It has become more common for even small employers to offer access to a 401K plan for their employees, changing the paradigm that they were only offered in big size companies. The plan was gathered its own fan base through the years and become one of the favorites by the overall American public, mostly because it offers a higher contribution limit and the possibility of receiving matching contributions from your employer. As mentioned before in other articles, who would not want to receive free money from their company every month?
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As the model has become easier to obtain by small companies and even self-employed individuals, many questions have risen and one of the most sounds in the street is what happens to your plan if you leave your employer for any reason? Any amount of money contributed is yours to perpetuity, and unless your employer has a period of vesting then their matching contributions belong to you even if you leave the company. For this reason, there are several methods one can take in order to move or roll over their funds into either another 401K or an IRA which is actually the most common model.
Retirement is like a long vacation in Las Vegas. The goal is to enjoy it the fullest, but not so fully that you run out of money. Jonathan Clements
It is important for any individual to be aware of the cost and process associated with 401K Rollover, while in many cases there is a backdoor to defer taxes, it can easily become expensive to the point of damaging unnecessarily the value and balance of your account. Individuals should do their due research in order to determine what is the path that fits better their necessities, taking into consideration their tax rate, age, and future tax bracket.
What is a 401K Rollover?
A 401K rollover is a method to repatriate any capital and balance from a 401K into another type of plan, or even cashing it out at a tax cost and a penalty. There are three main options that you may want to choose from when you leave your old employer:
1. Leave your 401K
The first one would be not to move the funds and leave it with your old employer’s plan until maturity. While this sounds odd if you didn’t really contribute enough to your plan and you are only holding a balance of less than $1,000, you might want to leave it untouched as the cost of transferring and associated fees can easily add up to more than the account value.
On the other hand, it is pretty common to see individuals leaving their account as the managing fees and overall plan provided by their asset manager is better than what they can get on the street. If this is your case, you might wanna consider leaving your fund compounding in the old account and starting a fresh new 401K with your new employer.
2. Perform a 401K rollover into a new 401K plan
Chances are your new employer will also offer a 401K as part of their benefits. If this is the case, you might want to consider analyzing the possibility of repatriating the funs from your old fund into your new one. This is a great option as it allows individuals to have tighter control and management over the funds, making it easier to forecast and to plan accordingly. One of the key principles of a retirement plan is to take as much advantage of reinvesting the earnings as possible.
Over a relatively short period of time, individuals can see their investments doubling as money is reinvested into the market, which leads to a continued loop of returns and yields.
Please be aware that 401Ks allow penalty-free withdrawn after age 55 if you decide to roll over into a new 401k plan you will have to wait until age 59 ½. We are talking about extra 5 years that might represent a lot of time for certain individuals in the desire of gaining access to their savings.
3. Roll into an IRA
This is considered by many advisors as to the overall best option if you want to move your funds from your old 401K Plan. An IRA provides a similar methodology in terms of the structure and tax deferral benefits of a 401K, making it the go-to option for many individuals. It is important to be aware that even tho they are very similar, they follow different rules in terms of contributions and cash withdrawals.
One of the main reasons why so many people lean towards these options it that while 401Ks usually charge a management fee based on the assets of the account, an IRA while only charge brokerage fees. This might not sound like a big deal, but when you analyze what you might be paying 2% of the value of the whole account every year, for decades it starts to add up dramatically.
Another point to mention is that an IRA offers a lower contribution maximum of only $6,000 and an extra $1,000 more after age 50. If we compared this to a 401K which offers a max of $19,000 plus matching from your employer, there is a big difference. I usually advise individuals to keep in mind that in most cases they will have a new 401K with their new employer, and they will be able to take advantage of the plan as before.
If that’s the case then don’t over think about the IRA Rollover. Think about this way, you are currently only allowed a max contribution with your 401K, adding an IRA will provide you with an extra $6,ooo-$7,000 of additional contribution.
Pros and Cons of a 401K Rollover
Rollovers are a controversial topic as they offer both benefits and negatives depending on the situation of each individual. Please take into consideration that you have to put into perspective your current situation before choosing one option over the other. With 401Ks is especially crucial to understand that one size does not fit all.
- Proper knowledge of diversification levels: While a 401K do offer access for their owners to see where their money is being allocated, it is common to hear complainings from certain brokers and provider as the level of detail is not always available. If you are an individual who wants to know and understand the level of diversification between sectors, assets, and funds then IRA would be better for you. Also, most 401K providers will never offer access to tailor-made portfolios for each employee, they instead follow the guidance from the employer in terms of risk appetite and tolerance. On the other hand, IRAs allow individuals to rely directly on their asset manager but also to impart their opinion towards the assets they want to invest. An IRA is more customizable than a 401K.
- Consolidation of Accounts: If you have multiple retirement accounts you might be paying multiple plan fees and it can be more difficult to design and maintain a comprehensive investment strategy and plan as you would have to oversee different accounts. A rollover provides a great option to diversify under one umbrella, effectively giving individuals access to a higher level of control over their investments and their savings.
- A wider range of permissible asset classes to invest: IRAs allow individuals to invest in almost every type of publicly traded market and also to allocate capital in RealState which is not possible with a 401K. Also, it is worth mentioning that individuals are allowed to buy certain types of gold coins as collectibles.
- Lower Fees: As mentioned before, 401K plans are usually charged a fee based on the assets of the account, on the other hand, IRAs are only charged with the fees from the brokerage activities, if you consider a 2% charge every year for a couple of decades, you will see why an IRA is cheaper.
- No tax triggering: The rollover won’t trigger any extra tax as long as you are staying in the same category, this means that if you have a ROTH 401K, you would be going for a ROTH IRA and the same applies for traditional IRAs as well. Even though the changing class is available and its a possibility, individuals should be aware that most of the time charges and upfront tax fees can be extremely high and can easily affect the overall value of a portfolio. When it comes to retirement plans you want to keep as much money as possible at any given time.
- Early Withdrawals and Distribution: A 401K allow individuals to withdraw from their accounts without a penalty after age 55, depending on the type of rollover chosen you might find yourself having to wait extra time. For instance, if you decide to go for another 401K, then in most cases the new retirement age would go up to 59.
- Creditor Protection: Many people don’t know it but a 401K account is protected by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), making it bulletproof from claims by creditors. Just be aware that protection does not include any ex-spouse seeking their rightful share of the assets in a divorce proceeding.
- Company Stock: If your old employer offered company shares as a benefit, then a rollover will result in the tax payment for the value of the shares. The reason for this is that unless you sell them as part of the account and then transfer the cash, you would have to withdraw them and transfer them to a new brokerage account and this transfer procedure is considered by the IRS as an early withdraw. Depending on the number of shares and their value, it can easily turn into a heavy bump for your account.
- Access to Stable Value Funds: The only type of asset that is not available in an IRA but is commonly offered in 401Ks are Stable Value Funds, this type of fund offers individuals with a higher yield than those found in most money market funds. The beauty of this type of asset is that in most cases returns are fixed and they do not incur in higher beta levels of risk. The main goal of these funds is to preserve capital and to deliver alpha with a lowers beta of risk at any time. In the US more than $733 billions are currently managed by SVF Funds and the number is constantly rising. On average investors can expect to receive an annual yield between 2.5-3% a year.
Limitations of a 401k Rollover
Please be aware that there is a strong limitation on the number of rollovers that any individual can do within one year. According to the IRS any individual is allowed to roll over their 401K account into another different plan once every year, this means that if you decide to pursue a change of plan you won’t be able to perform another one for 12 months after the date of the rollover.
While this might not represent a problem for most individuals, it is important to be aware before making any decision as it will affect the eligibility over time. If you find yourself in a position later in where you would have to perform an additional rollover, you will be taxed as an early withdrawal of the account. As mentioned before, these types of fees can easily damage a portfolio to a point of no return.
You should consider talking to a financial advisor before making any decision that will impact your retirement plan. Even though there are many different sources of information online, there are also a lot of different points and laws that one should take into consideration for a Rollover. It is always important to receive guidance from experts when it comes to taxes and investments.
Hands-on or hands-off investment?
Most 401Ks follow a model on which capital is managed by either a fund or an asset management company, on the other hand, the IRA world is a little bit more diverse than that as individuals can choose between hiring a third party to manage their capital or to do it themselves.
Investment management is definitely not easy but if you have the right knowledge and experience as an investor, then you might wanna consider a hands-on model on which the investment management will rely on yourself. Even though this method especially looks after by individuals trying to minimize their expenses, it is worth mentioning that depending on your knowledge of the market you might be better off hiring a professional and avoiding negative performance.
The two major styles an individual can choose from are HandsOff and HandsOn methodologies:
Not all individuals have the intention or the desire of spending hours doing research and reviewing their portfolios actively. It is actually pretty common to see investors looking for professional asset and fund managers to take control of their accounts in exchange for a percentage fee. While this might be a relatively expensive option, it offers a passive model that allows individuals to lay back a bit more.
Just like you can find individuals with no intention of participating actively, some others do not have what it takes to let a third-party manage their investments. This is a key point where personality is truly a show stopper for certain personalities and styles. Unless you are a professional trader or you have a vast knowledge and experience in the financial markets, you might be better off with an asset manager as it will take a lot of responsibility off your shoulders.
This model brings back the notional that an IRA is a retirement account, while the main goal many individuals have in mind is to profit, in reality, they should be a focus on capital conservation and saving as much for retirement as possible.
Best Roth IRA Providers and Brokers of 2020
Continuing with the same structure, these are the best providers and brokers for Roth IRAs in 2020. In order to provide better detail, we’ve separated the names between both hands-on and hands-off models.
Best IRA Accounts for Hands-On Investors:
1. TD Ameritrade
The Thinkorswim platform was created in the late nineties by Tom Sosnoff, a veteran investor and trader who believed that the investing in stocks and derivative instruments could become popular to retail investors with the help of a completely dedicated software.
After a decade of its founding, Thinkorswim was sold to TD Ameritrade. Officially becoming the spearhead over which the broker was renewed. TD Ameritrade is one of the most important brokers in the US, with total assets exceeding $1 Trillion in more than 11 million client accounts.
Even if you are new to the financial markets or simply to investing, the name Thinkorswim might be one of the first ones you heard or read about online as it is one of the best overall brokers available in the market. With more than 11 million active clients and assets under management exceeding $1 Trillion in the US alone, TD Ameritrade is one of the most respected options available today.
Investors should be aware the TD Ameritrade is definitely not the cheapest option when it comes to opening an IRA, but the firm surely compensates their high price with a first class experience to its users. One of the main reasons investors should look into this broker is due to all the service they provide besides brokerage and retirement planning.
In order to ease some of the cost associated with trading fees, the company offers to charge on their IRAs, meaning that no other commission besides trading fees will be charged.
In today’s fast world it is very useful to be able to consolidate many important services under one single environment. Most notable services available in 2020 are:
- Life Insurance
- Retirement and Wealth Management
- Commercial Banking
- Auto Financing
- Direct Investing
- Active Portfolio Management
Technical and fundamental analysis are the two elements over which most investors develop their strategies, and structure their portfolios. Thinkorswim exceeds expectations with a swiss knife application that not only is powerful but is also intuitive and friendly to all investors.
If you have used a Bloomberg Terminal in the past, you will find yourself close to home with Thinkorswim. On the other hand, if you have never been close to a terminal it might take you some time to understand how to use it, but it is definitely not difficult.
In order to mitigate the impact on new users, the firm offers a vast library of educational content which makes it even easier for new users.
Fidelity is one of the most powerful brokers in the world, managing more than $2.46 Trillion in assets as of May 2019. One big concern I typically have when choosing a broker is to understand the history behind the company, I want to know that my money is backed by years of experience and never by a new broker.
With 75 years of existence is easy to see that Fidelity has survived several market crashes and economic recessions, this can only prove even more how stable and seasoned the company really is.
If you are looking to manage your IRA on your own, Fidelity is a good option for anyone interested in following a passive investment methodology/strategy. Even though the company provides access to a vast range of financial indicators and technical analysis tools, they still lag behind names like TOS or Individual Brokers.
Just like TD Ameritrade, the firm looks to improve its expensive image by not charging any account management fee. With this model investors only have to focus on the fees charged by the broker due to trades execution and regular brokerage business.
If you are interested in the US markets, you should consider fidelity as they offer other products besides brokerage, making it a full package for international and local investors.
Some of the complementary services are:
- Retirement and Wealth Management
- Cash Management
- Derivatives Products
- Active Portfolio Management
Fidelity might not be the cheapest option but it delivers access for both active and passive investors, making it a well balanced and safe option.
TradeStation is a top-notch platform that covers most of the necessities a trader might have. Even though the firm started as a broker focused only on institutional and heavy players, the company has changed its model allowing retail investors to gain access to their state of the art service.
The company offers access to the major financial markets and asset classes in the world, allowing investors to diversify into other markets besides the US.
Investors should keep in mind that TradeStation does not offer portfolio management services, leaving investors under their own management and execution.
Trade Station is the cheapest option of the hands-on category, the company currently charges only $4 per trade and offers free real-time market data which has a cost of about $120 a month with any other broker.
Best IRA Accounts for Hands-Off Investors:
1. The Vanguard Group
The vanguard group is a giant multinational with over $5.3 trillion in assets under management. The company is the largest provider of mutual funds in the world and the second ETF provider, only behind BlackRock’s iShares.
Since its inception, the founder of the company Jack Bogle preached for financial markets and investment opportunities to work in the most straightforward and efficient way as possible. This is the exact same vision the company follows until today, as they focus on delivering the best possible return in the most transparent way.
Vanguard model works like a top tier Robo-advisor enhanced specifically for investors looking to allocate large sums of capital in the markets. Professional advisor services aren’t cheap, but the services and performance delivered are worth for any investor to pay the high fees.
For 2019 the average expense ratio is 1.01% of the value of the account, while for Vanguard is only 0.18% making it considerably cheaper than the overall market.
The company understands that every investor is different and that all portfolios should be developed based on every investor profile, goals, and tolerance. For this reason, the firm takes extra steps in order to assign a profile to each investor after an examination, this profile will take into consideration goals, risk appetite and sophistication of the investor in order to determine the best course of action.
Betterment is not a broker but the company offers its services as an online financial advisor and portfolio manager. Their business model is simply perfect for anyone interested in a handoff IRA. With more than ten years of service, the company has proven to be a reliable option for anyone looking to passively profit from the markets and to pass the responsibility of managing the portfolio to a third party.
An important characteristic to mentioned about Betterment is that any investor with an account under $100k won’t have access to investing in single stocks and instead would have to go for specific ETFs that deliver a more robust return at a smaller unit of risk.
Over the past couple of years, Betterment has worked in a joint venture with the giant asset manager BlackRock, to design a low-risk high dividend portfolio specially developed to generate income.
This portfolio has become a solid option for retirees looking to receive stable, income as well as a method to preserve their capital.
As of January 2019, the company had +$115 Billion in asset under management and more than 400,000 active users worldwide, making it one of the most important and fully automated advisors worldwide.
WealthFront is another option for anyone interested in delegating their portfolios to a third-party for management. It is common to see individuals that are too afraid to invest their money or that simply do not have the experience either the knowledge on how to do it. The firm offers portfolio management services through a Robo-advisor model under which the portfolios are rebalanced automatically based on the parameters of an algorithm.
One of the key features of the company is their user-friendly platform, the overall environment is easy to easy and it was designed specifically for new investors with little to no experience in the financial markets.
Disregarding your situation as an individual, one of the best things a 401K has to offer is its broad range of solutions and options. Do not rush in making a decision when it comes to the rollover type you want to go for, or even if you don’t want to roll over at all. The best advice I can possibly give you is to take your time, do your research and talk to a financial advisor. I can assure you that any fee or cost of getting professional advise wont be comparable to the cost of committing an expensive mistake that might affect your portfolio and your future.
I always like to bring to the table the fact that most individual work hard all their life, fighting and saving as much as they can in order to secure stability when retirement time comes. Your future self deserves you to do the right things and to plan accordingly so they can have a brighter future.
1. Am I eligible to rollover my 401K?
In most cases, if you are eligible for a 401K you will also be eligible for an IRA. Keep in mind that most restrictions while take place based on your annual income and because of any other asset that you may want to transfer with you (company stock).
2. What are the contribution limits for a Rollover?
There is no contribution limit when you do a rollover IRA, in synthesis you aren't taking control over the funds but instead, you would be moving them to a new account. Once the funds have settled on the new plan, all contributions limit will now be based on the type of IRA or 401K that you picked.
3. What investment choices will I have?
If you decided to roll-over a 401K you will gain access to the same type of asset classes and investment choices as before, the real change takes place if you chose an IRA instead. By definition IRAs allow individuals to gain access to asset classes that are usually restricted in 401Ks, one of the most significant asset classes that you gain access once you open an IRA is RealEstate. It is important to mention that even though real estate is allowed in IRAs there are certain restrictions like the usage of the building. For example, any real estate bought with IRA cash can only be used either for commercial purpose like renting or leasing and does not take into account your house. No private resident can be used in an IRA.
4. Are there any fees?
The fees and charges will depend based on the type of investment model you are going for, most asset managers offering full management of your investment will charge a fixed fee based on the return or the assets under management. Other hands-off models will only charge you brokerage fees, this is one the main reasons why so many individuals are interested in them as they are the cheapest option in the market.
5. What are the differences between direct and indirect rollover?
The main difference between both types is that in case of a direct rollover the funds would be transferred from your current plan into the final IRA or new 401K of your choice, in this process you would not have any interaction with the funds. Imagine as if you were moving shared between one broker to another. On the other hand, indirect rollovers are a different story, as they usually write down a check for the amount of the funds. Keep in mind that the IRS provides 60 days after the check was written for the assets to be deposited into the new account, if this period of time passes and the funds were not deposited as per the rules, it will be considered as an early withdraw and all the penalties and taxes will be due. Even though indirect rollovers are a right of each account owner, our recommendation is to avoid any unnecessary headache and let the brokers do it directly.
6. What happens to the company stock I owned in my old 401K
This is a key question that many individuals ask every day, if you currently have company stock in your 401K you will find yourself in a complicated position since you won't be able to take them with you directly. Instead, you would have to sell them and pay the necessary taxes as if it was a withdrawal. In order to avoid this type of conflict, certain 401Ks offer a synthetic stock model on which the shares that were initially received have been sold by the broker and they instead have replaced them with a derivative instrument that is cash settled and that was not maturity. This allows individuals to simply cash out their shares and take the money without having to pay additional taxes. This is not offered by all brokers so it is important for you to reach your 401K provider directly.
7. How long do rollovers take?
Usually, a rollover is pretty fast, in most cases, it can take up to two weeks for the full direct transition to take place.
8. Can I just leave my money in my old 401K Plan after I terminate employment?
Not all 401K providers will allow this, but in some instances, they might allow individuals to keep their account open instead of rolling over. Please be aware that by law a 401K Provider is allowed to cash out any account with a balance under $1,000 and to automatically roll over to an IRA any account under $5,000.
9. Can I roll over to a new 401K instead of an IRA?
As mentioned above, any individual usually has access to choose between rolling over to an IRA, keep their current 401k plan if the broker allows it or to roll over the funds to the 401k of their new employer. Keep in mind that 401Ks may differ between providers and returns can also have high discrepancies between both, I openly recommend individuals to do their own research before deciding to go for one provider over the other.
10. How much taxes would I have to pay if I decide to cash out?
If you decide to close your 401K, you might find yourself receiving less than 70% of the value of the funds since you will be charged 10% in a penalty, and also you will have to pay the income taxes based on your current tax rate +25%. It is easy to recommend for an individual not to withdraw from their retirement account, but you also need to put into perspective the situations that might drive a person to do so. Keep in mind that 401Ks offer access to borrow from your own funds as a loan, allowing easy access to cash and the ability to repay it tax-free and with any interest being paid to yourself and not a bank. If you find yourself in a position where the necessity of cash is high, you might want to take another route that would not put your retirement plans in any type of jeopardy. If you have any other question please leave in the comments, I'll make sure to review them and answer them as constant as possible.