Can You Transfer Your 401k Into an IRA Without Getting Penalized?

Can you transfer your 401k into an IRA without getting penalized

If you have money sitting in an old 401(k), rolling over into an IRA may make sense to simplify RMDs and reduce fees while increasing investment options.

Rollover of your 401(k) will typically involve 20% mandatory tax withholding, so it is wise to weigh all options available before making your choice.

Taxes

When rolling over funds from your 401(k) into an IRA, the transfer is generally tax-free; however, please check with the institution you plan to transfer them to as each brokerage or robo-advisor has different procedures which must be strictly adhered to for best results.

As an example, some institutions require checks be written out to them and “for the benefit of” you to avoid the mandatory 20 percent withholding tax that would otherwise lead to taxable distributions and potential penalties.

Be mindful that if you withdraw money before turning 55 from a 401(k), an early withdrawal penalty of 10% must be paid. Rollover to an IRA allows you to avoid this penalty. Likewise, moving the funds to another employer’s plan allows you to escape this tax as well.

Fees

IRAs can be useful tools for consolidating retirement savings into one account that is entirely under your control, while providing many investment options such as low-cost mutual funds and ETFs. But before converting your 401(k) into an IRA, carefully consider any possible alternatives first.

Check with the institution of your new IRA to ascertain their procedures for accepting rollovers, especially as some require that checks made out directly to them instead of yourself.

Your new IRA may also incur different fees than its predecessor; therefore, it is crucial that you compare these expenses against the costs of investing in your 401(k). If your former plan’s fund fees are less costly, it could be more economical to keep investing there and avoid an early withdrawal penalty of 10 percent by withdrawing before age 55.

Investment options

If your savings are stored with an old employer’s plan, fees and investment options could become limited and expensive. Furthermore, communication between accounts may become difficult due to no direct line of contact; as a professional advisor can help select an IRA provider with multiple investment choices and services that fit better for your account.

Moving your 401(k) funds to an IRA is an easy and painless process. Direct transfers, typically done electronically and requiring little involvement on your part, tend to be the best solution. Indirect rollovers may also be possible; indirect rollovers involve having distributions paid directly into an IRA and depositing them back within 60 days – these offer more investment choices than their counterpart 401(k). You could invest in mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and individual stocks and bonds through an IRA account.

Tax-free distributions

As soon as you convert a 401(k) into an IRA, you can take advantage of tax-free distributions. This enables you to use these funds towards a first home purchase, tuition payments or any other qualified expenses – but remember you’ll owe both ordinary income taxes and a 10% penalty tax for any distributions made before age 59 1/2.

Avoid incurring penalties by instructing your former employer to send funds directly into your new IRA, known as direct rollover. This method is the most common way of transitioning 401(k) plans into individual retirement accounts.

An indirect rollover may also be an option. Your former employer would send a check payable to yourself with 60 days to transfer these funds into an IRA; failure to meet this deadline will incur tax penalties. While indirect rollovers are more complex, they can help avoid these additional fees and penalties.


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