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July 12, 2023

Navigating Your 401(k) After Leaving a Job

Leaving your job raises important questions about what to do with your 401(k) retirement account. This guide aims to provide you with clear and concise information to help you make the best decision based on your individual circumstances and financial goals.

Understanding Your Options:

When you part ways with an employer, you have several options for your 401(k):

Retain you 401(k) with the previous employer:

Most companies allow you to keep your retirement savings within their plans even after you leave.


Potential for continued tax-deferred growth of your funds.

Extensive protection against creditors by federal law.


For balances below $5,000, funds may be automatically sent to you or redirected to an IRA on your behalf.

Once you choose to retain the funds in your ex-employer's plan, you cannot contribute further or generally take a 401(k) loan.

Withdrawal options could be limited.

After 73 years of age, you are obligated to take annual required minimum distributions (RMDs).

If you hold appreciated company stock, be aware of net unrealized appreciation (NUA) implications.

Roll over the funds into an Individual Retirement Account:

A Rollover IRA facilitates the transfer of funds from your previous employer-sponsored retirement plan into an IRA.


Greater investment flexibility with a broader range of options compared to 401(k) plans.

Tax-deferred growth potential of your money continues.

Potential for lower fees compared to some 401(k) plans.

Early penalty-free withdrawals for qualifying first-time home purchases or higher education expenses if you're under age 59½.

Opportunity to consolidate multiple 401(k) accounts from different employers into a single IRA.


Required minimum distributions (RMDs) after 73 years of age.

401(k) plans are better protected by federal law than IRAs, though some states also offer certain protections for IRAs.

Roll over your 401(k) into a new employer’s plan:

Check with your new employer to confirm if they allow rollovers from previous employer plans.


Tax-deferred growth potential of your money continues.

Extensive protection against creditors by federal law.


Limited investment options compared to an IRA.

Varying plan quality, including administrative fees, withdrawal rules, and services.

Rolling over a 401(k) can be complex and requires careful coordination with plan administrators to avoid tax penalties

Cash Out:

Consider this option only as a last resort when you have an urgent need for immediate cash and no other options. Note that withdrawing from your 401(k) before  age 59½ may incur ordinary income taxes and a potential 10% early withdrawal penalty.


Immediate access to cash.


Ordinary income taxes and potential early withdrawal penalties.

Additional Considerations:

Whether you choose to roll over your 401(k) into a new employer's plan or an IRA, it is advisable to seek guidance from your new plan's representative or a financial advisor. Ensure that the transfer is completed within 60 days to avoid penalties.


Leaving your job requires careful consideration of your 401(k) options. Take the time to understand each option and how it aligns with your financial goals. Consulting a financial advisor can provide valuable guidance to ensure you make informed decisions that will set you on the right track for your retirement planning.

Remember, this guide serves as general information, and it's essential to consider your individual circumstances and consult with professionals to make the best choices regarding your 401(k) after leaving a job.