Typically, most people automatically assume they should rollover their old 401(k) into a traditional IRA. However, a lot of people have been asking about another option lately – and that’s whether you can roll your 401(k) over into a Roth IRA instead.
Fortunately, the definitive answer is “yes.” You can roll your existing 401(k) into a Roth IRA instead of a traditional IRA. Choosing to do so just adds a few additional steps to the process.
Whenever you leave your job, you have a decision to make with your 401k plan. Most people don’t want to let an old 401(k) sit idle with an old employer, and could benefit immensely by moving those funds somewhere that could benefit them more in the long run. Let's see if I can help you make “cents” of the situation.
But first, let’s look at the rules behind the strategy of rolling over your 401k into a Roth IRA.
My favorite online broker is Scottrade but you can check out our recap on the best places to open a Roth IRA and the best online stock broker sign up bonuses. There are many good options out there, but I have had the best overall experience with Scottrade. No matter which option you choose the most imporatant thing with any investing is to get started
Roth IRA Rollover Rules From 401k
As a reminder, you must be separated from your employer to roll your 401k into a Roth IRA. You CANNOT do this if you are still working for the same company and/or employer, unless you’re already older than 59 ½.
Before January 1, 2008, you weren’t able to roll your 401(k) into a Roth IRA directly at all. If you wanted to do so you had to complete a two-step process. (Keep in mind that this would also apply to old Simple IRA's, SEP IRA's and 403b's, 457, and qualified pensions, too)
- Open a Traditional IRA.
- Convert the Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.
However, the law changed shortly after and this option became available. Still, just because the law has made this option available doesn’t mean you can definitely roll your old 401(k) into a Roth IRA no matter what. Unfortunately, it all depends on your plan administrator.
For example, recently I had two clients who intended to roll their old retirement plans into a Roth IRA.
One client had an old military retirement plan- Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) – and the other had an old state retirement plan. After helping each of them complete the required paperwork, I came across an interesting discovery.
The TSP rollover paperwork had a box you could mark if you wanted to rollover the plan into a Roth IRA (the instructions had been added to make sure you had a Roth IRA already established). However, the state retirement plan did not give that option.
The only option was to open a traditional IRA to accept the rollover then immediately convert it to a Roth IRA. That certainly seemed like a hassle at the time, and it definitely was.
However, this man’s state retirement plan is not the only one I’ve encountered with these extra “rules.” Many 401(k)’s and 403(b)’s come with the same “No-Roth IRA Rollover” option. This option was supposed to be mandatory in 2010, but some still do it on a voluntary basis.
At the end of the day, this means you should explore this option thoroughly before automatically assuming it would work in your case. Ask questions, consult your financial advisor, and read through all of your rollover paperwork carefully before you begin moving in this direction.
3 Brokerage Options to Rollover Your 401k Into a Roth IRA
If you plan to roll your 401(k) into a Roth IRA, you will need to open a brokerage account. Fortunately, you can choose from several different options on this front, with the best option for your needs depending on your investing goals and strategy.
Here are three great options for you to consider for your 401(k) rollover:
With over 500 branches across the country, Scottrade is one of the best options for rolling a 401(k) into a Roth IRA. Not only do they have a great brick-and-mortar presence, but their friendly online interface is also a huge perk.
Whether it is $7 trades, no account maintenance fees, or the fact that they won't charge you if you close your account to take your business elsewhere, there are plenty of reasons to love Scottrade.
I like the company so much I opened an account there myself and made a video walking you through the process of opening a No Fee Roth IRA with Scottrade.
Although Scottrade is certainly my top option for this scenario, a close second in my eyes is E*TRADE. Not only do they have 30 brick-and-mortar locations nationwide, but they also maintain one of the best online trading platforms available.
Their commission structure is competitive with the industry for stocks and ETFs, and they don't hit you hard on mutual fund fees.
Plus, if you open up an account with E*TRADE you get free trades for 60 days and up to $600 depending on the size of the 401(k) you are rolling over to the company. Free money for opening an online stock broker account? I'll take it.
Our final top pick is TD Ameritrade. Not only are they a popular option for all types of investors, but they are extremely competitive with both E*Trade and Scottrade in terms of ongoing costs and perks.
Once you learn the platform, TD Ameritrade has a large span of tools that can help you make informed investing decisions, maximize your returns, and monitor your accounts closely.
When you open a TD Ameritrade account, you get commission-free trades for 60 days, up to $600. Like E*Trade, however, this benefit depends on the size of your rollover.
And, don’t forget: Some firms dole out cash sign up bonuses (or airline miles) for opening an account with them. If you are hoping to get a signup bonus for opening an online stock broker account, you should definitely explore all of your options.
Recap on Roth IRA Conversion Rule
These days, nearly anyone can take all of their traditional IRA’s and old retirement plans and convert them to a Roth IRA. The amount you convert will be taxed, but it still can be an attractive move for those that feel that taxes are going nowhere but up.
How Do I Rollover if I Receive the Check?
If you receive a distribution check from your 401(k) rollover to a Roth IRA, then chances are good they will hold around 20% for taxes. If you want a direct 401(k) rollover to a Roth IRA, you may want to send that check back to your employer 401(k) provider and ask to be sent all of your eligible retirement distribution directly to your new Rollover IRA account (not as a check, or they will just give you 80% again).
You have 60 days upon receiving the check to get the money into the Roth IRA- no exceptions! So don't procrastinate on this one.
What About the Roth 401k?
If you employer offers a Roth 401k and you were savvy enough to take part, the path to a rollover will be much easier. When you’re converting one Roth product to another, there is simply no need for a conversion. You would simply roll the Roth 401(k) directly into the Roth IRA with the help of your plan provider.
Roll Your 401(k) by Following These Steps
- You have to have a Roth IRA open/established before you can do any of this.
- Ask your plan provider about the paperwork required to roll your plan over, then complete the paperwork in a timely manner.
- Enjoy the tax-free growth of your Roth IRA!
4 Signs It Makes Sense to Roll Your 401(k) into a Roth IRA
If you’re thinking of rolling your 401(k) into a Roth IRA instead of a traditional IRA, you have plenty of reasons to do so. Not only do Roth IRAs let you invest your dollars in the same investments as traditional IRAs, but they offer additional perks that can help you save money down the line. Here are four signs that a Roth IRA might actually be your best bet.
#1 You expect to pay higher taxes in the future.
Since Roth IRAs use after-tax dollars, you’ll have to pay taxes upfront on any funds you roll over. However, you won’t have to pay taxes on your distributions, which could be extremely beneficial if you’re taxed at a higher rate when you reach retirement. You’ll pay taxes either way – now or later. But with a Roth IRA, you can rest assured your withdrawals will be tax-free.
#2 You want to take withdrawals when you’re ready, and not a minute before.
While traditional IRAs force you to begin taking withdrawals at age 70 ½, Roth IRAs do not have this stipulation. Because of this, you can squirrel your Roth IRA funds away until you’re ready to use them.
#3 You expect to earn more money in the future.
If you plan to earn lots of money in the future – or earn a high income now – you should consider rolling your funds into a Roth IRA instead of a traditional IRA. For single filers in 2016, the maximum income allowable for contributions to a Roth IRA starts at $117,000 and ends at $133,000. Learn more about Roth IRA rules and contribution limits here. For married filers, on the other hand, the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA begins phasing out at $184,000 and halts completely at $194,000 for 2016. The more you earn in the future, the harder it will become to contribute to a Roth IRA and secure the benefits that come with it.
#4 You want to increase your tax diversification.
Contributions to traditional IRAs are tax-advantaged, meaning you won’t pay taxes on your invested funds until you begin taking withdrawals at retirement. Roth IRAs, on the other hand, are taxed up front but offer tax-free withdrawals after age 59 ½. If you’re unsure how your tax and income situation might pan out in the future, having both types of accounts – a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA – is a smart move in terms of diversifying your future tax exposure.
The Bottom Line
Rolling your 401(k) into a Roth IRA is a smart decision for many investors, but it may not be right for everyone. Before you pull the trigger, make sure to investigate all of your options and consider speaking with a tax professional. When it comes to complex investment vehicles and taxes, what you don’t know can hurt you