How does 401k Work When You Switch Jobs

How does 401k Work When You Switch Jobs.When starting a new job, there’s a lot to think about. There are new responsibilities, new processes, new people, and most likely, there’s a new 401k plan, too.

Even as you sort out your new duties and environment, it’s important to make your retirement plan a priority. Timing is everything, and when you change jobs you have many options that could help you streamline your retirement plan and investments. Here’s how to handle the transition from one 401k plan to another.

How does 401k Work When You Switch Jobs

Employers typically include 401(k) plan information in a new rental package. You should get a letter outlining the specifics of your company’s plan, and perhaps a brochure with investment options and other details. Most 401(k) providers have websites that will walk you through an introduction. Take a few minutes to skim and read through the details and learn a little bit about the plan.

Is there an employer matching program? More than 95% of large US companies match contributions employees make to a 401(k). The average amount of the employer’s contribution is 4.5% of the salary; some companies contribute up to 6 percent. Think about a 6% tax-free bonus, and you understand why an employer match isn’t a perk you shouldn’t miss out on.

What is the vesting schedule? Many employers offer a private match, which means that although the company is saving up to 6 percent of the match, your access to that money is given on a timeline. After year one or two, you get 25 percent of the money, then 50 percent, until you get the full 100 match after five or more years. Starting a vesting program is one of the reasons it’s important to sign up for your 401(k) as soon as possible,

What types of investment options does the plan have? There are financial professionals who argue that a portfolio of one or two low-cost, broad-market index funds (for example, a Standard & Poor’s 500 fund) is sufficient for most young savers. But it’s still nice to have options to choose from.

You can check out each fund offering on a site like Morningstar. The site offers star ratings for each fund, but these don’t tell the whole story. Look at the investment box to see if it fits yours (for example: are you looking for aggressive growth or are you afraid to risk losing money?).

When comparing the two fund choices, consider the fees and expenses. And if you opt for a target-date retirement or lifecycle fund that does the asset allocation for you, you don’t need to invest in anything else.

How much should you save in your 401(k)?

Some experts recommend that individuals save 10 to 15 percent of their pre-tax wages for retirement. Others simply recommend saving as much as possible. A good rule of thumb for starters is to save at least what your employer will match. Anything less and you’re leaving money on the table. If your employer will match him, he’ll save up to 6 percent with the goal of working his way up to 10 percent and beyond. If the new job represents a pay jump for you, consider increasing your contribution amount.

As you continue to move up the corporate ladder and make more money, try increasing the amount you put into your plan. If you go 1 to 2% every few years, you’re unlikely to notice the difference.

What to do with your old 401(k)

Many 401k plans offer the ability to move money from a former employer’s 401(k) into a new plan. If you like your new employer’s plan, it makes sense to combine accounts and reduce the total amount of investments and fees.

Information about how to move your former 401(k) should be included in your new plan’s registration package, or you can ask your plan sponsor directly. Once cashed out of a plan, you only have 90 days or less to get the resources into the new plan, otherwise it will be considered a taxable distribution. Funds should ideally be transferred directly from one company to another. If you receive a check mailed to you personally, do not cash it. Contact the new floor manager to find out how to properly transfer resources.

How Does a 401k Work When You Switch Jobs?


Switching jobs is a common occurrence in today’s fast-paced job market. However, when you leave one job for another, what happens to your 401k? Understanding how a 401k works when you switch jobs is crucial to make informed decisions about your retirement savings. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of 401k rollovers, transfers, and the implications of cashing out your 401k.

What is a 401k?

Before we dive into the details of how a 401k works when switching jobs, let’s first understand what a 401k is. A 401k is a retirement savings plan offered by employers to their employees. It is a tax-advantaged investment vehicle that allows individuals to contribute a portion of their salary into a retirement account. The contributions are made on a pre-tax basis, meaning that they are subtracted from your gross income, reducing your taxable income for the year.

Can You Leave Your 401k with Your Previous Employer?

The first question many individuals have when switching jobs is whether they can leave their 401k with their previous employer. The answer is yes, in most cases. If your previous employer allows it, you can choose to leave your 401k funds in the existing account. This is known as a “deferred vested” account. However, it’s important to consider the drawbacks of leaving your 401k with a previous employer:

  1. Limited investment options: Your previous employer’s 401k plan may have limited investment options compared to what you could have with a new employer.
  2. Inactive account: If you have multiple retirement accounts scattered across different employers, it can be difficult to manage and track them effectively.
  3. Administrative fees: Your previous employer may charge administrative fees for maintaining your 401k account, eating into your retirement savings over time.

Rollover vs. Transfer: What’s the Difference?

When switching jobs, you generally have two options for your 401k: rollover or transfer. While they may sound similar, there are crucial differences between the two.


A 401k rollover refers to moving the funds from your previous employer’s 401k plan into another tax-advantaged retirement account, such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). This provides you with more flexibility and control over your retirement savings. With a rollover, you can choose between a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, depending on your specific needs and goals.
Benefits of a rollover include:

  • Diversification: Rollovers allow you to access a wider range of investment options, potentially increasing your investment returns.
  • Simplified account management: By consolidating multiple retirement accounts into a single IRA, you can easily monitor and manage your investments.
  • Potential for lower fees: Some IRA providers offer lower administrative fees compared to employer-sponsored 401k plans.


On the other hand, a 401k transfer involves moving your funds directly from your previous employer’s 401k plan to your new employer’s 401k plan. This option might be suitable if your new employer offers a great retirement plan with desirable investment options and low fees.
Advantages of a transfer include:

  • Preserving tax advantages: Transferring your 401k allows you to maintain the tax benefits associated with a 401k plan.
  • Continued employer match: If your new employer offers a matching contribution, transferring your 401k ensures that you continue to receive this benefit.
    It’s important to note that not all employers accept incoming transfers, so it’s crucial to check with your new employer’s human resources department before making a decision.

Cashing Out: The Last Resort

While leaving your 401k with your previous employer, rolling it over, or transferring it are all viable options, cashing out your 401k should be a last resort. When you cash out your 401k, you withdraw the funds and receive the money directly—however, this incurs significant financial consequences.

  1. Taxes and penalties: Cashing out your 401k before the age of 59 and a half will subject you to both income taxes and a 10% early withdrawal penalty.
  2. Loss of retirement savings: By cashing out your 401k, you lose the opportunity for your retirement savings to grow over time, potentially jeopardizing your financial security in retirement.
    It’s crucial to explore other options, such as rolling over or transferring your 401k, before considering cashing out.


Understanding how a 401k works when you switch jobs is essential for making informed decisions about your retirement savings. Leaving your 401k with your previous employer, rolling it over, or transferring it to your new employer are all viable options. However, cashing out your 401k should be a last resort due to the financial consequences involved. Consider consulting with a financial advisor to explore the best option that aligns with your long-term retirement goals. Take control of your retirement savings today for a more secure and fulfilling future.

by Abdullah Sam
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