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Tips for rolling over your retirement plan

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Changing careers? Retiring? Besides experience, one of the most important things you may take with you is your previous employer’s retirement plan assets. Before you make that decision, there are a few options to consider:

  • Keeping some or all of your assets in your former employer’s plan, if permitted;
  • Rolling over the assets to your new employer’s plan, if one is available and rollovers are permitted;
  • Rolling over your plan assets to an IRA; or
  • Cashing out the account value.

There are pros and cons to each of those choices, depending on your unique financial needs and retirement plans. Be sure to consult with your previous plan administrator, your new employer’s plan administrator (if applicable) and tax or legal professionals to address your questions about the asset transfer options and the tax consequences of each choice.

So what are the differences between employer plan(s) and rollover IRAs for you to take into consideration? Here are some of the factors that may be relevant to your specific needs:

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Investment Options:

  • Rollover IRA — often enables an investor to select from a broader range of investment options
  • Employer-sponsored retirement plan – smaller range of investment options, but more options in other areas

You’ll need to ask how satisfied you are with the options available under your current or prospective plan in comparison with an IRA’s array of investments. Evaluate and compare investment options for each of the following:

  • Your previous employer-sponsored plan
  • Your new or current employer-sponsored plan, if applicable
  • Rollover IRA

Fees and Expenses:

Both employer-sponsored retirement plans and rollover IRAs typically involve:

  • investment-related expenses, including:
    • Sales loads, commissions, 12b-1 fees, investment advisory fees and other expenses of any mutual funds in which assets are invested
    • Commissions and some of these fees may be paid to the broker-dealer or advisor (such as UMB Financial Services, Inc.) who helps open and service the rollover IRA.
  • plan or account fees, including:
    • Plan administrative fees (e.g., record keeping, compliance, trustee fees) and fees for services such as access to a customer service representative. In some cases, employers pay for some or all of the plan’s administrative expenses. Evaluate and compare each of the following:
        • Investment-related expenses and plan fees at your previous employer-sponsored plan
        • Investment-related expenses and plan fees at your new or current employer-sponsored plan, if applicable
        • Investment-related expenses and account fees associated with a rollover IRA


Different levels of service may be available under each transfer option. Some employer-sponsored plans, for example, provide access to investment advice, planning tools, telephone help lines, educational materials and workshops. Similarly, IRA providers offer different levels of service, which may include online, discount or full brokerage services, investment advice and retirement and distribution planning. It is important to evaluate and compare the services available through each of the following retirement vehicles:

  • Your previous employer-sponsored plan
  • Your new or current employer-sponsored plan, if applicable
    • A  rollover IRA

Penalty-Free Withdrawals:

Penalty-free withdrawals may be available if you’re between 55 and 59½ when you leave an employer-sponsored plan. However, penalty-free withdrawals usually cannot be made from a rollover IRA until age 59½. It also may be possible to borrow from an employer-sponsored plan. Generally, borrowing from your rollover IRA is considered a prohibited transaction, which would subject you to penalties and even potential disqualification of the IRA.

Protection from Creditors and Legal Judgments:

Under federal law, you usually have unlimited protection from bankruptcy and creditors with the funds you have in employer-sponsored plans. With IRA assets, however, state laws vary in their protection from the claims of creditors. Protecting retirement assets from claims of creditors can be very complicated, so you should discuss any questions relating to your personal situation with competent legal counsel.

Required Minimum Distributions:

Once an individual reaches age 70½, the rules for plans and traditional IRAs require the periodic withdrawal of certain minimum amounts, known as the required minimum distribution. If a person is still working at age 70½, however, required minimum distributions generally are not mandatory in an employer plan. This may be advantageous if you plan to work into your 70s.

Employer Stock:

If you have any employer stock in your retirement plan, we highly recommend seeking advice on how to handle that stock. Here’s why: Your employer stock distributions are taxed differently. When employer stock is distributed in a lump sum, in-kind, from an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the employee is taxed only upon the stock’s cost basis at the time of distribution. Later, when the stock is sold after the distribution from a qualified plan, the proceeds are treated as long-term capital gain to the extent attributable to net unrealized appreciation.

An investor who holds significantly appreciated employer stock in an employer-sponsored retirement plan should carefully consider the tax consequences of rolling the stock to an IRA vs. taking a lump sum, in-kind distribution of the stock from the plan or leaving the stock in the plan. This is a very complicated issue which is why it should be discussed with your tax advisor.


If you ultimately decide to roll over your employer plan assets, it is important to read the IRA rollover plan information and all applicable investment literature and prospectuses carefully before deciding to invest in an IRA rollover. Past investment performance does not guarantee future results, and the value of your investment will fluctuate and may be more or less than the original investment.


The foregoing discussion is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered as tax or legal advice. You should consult with your own legal and/or tax advisors for advice about your personal situation.

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Mr. Ellis is the president of UMB Financial Services, Inc., UMB’s securities broker/dealer subsidiary, and UMB Insurance, Inc. He is responsible for strategic planning, products and services, personnel and financial management. He joined UMB in 1996 and has more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry. Mr. Ellis volunteers his time to not-for-profit organizations needing advice on investment policy and governance issues.

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