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April 24, 2021

Should I roll over my 403(b) account into an IRA?

Answered by
Ben Storey
Director, Retirement Thought Leadership at Bank of America
When you leave a job where you have an employer-sponsored retirement account like a 401(k) or 403(b) account, you have the option of rolling those retirement assets into an IRA. And there are several reasons to consider moving your funds into an IRA:
"In a rollover IRA, you may have more control over your investments and a wider range of investments to choose from."
— Ben Storey, Director, Retirement Thought Leadership at Bank of America
  • Many people change jobs multiple times over their careers, which can result in a trail of retirement accounts. Consolidating your retirement accounts can make it easier to manage and monitor your progress.
  • When you roll over the assets in your 401(k) or 403(b) account into an IRA (Roth or traditional) or SEP (Simplified Employee Pension), your potential tax advantages and growth potential are preserved.
  • Employer-sponsored plans often offer fewer investment options than the number of options made available under an IRA.
In a rollover IRA, you may have more control over your investments and a wider range of investments to choose from.
There's one potential wrinkle, though: Once you reach age 72, the IRS requires you to withdraw a minimum amount each year from certain IRAs. These withdrawals are called required minimum distributions, or RMDs. So, if you roll assets from your workplace plan into a traditional IRA, you'll need to begin taking RMDs when you reach72 even if you're still working. Many employer-sponsored plans, such as your 401(k) or 403(b) account, don't require RMDs, as long as you're working, with some exceptions. You also could choose to roll your assets into a Roth IRA, which doesn't require RMDs either. However, new provisions of the CARES Act, signed into law in March 2020, feature changes to rules governing RMDs. Learn more about what the CARES Act could mean for you (PDF).
However, you should be aware that not all 403(b) accounts are eligible to be rolled into a Roth IRA and — perhaps more pertinent — that converting pre-tax assets to Roth assets is a taxable event. The pre-tax assets converted to Roth assets will be subject to federal (and possibly state and local) income taxes in the year of conversion, but you can take qualified distributions free from federal income tax with respect to any earnings that accrue after the conversion.Footnote 1 You should consult your legal and/or tax advisor before making any financial decisions.
A Rollover IRA isn't right for everybody. Consider all your choices in consultation with your legal and/or tax advisors and decide whether rolling over may be the right choice for you and your retirement goals.Footnote 2

Do I have to pay taxes when I roll over my funds?

To avoid mandatory federal income tax withholding on the distribution, be sure to have your former employer send the money directly to the IRA custodian. If you don't, your former employer must withhold 20% for federal income taxes. When the money is sent directly to you, you have 60 days to put the funds into an IRA — including the 20% that was withheld, which must be made up with other assets — or it will count as a distribution and could be subject to federal income taxes and a 10% additional federal tax, if you're under age 59½ and no exception applies.

What if I decided not to roll over my 403(b) or 401(k) account?

Other choices for your employer-sponsored retirement accounts include:
  • Leaving your money in the existing plan
  • Transferring it to your new employer's plan
  • Cashing out (which may trigger taxes and the early withdrawal 10% additional federal tax, unless an exception applies, as well as eliminating the potential for your investment to grow)
Ready to get started?
Footnote 1 Additionally, if you complete the Roth conversion before reaching age 59½, a 10% additional federal tax on the converted assets may apply if you take a distribution within five years of the first day of the year in which the conversion occurred, unless an exception applies.

Footnote 2

Merrill, its affiliates, and financial advisors do not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.
You have choices about what to do with your employer-sponsored retirement plan accounts. Depending on your financial circumstances, needs and goals, you may choose to roll over to an IRA or convert to a Roth IRA, roll over an employer-sponsored plan from your old job to your new employer, take a distribution, or leave the account where it is. Each choice may offer different investment options and services, fees and expenses, withdrawal options, required minimum distributions, tax treatment, and different types of protection from creditors and legal judgments. These are complex choices and should be considered with care. For more information on rolling over your IRA, 401(k), 403(b) or SEP IRA, visit our rollover page or call a Merrill rollover specialist at 888.637.3343.
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