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How to Roll Over Your Retirement Accounts

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What happens to your retirement accounts if you change jobs? First of all, it's your money and no one can take it from you. Initially your best option is to do nothing and leave your 401(k) or other retirement money where it is. Then, after you've made more concrete plans, you can act accordingly.

If you find another job with a company 401(k), just roll the money over into the new plan. But be careful how you do this. Make sure the check from the first 401(k) is made out directly to the new account and not to you. Otherwise the company is obliged to withhold 20 percent of your funds for federal tax plus an extra 10 percent withdrawal penalty.

If your new employer does not have a 401(k), 403(b), or other retirement plan, you can roll over your money into a personal IRA (called a Conduit or a Rollover IRA). Set up a brokerage account, which will cost you some commission fees, or open an IRA with a mutual fund family at a discount brokerage house. Either way, you continue to invest tax-deferred and you may even have better, broader investment choices than you did in the old 401(k). It's smart to keep the new IRA account separate from other assets. This way you can roll it over to a new employer's 401(k) plan if you have the chance later.

Finally, just because you lose or change jobs doesn't mean you're kicked out of the 401(k). If the balance in the account is more than $3,500, most plans let you leave it there until age 70 or retirement, whichever is later. Leaving your money where it is certainly reduces the hassle, especially if you're happy with the investment choices in the plan. Different plans have different rules, so you may have to check.

Finding a financial planner
Searching for the right financial advisor or financial planner is not unlike searching for the right doctor or lawyer. It may be a long relationship, so you might as well get it right the first time.

Start by asking friends and family who they use, how long they've been with them, and if they're happy. Your accountant or lawyer is likely to have professional contact with several financial advisors. See if they can single out one or two for recommendation.

The next step is to call everyone on your list to request resumes and a list of services they offer. Then look closely at their training and experience. Make sure they have whatever specialist expertise you might need, such as estate planning.

When you've narrowed it down to a short list, set up one-on-one meetings with each advisor. Get a sense of whether each one is someone you could work with for the long term. Look for someone who understands your financial objectives and listens to your needs.

Don't make your final decision without checking other client references, which your finalists should provide. You can also check their records with the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) by calling 1-800-289-9999, or going to

- Audrey Arkins, contributor- Modified 11-15-2004

Jan 2007
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