Saturday, February 23, 2008

This is an odd little wrinkle

One of the posts I've been drafting in my head for a bit and need to research further is about whether it would be advantageous for me to roll my old 401(k) into an IRA, rather than rolling it straight into my new 401(k). But a bit of weirdness popped up today that has me wondering if I should just leave the thing exactly where it is.

My old company had a five-year vesting schedule for its 401(k) match: It vested 20 per year. I quit in December, after about 20 months of working there. My 401(k) was, of course, only 20 percent vested. I figured I'd be walking away from the other 80 percent of the company's match - not fun, but I wanted the new job, and $2k in unvested 401(k) money wasn't really a serious factor in my decision about whether or not I should leave.

Now, one of my friends mentioned that when she left one of her past jobs, her 401(k) kept vesting. Every year, another chuck moved into the vested category, and when she finally moved the funds years later, she got everything - even the stuff that technically should never have vested, because she left the company prematurely.

I asked about this at OldCompany HR before I left: I walk away from my unvested 401(k) funds, right? Their answer: yes, of course.

Ok. Then why, when I checked my balance today, had another 20 percent vested? (My two-year anniversary would have been sometime in February.)

Is this a workflow breakdown? Did news of my termination not make it over to OldCompany's 401(k) provider (JP Morgan)? Is this going to keep happening every year, if I leave the 401(k) where it is?

I could call and ask these questions, of course, but that seems like poking the hornet's nest. But. Hmm. If the money will never vest (which is, I'm pretty sure, what should be happening), I want to move the account. If it is going to keep vesting, I should leave it. And, er, hope I'm not screwing up anything legally or ethically by not alerting either OldCompany or JP Morgan what's going on.

(And yes, I'm aware that posting on a public blog is not exactly a way to keep things subtle. I'm posting because I'm not really trying to hide this, and also because I'm curious about how common this phantom vesting is.)