401(k) Rollovers

Ask Kim

401(k) Rollovers

If you have money hanging out in an account with a former employer, move it into your new 401(k), IRA or Roth IRA.

Is it possible to roll over the funds in a 401(k) account with my old employer into the 401(k) I have with my current employer? It’s been four years since I left my old job. If a rollover to my current 401(k) is not an option, can I move the money to an IRA? My husband and I have an annual gross income of about $200,000. Do I even qualify for an IRA?

Ask your employer about its rules for accepting rollovers from other 401(k)s. Employers aren’t required to let workers roll 401(k) money from other company plans into their current 401(k)s, but virtually all of them allow it, says David Wray, president of the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America.

You could roll over the money into a traditional IRA. Starting in 2010, you could even roll it directly into a Roth IRA.

The rules changed in 2008 to allow direct rollovers from a former employer’s 401(k), 403(b) or other tax-qualified plan into a Roth IRA for people with modified adjusted gross income of less than $100,000; before that, you needed to roll the 401(k) money into a traditional IRA and then covert it to a Roth. Beginning in 2010, anyone will be able to roll money directly into a Roth, regardless of his or her income (see The New Roth Rollover Rules Explained and More Roth Rollover Answers for more information.)


You’ll generally owe taxes on the entire conversion if you made only pretax contributions to the 401(k), but a special rule lets you avoid the tax bill if you made after-tax contributions to the 401(k) and are rolling over to the Roth only those after-tax contributions. See A Sweet Deal on Roth IRA Conversions for more information.

When deciding whether to shift the money to your new employer’s 401(k) or move it to an IRA, compare the investing options and fees. You’ll have more investing options with the IRA, but with the 401(k) you may get a break on fees and can consolidate more money in one place.

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.