Demystifying the 401(k) Rollover

As a financial planner, I frequently encounter questions about 401(k) rollovers from clients who are changing jobs, retiring, or otherwise altering their employment situations. There’s often confusion about whether rolling over a 401(k) is the right move, and what the process entails. In this blog post, I’ll outline multiple reasons why and when a 401(k) rollover makes sense, as well as situations in which it may not be the best option.


Reasons to consider a 401(k) rollover:


  1. Job change or termination: One of the most common reasons to rollover a 401(k) is when you change jobs or your employment is terminated. Leaving your retirement account with a previous employer may result in higher fees or limited investment options. Rolling over your 401(k) to an IRA or your new employer’s plan can provide more control and better investment options.

  2. Consolidation: If you have multiple 401(k) accounts from different employers, rolling them over into one IRA can make managing your retirement savings much easier. This simplification can help you keep better track of your investments and potentially reduce fees.

  3. Improved investment options: Your current 401(k) may have limited investment choices, high fees, or underperforming funds. By rolling over your 401(k) to an IRA, you can access a wider range of investment options, often with lower fees.

  4. Greater flexibility: IRAs offer more flexibility in terms of withdrawal options, particularly if you plan to retire early or need access to your funds for certain financial emergencies. With a 401(k), you may face more restrictions and penalties for early withdrawals.


When not to consider a 401(k) rollover:


  1. If you’re happy with your current plan: If your existing 401(k) offers low fees, a diverse range of investment options, and you’re satisfied with the performance, there may be no need to move your assets.

  2. Age considerations: If you are between the ages of 55 and 59 ½, you may be able to take penalty-free withdrawals from your 401(k) if you leave your job. Rolling over to an IRA would mean that you’d have to wait until 59 ½ to avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

  3. Outstanding loans: If you have an outstanding 401(k) loan, rolling over your account may trigger a taxable event if you’re unable to repay the loan before completing the rollover.

  4. NUA (Net Unrealized Appreciation) benefits: If you hold employer stock in your 401(k), it may be advantageous to keep the stock in the account to take advantage of the NUA tax treatment, which could lower your overall tax liability.

  5. Legal protection: In some cases, 401(k) accounts have stronger protection from creditors than IRAs. If you’re concerned about potential legal claims, it may be best to keep your funds in your 401(k).


Deciding whether to roll over your 401(k) is a personal decision based on your unique financial situation and goals. Consider the advantages and drawbacks mentioned in this post, and consult with a financial planner to help determine the best course of action. Your retirement is important, so take the time to explore your options and make informed decisions that will set you up for financial success in the years to come.

Millennial Wealth Management

Millennial Wealth Management is a fee-only registered investment advisor in Colorado. We educate and advise millennials and their families in the Denver and Boulder area, as well as other states virtually. As millennials, we understand the financial choices our generation is faced with, from navigating your first home purchase or tackling student loans. Our mission is to help our generation stop worrying about money.

Copyright Millennial Wealth Management, 2020.