Rolling Over a 401(k)? Consider the Fees

Everything costs money these days, and if you know anything about financial services, you know that doing something with your money can also cost money. That includes rolling over your 401(k) (see The Basics of a 401(k) Retirement Plan). Whether you landed a new job or you’re retiring, you’re eligible to make some changes to the 401(k) from your previous job, and that's when you run into, “How much does it cost?”

It's Free!

No, really, it might actually be free. If you’re transferring your 401(k) to another broker and setting up any kind of tax-advantaged retirement account, there probably won’t be any fees (see Which companies are good to open an IRA account? ). In fact, the broker might pay you. It’s no secret that brokers want your money. They’re looking forward to a lifetime of fees and commissions (see Paying Your Investment Advisor – Fees or Commissions?) and are willing to throw some cash your way as an enticement for your business.

At the time of this article, one well-known broker was offering $2,000 for a $1 million deposit. If it’s not cash, you might get some number of free investment trades. Regardless of the promotion, you should not pay a fee to roll over an account in most cases. For examples of the kinds of deals you may be offered, check out Best 2015 IRA Promotions.

Not Exactly “Free”

The rollover may be free, but that doesn't mean the account will be. Dust off your calculator and get ready to do some comparisons. That old 401(k) had all kinds of fees attached to it – costs for each fund you held, administration fees and any number of other fees (see The Hidden Fees In 401(k)s). If you’re rolling your 401(k) into your new employer’s 401(k), compare the fees. If the new one is going to cost you more money in fees, you might consider keeping the account where it is or rolling it into something with lower fees – such as an IRA (see What are the differences between a 401(k) and an IRA?).

Why an IRA?

An IRA comes with similar tax advantages, but it’s often not tied to your company benefits package. You may be offered an IRA (see 11 Things You May Not Know About Your IRA) through your company but often, it’s something you set up on your own. Because it’s self-directed, either you or a financial advisor you choose are managing it. If you’re managing it on your own and purchasing stocks or other no-fee investment vehicles, the only fee you will pay is the transaction fee. If you put money into a mutual fund or other managed product, you will pay whatever fee is disclosed in the prospectus of that fund.

Even a fee-only financial adviser will likely charge between 1% and 3% – oftentimes lower than the fees associated with an employer-based 401(k).

If you’re considering a rollover (see Should You Roll Over Your 401(k)?), an IRA might make the most sense when evaluating solely on the basis of fees.

The Bottom Line

You probably won’t pay any kind of transfer fee to roll over your 401(k). However, before moving your money, consider the fees attached to the new account. If you’re going to pay more, it’s probably not a good financial move.

Be aware that this information is based on the most common situations. Your financial picture and choices might be different and require you to consider other factors. Speak to a financial advisor whom you trust before making any large financial moves.