The first thing you’ll need to do is obtain the details of your new 401(k) plan. The human resources department should be able to tell you the account address. (It’s also worth asking them about the fund’s performance and cost so that you can compare it to your previous employer’s 401(k) plan.)
You’ll then need to get back in touch with the human resources department at your previous employer and inform them of the details of your new 401(k) plan. They’ll either send the money directly to your new 401(k) plan or mail you a check made out to the plan.
There are no penalties here and no risks.
You can also ask your old employer to make out the check directly to you. The employer, though, must withhold 20 percent for taxes on the assumption that you’re cashing in your 401(k). You then have 60 days to place the full amount, including the withheld 20 percent, in your new 401(k) or face a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.
It’s better to let our old 401(k) write a check to your new 401(k).
Sometimes, you won’t have a choice about what to do with your old 401(k). If you have less than $1,000 in the plan, your old company can just send you a check whether you want it or not. You will need to put that money into a new retirement plan within 60 days otherwise you’ll get those taxes and a withdrawal penalty.
If you have between $1,000 and $5,000, your old company can still kick you out of the plan but it has to put it into an IRA. That’s what we’ll discuss in the next section.