What Should I Do With A 401 From My Old Job
Weighing the pros and cons will help you choose the best option.
Question: I’ve switched jobs a few times and I have an old 401 that Im not sure what to do with. Should I roll it over? Is it OK to just let it sit there?
Answer: In most cases, it makes the most sense to roll your money over into an IRA or into your new 401 plan, if that’s allowed. may or may not be allowable–the specific bylaws vary by plan, so check on that first.)
That said, there are some good reasons to consider leaving your assets within the confines of a former employer’s plan.
Here are some considerations to help you weigh the pros and cons of both decisions.
Roll It Over Reason #1: You can do better on costs in your new plan, or on your own. Do some due diligence on your new plan and your old plan. plans.)
Often, 401 plans charge administrative fees, and many times the participants themselves bear these costs. Other times, plans use high-cost share classes of mutual funds that have extra fees embedded inside of them. Those extra fees tend to be more prevalent in plans of smaller employers, because small 401 plans have fewer investor dollars.
Larger plans can charge lower fees because they have scale advantages. With your assets pooled with other plan participants’, your new employer’s plan may have access to institutional share classes of funds, which typically feature very low costs and may be unavailable to investors with smaller balances.
Balance Between $1000 And $5000
For 401 balances less than $5,000, your employer doesnât need your permission to transfer your funds out of the 401 plan.
However, if you have over $1,000 in your 401âand you havenât opted to have your funds rolled over to a specific accountâthe planâs administrator is required to transfer your 401 funds to an IRA.
Choose Which Type Of Ira Account To Open
An IRA may give you more investment options and lower fees than your old 401 had.
If you do a rollover to a traditional IRA, the taxes are deferred.
If you do a rollover from a Roth 401, you won’t incur taxes if you roll to a Roth IRA.
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Its Easier To Take Advantage Of Roth Conversions
As you get closer to retirement, converting traditional IRA dollars to Roth dollars can be really advantageous as you drop into lower tax brackets. Theyre not for everyone, but they can be a powerful planning tool and you can only do them with an IRA.
Another thing to keep in mind when talking about Roths: RMDs are never required with a Roth IRA. But if you have a Roth 401, you have to start taking them when you turn 70½. So, at the very least if you have a Roth 401, youll want to consider rolling it over to a Roth IRA to avoid the hassle of RMDs.
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.
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Should You Do A Partial 401 Rollover
It really depends on your financial situation and whether or not there is an advantage to leaving part of your money invested in the current 401. Just know that it is possible to move a portion of your money to a rollover IRA while keeping the rest of your money in the existing 401 plan.
Joshua Holt A practicing private equity M& A lawyer and the creator of Biglaw Investor, Josh couldnt find a place where lawyers were talking about money, so he created it himself. He knows that the Bogleheads forum is a great resource for tax questions and is always looking for honest advisors that provide good advice for a fair price.
Indirect Rollovers Can Be Complicated To Manage
With an indirect rollover, you receive a check for the balance of your account that is made payable to you. That might sound good, but as a result, you are now responsible for getting it to the right place. You have 60 days to complete the rollover process of moving these assets to your new employer’s plan or an IRA.
If you dont complete the rollover within this 60-day window, you will owe income taxes on the amount you failed to roll over. If you’re under 59 1/2, you will also face a 10% penalty tax. Indirect rollovers can be made once a year.
Your old employer is required to withhold 20% from your distribution for federal income tax purposes. To avoid being taxed and penalized on this 20%, you must be able to get enough money from other sources to cover this amount and include it with your rollover contribution.
Then, youll have to wait until the following year, when you can file your income tax return to actually get the withheld amount back.
Suppose the 401 or 403 from your prior employer has a balance of $100,000. If you decide to take a full distribution from that account, your prior employer must withhold 20%. That means they keep $20,000 and send you a check for the remaining $80,000.
Even if you have an extra $20,000 on hand, you still must wait until you file your income tax return to get the withheld $20,000 returnedor a portion of it, depending on what other taxes you owe and any other amounts withheld.
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Taking The Cash Distribution May Cost You
Avoiding cash distributions can save you from taxes and penalties, because any amount you fail to roll over will be treated as a taxable distribution. As a result, it would also be subject to the 10% penalty if you are under age 59 1/2.
Since the taxable portion of a distribution will be added to any other taxable income you have during the year, you could move into a higher tax bracket.
Using the previous example, if a single taxpayer with $50,000 of taxable income were to decide not to roll over any portion of the $100,000 distribution, they would report $150,000 of taxable income for the year. That would put them in a higher tax bracket. They also would have to report $10,000 in additional penalty tax, if they were under the age of 59 1/2.
Only use cash distributions as a last resort. That means extreme cases of financial hardship. These hardships may include facing foreclosure, eviction, or repossession. If you have to go this route, only take out funds needed to cover the hardship, plus any taxes and penalties you will owe.
The CARES Act, enacted on March 27, 2020, provided some relief for those who need to make withdrawals from a retirement plan. It lifted penalties for withdrawals made through December 2020 and provides three years to pay back any early withdrawals.
Handling A Previous 401k
You usually have a few options when it comes to handling a 401k from a former employer. These include leaving the 401k where it is, rolling it into a taxable or nontaxable Individual Retirement Account or transferring it to a 401k with your current employer and cashing it out. Of all your options, cashing out will cost you the most now and in the future. You will have to pay income taxes on the withdrawal along with a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. You’ll also lose the tax benefits offered by the 401k as a qualified retirement plan.
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Move Money To New Employer’s 401
Although there’s no penalty for keeping your plan with your old employer, you do lose some perks. Money left in the former companys plan cannot be used as the basis for loans. More importantly, investors may easily lose track of investments left in previous plans. I have counseled employees who have two, three, or even four 401 accounts accumulated at jobs going back 20 years or longer, Ford said. These folks have little or no idea how well their investments are doing.
For accounts between $1,000 and $5,000, your company is required to roll the money into an IRA on your behalf if it forces you out of the plan.
If you have at least $5,000 in your account, most companies allow you to roll it over. But accounts of less than $5,000 can be rolled out of the plan by the company if a former employee does not respond to a notification letter within 30 days.
For amounts under $1,000, federal regulations now allow companies to send you a check, triggering federal taxes and state taxes if applicable, and a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59½. In either scenario, taxes and a potential penalty can be avoided if you roll over the funds into another retirement plan within 60 days.
Cashing Out A 401 Is Popular But Not So Smart
Intellectually, consumers know that cashing out retirement accounts isnt a smart move. But plenty of people do it anyway. As discussed, you may be forced out of your former plan based on your account balance, but that doesnt mean you should cash the check and use it for non-retirement related purposes. In the long run, your financial future will be better served by rolling the money over into an IRA or if applicable, your new employers 401 plan.
A 2020 survey by Alight, a leading provider of human capital and business solutions, found that 4 out of 10 people cashed out their balances after termination between 2008 and 2017. About 80 percent of those who had an account balance of less than $1,000 cashed out, while 62 percent who had balances between $1,000 and $5,000 did the same.
Based on historical rates of return, a $3,000 cash out at age 24 leads to a $23,000 difference , in your projected account balance at age 67, so even a small amount of money invested into a retirement vehicle today can make a big difference in the long run.
Keep Your 401k At Your Former Employer
Under certain circumstances, you might consider leaving your money in your previous employers 401k plan. If your plan offers excellent fund choices with lower fees than their retail competitors, it might be best to keep your money where it is. If the account lacks management fees, thats another advantage to leaving the money where it is.
Keeping your money at your former employer boils down to fees and available investment options. A rollover provides access to greater fund choices, but if youre happy with the fees and the investment options at your former employer, you might want to keep the money where it is.
What Are Your Choices For A Rollover
In general, once you leave a job you have three choices for how to deal with your employer-sponsored retirement plan:
- Leave it with your old employers 401 plan: This approach requires the least amount of work, but may require you to have a minimum amount if you plan to maintain the account there.
- Roll it over into your new employers 401 plan: This approach will require you to file some paperwork, but youll have all your 401 money in one place. This choice can make sense if you like your new employers plan.
- Roll it over into an IRA: This move will require you to file some paperwork, but then youll have the complete freedom to invest the money as you see fit. If you liked the investment options you held in a previous plan, you may still be able to access those via an IRA.
, thats another option for a rollover. But this option is not typical for most individuals.)
If you roll over your 401 into an IRA, youll also want to consider the kind of rollover you need.
- With a Roth 401, youll likely be more interested in a Roth IRA, so that you can maintain the substantial advantages of that plan.
- If you have a traditional 401, then youll probably opt for a traditional IRA.
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What Happens To Your 401 When You Leave A Job
When you leave a job, you have a few options when it comes to your 401. It depends on how much you have in your 401 when you leave and what your planâs policies are as dictated in its summary plan description. Knowing your 401 balance before leaving and having a plan ahead of time can help save you a lot of time and stress.
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.
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Roll It Over To Your New Employer
If youve switched jobs, see if your new employer offers a 401, when you are eligible to participate, and if it allows rollovers. Many employers require new employees to put in a certain number of days of service before they can enroll in a retirement savings plan. Make sure that your new 401 account is active and ready to receive contributions before you roll over your old account.
Once you are enrolled in a plan with your new employer, its simple to roll over your old 401. You can elect to have the administrator of the old plan deposit the balance of your account directly into the new plan by simply filling out some paperwork. This is called a direct transfer, made from custodian to custodian, and it saves you any risk of owing taxes or missing a deadline.
Alternatively, you can elect to have the balance of your old account distributed to you in the form of a check, which is called an indirect rollover. You must deposit the funds into your new 401 within 60 days to avoid paying income tax on the entire balance and an additional 10% penalty for early withdrawal if youre younger than age 59½. A major drawback of an indirect rollover is that your old employer is required to withhold 20% of it for federal income tax purposesand possibly state taxes as well.
Roll It Into A New 401 Plan
The pros: Assuming you like the new plans costs, features, and investment choices, this can be a good option. Your savings have the potential for growth that is tax-deferred, and RMDs may be delayed beyond age 72 if you continue to work at the company sponsoring the plan.
The cons: Youll need to liquidate your current 401 investments and reinvest them in your new 401 plans investment offerings. The money will be subject to your new plans withdrawal rules, so you may not be able to withdraw it until you leave your new employer.
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What Options Do I Have For My Current 401
When you leave an employer, you have several options:
- Leave the account where it is
- Roll it over to your new employers 401 on a pre-tax or after-tax basis
- Roll it into a traditional or Roth IRA outside of your new employers plan
- Take a lump sum distribution
The truly smart move for you depends on your own individual circumstances and goals.
Some items to consider include:
- Your current account balance
- Whether you fear collection actions, because workplace plans provide creditor protection that IRAs dont
- Quality of your new companys retirement plan versus your former plan in terms of investment options, fees and whether or not loans are permitted
- Options available to you in an IRA outside of your employers plan
The good news is that you do not have to make any decisions about your existing 401 immediately. You may want to speak with a financial advisor first to discuss your options.