What To Do With Your 401(k) Plan When You Change Jobs…

I’ve heard it said that the average person changes jobs 15 times in their lifetime. If you have contributed to a 401(k) you may have an important decision to make; what to do with your money in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) plan. Since these funds were originally intended to help provide financial security during retirement, you need to carefully evaluate which of the following options will best ensure that these assets remain available to contribute to a financially-secure retirement.

Take the Funds: You can withdraw the funds in a lump sum and do what you please with them. This is, however, rarely a good idea unless you need the funds for an emergency. Consider the following: A mandatory 20 percent federal income tax withholding will be subtracted from the lump sum you receive. You may have to pay additional federal (and possibly state) income tax on the lump sum distribution, depending on your tax bracket (and the distribution may put you in a higher bracket). Unless one of the exceptions is met, you may also have to pay a 10 percent premature distribution tax in addition to regular income tax. The funds will no longer benefit from the tax-deferred growth of a qualified retirement plan.

Leave the Funds: You can leave the funds in your previous employer’s retirement plan, where they will continue to grow on a tax-deferred basis. If you’re satisfied with the investment performance/options available, this may be a good alternative. Leaving the funds temporarily while you explore the various options open to you may also be a good alternative. (Note: If your vested balance in the retirement plan is $5,000 or less, you may be required to take a lump-sum distribution.) There are some drawbacks to this option. Often when you roll the funds over, you have more investment options. The fees are generally lower in an IRA.

Roll the Funds Over: You can take the funds from the plan and roll them over, either to your new employer’s retirement plan (assuming the plan accepts rollovers) or to a traditional IRA, where you have more control over investment decisions. This approach offers the advantages of preserving the funds for use in retirement, while enabling them to continue to grow on a tax-deferred basis. When you roll your 401(k) into an IRA as opposed to rolling it to your new employer’s retirement plan, you have more ways to avoid withdrawal penalties compared to a 401(k). If you become unemployed you can withdraw funds to pay for healthcare. Additionally, you can use IRA funds to purchase a home for the first time and to pay for higher education.

Why Taking a Lump-Sum Distribution May Be a Bad Idea: While a lump-sum distribution can be tempting, it can also potentially cost you thousands of dollars in taxes, penalties and lost growth opportunities…money that will not be available for future use in retirement.

This article provided by NewsEdge.