For those who have changed jobs or retired, you have learned that you have options regarding your 401K plan post-employment. In short, you can; take the balance and spend it, keep it in the former employers 401K plan if permitted, roll it to an IRA and self-manage or roll it to an IRA for an advisor to manage, or roll over the assets to your new employer’s plan, if one is available and rollovers are permitted .

Unless you’re retired, financially independent and in a low tax bracket, cashing in your 401K balance is probably not wise for the majority of people. In addition to income taxes, taxpayers younger than 59 ½ will pay an early withdrawal penalty of an additional 10%. But nevertheless, this can be a valid option.

The second choice is to keep it in the previous employer retirement plan or transfer to your current employers plan. There may be advantages and disadvantages to doing this. Advantages may include low cost, a satisfactory investment experience, and simplicity.

Examine the true cost to you as a former employee, and compare that to your other options. It may turn out to be a hair splitting exercise, but you need to know in case there are some higher costs that you hadn’t noticed before. As far as a satisfactory investment experience goes, unless there is a special strategist, or set of tools or products offered by the retirement plan administrator, reproducing these positive features should not be difficult if you choose to roll the account to an IRA.

The simplicity of leaving your balance in an old employer plan is both a blessing and a potential problem.  Out of sight out of mind comes into play. Many who have old plans neglect to update their portfolio’s holdings or allocations. Frequently, beneficiary elections in these old retirement plans are not current when important changes have occurred in your estate plan or life in general. Specifically, make sure that the plan does not impose any restrictions on how you may elect your proceeds be directed upon your passing.

Rolling the plan to an IRA also may have advantages and disadvantages. If you decide to self-manage this account, you may be able to lower your costs and have the entire world of permissible investment options. You are then responsible for making unemotional investment decisions that are in line with your needs and risk tolerance. Another advantage of rolling is that you’ll completely control your beneficiary options and not be constrained by any of the possible company plan limits.

Some may consider the higher fees associated with an advisor as unnecessary for your IRA rollover. Clearly, the cost of an advisor is the downside. Whether there is upside and positive benefits to hiring an advisor depends on whether you want to spend the time managing the assets or if there are other financial planning benefits that you may receive from a relationship with an advisor. Some disadvantages of rolling your assets to an IRA are that loans are not allowed as they are within a 401K plan as well as fees may be higher than what is charged in your former or current employer sponsored plan.

Understand your options, from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective and make an informed decision.

John P. Napolitano CFP®, CPA, PFS, MST is Founder and Chairman of Napier Financial in Braintree, MA.  Visit for more information. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investment and financial planning advice offered through US Financial Advisors and Great Valley Advisor Group,  Registered Investment Advisors.

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