There’s no limit to the number of retirement accounts you should own, but there are limits on the amount of money you can contribute to each type of vehicle in a given year. With that said, holding too many similar accounts can be inefficient. That’s where consolidation may save you administrative fees, improve your investment opportunity set, and simplify your monitoring, reporting, and income distribution management effort.
When to Consolidate Your Retirement Accounts
The most commonly executed consolidations involve rolling over traditional 401(k) balances from previous employers into a traditional IRA. Similarly, old Roth 401(k) balances can be rolled into a Roth IRA. In some instances, converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can also be sensible, but this maneuver will trigger a tax liability in the year of conversion.
As you work toward retirement, it’s generally advisable to have two retirement accounts – a traditional vehicle and a Roth-style vehicle. This framework is fairly easy to manage, and more importantly, it will enable you to maintain flexibility in taking income distributions in a tax-efficient manner.
In low-income years, drawing down on your traditional account is smart because this money has never been taxed. Conversely, in high income years, drawing down on your Roth account is smart because it is tax exempt.
Is It Bad to Have More Than Two Retirement Accounts?
Understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with having more than two retirement accounts. Oftentimes, the number of accounts you own is dictated by legislation or personal preference, so don’t feel you must attain a certain number of accounts to maximize your investments.
In some cases, the control may be out of your hands. For example, if you’ve accumulated a handful of traditional IRA accounts, you can’t consolidate them as they must remain distinct.
In other cases, you may want to build a retirement plan that includes taxable brokerage accounts, which house an assortment of stocks, bonds, alternatives, and non-qualified annuities. This obviously necessitates at least one additional “retirement” account.
How Can I Consolidate My Retirement Accounts?
There are two ways to consolidate your retirement accounts—either by doing it yourself or by hiring a financial expert.
If you choose to consolidate yourself, you can typically achieve this through a phone call with an IRA provider. Before you get started, be sure to gather all the necessary paperwork from former employers and understand the process for a more seamless transition.
If you choose to work with a financial expert, then they will typically handle most of the heavy lifting for you. A financial expert can assist you with paperwork, give you advice on the best investment route, and discuss the tax impact on your finances.