What to Do With 401(K) After Leaving a Job: Best Practices in 2023

What to do with 401(k) after leaving job
image source- Retiree Workforce

You are left with the option of deciding what to do with your 401(k) after leaving a job. However, there are different options to choose from on what to do with your 401(k) after leaving, and the first option includes withdrawing your 401(k). The United States Congress created the 401(k) to encourage Americans to invest for their retirement.
Furthermore, you can lower your tax liability while investing for retirement with a 401(k) plan. The benefits are not only because it is tax-free, but the process is also hassle-free because contributions are automatically deducted from your salary. Many firms also match a portion of the 401(k) contributions made by their staff members. They essentially receive a free boost to their retirement funds as a result.

What is a 401(k)?

A 401(k) plan is a retirement account plan many American employers offer. In this case, both parties (the employee and the employer) contribute, and the saver receives tax benefits. This name is derived from a section of the United States Internal Revenue Code. Typically, the employee chooses the type of investment.

When an employee enrolls in a 401(k), they agree to deposit a portion of each paycheck into an investment account. Employers may match part or all of that contribution. The employee has the option of selecting from a variety of investment options, most of which are mutual funds. You can decide what to do with your 401(k) after you leave your job. Typically, there are two types of 401k which include traditional 401(k) and Roth 401(k).

A traditional 401(k) is an employer-sponsored plan that provides employees with a variety of investment options. Employee contributions to a 401(k) plan, as well as any investment earnings, are tax-deferred. When you withdraw your savings, you must pay taxes on your contributions and earnings. Meanwhile, a Roth 401k allows you to contribute after-tax dollars and then withdraw tax-free when you retire. However, for workers under 50 years of age, the total employee-employer contributions cannot exceed $61,000 per year. And because the catch-up contribution includes those who are 50 and over, the limit is $67,500. 

How Do Benefit From 401(k)?

According to the Investment Company Institute, the US holds about $7.3 trillion in assets within 401(k)s.

Employees may have the option of paying taxes on their retirement money sooner rather than later. It depends on the programs that their employer offers. Traditional 401(k) contributions of up to $19,500 are tax deductible in 2021. This year, catch-up contributions for employees over 50 years of age can reach $26,000 in tax-deductible contributions. Workers have the choice to make what are known as after-tax contributions to a 401(k). In addition to making deductible and Roth contributions.

Early investing might be crucial to maximizing returns when planning investments for retirement. deciding on what to do with your 401(k) after leaving a job. However, enrolling in 401(k) plans isn’t always the first thing a worker considers when beginning a new job.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, also known as ERISA, applies to all 401(k) plans. Because of this, employers have a legal responsibility to design a plan that serves the best interests of their workforce.
Instead, they must guarantee that employees have access to reliable money at fair rates. This is to aid employees in making wise investment choices. They must also reveal details like administrative costs and past fund performance.
Another common benefit of 401(k) plans is their convenience. Payroll deductions make it straightforward to save for retirement. And many businesses have set up automatic contributions for new recruits as well. Moreover, withdrawing a 401(k) after leaving a job is much easier due to the reliable and fast methods.

Withdrawing 401(K) After Leaving a Job

There are different options on what to do when withdrawing a 401(k) after leaving your job.

#1. Keep it with your previous employer.

You supposedly have a substantial sum in your 401(k) that is greater than $5000. Then leaving it with your previous employer is a good idea. Especially if you like your plan selections and have more than $5000. If your employee agrees, you may be able to leave it with them. Consider some of the other possibilities if you anticipate forgetting about the account or if you are not especially happy with the plan’s investment selections or costs.
You won’t be able to make contributions to your 401(k) plan after leaving your job.

#2. Roll It Over to Your New Employer

So when you get a new job, follow these steps. Before withdrawing your 401(k) after leaving your previous job

  • Verify whether your new workplace offers a 401(k).
  • If your new workplace offers a 401k, ask about the policies, such as if they permit rollovers.
  • Then, if you are eligible, you can submit an application.

However, many companies prefer that new employees work a certain number of days before allowing them to contribute to retirement savings plans. Before you roll over your previous account, be sure that your new 401(k) account is open and prepared to accept contributions. There are two ways to retrieve your prior plan’s 401(k) after leaving your job.

You can easily roll over your former 401(k) plan when you sign up for a plan with your new company by choosing to have the administrator of your previous plan make the initial payment.

Although it requires filling out some paperwork, directly putting your account’s balance into your new plan. This type of transfer is known as a “direct transfer,” which is performed from one custodian to another. However, this removes all potential tax liabilities and deadline risks for you.
As an alternative, you can elect to receive the remaining value in your old account as a check. This process is known as an “indirect rollover.” If you want to avoid paying income tax on the entire balance and an extra 10% early withdrawal penalty, however, if you are under the age of 591/2, you must deposit the money into your new 401(k) within 60 days. Your prior company must deduct 20% of an indirect rollover for federal income tax purposes, which is a significant disadvantage.

#3. Roll It Over Into an IRA

Therefore, as a last but not least option, you can roll over to an IRA, which means an internal retirement account. You still have a great alternative if you’re not changing jobs or your new workplace doesn’t provide a retirement plan, because you can roll your old account to an IRA. You can open the account independently with any financial institution of your choice. The options are essentially endless. In other words, you are no longer limited to the choices that a company offers.
If you have an unpaid loan from your 401(k) when you leave work, you must pay it back within a certain amount of time. If you don’t, they will regard the money for tax reasons as a distribution.

#4. Take Distributions

After reaching the age of 591/2, you can start taking qualifying distributions from any 401(k), old or new. In other words, you can begin withdrawing money from your 401(k) even after leaving your job or having to pay the 10% tax penalty for early withdrawal.
It may be wise to start using your savings as a source of income if you are approaching retirement. Any payouts you obtain from a typical 401(k) are subject to income tax at your standard rate.
Any distributions you make from a designated Roth account after reaching the age of 591/2 are tax-free as long as you’ve owned the account for at least five years. Your payouts are subject to tax on the earnings component if you have not met the five-year minimum.

#5. Cash It Out

Another option available to decide on what to do with your 401(k) is cashing out. You can simply cash it out, although there can be setbacks if you don’t meet the conditions. Although there is nothing keeping you from obtaining a lump-sum payment from an old 401(k). When it comes to withdrawing your 401(k) after leaving your job, the majority of financial counselors strongly advise against it. It unnecessarily lowers your retirement funds, and on top of that, you’ll pay full tax on the sum.
If you have a sizable amount in an old account. However, it might not be worthwhile to fully withdraw it due to the tax load. Additionally, this will probably charge you a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

How Long Can a Company Hold Your 401(K)?

It depends on several factors, including your age and the total amount of retirement savings you have in your 401(k). Your company may decide how long to hold or distribute your 401(k) funds when you leave your position. The number of assets you have in your 401(k) account determines how long the company can hold on to your 401(k) if you don’t choose to roll over to a new 401(k) account or take cash out.

The company can hold your 401(k) account for as long as you like. If you want the firm to continue managing your plan, you must have at least $5000 in your 401(k). Employers may store assets under $5000 for a maximum of 60 days before they automatically transfer them to a new retirement account or cash out.

You choose how long a company holds your 401(k) account. So far, you have significant savings of over $5000. However, for smaller sums, which the employer can pay out and transfer, this might be different.

There are factors that could potentially influence how long your company will hold your 401(k) after leaving a job.

You own the retirement funds that you have in your 401(k). You can decide what to do with your 401(k) after leaving your job. There are ways you can use to withdraw your 401(k). This gives you the freedom to switch employment with less concern that it might affect your funds in the process. Although you are free to keep the money in your employer’s retirement plan for as long as you like, there are some circumstances in which an employer may demand a cash-out or a rollover into another retirement account.
How long a company may hold your 401(k) funds after you leave mostly depends on the amount.

Your company will immediately pay out the funds from your 401(k) and give you a check for the lump sum amount if your balance is less than $1,000. In this instance, it will take a few days after the date you quit your job for the check to arrive in the mail. However, if you have more than $1000 to $5000 in your 401(k) account. Your employer cannot force a cash-out, but it is required by law to transfer the funds to a new retirement plan, usually an IRA associated with your employer. The transfer would be completed in a few weeks, up to 60 days. In this case, your distribution won’t be subject to income taxes or penalties.

Furthermore, your former employer cannot impose a cash-out or transfer the money to another retirement plan without your permission if your 401(k) balance is more than $5000. In this situation, the employer should keep your retirement funds in your 401(k) for as long as necessary until you give instructions on what to do with them.

Valuation Process

Assessing 401(k) participant balances are part of the valuation. The majority of firms typically evaluate 401(k) plans once a year, although other employers only do so every three months.

Before they issue a payment, you must perform a valuation, which benefits the employee. Understand your true balance by taking into account elements like 401(k) loans, early withdrawals, most recent contributions, previous rollovers, etc. The length of time you must wait to get your money depends on how long it takes to complete a valuation.

How Long Can a Company Hold Your 401(k) Funds When You Withdraw?

You have the option to cash out your 401(k) funds when you leave a job. It typically takes a few days to two weeks to receive your funds from your 401(k) plan after you request a payout. However, the waiting period may go more than two weeks depending on the company and the quantity of money in your account.

When you ask for a dividend, each company has varying deadlines for making distributions. Check the summary plan description (SPD) the company will provide to determine the waiting time for your employer’s 401(k) plan. The waiting period is from the time you request a payout until you get the cash distribution, or they transfer the money to an IRA or 401(k).

Can an Employer Hold a 401(K) After Termination?

When your employment with a business comes to an end, your 401(k) plan options include cashing it out, rolling it over to your new employer’s 401(k), or converting it into an IRA (IRA). But be aware that, depending on your decision, you could or might not have to pay taxes.
Naturally, each of those actions necessitates having access to the money in your 401(k). But what if your employer forbids access to your 401(k) after work ends? So, can an employee actually your 401(k) after termination this may depend on factors.

Factors That Can Limit Access to Some 401(K) Funds

On the contrary, it’s illegal for a company to restrict access to your personal 401(k) funds and the earnings you have. However, in practice, the balance in the account may not be all yours because some money may be your employer’s contribution to it using employer matching and you may not have worked long enough in the job for you to qualify for those company contributions.

However, when you qualify for these contributions, which could happen in a few years of working with a company. They can issue the funds to you, the company is obliged to release them. If there are restrictions on assessing your vested 401(k) funds, that is indeed illegal. At all times, you have the full right to withdraw all of your contributions made to the plan, in addition to fully vested employer matching contributions, if applicable.

Nevertheless, if there was a vesting schedule associated with matching [employer] contributions, and you left before the date those funds fully vested, you can legally be denied access to them. An employee can hold your 401(k) after termination if you are not fully vested.

There is another reason your employee can hold onto your 401(k) funds after termination. If it were entirely your company that makes the contributions to your 401(k) company and there was no vesting schedule for them. This could result in the loss of the account. So if you are considering a job move, it’s important to know your 401(k) plan’s vesting schedule and understand what proportion of the contributions (if any) are fully vested.

A company’s vesting schedule determines when employees own their employer’s contributions to their 401(k) accounts; workers are always fully vested in their own contributions.

There are criteria that can make an employee hold onto a 401(k) after termination.

An employee can hold your 401k after termination. If litigation relating to the plan is in process, they can temporarily freeze your assets. Similarly, they may restrict access to your funds. And this might occur in the event the plan sponsor is changing record keepers or there is a blackout period in which they cannot access the funds or change it. You should know about this in advance as this is legal, and they must provide notice to active participants at least 30 days prior to the blackout start date.

Recently terminated employees may also be subject to different rules regarding access to their plans. These rules are governed by things such as resolving any lingering financial issues around a worker’s departure—an outstanding loan, for example. If you take out a 401(k) loan and leave your job, you’ll have a specified time period in which to pay it back.

Finally, a lock may occur due to suspected fraudulent activity on the account. While fraud alerts are to protect account holders, sometimes they may be unaware of the alert and will need to call customer service to release the hold.

How to Avoid It

Check any correspondence you receive from the company for any explanations, such as a notice of a change of record keepers, if they deny you access to your cash. Hebner advises calling the supplier and inquiring as to why you don’t have access to your money and when you may anticipate that condition changing if you don’t find any such notices.
If, for instance, unexpected events require you to delay access to your assets for a brief period of time, you should explain it and, if feasible, have the terms in writing. You should take your complaint to the Department of Labor or an attorney if there are no extenuating circumstances and your former employer continues to refuse you access without providing an adequate justification.

Can a Company Take Away Your 401(k) After You Quit?

No, you can use a rollover to take your 401(k) contributions, along with any gains made on them, with you when you leave a job (for any reason). However, the employer may withdraw any vested employer payments (such as matching contributions).


As a rule, your own contributions to your 401(k) and any earnings they generate are readily available when you leave your employer. What you decide to do with your 401(k) after leaving your job totally depends on you.


Why is my 401k losing money?

Your 401(k) may be losing money for a number of reasons. The stock market is merely experiencing a downturn, which is one reason. You may also be losing money in your 401(k) if you invested in a particular business or sector that is struggling. Finally, fees could cause your 401(k) to lose money.

Is a 401k worth it in 2023?

However, a 401(k) is unquestionably something to keep in mind, particularly given that it has much higher contribution caps. You are allowed to contribute up to $20,500, or $27,000 if you are 50 years old or older. Setting yourself up for a comfortable future with that amount of money can be very beneficial. Your 401(k) plan’s investments in mutual funds, index funds, target-date funds, and other vehicles are intended to protect you from significant losses.

How much should I contribute to my 401k?

10% of your income is typically enough to fund a respectable retirement if you start saving in your 20s. But if you’re just starting out in your 50s, you’ll probably need to save more than that. “but if you start saving late, 15% is okay,”

Can I cancel my 401k and cash out while still employed?

Though there are other ways to withdraw money from your 401k, such as hardship withdrawals and taking loans, it is possible but not recommended because that is tax-advantaged investing that doesn’t count towards your overall taxable income.

What is employer match?

Employer matching in a 401(k) refers to the process whereby an employer makes a contribution to a retirement account on the basis of the employee’s contributions. Typically, employers base their 401(k) contribution caps on the employee’s yearly salary. In other words, the contribution rate of the employer is limited to a set proportion of the employee’s salary.

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