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401(k) Rollover: What to Do When Changing Jobs

When changing jobs, one important consideration is what to do with your 401(k) plan. A 401(k) rollover allows you to transfer the funds from your previous employer’s retirement plan into a new account, such as an individual retirement account (IRA) or your new employer’s 401(k) plan. This article will provide a comprehensive guide on 401(k) rollovers, including the benefits, options, and steps to take when changing jobs. By understanding the process and making informed decisions, you can ensure that your retirement savings continue to grow and work for you.

The Benefits of a 401(k) Rollover

Before delving into the details of a 401(k) rollover, it is essential to understand the benefits it offers. Here are some key advantages:

  • Consolidation of Retirement Accounts: By rolling over your 401(k) into a new account, you can consolidate your retirement savings into a single, easily manageable account. This simplifies tracking your investments and monitoring your progress towards your retirement goals.
  • Greater Investment Options: Many employer-sponsored 401(k) plans have limited investment options. By rolling over your funds into an IRA, you gain access to a broader range of investment choices, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and more. This increased flexibility allows you to tailor your investment strategy to your specific needs and risk tolerance.
  • Control and Flexibility: With a 401(k) rollover, you gain more control over your retirement savings. You can choose the financial institution that best suits your needs, select the investment options that align with your goals, and make changes as necessary. This flexibility empowers you to take charge of your financial future.
  • Continued Tax Advantages: By rolling over your 401(k) into an IRA or another qualified retirement plan, you can maintain the tax advantages associated with these accounts. This means your funds can continue to grow tax-deferred until you withdraw them in retirement.

Options for a 401(k) Rollover

When changing jobs, you have several options for what to do with your 401(k) plan. Here are the most common choices:

  • Leave the Funds in Your Previous Employer’s Plan: In some cases, you may be able to leave your funds in your former employer’s 401(k) plan. This option is typically available if your account balance exceeds a certain threshold, such as $5,000. However, it’s important to consider the limitations and potential drawbacks of this choice, such as limited investment options and reduced control over your funds.
  • Roll Over the Funds into Your New Employer’s 401(k) Plan: If your new employer offers a 401(k) plan and allows rollovers, you can transfer your funds directly into the new plan. This option may be beneficial if the new plan offers attractive investment options, low fees, and other desirable features. However, it’s crucial to carefully review the new plan’s terms and compare it to other options before making a decision.
  • Roll Over the Funds into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA): Rolling over your 401(k) into an IRA is a popular choice for many individuals. IRAs offer a wide range of investment options, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and more. Additionally, IRAs provide greater control and flexibility over your retirement savings. You can choose between a traditional IRA, which offers tax-deferred growth, or a Roth IRA, which provides tax-free withdrawals in retirement.
  • Cash Out the Funds: While it is possible to cash out your 401(k) when changing jobs, this option is generally not recommended. Withdrawing the funds before reaching retirement age can result in significant tax penalties and diminish your long-term savings. It’s important to consider the potential consequences and explore other options before cashing out your 401(k).

Steps to Take for a 401(k) Rollover

Once you have decided to proceed with a 401(k) rollover, there are several steps you need to take to ensure a smooth transition. Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Review Your Current 401(k) Plan: Before initiating a rollover, carefully review your current 401(k) plan’s terms and conditions. Take note of any fees, investment options, and other relevant details that may impact your decision.
  2. Research Potential Rollover Options: Research and compare different rollover options, such as rolling over into an IRA or your new employer’s 401(k) plan. Consider factors such as investment choices, fees, account features, and customer service.
  3. Open a New Account: If you decide to roll over your 401(k) into an IRA, open a new account with a reputable financial institution. Ensure that the institution offers the investment options and services that align with your retirement goals.
  4. Initiate the Rollover: Contact your current 401(k) plan administrator and request the necessary paperwork to initiate the rollover. They will provide you with the required forms and instructions to transfer the funds to your new account.
  5. Complete the Rollover Process: Fill out the rollover paperwork accurately and follow the instructions provided by your current 401(k) plan administrator. Be sure to double-check all information before submitting the forms to avoid any delays or errors.
  6. Monitor Your Rollover: Keep track of the rollover process and ensure that the funds are transferred correctly to your new account. If you encounter any issues or delays, contact both your current and new plan administrators for assistance.

Considerations and Potential Pitfalls

While a 401(k) rollover can be a beneficial move, there are some considerations and potential pitfalls to be aware of:

  • Timing: It’s important to consider the timing of your rollover carefully. If you withdraw the funds from your 401(k) before reaching the age of 59 ½, you may be subject to early withdrawal penalties and taxes. Additionally, if you plan to roll over your funds into a new employer’s 401(k) plan, ensure that you are eligible to participate in the plan.
  • Investment Options and Fees: When choosing a new account for your rollover, carefully evaluate the available investment options and associated fees. Compare the fees charged by different financial institutions and consider how they may impact your long-term returns.
  • Financial Advice: If you are unsure about the best course of action for your 401(k) rollover, consider seeking professional financial advice. A qualified financial advisor can help you assess your options, evaluate the potential benefits and drawbacks, and make an informed decision based on your unique circumstances.
  • Tax Implications: It’s important to understand the tax implications of a 401(k) rollover. While rolling over your funds into an IRA or another qualified retirement plan allows you to maintain the tax advantages, cashing out your 401(k) can result in immediate tax liabilities and penalties.


When changing jobs, it’s crucial to carefully consider what to do with your 401(k) plan. A 401(k) rollover offers several benefits, including consolidation of retirement accounts, greater investment options, control and flexibility, and continued tax advantages. You have various options for a 401(k) rollover, such as leaving the funds in your previous employer’s plan, rolling over into your new employer’s 401(k) plan, or rolling over into an IRA. By following the necessary steps and considering the potential pitfalls, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your retirement goals. Remember to review your current plan, research potential rollover options, open a new account if necessary, initiate and complete the rollover process, and monitor the transfer of funds. With careful planning and consideration, you can ensure that your retirement savings continue to grow and support your financial future.

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