What to Do with Your 401k When You Change Jobs?

When changing jobs, many individuals often overlook one of their most significant assets, the 401k. Ryan discusses what to do with your 401k when you change jobs. Firstly, individuals can choose to leave their 401k with their previous employer, but it’s essential to continue managing and monitoring it.

Another option is taking a full cash taxable distribution, which may be suitable for smaller balances or if the funds are needed for specific purposes, though this can entail hefty taxes. Alternatively, one can roll over the 401k into the new employer’s plan, but this might restrict investment choices. A more flexible choice is a tax-free rollover to an IRA, which offers a broader range of investment opportunities.

Costs, administration fees, and other considerations should influence the decision. Another option is converting the 401k to a Roth IRA, although tax implications need consideration. Ryan emphasizes the importance of proactively managing your 401k, especially when accumulating multiple plans across different jobs.

What to Do with Your 401k When You Change Jobs

Are you considering changing jobs? Congratulations on your career move! However, there’s one important aspect you should not overlook during this transition – your 401k retirement savings. Many people leave their 401k accounts behind when they switch jobs, inadvertently neglecting one of their most significant assets. In this article, we’ll discuss the various options you have for your 401k when you change jobs and why it’s essential to make an informed decision to secure your financial future.

Leaving It Where It Is

One of the options available to you is to leave your 401k with your previous employer. While this might seem like the most straightforward choice, it comes with some considerations. When you leave your 401k plan behind, you won’t receive ongoing advice or guidance for managing your investments. Over time, many people forget their login credentials, and their 401k statements start piling up in the email or physical mailbox, often going unnoticed.

If you choose to leave your 401k with your former employer, it’s crucial to stay engaged with your account. Regularly log in to check your balance, monitor your investments, and ensure that your 401k is appropriately allocated based on your risk tolerance and age. If your old employer’s 401k plan offers an advisor, consider utilizing their expertise to make informed decisions regarding your retirement savings.

Neglecting your 401k can lead to missed opportunities for growth and proper management of your retirement fund. Remember that a 401k is often one of the largest assets individuals have to fund their retirement, and the responsibility to manage it falls squarely on your shoulders.

Taking a Full Cash Taxable Distribution

In some cases, individuals might consider taking a full cash taxable distribution from their 401k when changing jobs. However, this option can have significant tax consequences. For instance, if you’re 50 years old and have a substantial balance in your 401k, taking a full cash distribution could result in paying a substantial amount in taxes, typically between three and four hundred thousand dollars on top of your regular income for that year.

While taking a taxable distribution might be necessary for certain financial goals, such as starting a business or funding a specific project, it’s essential to have a clear purpose for the money and avoid frivolous spending. Taking such a distribution from a sizable 401k balance should be a last resort due to the potential tax implications.

Rolling Over to Your New Employer’s 401k Plan

Another option you have when changing jobs is to roll over your old 401k into your new employer’s 401k plan. This is a popular choice among job changers. While it’s a viable option, it has its limitations. Your new employer’s 401k plan typically offers a limited selection of investment options, often around 25 different funds. This means that all your retirement savings will be invested in these options.

The Tax-Free Rollover to an IRA

An alternative to rolling your 401k into your new employer’s plan is performing a tax-free rollover to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). This option opens up a world of investment opportunities, giving you more flexibility and control over your retirement funds.

IRAs allow you to invest in a wide range of assets, including individual stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), real estate investment trusts (REITs), private equity funds, structured notes, and more. With over 11,000 mutual funds available, you can create a diversified portfolio tailored to your financial goals and risk tolerance.

When you choose to roll over your 401k to an IRA, you can coordinate your retirement savings effectively. Your new employer’s 401k plan can serve as the foundation for your passive investments, typically consisting of index funds, while the IRA portion offers more dynamic investment opportunities.

Factors to Consider Before Making a Decision

Before deciding what to do with your 401k, there are several factors to consider:

1. Cost

Compare the costs associated with your old and new 401k plans. Determine whether the fees and expenses in your new plan are more or less than your previous one. Opt for the plan that offers you the best value.

2. Investment Options

Consider the investment options available in each plan. If your new employer’s 401k plan provides a sufficient range of funds that align with your financial goals, rolling your old 401k into it might be a practical choice. However, if you value diversity and a broader range of investment options, an IRA could be a better fit.

3. Long-Term Strategy

Think about your long-term financial strategy. Coordinating multiple 401k accounts or rolling them into an IRA can help ensure your retirement savings are working together efficiently.

4. Tax Implications

Be aware of the tax implications of your decision. Converting to a Roth IRA, for example, can have immediate tax consequences, so evaluate your tax bracket and overall financial situation before making a decision.

Consider a Roth IRA Conversion

Converting your 401k to a Roth IRA is another option to explore. This strategy can be beneficial for those with smaller 401k balances and a lower income during the year of conversion. However, it’s essential to assess the tax implications carefully, as the amount you convert is treated as taxable income.


In conclusion, your 401k is a crucial part of your retirement planning, and what you choose to do with it when changing jobs can significantly impact your financial future. Leaving it behind, taking a full cash taxable distribution, rolling it over to your new employer’s plan, or performing a tax-free rollover to an IRA are all viable options.

Your decision should align with your financial goals, investment preferences, and overall retirement strategy. Moreover, consider the costs and tax implications before making a choice. Remember, your 401k is one of the primary tools for securing your retirement, so make an informed decision to ensure it serves you well in the long run.

Also read: What To Do With Your 401k When You Retire?


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