Hidden Assets: Consolidate retirement accounts
Reduce paperwork in retirement, be done with niggling fees -- there are more than a few reasons to streamline.
By Carla Fried, Money Magazine

(MONEY Magazine) -- If you spent the 1990s collecting IRAs and 401(k) plans the way Robert Parker collects wines, you probably need a drink (or three) when you try to keep track of all your separate accounts.

Less can definitely be more.

Say you have a $2,000 IRA here and a $4,000 one there, and you left behind a 401(k) when you quit your last job (or two before that). Move all your scattered eggs into one nest, and you'll thank yourself later.

Bookkeeping may be no sweat now, but consider that once you reach age 70 1/2, you'll have to start withdrawing money from your traditional IRAs and 401(k)s. Does tracking a tax bill for each strike you as retirement fun?

Consolidating can also save you money. Many funds and brokerages slap an annual fee of $10 or more on IRAs worth less than $5,000. Transfer all your IRAs into one, add your old 401(k), and you may have a big enough balance to earn a fee waiver.

Having all your money in one place will also make it easier to create and track a portfolio.

Even better is the potential for higher returns: If you ditch a 401(k) that stuck you with expensive, underperforming funds and roll it over into an IRA with low-cost index funds, your bottom line is bound to benefit.

Fund companies and discount brokerages are salivating to get your retirement money, so they go out of their way to make it easy. With a 401(k), you simply complete an application that authorizes the new firm to contact your old plan provider and have the money moved directly into your IRA.

With IRA transfers, it's the same one-application routine.

Warning: Don't ever take possession of the money. If you do and then fail to reinvest it in an IRA within 60 days, you're looking at an income tax bill as well as a 10 percent early-withdrawal penalty.

Warning No. 2: Some financial institutions charge egregious fees to let you go. Transferring an IRA from Schwab will set you back $50; Fidelity hits you up for $50 as well. What can you do? Not much, so consolidate only if the payoff outweighs any fee.

7 Steps to Uncover Hidden Assets:

1. Cash in old savings bonds

2. Boost your savings rate

3. Stop paying for unneeded life insurance

4. Consolidate your retirement accounts

5. Prune your credit cards

6. Unload unused gift cards

7. Finally sell that lousy investment  Top of page

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