Investment Strategies


One of the most important questions you face when changing job is what to do with the money in your 401(k) because making the wrong move could cost you thousands of dollars or more in taxes and lower returns.

Let's say you put in five years at your current job. For most of those years, you've had the company take a set percentage of your pre-tax salary and put it into your 401(k) plan.

Now that you're leaving, what should you do? The first rule of thumb is to leave it alone. You have 60 days to decide whether to roll it over or leave it in the account. Resist the temptation to cash out. The worst thing an employee can do when leaving a job is to withdraw the money from their 401(k) plans and put it in his or her bank account. Here's why:

If you decide to have your distribution paid to you, the plan administrator will withhold 20 percent of your total for federal income taxes, so if you had $100,000 in your account and you wanted to cash it out, you're already down to $80,000.

Furthermore, if you're younger than 59 ½, you'll face a 10 percent penalty for early withdrawal come tax time. Now you're down another 10 percent from the top line to $70,000.

Note: If you separate from service during or after the year you reach age 55 (age 50 for public safety employees of a state, or political subdivision of a state, in a governmental defined benefit plan) there is an exception to the 10 percent early withdrawal tax penalty. This applies to 401(k) plans only. IRA, SEP, SIMPLE IRA, and SARSEP Plans do not qualify for the exception.

In addition, because distributions are taxed as ordinary income, at the end of the year you'll have to pay the difference between your tax bracket and the 20 percent already taken out. For example, if you're in the 33 percent tax bracket, you'll still owe 13 percent, or $13,000. This lowers the amount of your cash distribution to $57,000.

But that's not all. You also might have to pay state and local taxes. Between taxes and penalties, you could end up with little over half of what you had saved up, short-changing your retirement savings significantly.

What are the Alternatives?

If your new job offers a retirement plan, then the easiest course of action is to roll your account into the new plan before the 60-day period ends. This is known as a "rollover" and is relatively painless to do. Contact The 401(k) plan administrator at your previous job should have all of the forms you need.

The best way to roll funds over from an old 401(k) plan to a new one is to use a direct transfer. With the direct transfer, you never receive a check and you avoid all of the taxes and penalties mentioned above and your savings will continue to grow tax-deferred until you retire.

One word of caution: Many employers require that you work a minimum period of time before you can participate in a 401(k). If that is the case, one solution is to keep your money in your former employer's 401(k) plan until the new one is available. Then you can roll it over into the new plan. Most plans let former employees leave their assets several months in the old plan.

60-Day Rollover Period

If you have your former employer make the distribution check out to you, the Internal Revenue Service considers this a cash distribution. The check you get will have 20 percent taken out automatically from your vested amount for federal income tax.

But don't panic. You have 60 days to roll over the lump sum (including the 20 percent) to your new employer's plan or into a rollover individual retirement account (IRA). Then you won't owe the additional taxes or the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.

Note: If you're not happy with the fund choices your new employer offers, you might opt for a rollover IRA instead of your company's plan. You can then choose from hundreds of funds and have more control over your money. But again, to avoid the withholding hassle, use direct rollovers.

Leave It Alone

If your vested account balance in your 401(k) is more than $5,000, you can usually leave it with your former employer's retirement plan. Your lump sum will keep growing tax-deferred until you retire.

However, if you can't leave the money in your former employer's 401(k) and your new job doesn't have a 401(k), your best bet is a direct rollover into an IRA. The same applies if you've decided to go into business for yourself.

Once you turn 59 ½, you can begin withdrawals from your 401(k) plan or IRA without penalty and your withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income.

You don't have to start taking withdrawals from your 401(k) unless you retire after age 70 ½. With an IRA, you must begin a schedule of taxable withdrawals based on your life expectancy when you reach 70 ½, whether you're working or not.

Back To Top

Recent Posts

Testimonials

  • "Great! Got back more than anticipated. Very happy with the professionalism and the handling of a problem with the IRS."

    -John R.

  • "I had never used an accountant and was interviewing so I could choose one if I decided to do so. During the interview I asked advice about two new financial matters as they relate to me in retirement. The meeting was excellent. Mr. Ross was professional, knoweldgeable and non-threatening all at the same time. "

    -Joseph C.

  • "Glen was terrific. After having a poor experience elsewhere, Ross & Company were like a breath of fresh air."

    -Len E.

  • "I provided all of the appropriate paperwork (electronically), and Glen Ross went through them, set me up in his system and asked a few questions. I also had some additional questions regarding 2013 taxes which he also promptly answered, while also giving the basis for the answers."

    -Piers B.

  • "First, the experience was excellent. I called and made an appointment to see a CPA. The receptionist was warm and professional. Ease of getting an appointment, especially during the current tax season, was excellent. When I arrived at the office, I was met by the receptionist who was again, very nice and professional. "

    -Brett M.

  • "I met with Glen in the Fall to have him look over my last return prepared elsewhere to see if he saw any mistakes that I might be alerted to by the IRS again in the future. He listened to my concerns (which were many) and he re-assured me that I really had nothing to worry about, (believe me, that is NO SMALL TASK!). "

    -Tracey H.

  • "We were in the market for a new accountant because our previous accountant of 20 years retired. We were concerned it would not be easy to find an accountant that we would feel comfortable with. But after searching, we came upon Ross & Company who had great reviews. . "

    -AnnMarie F.

  • "Receptionist was super friendly and professional. Asked our concerns and scheduled an appointment before the end of the year. Mr. Ross was exceptional in answering our tax questions at an intimate personal meeting. "

    -Lisa Z.

  • "Fortunately and unfortunately my taxes have gotten to the point where I simply cannot handle them on my own (using TurboTax) anymore. This became evident when I received a communication from the IRS that there was a potential issue with a past tax return. "

    -Matthew D.

  • "Finally! A cure for Tax-time stress! Glen Ross met with us for about 1 hour and prepared our 2011 taxes while giving us important information about Federal Tax Law. Meeting Glen for the first time was great and sat down with him for an hour or so while he did our taxes."

    -R.T.





© Ross & Company CPA, PLLC 2019, 5 Florence Ave,
Smithtown, NY 11787

T: (631) 979-3141
F: (631) 979-3996 E: info@rosscompanycpa.com






© Ross & Company CPA, PLLC 2019, 159 E Shipyard Rd.,
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464

T: (631) 979-3141
F: (631) 979-3996 E: info@rosscompanycpa.com

Links: Admin Login Search Site Map Privacy Policy Disclaimer











Get In Touch

Client Portal Login






Forgot password?

Subscribe to our Newsletter