Your Retirement Plan Distribution Options

senior couple watching the sunset

You generally have four options for your retirement plan distribution:

  1. Roll over your assets into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)
  2. Leave your assets in your former employer’s plan, if allowed by the plan
  3. Move your assets directly to your new employer’s plan, if allowed by the plan
  4. Take your money out and pay the associated taxes

Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages and the one that is best depends on your individual circumstances. You should consider features such as investment choices, fees and expenses, and services offered. Your Financial Advisor can help educate you regarding your choices so you can decide which one makes the most sense for your specific situation. Before you make a decision, read the information provided in this piece to become more informed and speak with your current retirement plan administrator and tax professional before taking any action.

Option 1: Roll over your assets into an IRA

Rolling your money to an IRA allows your assets to continue their tax-advantaged status and growth potential, the same as in your employer’s plan. In addition, an IRA often gives you access to more investment options than are typically available in an employer’s plan as well as investment advice. Your Financial Advisor can support you in your retirement planning process by providing the guidance to make more informed  decisions.

If eligible, you can contribute annually to your IRA and continue to save for retirement. If you roll your retirement savings to a financial institution where you already have accounts, you may receive combined statements as well as a diversified investment strategy. This gives you a more complete view of your financial picture and makes it easier to manage your assets.


  • Assets retain their tax-advantaged growth
  • Generally avoids current income taxes and early distribution
  • Access to more investment choices than are typically available in employer plans, providing greater potential
  • Access to investment advice and
  • Provides additional exceptions to 10% IRS tax penalty before age 59½ including for qualified higher education expenses and as a qualified first-time 1
  • Additional contributions are allowed, if
  • IRAs can be consolidated and conveniently maintained with one
  • Traditional and Roth IRA contributions and earnings are protected from creditors in federal bankruptcy proceedings up to a maximum limit of $1 million, adjusted periodically for
  • Rollovers from employer-sponsored plans, SEP, and SIMPLE IRAs have no maximum limit for federal bankruptcy

Keep in mind

  • IRA fees and expenses are generally higher than those in your employer’s retirement plan and depend primarily on your investment
  • Loans from an IRA are
  • In addition to ordinary income tax, distributions prior to age 59½ may be subject to a 10% IRS tax 1
  • Required minimum distributions (RMDs) begin April 1 following the year you reach 70½, and annually thereafter. The aggregated amount of your RMDs can be taken from any of your Traditional, SEP, or SIMPLE IRAs. Roth IRA owners have no RMDs.
  • IRAs are subject to state creditor laws regarding malpractice, divorce, creditors outside of bankruptcy, or other types of lawsuits
  • If you own appreciated employer securities, favorable tax treatment of net unrealized appreciation (NUA)  is lost if rolled into an IRA. See page 8 for more information on NUA.

Which type of IRA is right for you?

There are two main types of IRAs, Traditional and Roth. A Traditional IRA allows your assets tax-deferred growth potential and delays paying taxes until you begin taking withdrawals or “distributions.” A Roth IRA offers tax-free growth potential. Investment earnings are distributed tax-free in retirement provided certain conditions are met.2 Which IRA you choose depends on the type of account you have now and other factors, such as when you want to pay taxes.

What you can do:

  • Roll assets from an employer plan to a Traditional IRA, tax
  • Roll assets from an employer plan Roth account to Roth IRA, tax
  • Roll assets from an employer plan to a Roth IRA — this is considered a Roth conversion and taxes must be paid on before-tax dollars Any after-tax amounts rolled to a Roth IRA will be as a tax-free conversion. See page 8 for more details  about  Roth conversions.

What you can’t do:

  • Convert assets from an employer plan Roth account to a Traditional


Option 2: Leave your retirement plan savings in your former employer’s plan

In today’s working world, you can expect to change jobs many times before you retire. With each job transition, you may choose to leave your retirement savings in your former employers’ plans, allowing your funds to retain their tax-advantaged growth potential. While this approach requires nothing of you in the short term, managing multiple retirement accounts can be cumbersome and confusing in the long run. And, you will continue to be subject to the plan’s rules regarding investment choices, distribution options, and loan availability. If you choose to leave your savings with your former employer, remember to periodically review your investments and carefully track associated account documents and information.


  • No immediate action is required on your
  • Assets retain their tax-advantaged growth
  • Can typically keep your current
  • Fees and expenses are generally lower in an employer- sponsored plan and you will continue to have access to those Please contact your plan administrator for details.
  • You avoid the 10% IRS tax penalty on distributions from the plan if you leave the company in the year you turn age 55 or older (age 50 or older for certain public safety employees).
  • Generally, WRPs have bankruptcy and creditor protection under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
  • Favorable tax treatment may be available for appreciated employer securities owned in the See page 8 for more information on NUA.

Keep in mind

  • Your employer may not allow you to keep your assets in the
  • Investment options are chosen by the plan sponsor and you chose from those
  • You generally are allowed to repay an outstanding loan within a short period of
  • Additional contributions are typically not
  • You must maintain a relationship with your former employer, possibly for
  • In addition to ordinary income tax, distributions prior to age 59½ may be subject to a 10% IRS tax
  • RMDs from your former employer’s plan begin April 1 following the year you reach 70½, and annually
  • RMDs must be taken from each WRP including plan Roth accounts; aggregation is not
  • Not all WRPs have bankruptcy and creditor protection under


Option 3: Move the assets directly to your new employer’s plan

If you are joining a new company, moving your retirement savings to your new employer’s plan may be an option. This may be appropriate if you want to keep your retirement savings in one account, and if you’re satisfied with the investment choices offered by your new employer’s plan. This alternative shares many of the same advantages and considerations of leaving your money with your former employer.


  • Assets retain their tax-advantaged growth
  • Fees and expenses are generally lower in an employer- sponsored plan and you will have access to those Please contact your plan administrator for details.
  • You avoid the 10% IRS tax penalty on distributions from the plan if you leave the company in the year you turn age 55 or older (age 50 or older for certain public safety employees).
  • RMDs may be deferred beyond age 70½ if the plan allows, you are still employed and not a 5% or more owner of the
  • Generally, WRPs have bankruptcy and creditor protection under
  • Retirement assets can be consolidated in one account, if the plan
  • Loans may be allowed

Keep in mind

  • You may have a waiting period before you can enroll in your new employer’s
  • Investment options are chosen by the plan sponsor and you chose from those
  • You can transfer or roll over only plan assets that your new employer
  • Your new employer plan will determine when and how you access your
  • Favorable tax treatment of appreciated employer securities is lost if moved into another retirement plan. See page 8 for more information on NUA


Option 4: Take a lump-sum distribution (taxes and penalties may apply)

You should carefully consider all of the financial consequences before cashing out your retirement plan savings. The impact will vary depending on your age and tax situation. If you absolutely must access the money, you may want to consider withdrawing only what you need until you can find other sources of cash.


  • You have immediate access to your retirement money and can use it however you
  • Although distributions from the plan are subject to ordinary income taxes, penalty-free distributions can be taken if you turn:
    • Age 55 or older in the year you leave your
    • Age 50 or older in the year you stop working as a public safety employee (certain local, state or federal) — such as a police officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, or air traffic controller — and are taking distributions from a governmental defined benefit pension or governmental defined contribution plans. Check with plan administrator to see if you are eligible.
  • Lump-sum distribution of appreciated employer securities may qualify for favorable tax treatment of See page 8 for more information on NUA.

Keep in mind

  • Your funds lose their tax-advantaged growth
  • The distribution may be subject to federal, state, and local taxes unless rolled over to an IRA or another employer plan within 60
  • If you leave your company before the year you turn 55 (or age 50 for public safety employees), you may owe a 10% IRS tax penalty on the distribution.
  • Your former employer is required to withhold 20% for the
  • Depending on your financial situation, you may be able to access a portion of your funds while keeping the remainder saved in a retirement account. This can help lower your tax liability while continuing to help you save for your retirement. Ask your plan administrator if partial distributions are allowed from your employer’s plan

Special Considerations

As you evaluate your retirement account options and long-term plans, consider the following factors before making a final decision.


Direct versus In-Direct Rollover

Direct Rollover

This option, which is generally the preferable choice, transfers money directly from your former employer’s WRP into an IRA or new employer’s plan, if allowed. There are no taxes withheld or penalties assessed when completing a direct rollover.

In-Direct Rollover

Your previous employer’s retirement plan makes a check payable to you and withholds a mandatory 20% of the distribution for federal taxes. You then have 60 days to roll the eligible distribution to an IRA or new employer’s plan, if allowed. Any portion not rolled over, including the 20% withholding, will be considered a distribution and you may owe income tax plus a 10% IRS tax penalty. You can roll over more than one distribution from the same WRP within a year. However, unlike a 60-day IRA-to-IRA indirect rollover, you are not limited to one rollover, per individual, every 365 days.

Roth Conversion

An excellent way to benefit from tax-advantaged growth potential and possible tax-free distributions may be to convert your WPR to a Roth IRA. A conversion allows you to reposition your existing tax-deferred retirement plan assets to a potentially tax-free Roth IRA by paying federal and possibly state income tax (but without the 10% IRS tax penalty) on the taxable portion of the conversion.

The IRS has clarified the rules for allocating before- tax and after-tax eligible non-Roth 401(k), 403(b), or governmental 457 plan distributions made to more than one destination. This ruling allows you the option to  elect a direct rollover of the before-tax amounts in your 401(k) or other WRP to a Traditional IRA without any tax liability and also roll the after-tax amounts to a Roth IRA as a tax-free conversion. You can also convert any before- tax amounts in your WRP to a Roth IRA. Additionally, you could have the distribution made payable to you and within 60 days decide to convert some or all of the amount to your Roth IRA. A conversion of after- tax amounts will not be taxed. Any before-tax portion converted will be included in your gross income for the year.

In-Service Distributions

Some WRPs allow participants to roll over all or a portion of their retirement plan savings while still employed.3 This allows you to become more active in managing and diversifying your retirement savings, while continuing to make contributions to the plan and possibly enjoy any available employer match. As long as the funds are rolled directly into an IRA, this distribution should not result in a tax liability4 and the mandatory 20% tax withholding should not apply.

Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA)

Net unrealized appreciation (NUA) is a tax planning strategy that you should understand when facing decisions about your retirement plan distribution. A mistake that many employees make is rolling company stock into an IRA or a new employer’s plan without considering alternatives. This decision can be costly.

NUA is defined as the difference between the value at distribution of the employer security in your plan and the stock’s cost basis. The cost basis is the original purchase price paid within the plan. Assuming the security has increased in value, the difference is NUA.

NUA of employer securities received as part of an eligible lump-sum distribution from an employer retirement plan qualifies for capital gain tax. In most cases, NUA will be available only for lump-sum distributions — partial distributions  do  not qualify.

As a general rule, you will owe ordinary income tax on the cost basis of the employer security in the year of distribution. The appreciated value is taxed at long-term capital gains rate when the stock is sold.

This favorable tax treatment of NUA does not apply if the stock is rolled over to an IRA or another employer’s plan. NUA and the decisions surrounding employer securities in a qualified plan are complex. You should analyze your individual situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor in light of the differences between your ordinary income tax rates and long-term capital gains rates before taking any distributions.

Substantially Equal Periodic Payments (SEPP)

IRAs are designed to help you accumulate savings and distribute the income in retirement. However, if you think you may want to access funds prior to age 59½, it is important to remember that generally a 10% IRS tax penalty will apply. One exception to the penalty is for distributions under the Substantially Equal Periodic Payment (SEPP) method. To qualify for the SEPP exception the following four conditions must be met:

  • The distributions taken must be substantially equal and
  • These payments must be based on your life expectancy or on the joint life expectancy of you and your
  • You must continue to receive these payments for at least five years or until you reach age 59½, whichever is
  • Distributions must be calculated using an interest rate that is no more than 120% of the applicable federal mid-term rate (AFR) for either of the two months immediately preceding the month in which the distribution

If the SEPP is altered prior to the later of five years from the date you begin or you attain age 59½ (except in cases of death or disability), the 10% IRS tax penalty plus interest applies retroactively to all distributions taken prior to age 59½.


1IRA exceptions to the IRS 10% tax penalty are for age 59½, death, disability, Substantially Equal Periodic Payments (SEPP), eligible medical expenses, certain unemployed individuals’ health insurance premiums, qualified first-time homebuyer ($10,000 lifetime maximum), qualified higher education expenses, Roth conversions, qualified reservist distribution, or IRS levy.

2Traditional IRA distributions are taxed as ordinary income. Qualified Roth IRA distributions are not subject to state and local taxation in most states provided a Roth account has been open for at least five years and the owner has reached age 59½ or meets other requirements. Both may be subject to a 10% IRS tax penalty if distributions are taken prior to age 59½.

3 In-service distributions may not be suitable for all investors and may be subject to certain criteria such as minimum age or years of service requirements.

4 Wells Fargo Advisors is not a tax or legal advisor. Be sure to consult with your own tax and legal advisors before taking any action that may have tax or legal consequences.



Frank M Calabrese
Key Client Financial Advisors LLC
Managing Partner
Fundamental Choice Portfolio Manager
363 Route 46W, Suite 300
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Office: 973-244-4144

*Any third-party posts, reviews or comments associated with this listing are not endorsed by Wells Fargo Advisors and do not necessarily represent the views of Frank M Calabrese, Key Client Financial Advisors or Wells Fargo Advisors and have not been reviewed
by the Firm for completeness or accuracy.



Envision® is a registered service mark of Wells Fargo & Company and used under license.


When considering rolling over assets from an employer plan to an IRA, factors that should be considered and compared between the employer plan and the IRA include fees and expenses, services offered, investment options, when penalty free withdrawals are available, treatment of employer stock, when required minimum distributions begin and protection of assets from creditors, and bankruptcy. Investing and maintaining assets in an IRA will generally involve higher costs than those associated with employer-sponsored retirement plans. You should consult with the plan administrator and a professional tax advisor before making any decisions regarding your retirement assets.


This brochure was created for informational purposes only and is not a solicitation or an offer to buy any security or instrument or to participate in any trading strategy. The topics discussed may not be suitable for all investors. Investors must make their own decisions based on their specific investment objectives, financial circumstances, and tolerance for risk. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Asset allocation cannot eliminate the risk of fluctuating prices and uncertain returns.


This brochure is intended to provide a general overview of the topics covered. The accuracy and completeness of this information is not guaranteed and is subject to change. It is based on current tax information and legislation as of January 2016. It is not intended to provide tax, accounting, or legal advice of any type since

Wells Fargo Advisors is not engaged in rendering tax, accounting, or legal advice. Investors need to consult their own tax and legal advisors before taking any action that may have tax or legal consequences.


Wells Fargo Advisors is the trade name used by two separate registered broker-dealers: Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, LLC, Members SIPC, nonbank affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company.


© 2016 Wells Fargo Advisors. All rights reserved. ECG-1805701 0116-00425

Printed on 10% Post-Consumer Recycled Paper                                                                                                                                                                  585908 Rev 03 (1 ea)


Leave a reply

Follow Us

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account