Should You Consolidate Your Retirement Accounts?

If you’re like many of the young professionals I work with every day, myself included, you’ve probably had a few different jobs at this point in your career. In many cases you may have started saving for retirement using the available employer plan or even an individual retirement account (IRA). As you change jobs, it may make sense to consolidate all of your savings into one account to achieve a coordinated investment plan.

Why consolidate?

Consolidating your retirement accounts offers several potential benefits:

 

Less administrative hassle. You’ll receive just one account statement, making it easier to keep track of your funds. Consolidating your accounts also simplifies required minimum distribution calculations and tracking. You’d be surprised how often we discover clients have additional accounts they forgot they even had.

No overlap. If you have multiple accounts, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your investments are properly diversified. In fact, your money may be invested in similar asset classes with significant overlap. Consolidating your retirement accounts gives you a clearer view of your asset allocation picture, as well as any adjustments you may need to make.

Easier rebalancing. Any retirement savings account requires periodic rebalancing to keep it in line with your objectives. By consolidating your accounts, you’re more likely to achieve a cohesive investment strategy.

Proper Beneficiary Management. I can’t tell you how often we see clients with multiple IRAs and 401k plans, all with different beneficiary designations. Even more shocking is how often that information is incorrect or outdated. Consolidation makes it much easier to keep these up to date and accurate.

 

How to consolidate

Moving a retirement account to a new employer plan or to an IRA can be done via direct rollover or trustee-to-trustee transfer.

With a trustee-to-trustee transfer, the funds are sent directly from one plan to another. The plan administrator will make the check payable to your new IRA custodian (never to you directly). That is why this type of transfer is often referred to as a direct rollover. Unlike regular rollovers, there is no tax withholding requirement for this type of transaction. When requesting a transfer from your employer’s plan or another retirement account, be sure to use the right terms to avoid unwanted tax consequences. If you’re unsure, contact your financial planner for assistance.

Should you move your employer plan to an IRA?

A former employer will generally let you keep your money in its retirement plan for as long as you want. You may also choose to move those savings to an IRA. Before making the switch to an IRA, however, it’s wise to consider the following factors:

 

Investment choices. An employer’s 401(k) plan may be lower cost, but your choice of investments will be limited, as 401(k) plan sponsors tend to simplify the investment decision for employees by reducing the number of options. With an IRA, you have a potentially unlimited choice of investments, including individual stocks, mutual funds, and alternative investments rarely offered by employer plans.

Control over distributions. Another benefit of IRAs is that you have more control over when your retirement savings are paid to you. Distribution requirements vary among IRA providers, so be sure to understand the choices available to you and your beneficiaries.

Creditor protection. If creditor protection is a concern, both employer plans and IRAs safeguard your retirement savings from creditors to a certain extent. Employer plans generally offer better protection than IRAs do, however. The level of protection an IRA offers depends on your state laws.

Early withdrawal. One reason to keep funds in an employer account, at least temporarily, is that you may need to tap into your retirement savings before you reach age 59½. There is no tax penalty for taking a distribution from your former employer’s plan after you reach age 55. Although you’ll still pay income taxes, you will avoid the 10-percent penalty for early withdrawal, which would be assessed if you withdrew funds from an IRA before age 59½. Exceptions to the penalty on early IRA distributions include:

 
 
  • Unreimbursed medical expenses that amount to more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income
  • Disability
  • Distributions from a beneficiary IRA upon the death of the original IRA owner
  • Qualified higher-education expenses
  • Qualified first-time home purchase
  • Distributions under a “substantially equal payment” plan, per Section 72(t) of the Internal Revenue Code
 

A Retirement Strategy That Works For You

As you can see there are some great benefits to consolidating your retirement accounts, however, there are many factors that should be considered. I recommend working with a financial planner to determine what is right for you. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have questions. I'd rather develop the best strategy for you and help you implement it properly, than you potentially creating issues trying to do it yourself.