Rolling over a 401(k) is a smart financial move that lets you transfer your retirement savings from a previous employer’s plan. It offers advantages like keeping your money tax-deferred and giving you more control over how you invest. When you roll over a 401(k), you have different choices. You can move the funds to an individual retirement account (IRA) or your new employer’s plan. This decision allows you to:

  • Review your investment strategies
  • Diversify your holdings
  • Potentially lower administrative fees

Doing a 401(k) rollover can help maximize your long-term financial security when you retire.

How to Roll Over a 401(k)

There are several ways to roll over your 401(k) plan, each offering different options and benefits.


You can roll over your 401(k) into an individual retirement account (IRA). By doing this, you gain more control over your investments. This also gives you a wider range of options for choosing investments that align with your financial goals. An IRA often provides more flexibility in terms of withdrawal options. You can also potentially lower your administrative fees compared to a 401(k) plan.

New Employer’s Plan

If your new employer offers a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), you can transfer your previous 401(k) funds into this new account. This option allows you to consolidate your retirement savings into one account. You continue to receive tax advantages and employer-matching contributions offered by the new plan. It’s important to carefully review the investment options and fees associated with the new employer’s plan.

Direct Rollover

In certain cases, you may choose to do a direct rollover, also known as a trustee-to-trustee transfer. The funds from your 401(k) go directly to the new retirement account without passing through your hands. This method ensures that you avoid any potential tax consequences or penalties. It’s a straightforward process that typically involves completing the necessary paperwork.

Indirect Rollover

You receive a distribution from your 401(k) plan. You then deposit the funds into a new retirement account within 60 days to avoid tax consequences. It’s important to note that there are rules and limitations. You must deposit the entire distribution amount, including any applicable taxes withheld, into the new account within the 60-day window. Failing to meet these requirements can result in taxes, penalties, and potential loss of retirement savings.

Benefits of Rolling Over a 401(k)

When you roll over a 401(k) plan there are several benefits that can positively impact your savings.

Maintain a Tax-Deferred Status

Transferring your retirement savings to an IRA or a new employer’s retirement plan, means you get to enjoy the tax benefits. This means that your contributions and earnings can be tax-free until you start making withdrawals. This allows your savings to accumulate and compound over time without paying taxes.

Control Over Your Investment Choices

Many 401(k) plans offer a limited selection of investment options, often chosen by the employer. By rolling over your 401(k), you gain the flexibility to choose from a broader range of options. You can choose the plan that aligns with your risk tolerance, investment preferences, and long-term financial goals. Increased control lets you create a diversified portfolio and enhance your savings.

Opportunity to Reassess Your Investment Strategies

Rolling over a 401(k) also presents an opportunity to reassess your investment strategies. As financial markets and circumstances change, you should adjust your investment approach. By initiating a rollover, you can evaluate your current investment holdings. You can also make necessary adjustments to better align with your changing goals. This allows you to optimize your investment strategy and maximize returns while minimizing risks.

Potential to Reduce Administrative Fees

Some 401(k) plans charge administrative fees, which can eat into your investment returns. By transferring your funds to an IRA or a new employer’s plan that offers lower fees, you may be able to save on these costs. In the long run, even seemingly small reductions in fees can have a significant impact on the growth of your savings.


Having your savings in an account separate from your former employer provides you with ease of management. You can consolidate your retirement savings from multiple employers into a single account. This makes it easier to track and manage your investments. This flexibility can also make it easier to make future investment decisions. As well as take advantage of additional retirement planning opportunities.

Disadvantages of Rolling Over a 401(k)

While rolling over your 401(k) can offer many advantages, it’s important to consider the disadvantages that may arise.

Loss of Access to Certain Options

One disadvantage of rolling over a 401(k) is the loss of access to certain investment options or features. Some employer-sponsored retirement plans provide unique investment opportunities. These opportunities may not be available in an IRA or a new plan.

Potential for Administrative Complexities

Another drawback is the potential for additional administrative complexities. When you roll over a 401(k), there are paperwork and logistical steps involved, such as:

  • Initiating the transfer
  • Filling out forms
  • Coordinating with plan administrators

These processes can be time-consuming and require attention to detail. If you prefer a more hands-off approach to managing your retirement savings, this may be a disadvantage.

Potential Loss of Certain Creditor Protection

One significant disadvantage is the potential loss of certain creditor protection. Employer-sponsored retirement plans are often afforded protection from creditors under federal law. This makes them a valuable asset in the face of financial challenges. Once you roll over your 401(k) into an IRA, the level of creditor protection may vary depending on state laws. In some cases, IRAs may have less robust creditor protection than 401(k) plans. If creditor protection is a concern for you, it’s important to research and understand the specific regulations. Make sure you look at your state before proceeding with a rollover.

Impact on Early Withdrawl Penalties

Another potential drawback is the impact of early withdrawal penalties. If you roll over your 401(k) and subsequently need to access the funds before reaching the age of 59½, you may face early withdrawal penalties. 401(k) plans allow penalty-free withdrawals starting at age 55 in some cases. IRAs generally require you to wait until age 59½ to avoid penalties. If you anticipate the need for early access to your retirement savings, rolling over your 401(k) into an IRA may subject you to potential penalties.

Backdoor Roth IRA Strategy

It’s important to consider the implications of the “backdoor Roth IRA” strategy. This strategy allows individuals with high incomes to contribute to a Roth IRA. This is done by converting traditional IRA funds. If you have rolled over a 401(k) into a traditional IRA, this strategy can be less effective due to the potential tax consequences. Depending on your income and financial goals, this limitation may impact your ability to take advantage of certain tax planning strategies.

Considering these potential disadvantages, it’s crucial to carefully weigh the pros and cons of rolling over a 401(k). Take into account your specific financial situation, investment preferences, and long-term goals. Consulting with a financial advisor can provide valuable insights and help you make an informed decision.

Rolling Over a 401(k) to an IRA

Rolling over your 401(k) to an IRA involves several important steps to ensure a successful transfer of funds. Here is a general guide on how to roll over a 401(k) to an IRA:

Evaluate Your Options

Start by assessing IRA providers and their offerings. Consider factors such as:

  • Fees
  • Investment options
  • Customer service
  • The provider’s reputation

Research different types of IRAs, such as traditional or Roth. This will help you determine which aligns best with your financial goals and tax situation.

Open an IRA Account

Once you’ve selected an IRA provider, you’ll need to open an account with them. This typically involves completing an application and providing necessary identification and personal information.

Contact the 401(k) Plan Administrator

Inform your current 401(k) plan administrator about your intention to roll over your funds. They will guide you through their specific process and provide the required paperwork. This may include a distribution request form or a rollover authorization form.

Choose Between Direct or Indirect Rollover

You have two options for the rollover process: direct or indirect. In a direct rollover, the funds are transferred directly from your 401(k) plan to your new IRA. This method ensures a smooth transfer and avoids any potential tax penalties. In an indirect rollover, you receive a distribution from your 401(k) and then have 60 days to deposit the funds into your new IRA. Keep in mind that 20% of the distribution may be withheld for taxes. If you don’t complete the deposit within 60 days, you could face taxes and penalties.

Complete the Necessary Paperwork

Fill out the required forms provided by your 401(k) plan administrator. They may include a rollover form, distribution request form, or other documentation. Ensure that you provide accurate information and follow all instructions provided.

Initiate the Rollover

Send the completed paperwork to your 401(k) administrator, following their procedures. They will process your request and transfer the funds to your new IRA provider. If you’re doing a direct rollover, you may need to provide your new IRA account details to the plan administrator.

Set up Your Investment Strategy

Once the funds have been successfully rolled over to your IRA, work with your IRA provider to select suitable investment options. Consider your risk tolerance, investment goals, and time horizon. You can choose from a range of investment options such as:

  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Mutual funds
  • Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Diversify your portfolio to spread the risk and align your investments with your retirement objectives.

Monitor and Manage Your IRA

Regularly review the performance of your investments and make adjustments as needed. Keep track of any changes in your financial situation or retirement goals that may need modifications. Stay informed about any updates or policy changes related to your IRA and consult with a financial advisor if you need guidance.

It’s crucial to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific circumstances. They can help you:

  • Navigate the rollover process
  • Ensure compliance with any tax regulations
  • Make informed decisions that align with your long-term financial goals

Best Place to Roll Over a 401(k)

When considering the best places to roll over your 401(k), several options offer distinct advantages and features. Here are a few commonly recommended places for rolling over your 401(k):


Vanguard is renowned for its low-cost index funds and extensive selection of investment options. They offer a wide range of IRA options, including traditional, Roth, and SEP IRAs. Vanguard is a popular choice for a straightforward and cost-effective rollover process. They have a strong reputation for investor-friendly practices and excellent customer service.

Fidelity Investments

Fidelity is another highly recommended provider offering a variety of IRA options. They provide access to a broad range of investment choices, including:

  • Mutual funds
  • ETFs
  • Individual stocks

Fidelity is known for its user-friendly online platform, educational resources, and competitive fees. Their customer support is also highly rated. This makes Fidelity a popular choice for individuals seeking a seamless rollover experience.

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab is a well-established investment firm with a wide range of IRA options. They offer a diverse selection of investment opportunities, including:

  • Mutual funds
  • ETFs
  • Individual securities

Schwab is recognized for its:

  • Intuitive online platform
  • Extensive research tools
  • Robust customer support

They also have a large network of physical branch locations. This can be appealing to individuals who prefer in-person assistance.

TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade is a reputable brokerage firm that provides a range of IRA options for rollovers. They offer a comprehensive suite of investment choices, including:

  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Mutual funds
  • ETFs

TD Ameritrade is known for its advanced trading platforms and educational resources. They cater to both novice and experienced investors. They also have a strong focus on customer support and competitive pricing, making them a favored choice for many investors.

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is a robo-advisor service offered by Charles Schwab. It combines automated investment management with a personalized portfolio. It is based on your risk tolerance and goals. This option can be particularly appealing if you prefer a hands-off approach to investment management and appreciate the convenience of automated portfolio rebalancing.

401(k) FAQs

 What Happens When a 401(k) is Rolled Over?

When a 401(k) is rolled over, the funds move from the existing 401(k) account to a different retirement account, such as an IRA. It allows individuals to maintain the tax-advantaged status of their savings. It also provides more control over investment choices.

How Long Do I Have to Roll Over My 401(k) After Leaving a Job?

After leaving a job, you generally have a 60-day window to roll over your 401(k) without facing tax penalties. This 60-day period is known as the “rollover period.” It is important to initiate the rollover process within this timeframe to ensure a smooth transfer of funds. This will also help maintain the tax advantages associated with retirement accounts. It is advisable to complete the rollover as soon as possible. This is to avoid any potential delays or unforeseen circumstances that may hinder the process.

What Happens if I Don’t Roll Over My 401(k) From a Previous Employer?

If you don’t roll over your 401(k) from a previous employer, you may have limited control over the funds and investment options. It’s important to review the specific rules and options provided by the plan. You should consider transferring it to an IRA or a new employer’s retirement plan to maintain tax advantages and flexibility.

Can an Employer Take Back Their 401(k) Match?

In general, once an employer contributes a match to an employee’s 401(k) account, they cannot take it back. The employer match is typically subject to a vesting schedule. This determines how much of the match the employee is entitled to based on their length of service. Once the match is vested, it becomes the employee’s permanent contribution and cannot be reclaimed by the employer. It’s important to review the specific terms and conditions of the employer’s 401(k) plan. This will help you understand the vesting schedule and any other applicable rules.

Rolling over your 401(k) is an important decision. It can have significant implications for your financial future and retirement goals. Doing your research ahead of time and considering all the available options will help ensure a successful rollover process. Consider consulting with a financial advisor or tax professional to get personalized advice on the best option for you. It’s important to stay on top of any tax laws or regulations that may affect the rollover process. Take the time to understand your options and seek professional advice. This way, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your long-term financial goals. If you have any questions or want to learn more about 401k rollovers, contact our wealth manager Jonathan!

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