Dear Liz, I recently changed jobs and realized that I have several 401(k) accounts from previous employers over the years that need to be consolidated.
When I contacted my current employer’s 401(k) administrator to understand the rollover process, they said that I would actually have to mail myself a paper check for each previous employer and then arrange to have the checks mailed to them. Liz, we’re talking about four checks totaling a very substantial amount. They said there was “no other way” to handle the twists. I cannot understand why we are dealing with such an archaic process today.
Should I be worried or should I just move on and take care of it now since I don’t seem to have much of a say in the process?
Answer: You should definitely not worry, nor should you assume that your employer’s 401(k) administrator understands other companies’ options. Receiving a check in the mail from an old plan is not only unsafe, but also requires a 20% withholding.
If you want to avoid the missing 20% taxes and penalties, you have to come up with that money out of pocket. (If you didn’t roll the check into the new plan or IRA, you’d owe taxes and possible penalties on the full amount.)
When you contact the administrators of the old plan, ask if they can “roll over” your new 401(k) account. Often the transfer can be done electronically.
Even if the old plan used a paper check and US mail to deliver the funds, you can avoid the 20% withholding requirement if the check is made out to your new account and not to you.
Dear Liz, Can I buy a US Treasury bill myself or should I go through a bank or financial advisor?
Answer: You can buy government-issued securities, including Treasury bills, bonds and notes, from TreasuryDirect, which is run by the US Treasury. Creating an account usually only takes a few minutes, but you’ll need a valid Social Security number, a US address, and a checking or savings account to complete the process.
You can also buy Treasuries in a brokerage account. You can buy a Treasury bill in what is known as the secondary market, where securities are bought and sold, or you can invest in a Treasury money market mutual fund or Treasury exchange-traded fund.
Liz Weston, a certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist NerdWallet. Questions can be sent to him at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or using the Contact form at: askliweston.com.