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401(k) Rollovers and Pension Distributions



Prepared by Michael Menninger, CFP

Understanding Retirement Plans: 401(k), 403(b), and Pension Plans 

Most people working today have a retirement plan through their employer, such as a 401(k) or a 403(b).   The 401(k) and 403(b) plans are virtually identical, except that 403(b) plans are offered by non-profit organizations.   Both plans are identified as Defined Contribution (DC) plans, because the employee defines what they will contribute.   Traditional pension plans are identified as Defined Benefit (DB) plans, because there is a formula that defines the monthly benefit you will receive upon retirement.

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What is a 401(k) Rollover?

A 401(k) rollover is the process of moving money from one retirement plan to another, like an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or the 401(k) plan of a new employer. You can keep your retirement assets in a tax-deferred state by using the rollover procedure.

Watch Important Retirement Planning Facts

In this episode of Financial Planning Explained, Menninger & Associates focuses on the importance of retirement planning. He says retirement planning takes on two phases: accumulation of assets and distribution of assets. He explains the various contribution plans like 401k, 403b, 457, SEP IRA, and SIMPLE IRA and how you can attain benefits from these plans. 

Watch as we explain how pension plans dropped off, and you don’t require paying taxes while the money grows. However, once you take out the money, it becomes a taxable income. In this way, you can make a contribution to the pension plans with a minimal tax payment. See demonstrations of pension plans applicability, such as how they work as a benefit plan. 

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Retirement Plan Withdrawals: Rules, Restrictions, and Options Explained 

In most cases, employees are restricted from withdrawing assets from these retirement plans, except if they are terminated from employment (e.g. – layoffs, switching jobs, or retirement).  In a few cases, employers allow for in-service distributions, which would allow the employee to take a distribution from the plan.   However, these are typically restricted to attaining age 65, or hardship distributions (outside the scope of this article).

In the case of pension plans, most private companies have moved away from these plans because people are living longer and the future liabilities to the company are not well-defined.  Thus, these pension plans seem to be limited to governmental organizations and very few large corporations.  Interestingly, many of those same corporations formerly had pension plans, closed them, and offered their participants the opportunity to take a lump sum distribution in lieu of the monthly pension payment.  This will be discussed later, but the lump sum distributions generally follow the same rules as distributions from a DC plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b).

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When Should You Rollover 401(k)?

Once you get a payout from an IRA or retirement plan, you have 60 days to transfer the funds to another IRA or plan. In some cases, the IRS may waive the 60-day rollover requirement if you missed the deadline due to uncontrollable circumstances.

401(k) Rollover Options

When taking a distribution from a retirement plan, the individual generally has four choices of what they can do with the money.  

Cash Distributions from 401(k) Accounts

This is when the participant takes the money as a distribution to themselves.   This may be very tempting, but it comes with (often unexpected) consequences, in that the entire balance is subject to income tax, and if the participant is under age 59.5, they may be subject to an additional 10% tax penalty.  As per IRS rules, the company is required to withhold 20% of Federal tax, so the actual amount of distribution will be less than the account value.  In the event that the participant didn’t intend to withdraw money in this manner, they have 60 days (with certain restrictions) to put that money back into an eligible retirement plan, which is referred to as an indirect rollover.   Just remember that the participant will need to come up with the extra 20% that was withheld for taxes, or that amount will be subject to tax, because they didn’t put all the money back into a retirement plan.

Leaving Funds in the Existing 401(k) Plan: Pros and Cons

The participant can also leave the money in the existing plan.  By doing so, there are no tax ramifications.  The disadvantage of this option is that the participant is limited to those investment options in the plan.  Plus, a loan is not an option because the individual is no longer an active participant in the plan.

Rollover to New Employer's Retirement Plan: Benefits and Considerations

If the participant has a new / current employer with a retirement plan, and that retirement plan accepts rollovers, then the participant can select this option.  The advantage is consolidating assets into one account, and it also allows the participant to have additional assets that may be borrowed against, if the plan allows it.

401k Rollover to IRA

This is the most flexible alternative available to the participant.   This allows the individual to have a much broader array of investment choices and they can seek guidance from a financial advisor.  Plus, the IRA can be converted to a Roth IRA (most retirement plans do not allow for this option), which may provide long-term tax advantages to the individual.   Further, this does not preclude the individual from transferring that money into his/her current retirement plan at a later date, so long as that plan allows for incoming transfers.

Pension Plan Lump Sum Distributions

If an individual has a pension plan that allows for a lump sum distribution, there are a lot of advantages to doing so.   First, if the individual is in poor health and they die after collecting a monthly pension payment, some or all of that pension may be lost.  The same can be said if the individual dies, and then his / her beneficiary subsequently dies, then the money is lost for good.  Lump sum distributions allow for the individual to take a lump sum of money, and can apply the four options listed above for that money.

Lump sum values are actuarially calculated, which means they start with the anticipated monthly benefit and age, estimate the number of anticipated payments based on your age (and sometimes gender), and then provide a dollar amount that is based on your current age and the assumed interest rate used in growth calculations.  Since all of those factors are constant except the assumed interest rate, then the amount of the lump sum is impacted by current interest rates.   When interest rates are low, then the lump sum amount is greater than when interest rates are high.  So, because interest rates are at virtually all-time lows right now, then the subsequent lump sum distribution amounts will likely never be higher than they are now.

Maximize Your Retirement Planning & Investment Strategies

As with most financial decisions, the best option for rolling over an old 401(k) or a pension is “it depends”.  We suggest you contact your financial advisor to help you decide which option is best for you, or feel free to call us if you have any questions.

The retirement planning team of Menninger & Associates will help you optimize your retirement accounts and assist with tax-sensitive withdrawal strategies

Talk About 401k Rollover Options

Michael Menninger, CFPAbout the Author: Michael Menninger, CFP®️

Michael Menninger is the founder and president of Menninger & Associates Financial Planning. With 20+ years of financial planning experience, Michael helps his clients pursue their financial goals through a hardworking, common-sense and detail-oriented approach to financial planning. He provides personalized service, builds lasting relationships, and maintains a disciplined, long-term outlook. He uses his experience and wide-ranging business and educational background as a basis for creating financial plans unique to each client's goals and aspirations.

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