There are few benefits to leaving your retirement savings with a company you no longer work for.
NEW RETIREES NEED TO decide what to do with the money in their company-sponsored 401(k) plan. You can generally maintain your 401(k) with your former employer or roll it over into an individual retirement account. IRAs maintain the tax benefits of your 401(k) plan and give you more investment options, but there are several cases when it makes sense to keep your money in the 401(k) plan.
Here’s how to decide whether to move your money from a 401(k) to an IRA when you retire:
- Look for better investment options.
- Shop around for lower fees.
- Consider when you will take distributions.
- Consolidate your retirement accounts.
IRAs and 401(k)s have similar tax perks, but considerably different fees and distribution rules. Here are some factors to evaluate when considering what to do with your 401(k) plan in retirement.
Look for Better Investment Options
IRAs have a wider selection of investment options than 401(k) plans. “I would always advocate to roll it into an IRA,” says Mitchell Katz, a partner and financial advisor at CA Wealth Management in Bethesda, Maryland. “Typically, 401(k)s don’t have a big catalog of investment choices. It’s hard to build a properly diversified and properly allocated portfolio using a 401(k).”
The typical 401(k) plan might have a few dozen funds, while an IRA can provide thousands of investment choices including a full gamut of individual securities, mutual funds, bonds and exchange-traded funds. “By putting it into an IRA rollover, you should be able to build the portfolio you want to get and the rate of return you need so you don’t outlive your money,” Katz says. “Because you have more choices, you should be able to get a little more downside protection.”
Shop Around for Lower Fees
Compare the fees and investment costs in your 401(k) plan to potential IRAs. Sometimes it’s a little bit cheaper to leave your money in a large 401(k) plan. You don’t want to move from an affordable 401(k) plan to a higher-priced IRA, Katz says. “You have to do due diligence (to ensure) that the IRA rollover has low fees.”
But some 401(k) plans have high fees, and you could find a more reasonably priced IRA. “When you look at fees, it’s a myth that 401(k)s are less expensive than IRA fees, especially if your 401(k) is a smaller plan,” says Matt Sadowsky, director of retirement and annuities at TD Ameritrade. A 2018 TD Ameritrade survey found that of the 1,000 investors interviewed, 37 percent mistakenly believe they don’t pay 401(k) fees, 22 percent don’t know if their plan has fees and 14 percent don’t know how to figure out the fees.
Most 401(k) participants pay administrative and other fees in addition to fund fees. You can look up the 401(k) plan fees you are paying on your annual 401(k) fee disclosure statementand find out if an IRA offers similar or better investment options at a lower cost.
Consider When You Will Take Distributions
Remember: 401(k) plans and IRAs have slightly different withdrawal rules for retirees. “A rollover gives you more options in how to manage required minimum distributions and more flexibility in how to take a distribution,” Sadowsky says.
However, you may want to leave the money in your 401(k) plan if you will need to take withdrawals in your late 50s. IRA withdrawals before age 59 1/2 trigger a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty in addition to the income tax due on the distribution. If you leave your job at age 55 or older and maintain your 401(k) with your former company, you can take penalty-free withdrawals between ages 55 and 59 1/2.
Consolidate Your Retirement Accounts
It can be difficult to manage and track your retirement investments when you have multiple IRAs and 401(k) accounts. Consolidating your retirement accounts by rolling your savings into a single IRA can simplify your financial life. If you plan to take on another job in retirement, you could also move your money into your new employer plan.
But, all things considered, “There are not a lot of reasons to leave it,” Katz says. A direct rollover from a 401(k) to an IRA is a penalty-free and tax-free transaction, and you can choose an IRA with the investments you want at a reasonable price.
Should You Rollover Your Retirement Savings From a 401(k) to an IRA?There are several reasons to leave your 401(k) money with your company when you change jobs. “Somebody would want to leave their money at their firm if they have some type of credit problem,” Katz says. “Federal laws protect you in 401(k)s that don’t apply to IRAs.” And you can take penalty-free withdrawals at a younger age from your 401(k) account.