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I am no longer at my former employer but I have an existing 401k plan with Vanguard through them.

30% of the contributions were pre-tax. (traditional 401k) 70% of the contributions were post-tax. (roth 401k)

I see that I can transfer money to a Fidelity Rollover IRA.

From some research, it looks like the rollover IRAs are similar to Traditional IRAs.

What can I do to make sure that Pre-tax goes in Traditional/Rollover IRA and Post-tax goes to Roth IRA? (I have Traditional, Rollover and Roth IRAs already set up with Fidelity.)

Is that even possible?

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  • Note that "post-tax" does not necessarily mean "Roth 401k". You can make after-tax contributions to Traditional 401k (and in fact this is part of the "mega backdoor" process). If a 401k contribution is just described as "after tax", it usually means a non-Roth contribution.
    – user102008
    Feb 11 at 3:08
  • As an editorial comment, I want to applaud you for making a good choice to roll money out of your former employer's 401K to your choice of broker. Some take the money out (really dumb), and some just leave it behind (not great). Your choice is optimal, so good job!
    – Pete B.
    Feb 13 at 15:22
  • @PeteB.: Probably a different question, but not sure why you consider just leaving the money in the 401k "not great". There's a specific benefit for a particular combination of traditional and roth (I'm forgetting which one) in terms of avoiding required distributions, but until then and for the other cases I don't see the advantage -- assuming it's managed by one of the major players in this space rather than the company itself.
    – keshlam
    Feb 17 at 19:09

2 Answers 2

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Yes, it is. Your 401k plan at Vanguard is required to differentiate between pre-tax contributions and earnings, Roth contributions, and Roth earnings. When you request a rollover, you'll designate an account for the pre-tax money to go into, and you'll designate a different account for the Roth contributions and Roth earnings to go into. If you're going to direct the pre-tax money to a Rollover IRA at Fidelity, you'd most likely direct the Roth contributions and Roth earnings to a Roth IRA at Fidelity.

This rollover chart from the IRS details where you can roll different accounts to. In your case, 30% is a qualified plan (pre-tax) and 70% is a designated Roth account. You can roll your pre-tax money into a Roth account, but be aware that rolling pre-tax money to a Roth account is a taxable event. You can't roll Roth money into a pre-tax account.

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Are you sure you want to roll it into an IRA? Once you have a traditional / before tax IRA balance, you can't use the backdoor Roth IRA technique if your income is over the Roth IRA threshold. You can roll it back into a 401k, at that point, but each time you do this it takes some effort.

Other options are to keep it in Vanguard, if your fund selection and expenses are good or roll it into a current employer 401k, if theirs are good. There isn't too much of a downside of having multiple 401ks, apart from keeping track of the accounts, but any Mint-like aggregator should help with that. Either way, if you do a rollover, contact the new fund manager to get instructions and they all have pretty detailed instructions on how to do it.

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  • Regarding Once you have a traditional / before tax IRA balance, you can't use the backdoor Roth IRA technique. I will be transferring the traditional/before tax assets to the rollover IRA. So, I should be able to still contribute to the Traditional IRA and then Backdoor to Roth IRA, right?
    – Raj
    Feb 23 at 1:42
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    No - If you have other traditional IRA balances, which includes tax deferred rollover IRAs, the traditional to Roth conversion is prorated based on the non-deductible and deductible contributions. e.g. if you have $5000 in the rollover IRA and contribute $5000 to a non-deductible traditional IRA then convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, 50% of the conversion is taxable because of the proration rule. ceritypartners.com/insights/… has a good write-up on this but there are lots of other articles if you search around.
    – Jeff K
    Feb 29 at 4:28

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