What Happens to Your 401k if You Quit

If you leave your job, you have several options for your 401(k) account. You can keep the account with your former employer, roll it over into an IRA or another 401(k) plan, or cash out your account, though doing so could result in taxes and early withdrawal penalties. Leaving your 401(k) with your former employer may be a good option if you like the investment options and low fees. Rolling over your 401(k) into an IRA is another good choice, as it gives you more investment options and flexibility. Cashing out your 401(k) may be the best choice if you need immediate access to the funds, but be aware of the potential financial implications. Consult a financial advisor to discuss your options and determine the best course of action for your personal situation.


Vesting refers to how much of your 401k contributions and earnings belong to you. Generally, your 401k contributions are always 100% vested, meaning they are yours regardless of your employment status. However, your employer’s matching contributions may be subject to a vesting schedule.

Vesting schedules can vary widely, but they typically involve gradually increasing your ownership of the matching contributions over time. For example, you may be 20% vested after one year of service, 40% vested after two years, and so on, until you are fully vested after a certain number of years, often five or seven.


When you quit your job, you have several options for distributing your 401k balance:

  • Cash out: You can withdraw your entire 401k balance in cash. However, this is generally not recommended as you will owe income tax and a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59½.
  • Roll over: You can roll over your 401k balance into a new 401k or an individual retirement account (IRA). This allows you to avoid paying taxes and penalties on the distribution.
  • Leave it in the plan: If you have a vested balance, you can leave it in your former employer’s 401k plan. However, you will not be able to make any further contributions to the plan.
  • Required minimum distributions: Once you reach age 72, you will be required to take minimum distributions from your 401k. The amount of the distribution will depend on your age and account balance.

The table below summarizes the tax implications of different 401k distribution options:

Distribution OptionTaxable10% Early Withdrawal Penalty
Cash outYesYes (if under age 59½)
Roll overNoNo
Leave in the planNoNo
Required minimum distributionsYesNo

What Happens to Your 401(k) if You Quit?

When you leave a job, you can face several questions about your 401(k) retirement plan. Knowing your options will help you make informed choices about your financial future.

Rollovers and Transfers

When you quit a job, you generally have a few options for your 401(k) balance, including keeping the funds in the current plan, rolling the funds into a new account, or taking a cash withdrawal, subject to taxes and potential penalties.

  • Keep the funds in the current plan: If you meet certain criteria, such as having a vested account balance, you may be able to leave your money in your current 401(k) plan.
  • Roll funds into a new account: You can roll your 401(k) balance into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or a new employer-sponsored plan. This allows you to consolidate your retirement savings and potentially gain access to a wider range of investment options.
  • Take a cash withdrawal: You can withdraw cash from your 401(k), but this option comes with significant tax implications. You will owe income tax on the withdrawn amount, and you may also face a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59½.

The best option for you will depend on your specific circumstances, including your age, income, and investment goals.

Keep the funds in the current planNo fees or taxes
May offer limited investment options
Roll funds into a new accountConsolidate retirement savings
Wider investment options
May require fees
Take a cash withdrawalImmediate access to funds
Can avoid investment fees
Significant tax penalties

Tax Implications

Understanding the tax implications of withdrawing funds from your 401(k) account after quitting your job is crucial. The tax treatment of your withdrawal depends on several factors, including your age and the type of withdrawal you make.

Pre-Tax Contributions

  • Withdrawal before age 59½: If you withdraw funds from your 401(k) before you turn 59½, you’ll pay income tax on the amount withdrawn plus a 10% early withdrawal penalty.
  • Withdrawal after age 59½: If you withdraw funds after age 59½, you’ll pay income tax on the amount withdrawn, but you won’t be subject to the early withdrawal penalty.

Roth Contributions

  • Withdrawal before age 59½: If you withdraw your Roth contributions before age 59½, you won’t pay income tax on the amount withdrawn. However, you will pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the earnings portion of the withdrawal.
  • Withdrawal after age 59½: If you withdraw your Roth contributions after age 59½, you won’t pay income tax or a penalty.

Taking a Loan

  • Repayment: If you take a loan from your 401(k) account and repay it according to the terms, you won’t pay any taxes or penalties.
  • Default: If you fail to repay the loan, the outstanding balance will be treated as a taxable withdrawal.

Other Considerations

OptionTax Consequences
Leave Money in AccountNo immediate tax consequences
Rollover to IRANo immediate tax consequences
Cash OutImmediate income tax and possible early withdrawal penalty

What Happens to Your 401k if You Quit

Leaving your job can trigger several changes to your 401k retirement account. Understanding these changes is crucial for making informed decisions about your financial future.

Employer Match Forfeiture

  • When you quit your job, you may forfeit any unvested employer matching contributions.
  • Vesting refers to the gradual transfer of ownership of these contributions to you.
  • Vesting schedules vary, but typically range from 2 to 6 years.

Distribution Options

You have several options for handling your 401k after leaving your job:

  • Leave it in the plan: If you’re not ready to withdraw or roll over your funds, you can leave them in the plan. However, you may face administrative fees.
  • Withdraw the funds: You can withdraw your funds, but you’ll likely pay taxes and penalties if you’re under 59½.
  • Roll over the funds: You can roll over your funds to an IRA or another 401k plan to avoid taxes and penalties.

Tax Implications of Withdrawals

If you withdraw funds from your 401k before age 59½, you’ll pay:

AgeTax Penalty
Under 59½10% early withdrawal penalty
59½ or olderNo penalty

Consequences of Leaving Funds in the Plan

If you leave your 401k funds in the plan after quitting, consider the following:

  • Administrative fees: Some plans charge fees for maintaining inactive accounts.
  • Investment limitations: You may have limited investment options within the plan.
  • Missed growth opportunities: Leaving your funds in the plan may limit their potential growth.


Quitting your job can have significant implications for your 401k. Carefully consider your distribution options and consult with a financial advisor if necessary to make the best decision for your financial future.

Well, there you have it, folks! Understanding what happens to your 401k when you quit can save you from costly surprises down the road. Remember, it’s crucial to explore your options carefully and make a decision that aligns with your financial goals. Thanks for dropping by today. If you have any other questions or need further guidance, feel free to stop by again. We’re always here to help you navigate the complexities of your financial journey. Until next time, stay curious and keep learning!