Decades ago, it was typical for an employee to work their entire career for one company, climb the corporate ladder, and retire with a nice pension.
Two major things have changed in recent years: pensions have been replaced with 401(k) plans, and most people no longer work for the same company their entire career.
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average person stays at each of their jobs for 4.6 years, which means job-hopping has become the new normal.
Leaving a job is rarely a simple process. Chief among your concerns should be what to do with your 401(k) to avoid losing your savings or enrolling in multiple plans.
Here are eight things to know about your 401(k) when you leave your job.
1. You can keep your plan with your old employer.
The first thing you need to decide is what to do with the money in your old plan. Option one is simple: you can leave where it is, in your former employer's plan.
The major advantage of leaving it there is that you don't have to do anything and your account can stay where it is. The disadvantage is that you may be charged some of the fees that the company usually pays for but doesn't cover for ex-employees.
Also worth considering here is whether you left your old job on good or bad terms.
2. You can roll your old plan into your new employer's plan.
If you don't want to keep your money in your previous employer's plan, you can choose to roll over your 401(k) account to your new employer's plan.
Check with the administrator of your new plan to find out if you can roll it over right away, or if you have to wait until you're eligible to participate in the plan to do so.
This option lets you keep all of your 401(k) money together in one account.
3. You can roll your plan into an IRA.
If you're undecided on where to move the funds, you have a third option: an Individual Retirement Account, or IRA. If you go this route, you can always move the account back into a future employer's 401(k) plan later on. Using an IRA provides additional flexibility until you decide where you ultimately want to invest the proceeds.
Moving the funds into an IRA can be accomplished with a simple account-to-account transfer, which is a transaction your personal financial advisor can assist you with.
4. You shouldn't cash out your account.
You will also be given the chance to cash out of your plan once you leave. It might be tempting if you don't have a new job lined up, but doing so would be a huge mistake.
For starters, you will have to pay taxes on the full amount that you receive and will most likely have some of the taxes withheld before you even receive your check.
If you are under age 59.5, you will also have to pay a 10 percent penalty for taking the money before retirement. Worst of all, you will be taking money today you had earmarked for tomorrow, which would wipe out all the work you'd been doing toward retirement.
5. Be sure to check investment options and costs.
If you're debating between rolling your 401(k) account into your new employer's plan or an IRA, investment choice is one thing to consider. You will be limited to the investment menu that your new company offers, which might be a good or bad thing. An IRA allows for total flexibility because you can select from many different kinds of investments.
Another factor is cost. You must compare the costs of your existing plan, the new company's 401(k) plan, and the expenses of the IRA you're considering. All these fees can vary greatly, so be sure to include this consideration in your decision-making.
6. Decide quickly or your employer might decide for you.
You want to make an informed choice, but don't wait too long before deciding or your employer might make the choice for you and stick you with an unwanted outcome.
If your account balance is below $5,000, your former employer can force you out of the plan and into an IRA account that they designate if you drag your feet. The expenses of these accounts are usually high, and the investment choice is usually limited.
If your account is worth less than $1,000, they can send you a check, even though that isn't what you want done, and it subjects you to taxes and perhaps penalties.
7. Repay any loans from your 401(k).
When you leave your job, make sure that you have no outstanding loans from your 401(k). If you do, pay them off as soon as possible after your last day of work.
You have until the due date of your tax return (including extensions) to repay any loans you have taken from the plan, or you will default on the loan because your method of paying back the loan--your paycheck--stops when you stop your employment.
If you default on the loan, you can expect your former plan to notify the Internal Revenue Service via an IRS Form 1099-R, which will report the unpaid amount.
That amount will be treated as taxable income subject to income tax. If you're under age 59.5, you'll have to pay a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty, as well.
8. Your options are different if you're retiring.
If you are leaving your company due to retirement, you also have choices about what to do with the money in your 401(k) account. You can keep it there and take money out as needed. You can roll the amount over into a rollover IRA account and be completely responsible for managing the account. Some plans allow you to take your money out in the form of an annuity, a guaranteed monthly benefit for the rest of your life.
The decision of how to invest your 401(k) account after you retire is a highly personal decision and should be made with the assistance of a professional advisor.
This article was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.