Motley Fool Answers Mailbag: 1 Listener, 2 Retirement Account Questions

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In this segment from the Motley Fool Answers podcast, Alison Southwick, Robert Brokamp, and special guest Ross Anderson from Motley Fool Wealth Management take on a pair of retirement-planning conundrums from a 29-year-old man thinking ahead.

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First, he's trying to decide what to do with his old 401(k) now that he's switched employers. Second, he's curious about when the best point would be to stop contributing to his Roth IRA and start contributing to a traditional IRA.

A full transcript follows the video.

Ross Anderson is an employee of Motley Fool Wealth Management, a separate, sister company of The Motley Fool, LLC. The information provided is intended to be educational only, and should not be construed as individualized advice. For individualized advice, please consult a financial professional.

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This video was recorded on Nov. 7, 2017.

Alison Southwick: The next question is from Austin. Oh, Austin has two questions. "I recently moved to a new company and had a decent-sized 401(k) with my last company. What are the pros and cons of consolidating that 401(k) with the one at my new company?"

Ross Anderson: You've got a couple of options with an old 401(k), and certainly good for you for thinking about it. If you roll it into your new 401(k), the main pro to doing that is that you keep the ERISA protection. So 401(k)s are under a law called ERISA. It's a Department of Labor law. It offers you some additional benefits if there was ever a bankruptcy (which we certainly hope there won't be), but that's the benefit to ERISA. Your downside on 401(k)s is normally limited investment choices depending on the size of the company and how much purchasing power they have at the plan level. You can have costs that are little higher.

Your other choice, really, is to roll that into an IRA. Normally, that opens up your investment choices. A lot of the folks that we work with at Motley Fool Wealth Management are moving 401(k)s into IRAs. That's really a lot of the transactions that we see, which would give you a lot more flexibility on how you invest moving forward.

Southwick: The next question is, "I have a Roth IRA and another account, but I'm wondering if there is some rule about when to stop contributing to a Roth and start contributing to a traditional IRA. I'm 29 and last year my wife and I jointly fell into the 25% tax bracket."

Anderson: I think this is a tougher question because to answer this accurately you have to make a couple of different predictions. If you knew what your tax rate was going to be in the future vs. what it is today, you could very accurately figure out which one is the best bucket. But tax rates move, and then the other thing that's going to change a lot over time is your personal income.

At 29, most of the time you're still in an accelerating income phase. Social Security data says that income accelerates until mid- to late 40s in many cases. I would expect that you're still in a lower tax bracket today than you will be over the next, let's call it, 15 to 20 years. [This] would have me show a little bit of preference toward the Roth, at least currently, just thinking that your income is going to go up and you'll appreciate the deduction for pre-tax contributions later down the line.

Robert Brokamp: The only other thing I'd say is that if there's any chance that you'll want the money before retirement age, 59-1/2, the Roth offers more flexibility, but I'm always hesitant to say that because ideally you should just leave it alone until you retire.

Anderson: Correct.

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