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Saving for Retirement

6. Roll It Over

When it's time to switch jobs or retire, you have three options for your retirement savings. If you have at least $5,000, you can leave it in the account with your former employer. Or, regardless of the amount, you can roll it into an IRA -- or into your new employer's plan, if it accepts rollovers. In general, an IRA offers you more investment options than most employers' 401(k)s, so a rollover is usually wise. But if your 401(k) includes company stock, don't move it without evaluating all your options. There are special rules involving company stock that could result in significant tax savings.

Let's say you have $500,000 worth of company stock in your 401(k) that you bought on your own or received as your employer's match, and your total purchasing cost, or basis, is $100,000. If you roll over the stock into an IRA, you would pay ordinary income taxes on all withdrawals. So would your beneficiaries, if you die with money in your account.


1. Get a Checkup

2. Set Your Budget

3. Do a Dry Run

4. Choose Your Date

5. Consider an Annuity

6. Roll It Over

Investing in Retirement

Extreme Early Retirement

Instead, consider taking advantage of special rules for what's called net unrealized appreciation. When you take a lump-sum distribution from a 401(k), you can move the stock to a taxable account and roll the rest of the assets to an IRA. You'll pay ordinary income taxes on your $100,000 basis, which in the 28% tax bracket is $28,000. But the remaining $400,000 of appreciated earnings will be taxed only when sold and will qualify for the 15% long-term capital-gains tax rate. If you leave the stock to your heirs, they will inherit the stepped-up basis, which is the value of the stock at the time of your death. If they sell it immediately, they could end up paying little or no taxes on many years of growth.