Figuring Out What to Do With An Old 401(K)

Posted in Around the Web
March 30th, 2011 at 2:26 pm by Ally

Saving for retirement is one of the most important financial endeavors you’ll embark on, but it’s also one that comes with a good number of questions and considerations. A common one is, “I’ve got a 401(k) hanging around from a previous job. What can I do with it?” A recent post by Sierra Black at Get Rich Slowly provides some options on what you can do if you’re in this situation.

Black lays out four options for what to do with an old 401(k). The first one is to simply cash it out. While this option may sound tempting, be warned that it usually carries a 10 percent penalty. In addition, you’ll have to pay a hefty tax on that money, something you wouldn’t have to do if you waited until retirement age to access it. In the end, only you can decide whether the benefit of cashing out your old 401(k) is worth the penalties you’ll likely face.

Black’s second option: do nothing. This allows your money to remain where it is and continue earning interest. Granted, you won’t be able to add to your 401(k) in this scenario–and you will likely have to convert your account into an IRA–but if you’re between jobs or doing freelance work, this is an option worth considering.

Her third suggestion is to take the 401(k) and roll it over to your new or current employer’s plan. A significant benefit to this option is that you don’t have to pay a penalty. On top of that, you can continue to build your retirement savings. Black also points out that it’s also easier to track your investments when they’re all in one place instead of having a few 401(k)s in different places.

Black’s final suggestion is transferring your 401(k) into a personal IRA. She points out that doing this allows you more flexibility, as you’re not bound to the offerings of your current employer’s investment plans. She also cites Jeff Rose‘s post at Good Financial Cents about rolling your 401(k) into a Roth IRA. The difference here is that you’ll generally pay less taxes on a Roth IRA, but you can only roll over a limited amount of funds. You may also be charged an annual fee if your balance falls below their minimum requirement.

As with all major financial decisions, the one you make depends on your personal situation. If you’re not sure how to move forward, it might be a good idea to ask a financial professional for guidance.

Do you have a 401(k) from an old job that you’re trying to decide what to do with? Have you rolled an old 401(k) over into a Roth IRA?

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