How To Consolidate Multiple Retirement Accounts

How To Consolidate Multiple Retirement Accounts

When it comes to retirement planning, out of sight can mean out of mind. If your money is spread over multiple accounts, you might not concentrate as much on each one's investment strategy. It's also surprisingly common for people to lose retirement funds altogether. By moving all your savings to one place, you can make your life easier and your plan more effective. Here's the process for how to consolidate multiple retirement accounts.

1. Make a List of Your Retirement Accounts

The first step to consolidating is figuring out exactly what you have. While you might be actively tracking your current workplace plan or Individual Retirement Account (IRA), think about whether you've had any other accounts over the years. For example, did you have a 401(k) at an old job that you never moved? In 2021, there were over 24 million "lost" 401(k)s left at former employers, according to a report from Capitalize.

As you list your retirement accounts, note whether they are pre-tax accounts, like a Traditional IRA or 401(k), versus after-tax accounts, like a Roth IRA or a Roth 401(k).

2. Collect the Most Recent Statements

Contact the retirement plan provider for each account and request your most recent statement. This will show your current balance, your investments and the fees. The statement will also list your account number, something you will need for the consolidation.

3. Decide Where To Consolidate

When you consolidate retirement plans, you combine their balances into just one account. The account should be one that you're actively using, like your IRA or the retirement plan at your current job. Both have advantages. An IRA gives you more flexibility over your investment options as you get to pick whichever broker you want.

With a workplace plan, you need to use the investments provided by the company running the plan. In exchange, some 401(k)s offer lower fees thanks to group price discounts. Your 401(k) could also give you pre-retirement access to your money through loans, whereas IRAs do not have this feature.

4. Consider Benefits in Old Plans

Once you move money out of a former employer's workplace retirement plan, you won't be able to put it back in. Before consolidating, make sure there isn't a special benefit in the old plan, like a very low-priced investment fund that you couldn't access as an individual investor.

5. Understand the Potential Tax Impacts

When you consolidate retirement plans, it's called a rollover. Rollovers don't count as withdrawals. You won't owe the 10% early withdrawal penalty for making this move. You can also avoid income taxes depending on how you handle the rollover. You can move money between pre-tax accounts tax-free as well as between after-tax accounts tax-free.

If you want to move a pre-tax retirement account into an after-tax retirement account, like moving a 401(k) into a Roth IRA, you would owe income tax on whatever you transfer over. After the Roth conversion, your investments would then grow tax-free. It may be worth the upfront tax hit, depending on your goals. Just make sure you're aware of the impact before handling this consolidation.

6. Contact the Retirement Account Providers

To finalize your consolidation plan, you will need to collect rollover forms both from the old account administrators and the one currently running your retirement plan. These short forms ask you to list some information like:

  • The former employer or company managing your retirement plan.
  • The new account where you want to transfer the funds.
  • The type of retirement account you're moving over.
  • The account number.
  • Your SSN.
  • Your contact information.

With this information, your current retirement account provider should be able to find your old account and handle the transfer. They typically handle direct account-to-account transfers, so the money never ends up in your hands. It is possible that the older provider might send you a check or deposit the funds in your bank account. You would have 60 days to deposit in your new retirement plan. If you don't handle it within this timeframe, the IRS will count it as a withdrawal. This would lead to income taxes and the potential 10% penalty if you're younger than 59½.

For more help to plan how to consolidate multiple retirement accounts and getting the paperwork together, consider meeting with a financial advisor.

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