The Benefits of Rolling Over a 401(k) or 403(b) to Betterment

Whether you have a single old plan or several, there are some good reasons to consider rolling them over to Betterment.

illustration of dog rolling over

When you switch jobs, your old employer-sponsored retirement plan (401(k), 403(b), etc.) still belongs to you, but it becomes inactive and you can’t continue to make contributions. So what should you do with it? Whether you have a single plan or several, there are some good reasons to consider transferring your old 401(k) or 403(b).

Betterment makes it simple to roll over your old employer-sponsored retirement plan into an IRA – or a Betterment 401(k) if you’re fortunate enough to have one through your current employer. Either way, we invest your money in a low-cost, globally diversified portfolio, and we offer personalized advice while acting in your best interest.

How can you know if that’s the right move for you? Let’s talk about it.

In this guide, we’ll:

  • Explain your options when dealing with an old 401(k) or 403(b).
  • Walk through key questions you should ask when making your decision.
  • Talk about the potential benefits that can come with rolling over your old account to Betterment.
  • Show you how to get started.

What can you do with your old 401(k) or 403(b)?

Employer-sponsored accounts can be a great way to save for retirement. They have valuable tax advantages and come with higher contribution limits than an IRA. But after you leave a job, it’s important to consider what you do next with your plan.

You have a few options:

  • Keep it where it is.
  • Roll it over to your current or future employer’s plan.
  • Roll it over to an IRA.
  • Take a cash distribution to your personal checking account.

Keeping your 401(k) or 403(b) where it is or moving it to your new plan may result in high fees, confusing investment selections, a lack of financial planning options, or a portfolio not appropriate for your goals. And taking a cash distribution to yourself is a taxable event that can cause the IRS to hit you with early distribution fees.

None of those situations are ideal.

By contrast, rolling over your 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA gives you more control over your investment options, could lead to lower fees, and can allow you to organize your funds from most previous employer-sponsored plans by combining them in one place.

At Betterment, your IRA can be invested in any one of our diversified, expert-built portfolios and personalized to your own appetite for risk.

How do you know if switching is right for you?

Before rolling over your 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA, you should know exactly what will happen to your money. Everyone’s situation is a little different. So, how do you know if you should switch? While not exhaustive, here are some factors to consider.

Start by asking your old plan provider about fees and investment options so you can make an informed comparison. Operationally, we don’t charge for rollovers on our end, but your old 401(k) or 403(b) plan provider may charge you for closing your account with them.

Next, consider taxes. When rolling over a 401(k), 403(b), or any other-employer sponsored plan, we use the direct rollover method designed to prevent any withholding or negative tax consequences. But there are two important things to remember:

  • Be sure to designate a withdrawal from your current provider as a rollover.
  • If you have a traditional 401(k) or 403(b), you should roll it over into a traditional IRA. If you have a Roth 401(k) or 403(b), you should roll it over into a Roth IRA.

If you withdraw from a traditional 401(k) or 403(b) as a “non-rollover” before age 59 ½, you’ll face a 10% penalty for an early withdrawal. If you roll over from a traditional plan into a Roth IRA, you’ll have to pay income taxes on the money. These situations are unnecessary for investors in most circumstances.

Other questions to consider include the following:

  • What investments are currently available and how do they compare to your other options?
  • What are your current fees and how do they compare to your other options?
  • Will you need protections from creditors or legal judgments?
  • Are there required minimum distributions associated with certain accounts?
  • How does your employer plan treat employer stock?
  • Could the rollover impact your Roth conversion strategy?

When deciding whether to roll over a retirement account, you should carefully consider your unique situation and preferences. Research the details of your current account, and consult tax professionals and other financial advisors with any questions.

What are the benefits of rolling over to Betterment?

At Betterment, rollovers are simple, automated, and personalized. In just a short time, you can open up a Betterment IRA, receive and review personalized portfolio recommendations, and generate rollover instructions entirely online. If you’re transferring more than $100,000, you’ll have complimentary access to our Licensed Concierge team.

Here’s why you should consider rolling over your 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA with Betterment.

Access more investment options

IRAs can include more investment options than a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. With employer retirement plans, administrators typically only give you a few options to choose from and limited to no guidance on which options may be best for you. You might end up in a portfolio that’s not appropriate for your retirement goals, or you might have to choose from limited high-cost mutual funds.

An IRA held at a brokerage or investment advisor—like Betterment—can provide you with access to a broader universe of funds. Our investment advice and portfolios are built with global diversification, relatively low costs and long-term performance in mind.

Lower your investment fees

IRA fees can be lower than those your plan administrator charges. In many 401(k) and 403(b) plans, the expense ratios (fees) on mutual funds and ETFs can also be much higher than those within IRAs. And depending on your plan, keeping funds within your 401(k) plan after leaving your employer may subject you to management fees.

At Betterment, we charge one fee—our management fee. We don’t charge you to open or close accounts, make withdrawals, or change your allocation. The ETFs you invest in through Betterment charge a fee themselves, but we pride ourselves in picking low cost and tax efficient funds, with the goal being to maximize your take home returns.

Manage your portfolio in one place

Many investors appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having all their investments in one place. Understanding a fuller picture of your savings can help you make better estimates about your future budget.

It can also help you to manage your overall risk and portfolio diversification more effectively to keep you on track for long-term success. Depending on your situation, moving your retirement assets to one provider may also improve the tax-efficiency of your taxable investments.

How do you start the rollover?

When you’re ready to rollover an account, it’s easy to get started. Sign up for Betterment and log into your account, click on “Transfer or rollover” at the top right-hand side of your home screen, then answer a few simple questions. We need to know about your 401(k) or 403(b) provider, the type of funds held in your account, and their estimated values.

We’ll email you a full set of personalized instructions, including any information we need to complete the transfer. This will include your unique Betterment IRA account number, how your provider should make your rollover check payable, and where the rollover check should be mailed. Some providers mail the check directly to Betterment, others will mail the checks to you and request that you forward them to Betterment. Regardless, as long as you follow our instructions it’ll be considered a direct rollover without penalties or taxes. 

Some providers may also require you to fill out their rollover paperwork, or they may ask you to give them a call. If so, there’s generally no way around it. But your email from Betterment should give you all the information they’ll ask you for.

Once the check arrives, we’ll automatically invest it and send you another email confirming your rollover has completed.

This process also applies to other employer-sponsored plans beyond 401(k)s and 403(b)s, including pensions, 401(a)s, 457(b)s, profit sharing plans, stock plans, and Thrift Savings Plans (TSPs).

If you have any questions before or during your rollover process please reach out to, and our customer support team is here to help.

Betterment’s Licensed Concierge Team offers support for individuals transferring assets to Betterment of $100,000 or more, and receives incentive compensation based on assets brought to or invested with Betterment. Betterment’s revenue varies for different offerings (e.g., Betterment Digital and Premium) and consequently Team members have an incentive to recommend the offering which results in the greatest revenue for Betterment. The marketing and solicitation activities of these individuals are supervised by Betterment to ensure that these individuals act in the client’s best interest.