by default. But leaving your 401 where it is isnt always a result of procrastination. There are some valid reasons to do it.
You can take penalty-free withdrawals from an employer-sponsored retirement plan if you leave your job in or after the year you reached age 55 and expect to start taking withdrawals before turning 59 1/2.
Other reasons you may want to keep your retirement plan where it is include:
How To Cash Out A 401 From A Former Employer
Cashing out a 401k from a former employer is not a difficult task. In most cases, you contact the plan administrator for the appropriate paper work, fill it out, send it to the financial institution that manages the 401k, and wait for the check to come in the mail or for the electronic transfer.
In order to cash out a 401 from a former employer, you will likely have to contact the plan administrator at your former place of employment and request access to the paperwork needed to withdraw your funds.
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Roll Over 401 Into An Ira
For those who would prefer not to rely on their new companys 401 plan’s investment offerings, rolling over a 401 to an IRA is another option. Again, rollovers can be direct, direct trustee-to-trustee transfers, or indirect, with the distribution paid to the account owner. But either way, once you start the process, it has to happen within 60 days.
Ford generally favors rolling the money over into the new companys 401 plan, though: For most investors, the 401 plan is simpler because the plan is already set up for you safer because the federal government monitors 401 plans carefully less expensive, because costs are spread over many plan participants and provides better returns, because plan investments are typically reviewed for their performance by an investment advisor and a company 401 investment committee.
What Should I Do With My Old 401
Doing a flip on skis is scary, completing a 401 rollover should not be.
The days of starting a job out of college and working at one company until you retire with a Golden Rolex are long behind us. More likely, you will work for a variety of companies over your career, you may even manage a few side hustles, or own your own businesses along the way. This will often lead to a trail of old 401 retirement accounts, which you probably have no idea what to do with. Dont feel bad you are not alone.
As a Certified Financial Planner, I am constantly asked by people about 401 rollovers, and how to consolidate old retirement accounts. People want to know what will be best for their own financial situation. Before you make a move and transfer your old accounts, you should first understand your options to help make the best choice for your financial future. A fiduciary financial planner can help guide you through this process if you get stuck.
What is a 401 Rollover?
You may be wondering what the heck is a 401 rollover, anyway? Keep reading as we walk you through what you need to know.
When you change employers or enter retirement, you likely have four choices of what to do with your retirement account. Most of these steps will be the same whether you have a 401, Profit Sharing Plan, Cash Balance Pension Plan, 403, or 457 retirement accounts.
Choice 1: Leave the money where it is, in your former employers 401 Plan.
Which road will lead to a secure retirement?
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Option : Roll It Into An Ira
If your new employer doesnt offer a 401 or you dont like their option, you can roll your 401 into an IRA.
Rolling over accounts is easier than it sounds. You may need to open an IRA at a brokerage company and sign a few papers that allow the brokerage to transfer the money into your new account. This option will help keep your balance growing tax deferred and you can continue to make tax-deferred contributions.
When You Should Leave A 401 Plan Behind
All this being said, doing a 401 rollover into an IRA isnt always the best decision for everyone. Doing so comes with a few risks and opens the door for some financial mistakes.
Rolling your money into an IRA might give you lower fees and more options, for example, but that doesnt do you much good if you get sucked into buying investments that arent right for you.
Or you might complete your rollover to an IRA, but then leave the money sitting in cash, which creates a cash drag on your potential returns. This isnt money youre going to touch for a long time, so you need to invest it and keep pace with inflation.
Heres what else to think about before making a final decision, so you can make sure to do whats best for you.
In California, some retirement accounts, such as 401s and profit-sharing plans, may be protected from this. Other accounts, like IRAs, may be more vulnerable. Again, this is not legal advice and if you have specific questions around this, check with your attorney to get clarity on this specific issue. But if you are someone who is concerned about judgments, like doctors who may be at risk for cases brought against them, this is one reason to pause and think before doing a 401 rollover to an IRA.
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Reasons To Avoid A 401 Rollover
There are some cases when it doesnt make sense to roll your 401 into another account:
IRAs are less protected. If you end up declaring bankruptcy later, a 401 offers more protection from creditors than an IRA.
Higher fees. Depending on the situation you could end up with higher fees when you roll an old 401 into a new 401. Check the fees associated with the new account before you move your money.
Limited investment choices. A new employers 401 might have more limited investment choices. If thats the case, you might want to stick with your existing 401 because the assets work better for your situation.
A 401 gives you access to the rule of 55. With a 401, you might be able to begin taking withdrawals from your account penalty-free before age 59 ½ if you leave your employer after age 55. While IRAs dont have this feature, you may be able to emulate it by taking subsequently equal periodic payments from your IRA.
Option : Roll It Into Your New 401
If your new employer offers a 401, you can possibly roll your old account into the new one. You may be required to be with the company for a certain amount of time before youre eligible to participate in their plan.
You can choose to do a Direct Rollover, whereby the administrator of your old plan transfers your account balance directly into the new plan. This only requires some paperwork.
Or, you can choose an Indirect Rollover. With this option, 20% of your account balance is withheld by the IRS as federal income tax in addition to any applicable state taxes. The balance of your old account is given to you as a check to deposit into your new 401 within 60 days. There is one catch, though. Youll need to deposit the entire amount of your old account into your new account, even the amount withheld for taxes. That means using personal cash to cover the difference and waiting until tax season to be reimbursed by the government.
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Why Not Just Leave The Money In The Old 401 Plan
When choosing between two 401 plans, I generally advise clients to favor rolling the old 401 over to the the new employers plan. This is solely for simplicity – because you dont want to have a dozen small retirement plans floating around when you retire.
But just because you should favor the new plan, does not mean it is the right choice. Check out the fees and investment options in the new plan to make sure you are not costing yourself money either through high fees or poor investment choices. If your new plan is undesirable with high fees or poor investment choices, you have another reason to consider rolling to an IRA .
Drawbacks Of A 401 To Ira Rollover
IRA rollovers give individuals more control over their money, but they do come with potential tradeoffs.
Less legal protection: Unlike a 401, money in an IRA may be vulnerable to creditors and civil lawsuits. While blanket bankruptcy protections that 401s enjoy do extend to money that gets rolled into an IRA, those funds may be exposed in other legal proceedings.
Distribution age: The Rule of 55, which 401 investors can tap, does not apply to IRA rollovers. After rolling money over into an IRA, you have to wait to reach age 59.5 to withdraw funds without incurring an extra 10% penalty.
Higher fees: An IRA will give you more investment options than a 401, but you may lose out on access to institutional funds mutual funds that carry the lowest expense ratios and are only available to institutional investors, like 401 plans and hedge funds.
No loan option: Youll also forfeit the option to borrow against your 401. That choice does not exist for IRAs.
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Rollover Your 401 Into An Ira
If you leave a job, you have the right to move the money from your 401k account to an IRA without paying any income taxes on it. This is called a rollover IRA.
If you decide to roll over your money to an IRA, you can use any financial institution you choose you are not required to keep the money with the company that was holding your 401.
Ask the mutual fund company, bank or brokerage that will manage your IRA for an IRA application. Make sure your former employer does a direct rollover, meaning that they write a check directly to the company handling your IRA. If they write the check to you, they will have to withhold 20% in taxes.
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You May Be Able To Invest In Funds With Lower Fees
As a general rule, IRAs tend to be cheaper than 401s. You have more flexibility to find investments with lower fees when you invest with an IRA because its your account that you hold at an institution you choose. Your 401s leave you stuck with what your employer gives you within the plan. Its not out of the question to save 1% per year in underlying fees when you roll over to an IRA.
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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