As we naturally progress through life, and oftentimes change employers, something happens that many people just don’t think about. As you’re leaving a job for greener pastures (hopefully), you also inadvertently leave your 401(k) behind. Keep reading to understand some of the bad things that can happen by doing this!
Old 401(k) plans can be problematic
You may wonder if this is actually a problem. Well, according to Capitalize, Americans will have nearly $1.35 trillion in old 401(k) accounts by the end of 2022. Yes, over $1 trillion. Ouch. To put this in perspective, Americans had over $6.7 trillion in 401(k) accounts by the end of 2020.
“Individuals could miss out on nearly $700,000 in retirement savings throughout their lives due to the risk of a forgotten 401(k) being in a higher-fee plan and poorly allocated investments.”Hicapitalize.com
While this may not seem bad initially, it can be. As time goes on, people can tend to forget about these old 401(k) accounts. Then, as time goes on, their employer changes vendors three times and poof, the money is gone. Now you have an adventure on your hands!
How to locate an old 401(k)
The best thing to do is to try and remember where you last saw the 401(k). I know, this sounds like something your mom told you when you were 10 – but it’s true. Do anything you can to remember the vendor who held the account. If you can’t accomplish this, contact the old employer and try to figure out their vendor history. This should lead you to the right place.
If you have run out of all options and know you have substantial money in the account, you can use a service such as Capitalize, which is completely free, to help locate your old account. If you’re skeptical, you can read one of their reviews here.
Reasons to move money out of old 401(k) plans
There are several reasons to locate this money and move it out of the old plan:
- Old plans can have high investment fees (expense ratios) and administrative fees
- Investments may not keep up with the market
- The vendor may be undesirable
- The plan still falls under the purview of your former employer; by moving it, you will regain more control
These are just a few reasons you should find that plan ASAP!
What to do with the old plan
Once you’ve located this money, there are a few options that will suit nearly everyone:
- Move to current 401(k). The simplest option is to do a “rollover” from your old 401(k) provider to the one with your current employer. This is a good option if your current 401(k) plan has low fees and good investment options. Some people do this each time they leave an employer. Note that some employers may not allow rollovers into their workplace plans.
- Rollover to an IRA. This will involve choosing a broker of your choice (i.e. Fidelity, Vanguard, Schwab, etc.) and rolling over to a Traditional IRA. No taxes will be due and this will give you complete control over your account.
- Rollover to a Roth IRA. This will also involve choosing a broker of your choice. Taxes will be due on the rollover, as you’ll be moving the money to an “after-tax” retirement account. Remember, once you do this, the Roth IRA withdrawal will be tax-free at retirement.
The 4th option is to withdraw the money and pay the 10% penalty and applicable income taxes. This is a terrible idea which is why I’m not listing it as an official option.
What you should do today!
- Find your old 401(k) plans
- Identify a plan for moving forward
- Open any required accounts
- Begin the rollover process
- Sleep well knowing your plans are all in one place
This is a pretty easy task once you sit down and dedicate a little time to it. Don’t be intimidated. Find those old 401(k) plans today!