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Money's on Your Mind

Who's got some good dish? I occasionally get an earful from my colleagues. But by far the juiciest tidbits are emailed to me by complete strangers.

People don't mind spilling their wallets to money writers. I get some great fodder from bickering spouses, angry investors, and even one guy who wanted advice on how to hide his assets from the government. (Sorry, "John," I can't help with that last one.)

The majority of money questions and confessions might seem rather run-of-the-mill to most. So forgive me for keeping the really good stuff for future columns. Today, I'll publicly answer a few recurring money conundrums that you might find useful. (If you want some good gossip, just ask your co-workers about company credit card abuse. It's a gold mine. Trust me.)

In Trillion Dollar Treasure Trove, you talk about rolling over 401(k) accounts from former employers into a current employer's plan. Can you do the same thing with a 403(b) account? -- Dorothy

To answer your question, I turned to occasional Fool contributor Dan Otter, who runs the wonderful site for teachers and employees of non-profit organizations -- 403bwise.com. He offers English translation of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, which increased contribution limits and eliminated the maximum exclusion allowance. (Yeah, I know... riveting reading, eh?)

But force yourself to plod on. Part of the act directly applies to 403(b) investors like you. Those who want to take the money with them to a new employer can do so if three conditions are met:

  • The person must be a participant in the 401(k) plan.
  • The 401(k) plan must accept rollovers.
  • There must be an event that permits a distribution from the 403(b) plan. Qualifying events that trigger distributions from a 403(b) plan include death, disability, severance of employment, and attainment of age 59 1/2.
  • A 401(k) can also be rolled into a 403(b). However, not all plans allow such transfers, so check with your employer.

This is one of those administrative money tasks that require a bit of homework. But it's nothing more than contacting your old plan administrator and getting the proper paperwork from your new one. I encourage you to put it on your to-do list. Who knows, maybe you'll find yourself flipping through the tax code for your leisure reading.

Or not.

I think you should mention that a person who moves their money from a 401(k) into an IRA loses their Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) protection the 401(k) afforded them. If someone is experiencing or anticipating financial difficulties such as a job loss, they should focus on shielding their nest egg from creditors who may obtain a judgment. States like N.Y. and California protect IRAs, but not all states do. -- Mike

Excellent points, Mike. In fact, there are several scenarios that make it worthwhile to leave the money with your former employer. Consider doing so if:

  • You are satisfied with the investment choices you have in that plan.
  • Your investment costs are lower than you can get elsewhere.
  • Your plan allows former employees to borrow against their 401(k) accounts and you believe you will want to do so in the future.

Most employer-sponsored retirement plans will force you to move your money (via rollover or direct transfer) if you have less than $5,000 in your account. (It's easy to do, as we outline in our IRA Center.) If you have $5,000 or more, though, you may leave the money in your 401(k) until the normal retirement age specified by that plan.

Identity theft is an area I take very seriously (How Will They Scam Thee?). Not being a criminal myself, and therefore not knowing quite how the criminal mind works, I was wondering if the presence of shredded papers in the trash actually alerts the dumpster divers to the fact that there might be important papers in this bag. What do you think? -- Susan

We worriers should stick together. I frequently ruminate (to an unhealthy degree, I've been told) about this very issue. When my credit card company sends me those blank "convenience" checks, I imagine all the ways a crook could make my life miserable by snagging just one of them. (Then I rip up the checks and put the parts in separate trash bags. And then I continue to stew.)

My guess is that the sight of shredded documents alerts a potential ID thief to the fact that it would take a lot of work to piece together any items in that particular dumpster. (I know if I were a thief, I'd choose the path of least resistance.) Probably the safest thing to do is to shred all important documents so that there aren't any discernible tidbits. Doing that, and reviewing your bills, credit card statements, and (at least once a year) your credit report, should keep your secrets fairly safe. Here are some other ways to protect your good name.

Please destroy this email immediately after you read it.

Why do you continue to promote XM Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: XMSR  ) ) over Sirius Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) (XM on Trial)? How many shares of XM do you own? I have checked out both, and Sirius is far, far, far and away much better. You are so biased it is unreal, but of course money and greed talk. -- Dale

I have been accused of being a lot of things. Being called an XM shareholder is one of the tamer (and printable) arrows slung my way. As you can see in my Motley Fool profile (which I am obligated to keep updated and accurate to comply with our company's disclosure policy), I do not own any shares of Sirius or XM.

So tell me, what's in your portfolio?

Just kidding!

Dayana Yochim is the author ofThe Motley Fool's Guide to Couples & Cash, for which complete strangers have spilled the beans on what goes on behind closed doors. Money-wise, that is.


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