What To Do With An Old 401k

When you leave a job, it's essential to make sure that you have the best plan in place for your old 401k. This retirement account is rightly considered an investment of yours and should be managed with utmost care as to secure maximum returns on savings.

In this article, we will provide information about all potential options available for managing your old 401k along with tips to help you decide which one suits best based on your needs and goals.

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Option 1: Roll Over Your 401k to an IRA

If you're no longer working with the former employer who sponsored your 401k plan, it may be a wise decision to rollover your 401k into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Consider making this transfer for these benefits:

  • Control: An IRA gives you the capability to exercise greater control over your investment decisions and fees, unlike a 401k plan.
  • More investment options: IRAs provide investors with a wide array of possibilities when it comes to investments, including stocks and bonds - something which most 401k plans generally lack.
  • Consolidation: Transferring your old 401k to an IRA is a great way of consolidating all your retirement savings, giving you the power to more easily manage and maximize returns on your investments.

Things to consider before making the decision to roll over:

  • Fees: Make sure to understand any fees associated with the IRA you're considering, such as account maintenance fees or transaction fees.
  • Tax implications: When you decide to transfer your 401k savings into a traditional IRA, you will not be liable for taxes on the rollover sum; nevertheless, any withdrawals taken from that account during retirement will require payment of tax. Alternatively, if you opt to move those funds over to a Roth IRA, then although upfront taxes are due on the rollover amount itself - no further payments shall be necessary when making qualified takeouts as part of your retirement plan.
  • Eligibility: Prior to deciding which type of retirement account you'd like, make certain that your income and other financial assets are within the required limits for a traditional or Roth IRA. If not, then unfortunately these accounts may be off-limits to you.

Option 2: Leave Your 401k Where It Is

Another option for dealing with an old 401k is to simply leave it where it is. Here are some reasons why you might choose to do so:

  • Convenience: Keeping your 401k with your previous employer is by far the most effortless alternative, since there will be no requirement for you to do anything or make any choices regarding the account.
  • Lower fees: If your 401k plan offers lower fees compared to an IRA, you could save on investment costs by leaving your money in the plan. Utilizing this strategy could be a clever way to maximize returns while minimizing expenses over time.
  • Good investment options: If your 401k plan has favorable investments and reasonable fees, you may not need to take any action with it.

Drawbacks of leaving your 401k where it is:

  • Limited investment options: With certain 401k options, you could be restricted in terms of investment selection; this lack of diversification may lead to decreased returns on your investments.
  • No contributions: If you've left the organization who provided your 401k plan, unfortunately you won't be able to make any additional deposits into that account.
  • Difficulty tracking: Keeping your 401k with a prior employer makes it difficult to manage your retirement savings; especially if you have multiple accounts from diverse employers.

Option 3: Cash Out Your 401k

While it's generally not recommended, cashing out your 401k is an option if you need the money for an emergency or other expenses. However, there are several drawbacks to consider before making this decision:

  • Taxes and penalties: If you're under age 59 ½ and make a withdrawal from your 401k, not only will you have to pay taxes on the amount withdrawn but also an extra 10% for early withdrawal - meaning substantially less of that money is yours.
  • Loss of retirement savings: Withdrawing your 401k funds essentially forfeits any potential growth or earnings on those assets, diminishing the power of your retirement savings in the long run.
  • Bad financial habits: Relying on your 401k as an emergency fund is a surefire way to put yourself at risk for financial disaster. It's essential to address bad habits such as not having an emergency fund or budgeting correctly rather than relying exclusively upon your retirement savings account when you need extra cash

When cashing out your 401k might make sense:

  • Emergency expenses: If you are faced with an urgent financial need, such as medical expenses or unemployment, drawing on the funds in your 401k might be your best bet.
  • High-interest debt: If your debts carry a high-interest rate, such as credit card debt, it can make financial sense to withdraw from your 401k in order to pay off the balance and avoid paying exorbitant interest fees over time.

Option 4: Transfer Your 401k to Your New Employer's Plan

When beginning a fresh role and your new employer has 401k benefits, it may be worth transferring your previous 401k to the current plan. Here are some pros and cons for you to contemplate.

Benefits of transferring your 401k to your new employer's plan:

  • Consolidation: Consolidating your retirement savings into one account by transferring your 401k to the plan of a new employer will help you manage and monitor your investments more easily, allowing you to keep track of how much progress you are making.
  • Lower fees: Your new employer's plan might offer lower fees or better investment options than your old plan, which could potentially increase your returns over time.
  • Contributions: By moving your 401k to the plan at your new job, you'll be able to make continuous contributions and may even qualify for employer matching funds.

Drawbacks of transferring your 401k to your new employer's plan:

  • Limited investment options: Your new employer's plan might have limited investment possibilities, which could impede your capacity to diversify and consequently diminish returns.
  • Loss of control: When transferring your 401k to a new employer's plan, you must consider that many of the investment options might be limited or have different rules and regulations than your current provider. Therefore, it is essential to understand what control you may lose over your investments during this transition.
  • Timing: Depending on the plan of your new employer, it could take a while to transfer your existing 401k. During this time frame, not only might your money be out of the market and potentially miss any potential gains but you may also incur some additional fees.


Deciding what to do with your old 401k may seem like a complex task, however it's important that you explore all avenues before deciding.

Whether cashing it out, leaving it as-is, transferring to an IRA or passing on the assets to your next employer - take into account both advantages and disadvantages of every choice before continuing forward.

Your retirement savings are vital for ensuring a secure financial future for yourself; so handle them cautiously and reflectively.

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