Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Leaving a 401k behind?

Job separation can come for any number of reasons. But a late in life job change comes with additional considerations. What to do with that 401k you left behind?

Keeping the money in a 401k has its advantages. For older workers, the ability to begin disbursement at age 55 is an attractive plus. Although it is generally ill-advised under almost every circumstance, keeping the money in the 401k retains your ability to borrow from the plan. Some of us will consider keeping this option open. It's an option albeit, not a good one.

Generally, the fees are better in a 401k. Institutions may get a much better deal from the plan sponsor and consideration of this is important in the rollover decision. A much larger plan may come with more options or simply less expensive ones. Fees are an important aspect of total return and a worthwhile item to focus on when making any decision to move.

But you may not have an option if the balance is less than $5,000. This means you are faced with the choice of taking the cash in the account (along with the 20% the account must hold for income taxes and the 10% penalty). The scariest statistic, two-thirds of you take the money and pay those hefty penalties.

The terms of disbursement are spelled out when you leave the job in the 402(f) notice. This explains your options for handling a 401k disbursement. Even if you want to stay, your old employer really doesn't want the continued burden.

Bottom Line: Once you receive that 402(f), begin to research your options. And even if you think that money will come in handy, never take the cash.

Next: rolling to an IRA.

Paul Petillo is the Managing Editor of Target2025.com and a fellow Boomer

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