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I have a 401k (both traditional and roth) at Fidelity and recently tried a roll-over from the Fidelity 401k to Vanguard IRA (Rollover IRA and Roth IRA). When I called Fidelity to request a roll-over after setting up the IRA accounts at Vanguard, they told me that there were only two options for the roll-over:

(a) I first move the 401k to Fidelity IRA and then do a wire-transfer from Fidelity IRA to Vanguard IRA. This option, however, will incur a fee.

(b) Fidelity sends a check to me and then I am responsible for sending it to Vanguard.

I do not like either option and want to have a direct transfer -- i.e., Fidelity directly sending the checks to Vanguard. The direct transfer was also the option advised by Vanguard when I created IRA accounts at Vanguard. But, the Fidelity agent said that they could send the check only to the addresses on their file and that the Vanguard address is not on the file.

Is it generally a case? Most articles about roll-over say that I should necessarily use "direct roll-over" but I was surprised that this was not available at Fidelity. Has anybody tried a rollover from Fidelity 401k to Vanguard IRA? What option did you choose then?

Thanks,

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    Have you talked to Vanguard? A lot of times the entity losing the account isn't terribly helpful to facilitate your departure while the gaining entity will know the ins and outs. – quid May 26 '17 at 17:37
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    Funny story. When I called Vanguard a couple years back to roll some old employer 401(k) funds into an existing IRA I had with them, the rep misunderstood me and thought I was asking to roll funds OUT of their IRA. Over an hour and 3 Vanguard employees later, I finally realized the misunderstanding and told them the opposite was true. Once they found out I was trying to give them money, the rest of the call lasted less than 3 minutes. – Wesley Marshall May 26 '17 at 17:59
  • The right answer: call Vanguard and have them do the transfer. You will have no issues. – farnsy May 27 '17 at 6:03
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Direct roll-overs / trustee to trustee transfers are typically initiated by the receiving institution. Therefore you need to work with Vanguard. They will have a form in which you provide them with your fidelity account info and they will then contact Fidelity and initiate the transfer.

Do not take the option of being sent a check made out to you by Fidelity (an indirect rollover). There are too many ways to muck up and get hit with penalties if you are the middleman in the process. I believe in most, if not all, cases the IRS now requires a 20% withholding on indirect 401k rollovers. This is because too many times people would initiate a roll over but not complete it either at all or within the allowed 60 day window and then come tax time be unable to pay the tax and penalty on the distribution. The tricky part of that withholding is that you still have to deposit that amount into the new account otherwise it becomes a distribution subject to tax and penalties (and that means coming up with the money from other accounts).

So in summary talk to Vanguard and set up an institution to institution transfer. They souls make this very easy as they want your money. And do not do any kind of rollover where you come into personal possession of the money.

If the check is made out to Vanguard but sent to you to resend to Vanguard that should not be an issue as that is still a trustee to trustee transfer.

Fidelity may have a minor account closer fee that will be deducted from the value of the account before it is sent.

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    Call Vanguard, get their "retirmement concierge" I think they are called. They will call Fidelity, with you on the phone, and make arrangements. One direct transfer involved me getting a check made out to Vanguard that I had to forward. Did not like that. Rest of the transfers I have done were sent straight to Vanguard. I do not remember which way Fidelity did it, but the Vanguard person is paid and trained to get the money to Vanguard as easily as possible. – Shannon Severance May 26 '17 at 19:29
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    Parts of this answer are not quite right. Fidelity will send a check payable to Vanguard IRA FBO you to you instead of to Vanguard directly and it is up to you to mail it to Vanguard. Also, there is a small fee that is deducted by Fidelity from the proceeds of cashing in your 401(k). No mandatory withholding of income tax since the check is not payable to the OP, but to the OP's new IRA. – Dilip Sarwate May 26 '17 at 22:40
  • @DilipSarwate I have updated my response to be clear that there is an indirect and a direct type of rollover. I always thought of a direct rollover as a transfer and the term rollover just referring to the indirect variety. – Eric Johnson May 27 '17 at 0:23
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    I can confirm what @DilipSarwate has said- Vanguard just told me that there is no withholding as long as the check is made out to the receiving institution FBA me and my account number. The fee for issuing the check was $60. – leecbaker Jan 8 '18 at 15:26
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I don't really see the big deal in taking the check. Fidelity will issue you a check, made payable to VANGUARD FBO [Your Name]. All you have to do is simply hand the check over to Vanguard to deposit into your new IRA. Simple and done.

To answer your question: Whether or not a custodian, tpa, or recordkeeper will do a direct-deposit or transfer of your funds is completely at their discretion. My company rarely does direct transfers. We issue a check to you. It's just the way we do it.

You can talk to Vanguard and see if they can initiate the direct transfer with Fidelity - but honestly, this may just delay getting your funds moved and you're going to end up with a check anyways. And if Vanguard does somehow convince Fidelity to do the wire transfer - there is still going to be a fee. Wires are expensive. Unless Vanguard is willing to pick up the wire fee for you (doubtful).

Other's have also mentioned that TPA's will withhold a mandatory 20% federal tax withholding if they send you a check. This is only true if the check gets made payable in your name. But the taxes should not be withheld as long as the check is made payable to your new Vanguard IRA.

So my final opinion: Just take the check and give it to your Vanguard rep. It's literally that simple.

  • As per the above answer, there's a good chance things might go south if you take this line. – Stephen S May 26 '17 at 20:36
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    @StephenS How is there a good chance things might go south? It's not a very complicated situation. Fidelity cuts a check and sends it to OP. OP forwards the check to Vanguard. Anyone saying that 20% taxes will be withheld from the rollover check simply doesn't know what they're talking about :-) – NickyTheWrench May 26 '17 at 20:49
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    @StephenS as long as the check is made payable to Vanguard (i.e., a direct rollover) there should be no issues. The extra detail in my answer was to make sure that the OP did not do an indirect rollover where the check is made payable to the OP and the OP then makes a deposit to Vanguard. – Eric Johnson May 27 '17 at 0:26

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