In general, a rollover is the movement of funds from one retirement savings vehicle to another. You may want, or need, to make a rollover for any number of reasons--your employment situation has changed, you want to switch investments, or you've received death benefits from your spouse's retirement plan. There are two possible ways that retirement funds can be rolled over--the 60-day rollover and the trustee-to-trustee transfer.
With this method, you actually receive a distribution from your retirement plan and then, to complete the rollover transaction, you make a deposit into the new retirement plan that you want to receive the funds. You can make a rollover at any age, but there are specific rules that must be followed. Most importantly, you must generally complete the rollover within 60 days of the date the funds are paid from the distributing plan.
If properly completed, rollovers aren't subject to income tax. But if you fail to complete the rollover or miss the 60-day deadline, all or part of your distribution may be taxed, and subject to a 10% early distribution penalty (unless you're age 59½ or another exception applies).
Further, if you receive a distribution from an employer retirement plan, your employer must withhold 20% of the payment for taxes. This means that if you want to roll over your entire distribution, you'll need to come up with that extra 20% from your other funds (you'll be able to recover the withheld taxes when you file your tax return).
The second type of rollover transaction occurs directly between the trustee or custodian of your old retirement plan, and the trustee or custodian of your new plan. You never actually receive the funds or have control of them, so a trustee-to-trustee transfer is not treated as a distribution. Trustee-to-trustee transfers avoid both the danger of missing the 60-day deadline and, for employer plans, the 20% withholding problem.
With employer retirement plans, a trustee-to-trustee transfer is usually referred to as a direct rollover. If you receive a distribution from your employer's plan that's eligible for rollover, your employer must give you the option of making a direct rollover to another employer plan or IRA.
A trustee-to-trustee transfer (direct rollover) is generally the most efficient way to move retirement funds. Taking a distribution yourself and rolling it over makes sense only if you need to use the funds temporarily, and are certain you can roll over the full amount within 60 days.
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This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investors should independently consider the pros and cons of all potential distribution options to determine if a rollover is appropriate based on their individual circumstances. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.