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Education Center » Spring cleaning: Time to get your retirement accounts in order

Spring cleaning: Time to get your retirement accounts in order


Spring is the time of year when you focus on areas of your home that need extra attention. As you sweep in the new season, now is a great time to tidy up another often-neglected area: your retirement account portfolio.

Have retirement accounts here, there and everywhere? If you’re like most people, chances are you’ve got money collecting dust bunnies in a former employer’s retirement plan. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans hold an average of 11 jobs between the ages of 18 and 46.1 That could mean up to 11 different retirement accounts to manage! Even if you are the most committed do-it-yourselfer, who has time to manage all those accounts?

Gather your assets

So, you’ve got money in a former employer’s plan. What’s the problem? The money is still invested, so why not just leave it there until you retire? Think of it as a junk drawer overflowing with doodads and thingamajigs. While at one time those mystery keys, random nuts and bolts, twisty ties and pushpins were helpful items, they’re rendered useless in the back of the drawer. Similarly, money in an old account could be lying dormant, and not working as hard as it could be for you.

De-clutter and de-stress

Why consolidate?

  • It may be easier to review your investments altogether to help ensure they reflect your goals, time horizon and tolerance for risk
  • It can be easier to maintain your intended asset mix, even during periods of market volatility
  • You may pay less in fees and expenses
  • You could save time (and paper) by managing only one account

You know that feeling of satisfaction you get when you clean the garage or organize a closet? You might achieve a similar feeling by tidying up your finances. "By consolidating your assets, you can simplify the management of your finances and see everything in one place. It can also help you balance and prioritize your goals," says Sylvie Feist, director of Employee Experience & Strategy for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Seeing all of your retirement assets on a single statement will help you answer the following questions:

  • Am I saving enough?
  • Am I properly diversified?
  • Am I carrying too much (or too little) risk?
  • Are the fees and expenses I’m paying appropriate for the services I’m receiving?

Not only that, by consolidating accounts, you’ll be simplifying in other ways. You’ll only need to remember the password to one website, review one account statement and dial one phone number if you have a question. But even more importantly, you may be able to more easily manage your investment activity and contributions—key actions that can help keep your retirement planning efforts in tip-top shape.

Make sure your investments reflect your style

Just like the clothes you once thought were fashionable, there’s a chance that your financial style has become outdated, too—especially in retirement accounts you haven’t checked in awhile. By reviewing your accounts, you can get a clear picture of your investments—across all asset classes—and make sure they are in line with your risk tolerance and time horizon (the time remaining before you’ll need the money). If not, then you may need to make some changes.


Your financial style may need to change due to major life events, too. If you’ve gotten married or divorced, or have had a birth or death in the family, you may need to update your investment strategy, contribution rate, beneficiary designation and account information. Another advantage to account consolidation is knowing you have to update only one account when life changes happen.

Once and done!

One final advantage to consolidating your retirement accounts? Unlike regular spring cleaning, which must be tackled every year, you only need to gather your stray retirement accounts one time. And once you’ve rolled your retirement accounts into a single account, managing and maintaining it will be a relative breeze.

Learn more and take action

Keep in mind that you have choices for what to do with your 401(k) accounts. You may be able to rollover to an IRA, rollover an old 401(k) to a 401(k) at a new employer, take a distribution, or leave the account where it is. Each of the choices available for your 401(k) account may offer different investment options and services, fees and expenses, withdrawal options, required minimum distributions, tax treatment and protection from creditors and legal judgments. Please consider these factors carefully when making the choice you believe would be right for you.

  • Refer to this brochure for more information on consolidating retirement accounts.
  • Raring to go? If your 401(k) plan is through Merrill Lynch, call a Retirement Education Specialist at 1.877.637.1786 to get help rolling your old 401(k) balance(s) into your current plan.

1 Source: "Number of Jobs Held, Labor Market Activity, and Earning Growth Among the Youngest Baby Boomers: Results From a Longitudinal Survey," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2012.