Should I Rollover My 401k? The Cons

Common financial sense says that you should rollover your 401k into an IRA account as soon as you leave a job. Besides keeping all your financial accounts in one place (so you don’t have a bunch of orphan 401k accounts floating around), fees on typical 401k accounts are painfully expensive (remember in our last post we discussed how after 30 years on a $100k investment every .10 increase in percentage points will cost over $50,000 in fees.)

However, there are some lesser known reasons why you should leave your 401k where it is, at least for the short term.

1. Penalty-Free Retirement at 55 vs 59

The government isn’t ok with you withdrawing funds from your IRA before 59 1/2, but for some reason you’re allowed to withdraw from your 401k at 55. This doesn’t make any rational sense but government rules never do (source)

2. Roth Conversions Get Much More Expensive After a Rollover

A few years ago the government made another rule that doesn’t make any sense — you’re not allowed to contribute to a Roth IRA (i.e. after-tax money that you can take out for free in retirement and that you can pass on to heirs tax free) BUT you are allowed to put money in a traditional IRA, post-tax, and immediately convert this to a Roth IRA tax free. (Did I mention the government makes NO FREAKING SENSE?) However, if you have additional IRA funds, especially ones you haven’t paid tax on yet, you have to pay a pro-rata fee for the percentage you want to convert. I’m going to write a separate post about this pro-rata rule because it’s so complicated I don’t even understand it yet, but basically once you have more funds in traditional IRAs you’re liable for tax on part of them as well if you want to do a Roth conversion, and this can be very expensive and eat into your future earnings (source)

3. Better Creditor Protection

In yet another rule that makes no sense (notice a trend here) 401ks are protected more than IRAs in the case of lawsuits and such. How screwed you are in the case of a personal liability lawsuit depends on what state you live in. For example, New Hampshire and New Mexico have no protection against creditors for your IRA, whereas your 401k can’t be touched. (Say it with me now – this doesn’t make any freaking sense!) In some states, such as Texas, Arizona and Washington, your IRA is treated with the same protection of a 401k , so this rule wouldn’t apply to you (source)

4. Fees Can Be Lower (Though This is Unlikely)

Often the 401k offers access to different funds then you would have access to as an average investor. A lot of articles argue that you could be better off staying with a 401k funds… but make sure to look into the fees of these funds. Mutual funds can cost 1.4% per year or .80%, but those are still high fees compared to a basic Vanguard fund at .10% to .25%. Ask yourself if you really think this fund will perform better than an index fund (hint – it probably won’t, or at least not enough to make up for lost earnings due to fees) (source)

Can you think of any other reasons to keep your 401k at your old employer? #2 and #3 seem to be the best arguments. Tomorrow I’ll share a post that further explains Roth conversions – because they confuse the heck out of me so I need to do some better research, and I’ll share my findings with all of you!

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4 comments

  1. Leigh says:

    I have put a lot of thought into this and I know for sure that I don’t want to roll my 401(k) over to a Rollover IRA since I’ve been relying on the Backdoor Roth IRA. I have access to incredibly cheap index funds in my current plan that, depending on a future company’s 401(k) plan, I may end up leaving my money with my current plan, even with the annual fee. My account is somewhere that I already have other accounts, so it’s easy to keep track of. I might move my Roth IRA money out, but I’m not sure.

    1. Joy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      The most interesting thing I found out is that you can do a reverse rollover — so you can roll your 401k into an IRA and then roll that back into a 401k at a new company without being taxed on it. Then you can do the roth conversion which – you’ll still have to pay tax on any earnings before it’s converted — but that’s not too bad, and enables you to save on the high fees in the 401k funds.

      1. Leigh says:

        True – I’ve heard that only some companies’ 401(k) plans offer the option to roll in an IRA though, which makes me hesitant to rely on that feature.

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