I understand that both Roth 401k and Roth IRA accounts allow withdrawing contributions prior to age 59/12 without penalties.

But today I heard someone say that I should NOT roll over my Roth 401k to a Roth IRA at retirement because those rolled over contributions could no longer be withdrawn earlier than 59 1/2 tax free after the rollover. It is important to me to be able to do this as I plan to retire in my early 50's and want to draw on those funds penalty free.

Is this correct that a Roth 401k->Roth IRA rollover changes the early withdrawal rules?

1 Answer 1


When you roll over from Roth 401(k) to Roth IRA, the contributions in Roth 401(k) turn into contributions in the Roth IRA, and earnings in Roth 401(k) turn into earnings in Roth IRA. When withdrawing from a Roth IRA, contributions come out first, and earnings last. So if you withdraw an amount that is less than the amount of contributions, you will withdraw all contributions, and withdrawal of contributions from Roth IRA never has any taxes or penalties, regardless of how old you are or how long you've had a Roth IRA.

In fact, this is better than withdrawing directly from Roth 401(k), because, as I understand it, when you withdraw directly from a Roth 401(k), it withdraws pro-rata from both the contributions and earnings parts, so (assuming there is some earnings), any amount of withdrawal will contain some amount of earnings, and the part of the withdrawal that comes from earnings has tax and penalty if you are below 59.5.

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