Recent changes in the job market have led to an increase in IRA rollovers, but at the same time, people are making more mistakes when transferring their employer related retirement accounts to an IRA, reports The Wall Street Journal in a recent article, “The Biggest Mistake People Make With IRA Rollovers.” These IRA rollover mistakes may result in additional taxes and penalties.
Done properly, rolling funds from a 401(k) to a traditional IRA offers you more flexibility and control. A company retirement plan may limit you to a half-dozen or so investment choices; but, depending on the IRA custodian, the IRA owner may choose investment options ranging from stocks and bonds to mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, certificates of deposits or annuities.
However, if you are considering rolling over an employer related retirement plan to an IRA, make sure to avoid these common IRA rollover mistakes:
Mistake #1: Taking a lump-sum distribution of the 401(k) funds instead of moving the funds directly to an IRA custodian. The clock starts ticking when you do what’s called an “indirect rollover.” Miss the 60-day deadline and the amount is considered a distribution, included as gross income and taxable. If you’re younger than 59½, you might also get hit with a 10% early withdrawal penalty.
There is an exception: if you are an employee with highly appreciated stock of the company that you are leaving in your 401(k), it’s considered a “Net Unrealized Appreciation,” or NUA. In this case, you may take the lump-sum distribution and pay taxes at the ordinary income-tax rate, but only on the cost basis, or the adjusted original value, of the stock. The difference between the cost basis and the current market value is the NUA, and you can defer the tax on the difference until you sell the stock.
Mistake #2: Not realizing when you do an indirect rollover, your workplace plan administrator will usually withhold 20% of your account and send it to the IRS as pre-payment of federal income tax on the distribution. This will happen even if your plan is to immediately transfer the money into an IRA. If too much tax was withheld, you’ll get a refund from the IRS.
Mistake #3: Rolling over funds from a 401(k) to an IRA before taking a Required Minimum Distribution or RMD. If you’re required to take an RMD for the year that you are receiving the distribution (age 72 and over), neglecting this will result in an excess contribution, which could be subject to a 6% penalty.
Mistake #4: Rolling funds from a 401(k) to a Roth IRA and neglecting to pay taxes immediately. If you move money from a 401(k) to a Roth IRA, it’s a conversion and taxes are due when you make the transfer. However, if you have some after-tax dollars left in the 401(k), you can make a tax-free distribution of those funds to a Roth IRA.
Mistake #5: Not knowing the limits when moving funds from one IRA to another, if you do a 60-day rollover. The general rule is this: you are allowed to do only one distribution from an IRA to another IRA within a 12-month period. Make more than one distribution and it’s considered taxable income. Tack on a 10% penalty, if you’re under 59½.
Reference: The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 1, 2021) “The Biggest Mistake People Make With IRA Rollovers”