When leaving a job, there are a few actions one can take with their old 401(k):
- Do nothing and leave it where it is, paying any fees your employer charges you now that you’re no longer with them
- Withdraw the entire balance, paying a 10% penalty and regular income taxes (ew, this would cost me about $40,000) based on the current balance
- Roll it over into the new employer’s 401(k) plan
- Roll it into an IRA
I definitely don’t want to withdraw the balance with how much that would cost in taxes and the fact that I would then lose the tax-deferral on my ~$100,000 for another 34+ years! I also don’t want to roll it into an IRA as then I would lose my ability to do a Backdoor Roth IRA. So there rules out half of my options!
The choice between the other two options depend on what the options look like in the new 401(k) compared to my existing one. My employer will charge a small quarterly fee that basically equates to a ~0.04% additional fee with my balance, which is actually a decent chunk considering that the funds in the new plan are cheaper than the equivalent funds in my old one.
When I first started investing, I posted a portfolio review on the Bogleheads forum and got some helpful feedback. Since then, I haven’t requested any feedback from them, but I still use their format to do a periodic review of my investments. I find it’s a great way to take an overall look at my portfolio. I follow the format right down to the questions asked. Here is the questions I asked myself this time around as I was figuring out what to do with my old employer’s 401(k):
- My old 401(k) will start to charge a quarterly fee at some point (turns out this kicked in last week) that equates to about 0.04% annually of my current balance. I don’t want to roll my old 401(k) to an IRA since that would cut off my access to the Backdoor Roth IRA, but should I roll it into my new 401(k) plan? The only catch I can see here is that if I roll the old 401(k) out of the plan, then if I were to return to that employer in the next few years, I would have to start the vesting period over again.
- My new 401(k) plan allows me to contribute after-tax in addition to pre-tax. It also allows me to do an In-Plan Roth conversion or I can instead move the money to my Roth IRA. Which is a better option?
- The international stock index fund I have access to in my new 401(k) doesn’t include small-caps, but the one in my old employer’s 401(k) does. Is that a deal breaker to me?
- I see a few options here:
a) roll old 401(k) into new 401(k), do in-plan Roth conversions to keep things simple
b) leave old 401(k) where it is until I don’t need it any more to keep my international stock allocation out of the new 401(k) and then roll it into the new one (move after-tax 401(k) contributions to Roth IRA)
c) roll old 401(k) into new 401(k), but move after-tax 401(k) contributions to Roth IRA
d) leave old 401(k) where it is and do in-plan Roth conversions
I then made a huge spreadsheet to compare options A, B, C, and D for question 4. B was much more expensive than A or C due to the fee my old employer will start charging soon, so I didn’t make a spreadsheet for option D at all. C ended up being cheaper than A for the first several years and then eventually A became cheaper, but not by a huge margin either way. This makes it a strong vote in favor of option C.
I’m about two months’ away from Vanguard telling me my 5 year return (it’s the small, psychological things…) and if I roll my old 401(k) out before then, I won’t see that number on Vanguard’s site…
I also decided that since the international stock index fund I have access to in my new employer’s 401(k) plan isn’t as complete as the Vanguard one, I’m going to try to keep as much of my international stock allocation as possible in my taxable and Roth IRA accounts. It’s currently the only fund in my taxable account, so I’ll do some rearranging in my Roth IRA at some point.
This also answers question 2, suggesting that I should move the after-tax money to a Roth IRA instead of doing an In-Plan Roth conversion. I’m going to see about rolling the Roth portion of my old 401(k) into my Roth IRA and otherwise, I’ll wait until early May to roll the pre-tax portion to my new 401(k).
I’ve started investigating how to do the rollover. I called the old 401(k) plan administrator and they said that I can roll the Roth portion into my Roth IRA and the pre-tax portion into my new 401(k), so long as I do it all at once. I can initiate leaving the old plan online and the funds should get to my Roth IRA within 2-3 business days. The new plan required me to request some papers to be mailed to me, which will take 3-5 business days, and then I’ll take a look at things again. The telephone rep from the old plan told me that the new plan will most likely require a check to get mailed to them, which will take about 2 weeks. My boyfriend and I were both pretty amused/confused at how much mailing was involved in this process despite the fact that it is 2015…
Yay for a plan (though still with some details to fill in) on this at last! It was stressing me out quite a bit to be unsure what to do with this, especially since my old 401(k) is worth about $100,000, which is about 55% of my overall investments.
Here’s a graph of my old 401(k) balance over the last ~5 years, as an ode to it. It has been a good 401(k) to me over the last five years and I will miss it. (I also refused to shred my old health insurance card. It’s with my previous health insurance card. Yes, I am a bit of a hoarder…) You can see that I didn’t contribute as much in the first year, but I started maxing it out partway through 2011 and it has grown quite nicely since then!
Readers, what do you usually do with your old employer’s retirement plan when you leave?