Most people think of their 401(k) plan as a monolithic, take-it-or-leave-it proposition, but the truth is that many company plans offer individual options, even for employees who are not planning to leave.
For example, some 401(k) plans may be rolled over to an IRA while the employee remains with the company.
If you are considering an option like this, make sure you are not penalized for taking assets out too soon. For example, some 401(k) plans match part of your contribution on the condition that you keep the contribution in the plan for a certain time. It would be foolish to forfeit the company match.
Here are other recommendations:
I would not recommend an IRA rollover if you are satisfied with the past performance of the 401(k) plan and if the annual costs are reasonable.
Consider a rollover only if you feel you can improve your overall performance with a combination of better alternatives and lower costs.
In fact, if you're satisfied with the performance and cost of your company's 401(k) plan, it's worth seeing whether you can keep your assets in the plan even after leaving the company.
If you are going to a new company that also offers a 401(k) plan, it's worth finding out if its plan allows you to move your existing 401(k) assets to its plan. If so, review the plan's performance, annual costs and flexibility. It's another option to consider.
When considering rolling a 401(k) into an IRA, your age is an important factor. If you are older than 55 but younger than 591/2, a 401(k) and an IRA have different implications for withdrawals.
Suppose you plan on retiring before 591/2. The IRS allows you to make withdrawals from your 401(k) after age 55 without a 10 percent penalty. (You would have to pay income taxes on any withdrawals.)
However, if you rolled the funds into an IRA and then made withdrawals before 591/2, in addition to having an income tax liability you would be subject to the 10 percent penalty on all withdrawals from the IRA. So if you need to make withdrawals before 591/2, it's best not to roll over your funds to an IRA until you reach that age.
Another issue is creditor protection. Might you be subject to a lawsuit? If there is a high probability, you might want to keep your funds in the 401(k). You have creditor protection with the 401(k) that you may not have with an IRA.
If you do decide to roll over some or all of the plan's assets, make a "trustee to trustee" IRA rollover. This way you are assured the distribution is not taxable, and there will not be a 10 percent penalty (if you are younger than 591/2). If you request the funds personally before executing the rollover, execute it within 60 days to avoid taxation and penalties. Why run the risk?