Chapter 22. Roll Over Your Retirement Plan into an IRA

My husband and I have both worked at the same companies for more than 15 years. While we can pat ourselves on the backs for being loyal employees, our longevity within our respective firms makes us dinosaurs relative to the rest of the population. Unlike our parents' generation, most people don't stay put in one job for years and years. In fact, the typical U.S. worker holds 11 jobs in his or her lifetime.

What does that mean? Besides the new responsibilities, higher salary (one hopes), quality-of-life issues (how long your commute is, how nice your coworkers are, how good the coffee is), and other considerations that normally accompany job changes, you'll also have to make some important decisions about your benefits package. Key among them: how much to invest in your company retirement plan as well as what to do with your money from the plan that you're leaving behind.

That last question leaves many people paralyzed with indecision. You really have four main options for your company retirement plan when you leave your employer:

  • Option 1: Take the money and run. Cashing out of a former employer's 401(k) plan altogether is apt to have particular appeal for those who have lost their jobs and are feeling cash-strapped. But tapping your 401(k) prematurely means you'll get hit with taxes and penalties that can wipe out close to half of your account's value. Even more important, by eating into your retirement savings now, you'll be ...

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