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Ask a Fool: What Should I Do With My 401(k) After I Retire?

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® - May 4, 2018 at 11:37AM

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Here's an overview of your basic post-retirement options.

Q: I'm planning to retire at the end of 2018, and have a substantial amount of money in my company's 401(k) plan. What should I do with my 401(k) account after I retire?

There are four basic options when it comes to your 401(k) after retirement: leave the money in your 401(k), roll it into an IRA, use the money to buy an annuity, or take a lump-sum distribution.

Obviously, every situation is different, but here's a high-level overview of each option, in descending order of how much I like them.

Rolling your account into an IRA can be a smart idea because it gives you the most control over your investments. While 401(k)s generally offer a few dozen investment options at most, an IRA allows you to invest in virtually any stock, bond, or mutual fund you want. You may be able to find lower-fee investments.

Alternatively, if you're happy with your 401(k) and don't want to do much portfolio maintenance, there's nothing wrong with leaving your money in the plan. Just make sure you rebalance to a retiree-appropriate asset allocation, since your risk tolerance is generally lower after you retire.

Many retirement plans will try to steer you toward purchasing an annuity after you retire. While this can make sense in some circumstances, I'm not a big fan of annuities. They often have high commissions and fees, and I think that there are better ways to generate income from your savings.

Finally, while you won't get hit with a penalty for cashing out after you retire, this is the least favorable option. For one thing, 401(k) withdrawals, unless they are Roth funds, are considered taxable income and taking all of your money out at once could catapult you into a much higher tax bracket. Not only that, but your money won't be invested anymore, killing your money's future growth potential.

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