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What Happens to Your 401(k) if You Get Laid Off?

In an uncertain economic environment, layoffs have become increasingly common in various industries. Many Americans are wondering what this means for their employer-sponsored retirement savings plans.

The Four Options

When you get laid off, you have four basic options for your 401(k) plan:

  1. Cashing Out

Cashing out is the least preferable option and should be avoided at all costs. According to Hannon, one out of three workers cashes out when they leave their job, which can have significant repercussions. You pay tax on the money, and if you’re under 59 1/2, you’ll also pay a 10% penalty.

  1. Leaving It Where It Is

You can leave your 401(k) with your current employer, but this option is not ideal if you like the investment options available in your new employer’s plan. Additionally, you won’t be able to make any further contributions to the account.

  1. Transferring It to Your New Employer’s Plan

If your new employer’s plan allows it, you can transfer your 401(k) directly to your new employer’s plan. This option is preferable if you like the investment options available in your new employer’s plan and want to consolidate your retirement accounts.

  1. Transferring It to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

Transferring your 401(k) to an IRA is the most popular option, according to Hannon. This option gives you more investment options and control over your retirement savings.

Caveats to Consider

There are a few caveats to consider when transferring your 401(k) to an IRA. First, you may end up paying higher fees with an IRA than you would if you kept it in an employer plan. This is because employers can negotiate lower fees as a large institution.

Second, if you’re not fully vested in your employer’s plan, you may not receive the full amount of your employer’s contribution. This is something to keep in mind if you haven’t met the vesting requirements.

Finally, if you have a Roth 401(k), you need to transfer it directly to a Roth IRA. If you don’t, you may face significant tax implications.

Small Accounts

If your 401(k) account is small, your former employer may automatically transfer it to an IRA in your name. This can make it easy to lose track of your retirement savings, so it’s essential to keep track of your account and ensure it’s being managed properly.


Losing your job can be a stressful and uncertain time, but it’s essential to consider your retirement savings options carefully. By understanding your options and the caveats associated with each, you can make an informed decision that’s right for you.

What steps are you taking to ensure the security of your retirement savings, and how do you plan to manage your 401(k) if you find yourself facing a layoff?


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