How long do you have to move retirement assets between accounts?

Quick Summary

  • With a direct rollover, your money is transferred from one retirement account to another.
  • Indirect rollovers happen when you cash out one retirement plan and reinvest the money in a new plan.
  • If you do an indirect rollover, you must reinvest the money within 60 days to avoid taxes and penalties.

Most IRA rollovers happen without anyone actually touching the money. Your 401(k) plan administrator directly transfers the 401(k) money to the IRA you designate. That’s called a direct rollover. You can avoid taxes and hassle with this option. You have as long as you want to do a direct rollover. In almost all cases (check with your employer), you can leave the money in a 401(k) indefinitely.

You can also have a check made out to a 401(k) account or an IRA account that you physically deliver to your new employer or a bank. Taxes won’t be withheld. For most people, that option just adds complications.

In some cases, however, you might want to do an indirect rollover. This happens if you take temporary control of the money and do the rollover yourself. To avoid paying taxes and penalties, you must deposit all your retirement money into a new IRA or 401(k) within 60 days.

The 60-Day Rollover Rule

If you want to use some of the money you have saved for retirement temporarily, you can take advantage of the 60-day rollover rule to give yourself a loan.

The 60-day rollover rule applies to indirect rollovers. With this type of rollover, your account is liquidated and you get a check from your 401(k) plan administer. After that, you have 60 days to deposit the funds into another qualified retirement account.

Three important things to know about the 60-day rollover rule are:

  1. How to avoid paying taxes
  2. How to report indirect rollovers under the 60-day rollover rule
  3. How often you can use the 60-day rollover rule

How to Avoid Paying Taxes

Taking temporary control of your retirement money is simple enough. You direct your 401(k) plan administrator or the bank where you have an IRA to make out a check to you.

IRS rules say you have 60 days to re-deposit the money to the same account or another 401(k) or IRA. If you redeposit all of your retirement money by the time limit, you don’t owe taxes.

But there is a tax complication. When your 401(k) plan administrator or your bank writes you a check, the taxes are withheld automatically. If you want to avoid paying taxes, you need to make up amount withheld when you redeposit the money.

An example: If you take a $10,000 distribution from your 401(k) plan, your plan administrator will withhold taxes—say, $2,000.

If you deposit the $8,000 check within 60 days in another or the same 401(k) or IRA, you’ll owe taxes on the $2,000 withheld. If you are under 59 ½, you’ll also owe an additional 10% penalty unless you qualify for an exception.

If you make up the $2,000 from other sources of income and redeposit the entire $10,000, you won’t owe taxes.

How to Report Indirect Rollovers

There are three tax-reporting scenarios. Continuing with the $10,000 rollover example above:

  1. If you redeposit the entire amount you took out, including making up the $2,000 in the taxes withheld and you meet the 60-day limit, you can report the rollover as a nontaxable rollover.
  2. If you redeposit the $8,000 you took out, but not the $2,000 taxes withheld, you must report the $2,000 as taxable income, the $8,000 as a nontaxable rollover, and the $2,000 as taxes paid, plus the 10% penalty.
  3. If you fail to redeposit any of the money within 60 days, you should report the entire $10,000 as taxable income and $2,000 as taxes paid. If you’re under 59 ½, you’ll also report and pay the additional 10% penalty unless you qualify for an exception.

How Often You Can Use the 60-Day Rollover Rule

During any 12-month period, you can make only one rollover from an IRA to another IRA. That’s true even if you have multiple IRAs. Note that trustee-to-trustee transfers between IRAs aren’t limited to one per year. Neither are rollovers from traditional to Roth IRAs.

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