Have you recently changed jobs?
If so, you may be wondering what you should do with your old retirement plan. Over the years you have accumulated quite a sum of money and now you are no longer with the company. Or you may still be there, but are just unhappy with the investment results that you're getting. Can you move that money somewhere else? Should you?
The answer is: it depends.
It's possible that you're being approached by financial professionals who are happy to tell you what to do with that money. Here are some things that you need to know before making a decision on your 401-k rollover.
Remember, it's your money!
Keeping that in mind, let's look at some of the decision points:
1. Should you move it?
If you have money in a company sponsored retirement plan (such as a 401(k) or 403(b)) it's possible that you can't move it. The majority of these type plans will have a provision that, even though you may be 100% vested, you still cannot move the money before age 59 1/2 as long as you are an employee. Of course if you're no longer employed at that firm it's a different story, and you can do a rollover to a similar type plan, such as another 401(k), or a personal IRA of your own. If you're still employed and want to move it, you'll need to find out if your plan allows an "in-service" distribution. Why might you want to do this if you're still employed? Perhaps your company is providing a matching contribution (which is free money...you should always do this!), but the return on investments has been meager. You think you'd be better off managing your own investments, or have another advisor you like better, etc. In this case you'd take your vested portion somewhere else, but continue to take your company match.
What if you don't want to move it? Many firms will allow you to leave your account open with them if you want to, even when no longer employed. Keep in mind, however that their interest in managing the account may be nil. I usually recommend that when you leave a firm, unless they are making boatloads of money for you, you should take your cash with you.
2. Where should you move it to?
In order to avoid creating a taxable situation, you'll need to move the money into another tax-deferred plan. Otherwise you're due for a very unpleasant surprise at tax time. Most folks move their money into a personal IRA where they are then free to invest the funds as they see fit. Here's where you need to choose your financial advisor with care. An insurance agent will usually recommend putiing your money into an insurance product. A stockbroker will usually suggest mutual funds. The guy on the radio wants you to buy gold. The problem with each one of these advisors is that they may have a very myopic view of what's best for you, skewed toward their particular products. You should always consult a fiduciary, who MUST do what's in your best interests. Most of these folks aren't held to a fiduciary standard. (I am)
3. How should you move it?
Be very careful here. There are two ways to do this. The first way is just to have the old custodian of your funds write you a check. The IRS then gives you sixty days to have that money inside another tax-deferred vehicle. They will only allow you to make this kind of rollover one time a year. More than that and serious tax consequences will result!
The better way is to do what's known as a "Trustee to Trustee" transfer. This is a direct rollover from one account to another, and the money never comes into your hands. Your rollover should always be done this way. Don't give the IRS any reason to come after you.
These are just the basics!
There can be a lot of choices to make inside your new plan. The right decision depends on what your goals are, and where you are in your financial journey. Don't let a slick salesman push you into his particular product, and perhaps tie your money up for a long time, without looking at all your options.