Rescuing Your Old 401k Plan from the 401k Graveyard

May 1, 2015

According to a recent release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average baby boomer has held an average of 11.7 jobs over the course of their lifetime.  Depending on how many of those jobs offered retirement benefits, that could add up to a handful of old 401ks  lacking a home.  If you’re not sure what to do with an old 401k during your next job transition, consider the following alternatives. 

 

 

Leave It There

 

In some circumstances, it may be possible to leave your old 401k where it is.  Depending on the rules of the old plan, you may be able to keep your 401k invested in the old plan, which has a couple advantages one being that it is the option requiring the least amount of effort and the other being that some funds available in your old employer's plan may not be available elsewhere.

 

Move It To Your New Employer

 

Depending on your new employer’s plan, you may be able to move your old 401k into the new plan.  The benefit of moving an old 401k to your new plan is having the option to invest in plan specific funds.

 

Distribute It

 

While this option may seem easy, it can be incredibly costly due to the penalties that come from distributing a retirement account early.  Consider a 401k plan worth $100,000 that you decide to distribute when changing jobs.  That money will be taxed at your federal rate, the state rate, and the penalty rate.  That means that assuming a 25% federal rate, and 8% state rate, and a 10% penalty rate, you will only receive $57,000, when that money could continue growing tax-deferred.  This is clearly, the worst option.

 

Transition It To An IRA

 

When it comes to saving for retirement, consolidating your old 401ks into a traditional IRA is usually your best option.  Doing so allows your savings to continue to grow tax-deferred, but also open up your savings to a much larger universe of investment opportunities than the limited options available through 401k plans.

 

 

Bureau of Labor Statistics U.S. Department of Labor. (2015).  Number of Jobs Held, Labor Market Activity, and Earnings Growth Among the Youngest Baby Boomers: Results From a Longitudinal Survey [Press release].  Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/nlsoy.pdf.

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