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401(k) rollover to IRA

There are many reasons why you may have decided to make a 401(k)-to-IRA rollover. You may have left your job for a position at a new company, you may have been laid off or you may have decided to take your career in a new direction. Regardless, if you’ve been contributing diligently to your employer-sponsored retirement plan for a number of years, you could have a decent stash of cash in your account. So here’s a complete guide to a 401(k)-to-IRA rollover.

This guide will look at how 401(k) rollover to IRA works, and the pros and cons of moving your money from an employer sponsored plan at a job you’ve left into an individual account.

Should You Roll Over Your 401(k)?

To start, it’s worth knowing that you don’t have to make a 401(k)-to-IRA rollover, even if you do leave your job. You have the option of leaving the money you’ve invested in the plan at your old company. You can’t keep contributing to it, but it will stay invested and if your investments go up, you’ll continue to see your account grow. This is called an orphan account.

Do you like the way your money is invested currently? If so, you may want to consider keeping your money in the existing plan. If you currently aren’t working but anticipate taking a new job soon, you could leave your money at your old plan temporarily and put it into your new company’s plan once you have access to it.

For those who don’t think they’ll end up in another 401(k) plan but still want to save more for retirement, it might make sense to do a 401(k)-to-IRA rollover. Remember, even though you still have your account at your old company’s 401(k), you won’t have the ability to make more contributions.

How to Pick an IRA to Roll Over To

401(k) rollover to IRA

The most important question you need to ask is whether you want to start a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. Traditional IRAs work much like traditional 401(k) plans. You contribute money before you pay taxes. The maximum contribution limit for 2020 for traditional and Roth IRAs is $6,000. This amount is the same for 2021. With a traditional IRA, the money you contribute is deducted from your taxable income for the year. When you reach retirement, the money will be taxed as it is withdrawn. A Roth IRA, however, works differently. You contribute money post-taxes. The money is then not taxed when you withdraw it in retirement. If you think you might want to keep contributing to your new IRA after the rollover is complete, it’s important to decide which type of IRA you want.

It’s also important to consider the tax implications. If you have a traditional 401(k) plan, that means you didn’t pay taxes on the money when you contributed it to your account. If you want to move that money into a Roth IRA, you’ll have to pay taxes on it. You can roll over from a traditional 401(k) into a traditional IRA tax-free. Same goes for a Roth 401(k)-to-Roth IRA rollover. You can’t roll a Roth 401(k) into a traditional IRA.

Beyond the type of IRA you want to open, you’ll need choose a financial institution to invest with. Some basic investigation into the types of investment options available at various institutions should shed some light on which IRAs you should open. Beyond that, consider factors like which online interface you find easiest to use and what experiences you might have already had with particular financial institutions.

How to Start a 401(k) Rollover to IRA

Doing a 401(k) rollover to IRA isn’t terribly difficult. Once you’ve figured out exactly which IRA you want to use, set one up with that company. You can do this online, just like you’d start any other financial account.

Next, get in touch with the financial company managing your 401(k). Ask if they have any special rollover requirements, and assuming you’ve met all of them, have a check for your assets mailed to the company you opened an IRA with. That company will then deposit it in your account. You’ve officially completed your rollover!

Tax Consequences of a 401(k)-to-IRA Rollover

401(k) rollover to IRA

As mentioned above, you generally won’t have to pay any taxes on your 401(k)-to-IRA rollover. The only time you’ll have to deal with taxes is if you have a traditional IRA and want to roll over to a Roth IRA.

One other tax consideration: You can choose to do a direct or indirect rollover. For a direct rollover, your old plan sends the money directly into your new IRA. In an indirect rollover, your old plan sends you a check with the cash and withholds 20% of your funds. These withheld funds are considered a taxable distribution unless you make up the difference out of pocket. You’ll likely have to pay a 10% fine for the early withdrawal. This rule only applies if the check is sent directly to you, though. It doesn’t matter if your old plan sends you a check to forward to your new IRA.

Tips for Retirement Investing

  • Think about taxes: When you’re starting to plan for retirement, you should consider the laws of the state you live in. Some have retirement tax laws that are very friendly for retirees, but others don’t. Knowing what the laws apply to your state, or to a state you hope to move to, is key to getting ahead on retirement planning.
  • Plan ahead: Figure out early how much you’ll need to save in retirement, and keep that goal in mind. Once you know how much income you’ll need each year, you can think about how to best go about getting there.
  • Get some help: Consider finding a financial advisor to steer you in the right direction in terms of savings and investments. If you’re not sure where to start looking for an advisor, SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to up to three registered investment advisors. You can read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or online and choose who to work with in the future.

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Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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