If you have a 401(k) account and recently left your job or were laid off due to the coronavirus crisis, you might be wondering what to do with your retirement investments. But even if you’ve left your employer some time ago and still have a retirement account there, you have several options when it comes to finding the best place to roll over your old 401(k):
- Brokers: An online broker is a great option if you want to “do it yourself” and use your investing expertise to invest.
- Robo-advisors: A robo-advisor is a great pick if you want someone to manage your money at a low overall cost. Robo-advisors often add a number of other valuable features such as tax-loss harvesting.
Here are the best places to roll over your 401(k) into an IRA and what you need to know to make a smart decision.
Best online brokers for a 401(k) rollover:
- TD Ameritrade
- Fidelity Investments
- Charles Schwab
- Interactive Brokers
- Merrill Edge
- Schwab Intelligent Advisors
Overview: Top online brokers for a 401(k) rollover in March 2021
TD Ameritrade is a great broker if you’re an active trader and looking for professional-level tools to help you invest better. Investors can use the broker’s highly regarded thinkorswim trading platform and can place trades not only on stocks, bonds and ETFs but also forex and futures. That said, TD Ameritrade still works perfectly if you’re a buy-and-hold long-term investor, too.
If you need to access research, you’ll find all kinds of reports on stocks and the markets, and you can review a huge selection of no-transaction-fee mutual funds. TD Ameritrade also offers stock and ETF trades for zero commission.
(Charles Schwab has purchased TD Ameritrade, and will eventually integrate the two companies.)
Standard pricing for mutual funds: Free for no-transaction-fee funds; $49.99 on no-load, transaction-fee funds
Mutual fund highlight: More than 4,100 no-load, no-transaction-fee mutual funds
Wealthfront is an excellent choice if you’re looking for someone to manage your rollover into an IRA. This robo-advisor can create a portfolio based on how much risk you’re comfortable with and when exactly you need the money. You’ll receive automatic rebalancing to keep you on track to your goal, and you’ll pay reasonable fees for the funds you’re invested in, too.
Wealthfront also features some top tools, including an automated financial planner that can help you track all your investments, even at other institutions, and see how they all work together to get you to your goals. You might also consider opening a cash management account, as it can be an attractive alternative to a bank account, or use it to hold cash while you’re waiting to contribute to your rollover IRA.
Standard pricing: Management fee is 0.25 percent of assets
E-Trade is a great all-around broker, but it likely stands out best for its fundamental research, which can be especially valuable for newer investors or those without another source of research. If you need a fully featured mobile app, the broker has you covered with its Power E-Trade platform, though it does all the basics well, too. The broker’s standard pricing for mutual funds is on the lower side, and it offers thousands of no-transaction-fee funds, as well. Plus, ETFs and stocks can be traded with no commission, as is standard for online brokers.
Standard pricing for mutual funds: Free for no-transaction-fee funds; $19.99 on no-load, transaction-fee funds
Mutual fund highlight: More than 4,500 no-load, no-transaction-fee mutual funds
Fidelity is an exceptional broker in almost every aspect, but it’s excellent for beginners or those who seek top-notch customer service. Fidelity’s representatives are quick to respond to your questions, which is a big advantage for those of us who don’t deal with the investing and retirement landscape every day.
Those looking for more advanced features will find them in the broker’s Active Trading Pro platform. Plus, Fidelity is great for low account fees, and offers free stock and ETF trades too.
Standard pricing for mutual funds: Free for Fidelity funds, and $49.95 on the buy and $0 to sell transaction-fee funds
Mutual fund highlight: Offers four zero-fee index funds and more than 3,400 no-transaction-fee mutual funds
Betterment is one of the largest and most popular robo-advisors, and it can take your 401(k) rollover money and construct a balanced retirement portfolio. Betterment uses funds from 14 different asset classes to build its portfolios, offering a wide range of diversified investments. Plus, if you’re interested in social impact investing, Betterment can add these funds to your portfolio.
Betterment’s funds are low cost – on average costing about $7 annually for every $10,000 you have invested – and it also automatically rebalances your account when it drifts more than a few percent away from your target allocations. This robo-advisor allows you to buy fractional shares so all your money is invested and working for you. You can also open a comprehensive cash management account here that offers a competitive interest rate.
Standard pricing: Management fee is 0.25 percent of assets
Charles Schwab is strong in every category and caters well to customers from novice to expert. If you’re looking to buy the same mutual funds that you owned in your 401(k) or buy some of the cheaper Schwab-brand variants, then the broker will probably deliver with its thousands of no-transaction-fee funds.
The customer service is excellent here as well, and if you’re looking to trade, you’ll probably find something to love on the highly customizable StreetSmart Edge trading platform. And yes, Schwab does offer free stock and ETF trades, too, so you can add almost any company to your portfolio.
Standard pricing for mutual funds: $0 for Schwab funds or no-load, no-transaction-fee funds; otherwise, $49.95
Mutual fund highlight: More than 4,200 no-load, no-transaction fee mutual funds
Interactive Brokers is a great fit for active and professional traders, but it can work for retirement and beginner investors, too. While trades aren’t free unless you use the broker’s IBKR Lite platform, they are still reasonably priced at just a half-cent per share, with a $1 minimum per trade. The broker also offers a competitive price for trading mutual funds, but its list of no-transaction-fee funds is the most in the industry.
Standard pricing for mutual funds: Free for no-transaction-fee funds; otherwise, 3 percent of trade value or $14.95 (whichever is less), with a $3,000 minimum initial purchase
Mutual fund highlight: More than 8,300 no-transaction fee mutual funds
Merrill Edge is a solid overall selection, because it offers a full range of brokerage services. However, it makes an especially great selection if you’re already a customer of its parent Bank of America. That’s because you can access all your accounts in one location and have quick transfers between your bank and brokerage accounts. Plus, you can access Merrill’s reps at many Bank of America locations.
Merrill has also dropped commissions for stocks and ETFs to $0, while standard commissions on mutual funds are $19.95. However, with more than 2,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds, you won’t have a hard time finding a few that you like.
Standard pricing for mutual funds: $0 for no-transaction-fee funds; otherwise, $19.95 for online buys and sells; $29.95 for representative-assisted transactions
Mutual fund highlight: More than 2,400 no-load, no-transaction-fee mutual funds
Schwab Intelligent Advisor
Don’t get Schwab’s do-it-yourself brokerage confused with its do-it-for-me robo-advisor, which is called Schwab Intelligent Advisor. Either way you go, though, Schwab brings its investor-friendly ethos. The headline news about this robo-advisor is that it charges no management fee to build and run your portfolio. How does it make money then? By investing your funds in its in-house funds, which nevertheless are some of the cheapest available in the market.
You’ll need at least $5,000 in your account to take advantage of Schwab’s automated investing service. If you want unlimited access to human financial advisors, you’ll need to roll over at least $25,000 (or build the account to this much) and then pay $30 a month, after a one-time $300 set-up fee. You’ll also benefit from Schwab’s 24-hour customer support team any day of the week.
Standard pricing: No management fee
Vanguard is the granddaddy of retirement investing, blazing the trail for low-cost retirement investors everywhere. Vanguard not only charges $0 for stock and ETF trades but the entire Vanguard family of mutual funds is free (and free even if you need a broker’s assistance to place a trade), while the company discounts trades for other fund companies to $0 as well if they’re on the no-transaction-fee list. Otherwise, commissions will run $8-$20 per trade, though customers with more than $1 million in Vanguard funds will receive their first 25 trades free.
If you’re a buy-and-hold long-term investor, Vanguard is an excellent vehicle for you, because you know it’s always going to look for ways to serve its customers.
Standard pricing for mutual funds: Free for Vanguard family funds and other no-transaction-fee funds; $8-$20 for others
Mutual fund highlight: Highly regarded for its low-cost index funds and offers more than 3,000 no-transaction-fee funds
What to consider when choosing a broker
If you’re planning to roll over your 401(k) into an IRA, you’ll likely be most concerned with a broker that can do the following things best. Most brokers do offer an IRA, but some popular ones do not, but the brokers below all offer IRAs. We also considered the following factors when selecting the top places for your 401(k) rollover.
- Price: Trading commissions for stocks and ETFs have fallen to $0 at most online brokers, and that’s great for investors. But there are other costs, too, perhaps most notably account fees, such as fees for transferring out of your account.
- No-transaction-fee mutual funds: The brokers in the list below offer thousands of mutual funds without a transaction fee. If you’re rolling over your 401(k) and you like the mutual funds you have already, these brokers may allow you to buy and sell the same one without a fee.
- Investing strategy: While a 401(k) may limit your investing options to a pre-selected group of mutual funds, an IRA gives you the ability to invest in almost anything trading in the market. So we considered how each broker might fit an investor’s needs.
What are your choices for a rollover?
In general, once you leave a job you have three choices for how to deal with your employer-sponsored retirement plan:
- Leave it with your old employer’s 401(k) plan: This approach requires the least amount of work, but may require you to have a minimum amount (often $5,000) if you plan to maintain the account there.
- Roll it over into your new employer’s 401(k) plan: This approach will require you to file some paperwork, but you’ll have all your 401(k) money in one place. This choice can make sense if you like your new employer’s plan.
- Roll it over into an IRA: This move will require you to file some paperwork, but then you’ll have the complete freedom to invest the money as you see fit. If you liked the investment options (such as mutual funds) you held in a previous plan, you may still be able to access those via an IRA.
(If you run an independent business and have established a solo 401(k), that’s another option for a rollover. But this option is not typical for most individuals.)
If you roll over your 401(k) into an IRA, you’ll also want to consider the kind of rollover you need.
- With a Roth 401(k), you’ll likely be more interested in a Roth IRA, so that you can maintain the substantial advantages of that plan.
- If you have a traditional 401(k), then you’ll probably opt for a traditional IRA.
(Here are the key differences between the Roth IRA and traditional IRA.)