What is a 401(k) Rollover and How Does It Work? - Should I roll over my 401(k)?

What is a 401(k) Rollover and How Does It Work?

•  3 minute read

Taking a little time now to look at whether you should roll over your old workplace 401(k) can ensure that you have thousands of extra dollars to play around with in retirement.

Are you like me, with a string of 401(k)s from past jobs? I didn’t even know what the heck a 401(k) was when I got my first one while working a summer job during college.

I eventually learned about using them to save for retirement, but another question remained: What do you do with them when your jobs are over? One option is to roll them over into an individual retirement account (IRA). Is that really the best decision, though? And if so, how do you go about doing it? I decided to develop a plan to deal with my old 401(k)s once and for all, and surprisingly, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Why Would I Want a 401(k) Rollover?

There are two main reasons you might want to roll over your 401(k). First, you could end up saving a ton of money in fees. This is especially true if your old 401(k) plan sucks, which is more common among smaller businesses as they can’t negotiate for better rates the way large businesses can.

The second reason to roll over your 401(k) is so that you can keep most to all of your retirement money consolidated in one pot. Tracking the details of half a dozen different 401(k)s can feel like herding cats. So by pooling them all into one account, you can keep tabs on your money better.

Should I Roll Over My 401(k)?

Many investment firms are quick to tell you how wise a 401(k) rollover is. Before you bust out the account numbers, though, take a minute to consider whether rolling over your 401(k) is really such a smart idea.

Some plans already offer super-low fees, and you could end up earning far less over time if you transfer to an account with higher fees.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to have a few extra thousand (or hundreds of thousands of) dollars in my bank account when I retire.

 

As such, it makes sense to look at the fees first. Unfortunately, it can be more difficult to read through a fee statement than to get a graduate degree. Luckily, you can use FeeX, a free service that’ll analyze your fees for you and tell you whether you can get a better deal by doing a 401(k) rollover.

If your current workplace 401(k) offers low fees, you can always roll over your old 401(k) into your current plan. However, if you decide to go it alone and transfer your 401(k) into an IRA, you need to be comfortable deciding for yourself where and how to invest your money. Of course, you can also roll over your 401(k) into an IRA with a robo-adviser, which automatically allocates your money into low-cost index funds so that you don’t have to think about it.

You can change the type of account you have when you do a 401(k) rollover, such as switching to a traditional IRA. But keep in mind that these two plans do come with some differences like legal protection and the ability to take out money at different times in your retirement without penalty. It’s important to consider these factors before deciding to switch account types.

How Do I Roll Over My 401(k)?

I decided to transfer my old workplace 401(k) into a new IRA. I already use Betterment, a popular robo-adviser, to manage some of my other investments, so I chose to open my new IRA with them and fund it with my 401(k) rollover money.

It took me a grand total of five minutes to open my new IRA and get instructions about how to fund it. Some types of 401(k)s can be transferred over automatically, but I wasn’t that lucky. Instead, I had to spend about 30 minutes on the phone with my old 401(k) plan’s administrator (most of it on hold).

Once I was able to speak to a person, I explained what I was doing — rolling over my 401(k) into a new account — and I provided the relevant details that I received from Betterment. The 401(k) administrator had to cut a check to my new account and send it out. (Betterment told me whom to make the check out to and where to send it.) Once that was taken care of, I hung up. Within a week, my old 401(k) plan money popped up in my Betterment account. Success!

Now that I have a system down — analyze fees with FeeX, compare them with my current workplace retirement plan, and transfer them to my Betterment account if that’s the lowest-fee option — I can make sure to maximize the amount of money that I’ll have in retirement. If there’s one thing I want to have when I retire, it’s enough money to do fun things rather than sit at home all day!