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I recently (1yr ago) changed jobs and my previous employer has not transferred my 401(k) contributions. I have sent them several emails regarding this. Their typical response is that they are working on it and will do so shortly. Now it is already a year.

Is there a legal procedure I can follow to force them to transfer?

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    How did you initiate the transfer? Typically, one gives their own broker the paperwork and they request the money be sent. They help act as your agent. – JoeTaxpayer Aug 19 '15 at 18:14
  • Look on the website for the 401K trustee for the forms. – mhoran_psprep Aug 19 '15 at 18:16
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If you cannot get a satisfactory answer from the company, you can contact your local office of the Employee Benefits Security Administration. They can add pressure or give advice about how to overcome any remaining hurdles if the reason for delay is legitimate.

I should probably also note that these accounts have significant reporting requirements, so it is possible that the delay is indeed a legitimate one.

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I rolled my 401k over into an IRA. This is apparently the most common way to retrieve retirement funds from a former employer. I went to an office of the broker I chose to open the IRA with and they walked me through the paperwork required. As I recall, some of it had to go to the former employer, some had to go to the IRS. I ended up with a check which I deposited with the broker, and they sent more paperwork to the IRS confirming this.

Contact a financial services vendor and ask for assistance rolling your 401k into an IRA. They'll help you complete the transactions legally so you don't risk any penalties from the IRS.

  • Good to know that I could pursue this route. Thank you. – PJJ Aug 19 '15 at 21:47
  • I don't think one should ever receive a check during a true rollover. The only way to avoid taxes and early withdrawal penalties is to perform an institution-to-institution "in kind" transfer, which never involves a check being cut to the individual. You should verify with your IRA provider that you didn't get penalized during this process. – dg99 Aug 19 '15 at 22:19
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    Why on earth would some money have to be sent to the IRS? Were you rolling over 401k money in the Traditional plan (i.e. not a Roth 401k) into a Roth IRA? – Dilip Sarwate Aug 19 '15 at 23:25
  • @DilipSarwate - I think he meant paperwork to the IRS. But that's for the broker and prior custodian. The taxpayer doesn't notify the IRS, just notes the transfer at tax time. – JoeTaxpayer Aug 20 '15 at 0:53
  • @JoeTaxpayer I don't recall having to be involved at all in any paperwork to the IRS at the time of transfer. After the end of the year I got a Form 1099-R indicating that I had done a rollover. – Dilip Sarwate Aug 20 '15 at 5:38
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Transferred where? To the 401k plan of your new employer? To an IRA?

If the transfer is to an IRA, you were talking to the wrong people when you went to the HR/401k people at your previous employer. Most (more likely all) IRA custodians would love to get their hands on that money to invest it for you. What you need to do is go to your current IRA custodian's website, tell them you want to roll over your 401k into your current IRA, give them all the information, and effectively say, "Go get 'em, Bears!" and they will do all the work for you. (In fact, IRA custodians typically have links to click on that will walk you through the entire process). Don't have a current IRA? Pick a custodian (say someone like Rearguard or Churlish Swab), tell them you want to open a new IRA and want to fund it via rollover from your 401k and sit back and relax; they will take care of it all for you.

Transferring to the 401k plan of your current employer is a little more complicated because not all 401k plans allow transfers into the plan. Again, talk to the HR/401k plan people of your current employer first to find out what is needed. It might be that your ex-employer's plan will cut a check payable to the new trustee and send it to you to send on to the new trustee, rather than send the money directly to your new 401k plan as is common in trustee-to-trustee transfers. You can't cash the check since it is not payable to you, but it is your responsibility to ensure that it gets to the right place. Whether rolling over your 401k funds into the plan of a new employer is a good idea or a bad idea depends on lots of factors. I have discussed some of these factors in this answer to a related question.

  • I am transferring the old 401k plan to my current employer. I'l verify if they allow for transferring in... good point. The problem is that my old employer is taking their own time in cutting the check. I am asking if there is any legal discourse to force them to respond within a certain time frame. Thank you for your response. – PJJ Aug 20 '15 at 23:58
  • My experience has been that the IRA company was not able to initiate the transfer. The 401K trustee need me to do so, and then tell them where to transfer the funds. In fact the IRA company was one of the ones you hinted at in your answer. – mhoran_psprep Aug 22 '15 at 11:13

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