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Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.


Leave It Where It Is

401k plans differ based on the employer, but most will give you the option to leave your 401k where it is even when you don't work for them anymore.

Depending on the 401k's money options, your money might be better off in the investments at your old job than moving it elsewhere. If you are happy with the investment options in the existing 401k, but not necessarily with your other options, it may be best to stay put. I personally did this with an ex-employer's 401k, because I was happy with the expense ratios and investments they offered.

Larger employers tend to offer 401k programs at lower fees. Compare any fees from your previous employer's 401k plan to whichever vehicles you are considering transferring to first. To do so, check the expense ratios of the mutual funds offered in both plans.

Depending on how much money is in your 401k at the time you leave, it may not be a good idea to leave it and do nothing. Often, accounts with balances of $5,000 or less may be closed automatically. If this happens, the employer may end up sending you a lump sum check, or deposit the money into an IRA in your name. It's best to check with your employer first.

Know that you won't be able to make more contributions to the existing 401k once your employment ends. Withdrawal options are also limited. 401k benefits, such as retirement loans, are usually not allowed once you are no longer actively participating in the plan.

Roll It into a 401k with Your New Employer

Simplicity is the key to easy 401k management. The standard routine for 401ks when you switch jobs is to roll it into your new employer's retirement plan.

Having just one 401k to manage can be beneficial if you don't continuously dedicate time to review all your accounts. However, as we mentioned before, you should closely compare expenses and investment options before making that decision.

Roll It into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

You also have the option to roll over the funds from your 401k into an IRA account with a bank or brokerage firm, where your money will continue to grow tax-deferred.

One possible benefit of an IRA rollover is the plethora of investment options available to you. Many 401ks are limited to just a handful of mutual funds and bonds, whereas IRAs give you more choices.

Likewise, many 401ks limit the number of times in a year you can make investment changes (known as portfolio rebalancing). With IRA accounts, you're not limited to a select amount of times you can make such changes, giving you more freedom and flexibility with an IRA.

Many brokerages and banks are known for giving out incentives to new customers — and there's no shortage of handouts when it comes to opening a new IRA with them. You may be able to snag yourself a bonus while gaining more control over your retirement money.

As promising as IRA rollovers can be, it's not always going to be the best option for 401k funds. For example, let's say you've left a job for another and you're debating moving your previous 401k into an IRA or your new employer's plan. Always take into consideration employer matching contributions. Most employer's 401k programs will contribute a certain percentage or match what you put into the account. For example, let's say the program will match up to 6% of your contributions, and you contribute 6% of your salary that year which ends up being $3,000. With the employer matching contributions, you end up gaining another $3,000 for the year. If you choose the IRA, you could possibly miss out on a ton of money.

Take the Money

You always have the option to simply close out your 401k when you leave your job, but this is almost always a bad choice.

If you decide to take the cash when you aren't 59 ½ or older, then you will end up paying an excessive amount of taxes along with penalty fees that are usually around 10%.

Your Next Steps

Once you have decided which rollover option to take, your first step is to set up the new account. When the account is opened, the new provider will provide you with instructions to transfer the money. Usually, this means you are in charge of contacting the former employer's plan administration and letting them know you need to make a direct rollover.

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The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

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