As people work their way through one or more careers, and have several (if not dozens) of jobs, they can easily accumulate multiple retirement accounts. They generally come in the form of 401(k) accounts at past employers, traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and perhaps even employer pension plans (although this last type of benefit is becoming increasingly rare).
Unfortunately, it can often become quite an administrative burden to manage so many different accounts. For some individuals it can be challenging enough trying to come up with the time to review the monthly or quarterly statements from a single retirement account. Trying to do so for a half-dozen or more accounts can quickly become nearly impossible.
The best way to clear up this administrative nightmare is to roll over all of your existing accounts, including accounts from prior employers, into a single self-directed IRA. Here are the steps for doing so.
1. Identify Your Target Account.
If you don’t currently have a self-directed IRA, then you’ll need to set one up before you go any further. Requesting a rollover from a prior 401(k) or a current IRA, but not having a target account in place, can result in the other plan administrator sending you a check for your account balance. If you don’t deposit this check quickly enough, the IRS may consider it a taxable distribution, and the cost to you could be significant.
The better path forward is to have your self-directed IRA already in place, and request that your current custodian or plan administrator send your rollover proceeds directly to the new account.
2. Contact Your Prior and Current Account Administrators. Once you have a self-directed IRA set up, it’s time to contact each of your current and prior account custodians and administrators. When attempting a rollover of a 401(k) from a prior employer, you may need to begin the process by contacting the employer first; and if you don’t know where to begin, start with the HR or benefits department.
Have all the information regarding your new account ready to give the prior administrators, and be prepared to follow-up if the rollover doesn’t occur within the timeframe they specify. Some plans will give you the choice of liquidating your account and doing a rollover of the proceeds, or rolling over the investment positions themselves, while other plans will automatically liquidate your investments and do a rollover of cash. If you have the choice, make sure to do your research on what’s best for you.
3. Consider Your Next Investment Steps. As you may already know, self-directed IRAs provide significantly more investment options than traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, so it might seem a little overwhelming. You can use a self-directed IRA to invest in real estate, certain types of precious metals, private companies, private mortgages, and many other investment classes that almost certainly weren’t available with your prior retirement plans.
Exploring investment possibilities while the rollovers are occurring will give you the confidence to proceed with your retirement investing plan once the rollover funds are in your new account.