Investor Insights | November 2015
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Do You Know Where Your Retirement Savings Are?


First published on - October 30, 2015

Maintaining a number of retirement accounts may incur unnecessary fees and make it difficult to track performance. Consolidating your accounts may be the answer.


By the time many of us reach our 40s and 50s, we’ve accumulated a slew of retirement accounts: A traditional IRA here, a rollover IRA there, and two or three scattered 401(k) accounts left in the plans of former employers.


As the accounts add up, it becomes extremely difficult to get a clear picture of your overall retirement preparedness.


According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the average baby boomer will hold more than twelve jobs in their lifetime. Each new job change may mean a retirement account left behind and a new one opened.


If this sounds familiar, you may benefit from consolidating your retirement accounts into one central account. Consolidating accounts can help you make sure your savings are invested appropriately for your overall goals, track the performance of your holdings and, in some cases, discover more investment choices and incur lower fees.


Streamlining the account structure of your retirement savings has many potential benefits:


Comprehensive Investment Strategy

Over time, your investment objectives and risk tolerance may have changed. Thus, it can be difficult to maintain an effective retirement investment strategy—one that accurately reflects your current goals, timing and risk tolerance—when your savings are spread over multiple accounts. Once you begin the consolidation process, you can strategize potential investment options to match your current goals and objectives.


Potentially Greater Investment Flexibility

Often, 401(k) plans, other employer-sponsored retirement programs and even some IRAs have limited investment menus. Some IRAs may offer greater control, more options or expanded diversification when compared to employer plans and other IRAs, but on the other hand they might not offer the same options. Whether a particular IRA’s options are attractive will depend, in part, on how satisfied you are with the options offered by your former or new employer’s plan.1


Simplified Ttracking

It is easier to monitor your progress and investment results when all your retirement savings are in one place. By consolidating your accounts, you will receive one statement instead of several—which will cut down on endless amounts of monthly statements from multiple plans.


Customized Service Levels

Some employer plans also provide access to investment advice, planning tools, telephone help lines, educational materials and workshops. Similarly, IRA providers including Morgan Stanley offer different levels of service, which may include full brokerage service, investment advice and distribution planning.


Monitoring Costs

Reducing the number of accounts may impact account fees and other investment charges. Generally speaking, both employer-sponsored qualified plans and IRAs have plan or account fees. Although fees associated with an IRA may be higher than those associated with an employer plan, consolidating multiple IRAs may reduce your overall expenses.


Penalty Tax-Free Withdrawals

Generally IRA owners can take distributions penalty tax-free once they attain age 59 ½. Qualified plan participants between the ages of 55 and 59 ½, once separated from service, may be able to take penalty tax-free withdrawals from the qualified plan.


Clear Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

Once you reach age 70 ½, having fewer retirement accounts to manage can mean having fewer RMD requirements to follow. Comprehensive Knowledge of Your Assets If your employer-sponsored retirement plan is terminated or abandoned (an “orphan plan”) or is merged with or transferred to a retirement plan of another corporation after you leave, it may be difficult to locate the plan administrator to request a distribution of your benefits or to change investments. By contrast, assets in an IRA are always accessible if you want to change your investment strategy or need to take a distribution.


There are of course, some situations where you may not want to consolidate. For example, while many qualified plans allow for loans, you cannot take a loan from an IRA. Assuming your qualified plan allows a loan once you’ve left the company (a very rare occurrence), it’s worth noting you will not be able to take out a loan once you roll over a qualified plan into an IRA.


Another situation is RMDs (required minimum distributions). Upon reaching age 70½, owners of a traditional IRA must begin taking required minimum distributions or face stiff IRS excise tax penalties. If the plan permits, qualified plan participants can delay taking required minimum distributions after attaining age 70½ if they are still working for the employer that sponsors the plan.


Consolidation Means Simplifying

The case for consolidating your accounts only grows more compelling with time. By simplifying your retirement account structure, you can have a clearer picture of your financial plan and potentially expand your investment choices. A Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor or Private Wealth Advisor can help you get started whether your retirement is years away or just around the corner.



1. Cash out the account value and take a lump sum distribution from the current plan subject to mandatory 20% withholding, as well as potential taxes and a 10% penalty tax,

OR continue tax deferred growth potential by doing one of the following:

2. Leave the assets in your former employer’s plan (if permitted),

3. Roll over the retirement savings into your new employer’s qualified plan, if one is available and rollovers are permitted, or

4. Roll over the retirement savings into an IRA.


Each option offers advantages and disadvantages, depending on your particular facts and circumstances (including your financial needs and your particular goals and objectives).  Some of the factors you should consider when making a rollover decision include (among other things) the differences in: (1) investment options, (2) fees and expenses, (3) services, (4) penalty-free withdrawals, (5) creditor protection in bankruptcy and from legal judgments, (6) Required Minimum Distributions or “RMDs”, and (7) the tax treatment of employer stock if you hold such in your current plan.

The decision of which option to select is a complicated one and must take into consideration your total financial picture. To reach an informed decision, you should discuss the matter with your own independent legal and tax advisor and carefully consider and compare the differences in your options.


 1 Typically, as a retirement plan participant who may be receiving an eligible rollover distribution from the plan, you have the following four options (and you may be able to engage in a combination of these options depending on your employment status, age and the availability of the particular option):

By law, some IRAs may not be consolidated. Clients should consult their personal legal advisor.


Tax laws are complex and subject to change. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”), its affiliates and Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors and Private Wealth Advisors do not provide tax or legal advice and are not “fiduciaries” (under the Internal Revenue Code or otherwise) with respect to the services or activities described herein except as otherwise provided in a written agreement with Morgan Stanley. Individuals are encouraged to consult their tax and legal advisors regarding any potential tax and related consequences of any investments made under an IRA.


This article does not address state and local income taxes. The state and local income tax treatment of your retirement account, as well as the contributions to it and the distributions from it may vary based on your state of residence. You should consult with and rely on your own independent tax advisor with respect to such.


This material does not provide individually tailored investment advice.  It has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it.  The strategies and/or investments discussed in this material may not be suitable for all investors.  Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC recommends that investors independently evaluate particular investments and strategies, and encourages investors to seek the advice of a Financial Advisor.  The appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives.

Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining financial markets.


© 2015 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Member SIPC

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Tax laws are complex and subject to change. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC ("Morgan Stanley"), its affiliates and Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors or Private Wealth Advisors do not provide tax or legal advice. Individuals are urged to consult their personal tax or legal advisors to understand the tax and related consequences of any actions or investments described herein.

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© 2015 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, Member SIPC.
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