General Question

ibstubro's avatar

Although I'm no longer employed, I have a 401K account through a former employer. Is there a way for me to continue contributing to that 401K account?

Asked by ibstubro (18804points) September 20th, 2014

I’m 53.
Is there a better way for me to put money back for retirement?
Is regular contributions to my Vanguard account good enough?

Please keep it simple.

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10 Answers

chyna's avatar

I am not a financial wizard or anything, but I’m pretty sure you can not continue contributing to that account. Have you looked into rolling it over into an IRA and then you can add your contributions to that IRA.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@ibstubro @chyna Is pretty savvy. I’d guess it depends on your former employer, but she should be right. Do a rollover direct to your IRA. Don’t take the funds and then wait for more than 60 days, or you will get hammered with taxes.

CWOTUS's avatar

Per @Adirondackwannabe‘s advice: make a direct transfer of the 401(k) account to a new self-directed IRA. The reason for putting it into a “new” IRA is so that you can transfer it again to another company’s 401(k) should you take employment with an employer whose 401(k) you like better than any self-directed plan (IRA) of your own. I never have found a 401(k) that I liked more than my own direction in my own IRAs, but I’ve still got 5 separate IRAs with a brokerage so that the possibility is still open to me. And managing five separate accounts is not at all difficult.

You can always move the account to another IRA and consolidate them, but then you will no longer have the ability to move those monies again to a new employer’s 401(k).

When you choose a brokerage to hold the IRA for you (it has to be a custodial account; you can “manage” it yourself, but you may not hold the certificates, etc. – all transactions have to be “at arm’s length” and in the custodial account), you can tell them who the 401(k) is with and they can manage the entire transfer for you. This is done every day, and is much more streamlined than it was the first time I did this (in 1991), when I had to take a cash-out check from my former employer and then move it myself to the brokerage. It’s very simple and painless now.

Pachy's avatar

You’ll probably have to roll it over into a new 401K or other financial instrument (that’s what I did when I retired). Some companies allow you to continue contributing to their 401K after you leave but most don’t—and most financial advisers recommend rolling over the old account into a new one regardless. Talk to your bank or financial adviser to learn the latest rules.

zenvelo's avatar

Your former employer should have given you instructions on rolling it to an IRA. Talk to someone at Schwab or Fidelity or an equivalent firm on rolling it into an IRA.

Two things to be mindful of:

1) You cannot take any possession, even a check made out to the other bank, or you will be liable for taxes.

2) While it is great to want to add to it, you don’t want to commingle new post tax money with old pre-tax 401K contributions. Talk to a professional about keeping the funds apart or you could really mess with your tax liability.

JLeslie's avatar

The jellies above are right that you can roll it over to an IRA account. Your company might already have their 401k accounts at Schwab, Fidelity, Meryl Lynch, or one of the well known finanical institutions. If you are happy with how they have handled the funds you can just call them directly and they will help you roll it over. If you want to move the funds to a different financial institution you talk to them. You also can leave the 401k where it is if you want and just start an IRA wherever you want. People say it’s better to roll it over, but I have one 401k I never bothered to rollover from 15 years ago. I keep saying I will eventually do it, but I haven’t so far. I have from other jobs and it was easy to do.

You don’t have to worry about comingling before tax and after tax money as @zenvelo mentioned in a traditional IRA, a lot of us have funds comingled like that in IRA accounts even if all the money was always directly put into an IRA. If you put post tax money in an IRA there is a special form you do with your taxes at the end of the year. If you don’t make over a certain amount of money your IRA contribution will still be pretax anyway. Although, I say you don’t have to worry, it is more forms and math to deal with, when the money comes out of the account when you retire. All I meant by not worry is there is a way to handle it, many people have to deal with, because ince your income gets too high you can’t put pretax money in an IRA anyway.

It gets more tricky if you want to do a Roth IRA, or if you wind up converting to a Roth IRA in the future. If you have an interest in doing the Roth IRA then I suggest reading up on it a little or discussing with your accountant which IRA he thinks is best for you. A Roth lets you put post tax money in the account, but you don’t have to pay taxes when you pull the money out when you retire. The traditional IRA you are taxed when you pull the money out. I assume you can convert rollover money once in an IRA, but I am not 100% sure about it. The negative of course is you will get taxed now if you convert to a Roth, a big lump sum, which you probably don’t want to do with the current money you have in your 401k.

HenryFussy's avatar

The one thing no one mentioned is you cannot contribute unless you are earning money. If you are unemployed and “earn” nothing, you can contribute nothing.

JLeslie's avatar

@HenryFussy Unless you are married and your spouse is earning money.

BeenThereSaidThat's avatar

Since you no longer work there you can’t contribute to that 401k account. I would roll over the 401k account to my Vanguard account.

ibstubro's avatar

Thanks, all.
As I’m retired from that company and will be receiving pensions from them at some point, I’m letting the 401k ride for the time being.

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