401(k)s have a number of advantages over IRAs, including higher contribution limits and the possibility of an employer match, but there are times when you may be better off saving on your own. If you don't like the investment options offered by your 401(k), if you're paying exorbitant fees, or if you just don't feel you're getting the returns that you should, you may be better off rolling your 401(k) over to an IRA.
There's a big caveat to this if you're getting a 401(k) match. That's free money, and it will almost always make up for high fees and subpar investments. But when you leave your job, that benefit goes away. In that case, rolling your 401(k) over to an IRA could be a wise choice. Here are four benefits of doing so.
You'll have more investment choices
Most 401(k)s limit you to a preselected menu of investment choices. If you don't like what you see there, then an IRA may be a better fit. IRAs offer virtually unlimited options, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds. You're free to choose whichever investments appeal to you and adjust your asset allocation as often as you'd like to ensure that your portfolio serves your goals.
It may save you money in fees
Larger companies can usually offer more affordable 401(k)s to their employees because they can spread the fees out across more people, but smaller companies could charge you as much as 2% of your assets annually. If your 401(k) costs this much, you'll end up giving away $2,000 for every $100,000 in your account every year. This can set you back significantly, especially if your employer is not matching any of your contributions.
IRAs, on the other hand, may not charge you an annual fee at all, though there are still fund management fees that will vary depending on the assets in your portfolio. In many cases, you can expect to pay 0.5% per year or less in fees, especially if you invest in index funds.
You won't have to take required minimum distributions with Roth IRAs
When you reach age 70 1/2, you must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your 401(k), even if it is a Roth 401(k). It's the government's way of making sure you pay the taxes you owe before you die: Withdrawals from traditional 401(k)s are also subject to income tax. (That said, Roth 401(k)s are subject to RMDs as well, despite the fact that qualified withdrawals are tax-free.)
The amount of your RMDs will depend on your age and the amount of money in your retirement accounts, but it's possible that they could be large enough to push you into a higher income tax bracket. But you must withdraw the required amount each year, lest you incur a 50% penalty on the amount you failed to withdraw.
One option to avoid RMDs is to convert your 401(k) to a Roth IRA. It must be a Roth account, because traditional IRAs also have RMDs. Note that if you're going to do this, you'll be expected to pay taxes on the converted funds in the year of the conversion -- unless you're converting from a Roth 401(k) to a Roth IRA, as these are both funded with after-tax dollars.
You can manage all of your retirement funds in one place
If you're quitting your job, you can leave your 401(k) where it is, but this generally isn't a wise move if it has high fees and weak investment choices. In that case, you may be better off rolling the money over to your IRA so it's all in one place where you can manage it more easily.
There's a lot to love about 401(k)s, especially if your employer matches your contributions, but IRAs have their advantages as well. If any of the above benefits appeal to you, you may want to consider rolling your 401(k) over into an IRA.