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Quitting Your Job? Don't Let It Damage Your Retirement
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Quitting Your Job? Don't Let It Damage Your Retirement

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Quitting Your Job? Don't Let It Damage Your Retirement

Approximately half of all workers are actively searching for a new job or keeping an eye out for opportunities, according to a Gallup survey. Many of them are seeking better pay and more flexible work opportunities, but those aren't the only factors you should keep in mind when evaluating a job offer. You also need to think about how your job change could affect your plans for retirement.

What retirement benefits does your new job offer?

Salary affects how much you can afford to put toward retirement each month, but it's not the only thing to base your decision on.

Image source: Getty Images.

Inquire about the retirement accounts available to workers and whether you're able to contribute right away. If there's a waiting period, make sure you have a backup plan for your retirement savings. An IRA is a great option if you don't have access to a workplace retirement plan.

If your new employer offers both tax-deferred and Roth accounts, decide how much you'd like to contribute to each. Tax-deferred accounts are usually better for workers who believe they're in a higher tax bracket now than they'll be in during retirement. Roth accounts are wiser for those who think they're in the same or a lower tax bracket now than they'll be in during retirement.

You should also inquire about whether the new company offers a matching retirement contribution. Compare this to the match you get at your current job, if any, to decide whether you need to increase your personal contributions or whether you can afford to decrease them.

Note the maximum you're allowed to contribute to your retirement account, too, so you don't run into trouble with the IRS. For 401(k)s, you may contribute up to $19,500 in 2021 if you're under 50 and $26,000 if you're 50 or older. The government adjusts these limits periodically, so you should check this every year.

Finally, look for less-obvious perks that could help your retirement readiness. If your new employer offers health insurance and you're used to paying this out of pocket, you might be able to put that extra money toward retirement savings instead. Or if your company will pay for you to pursue additional education, you may be able to turn that into a better job with an even higher salary down the road.

Weigh all of these benefits when evaluating the new job offer and compare how it stacks up to your current job. If you'll need to make some adjustments to your retirement strategy, start planning for this right away so you can keep yourself on track.

Will leaving your current job cost you?

In addition to weighing your new job's benefits, you also have to consider the costs of leaving your current job. If you took a 401(k) loan and you haven't paid it back yet, you could owe the full balance when you quit. If you can't pay it back, the government will tax the outstanding balance as a distribution.

You could also lose some of your 401(k) match if you leave your job before you're fully vested in the plan. Each company has its own formula that determines when your 401(k) match actually becomes yours. For a few employers, that's right away. For others, you have to wait until you've worked at the company for a certain number of years. And still others release your funds gradually to you over time. Talk to your plan administrator to learn more about your vesting schedule.

If you're not fully vested yet or you have an outstanding loan, you must weigh the consequences of leaving your job now against the benefits the new job offers. You may be better off remaining with your current job a little longer and then seeking new opportunities.

What about your old retirement account?

Before you formally accept your new job offer, it's a good idea to make a plan for the savings in your current workplace retirement account. Leaving it where it is is one option, but it's not the best choice for most people. It's more difficult to manage your retirement savings when it's spread across many different accounts, and you may have more investment options if you move the money elsewhere.

You could roll the money over to an IRA or possibly into your new retirement account, if your new employer permits it. If you choose to move your money, you must decide between a direct and an indirect rollover.

Direct rollovers are where you tell your current plan administrator where you'd like the money sent to and the administrator deposits it into your new account without you ever touching the funds. This is the best way to do it. An indirect rollover is where your plan administrator cuts you a check for the balance for you to deposit in your new account. However, if you fail to do this within 60 days, the government considers your withdrawal a distribution and taxes it accordingly.

Switching careers could be a smart decision for your retirement, but you have to consider all of the above factors before you make that call. If you decide to go ahead with it, make sure you look at your whole retirement plan again to determine if you have to make any changes to your savings plan to retire when you'd like to.

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The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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