What To Do With A 401K From Your Old Job

Since you’re in your thirties, or almost there, I’m going to take a guess and say that you’ve probably changed jobs at least once.

In fact, it’s likely that  you’ve changed jobs multiple times.

So what did you do with the 401ks from your old jobs? Did you even have one then?

When I was looking into this (because I’ve gotten this 401k question a lot), I noticed that not only did many people not know what to do with their old 401ks, many of them didn’t know how to FIND them..or they didn’t know whether they had a 401k with their former job in the first place. 

So first things first: let’s start with what to do with a 401k at an old job when you know where it is and that it exists. Basically, there are 4 options:

1. Leave the 401k where it is (with the old job.)

2. Roll the money into your current job’s 401k

3. Roll the money into an IRA

4. Take the money and run.

I’m going to start with a warning: please don’t do the last one! DO NOT take the money and run!!! It’s a really bad idea, and will cost you a ton of money to do so! If you pull the money out of an old 401k before age 55 (retirement age for 401ks), two things will happen: 1. You’ll be hit with a 10% penalty!! 2. You’ll have to pay taxes on all the money as if it was regular income (which it is)! Just don’t do it! My research found that 25% of people choose this option…don’t be one of them! Anyway, that’s my two cents on that choice.

So now you have three choices left. All of these choices are pretty good- it really depends on what you want.

Two of the choices may not be an option:

1. You may not even be able to roll your money into your current employer’s 401k plan. You’ll have to check with them and see.

2. If you have less than $5000 in an old 401k, your old employer may not let you keep the money there anyway.

So, if you’re looking to have all your accounts in one place and less hassle with paperwork, I’d recommend either rolling your old 401k account into your new 401k account (if your new job allows you to do that), or consolidating everything into a rollover IRA.

But if you’re looking for the best possible investment options and don’t care about the hassle of paperwork from multiple accounts, you’ll have to do a little research. Here’s what you should be thinking about: 

a)Sometimes the 401k at your old job has some special investment options (like company stock) that you can’t get in an IRA.

b) A 401k offers slightly more protection from creditors in certain states.

c) You can withdraw from a 401k penalty free at age 55, but you can’t withdraw from an IRA until age 59.5 without a fee.

So if you have great old company stock or are really worried about creditors or really want to retire by 55, you may want to leave your money alone in the old 401k or roll into the new one (if possible).

But generally, rolling your old 401k into a Rollover IRA is the simplest and most cost-effective way to go. 

Here’s how to set up and roll your old 401k into a Rollover IRA and get started at Vanguard. 

Here’s how to set up and roll your old 401k into a Rollover IRA and get started at Fidelity.

Now, if your 401k is lost or you aren’t sure whether you even have old 401ks lying around from old jobs, see the awesome 401k helpcenter I found!

Hope this helps! I know that’s a lot of info if you’re unfamiliar with IRAs and 401Ks so, as always, let me know if you have any questions or anything to add! Thanks!

Do not take the money and run. You won't be able to hide...the IRS will find you and tax you on it...and take away 10% of it...

Do not take the money and run. You won’t be able to hide…the IRS will find you. And tax you…

3 responses

  1. Thanks so much, Rico! That really means a lot to me! Man, if it wasn’t ice cream I’d recommended to you (and instead it was a cookie or something), I’d totally ship you some from the US 😉 That Arctic stuff is pretty wild.


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