I had the most frustrating and confusing phone call this afternoon with someone that I believe to be the assistant to an investment rep. I don' t honestly know if this lady is merely a secretary, or is actually a rep herself, but she wasn't even the one I wanted to talk to. And she was adament about several things that were just dead wrong.
I am now working for my third employer since college. With the first, I had a 401k plan. With the second, I had a Simple IRA, managed by the investment firm in question. The newest has a 401k-like retirement plan (they never call it a 401k, but it seems to have the same characteristics). I like my Simple IRA--it is invested in a nice mix of stocks and mutual funds and has really performed well--I think it's gained 25-40% in value since it was started in 2002. Not too shabby. The company that I worked for at the time was really small, and the plan was set up by a investment rep that my boss knew personally. The rep is quite good, with a personality that I find easy to work with. He has made several very good suggestions for investments, and my contributions have really grown.
Now that I am up to three different retirement plans, I think it's time to consolidate. I'm not about to remove money from my current 401k, since it's still being actively contributed to by me and my employer. I like my Simple IRA. That makes the logical target my original 401k. It was always kind of a blah performer, and has changed companies a couple of times since I left. Besides, I have a limited selection of investments and can't contribute anything else to it. I had asked my investment rep several months ago whether I could roll the old 401k into the Simple. I'm pretty sure he said that I could (though I could never go the other way).
So, I finally remember to bring my account information for both accounts with me, and try to call my investment rep. A lady, his assistant, answers the phone. I tried to explain that I was wanting to roll a 401k into a Simple that they manage, expecting that either she would 1. Take a message or 2. ask me where to mail/fax the appropriate form. Instead, she chose option 3. offer her own advice about what was and was not possible. (I will admit that I'm horrible on the phone...I tend to get all toungue tied even on the most basic of phone calls. So, it is possible that she did not quite understand what I was really after).
She started by telling me that what I was asking was not possible, and that the only thing that I could do with the Simple IRA was to roll it into a traditional IRA. I replied with something like "Maybe I misunderstood when I had asked in the past. Ok, I guess I'll have to figure out what the pros and cons of a Traditional IRA are...". At this point, she reiterated, more adamantly, that that was my *only* option. (As if leaving the money where it was weren't an option? ).
Next I was told that I would have to contact my former employers to get rollover forms. I repeated that *her office* handles the account that I'm trying to rollover, that that was indeed the purpose of my phone call. She repeated that I had to call my former employer. Great, I thought, if I call up my old boss, he would tell me I had to call my investment rep (back to square 1).
At this point, I should merely have asked her to leave a message for the rep. Instead, I was carried away by the whole mess, and I continued the battle by mentioning that I have a current 401k that I might consider rolling the money into instead, if I decided that the Traditional IRA wasn't what I wanted. I think I was expecting that she would offer more information about the stupid thing, or that she would have the rep go over it with me--she did not however take my hint, but instead informed me that I could not roll anything into the 401k either. Now I was very confused and exceedingly annoyed, because I've been told multiple times that I could roll 401ks into new employer's plans. At this point I said I'd get back to them.
I walked to a computer with internet access, pulled up my current retirement plan, and was looking at the form that would allow me to rollover a previous 401k when I vented to my husband over instant messenger about the whole stupid conversation.
Its a good thing for them that I am already a customer, and have been quite happy with my service thus far, otherwise they would have lost me. I'm not exactly a billionaire that's going to pay the rent on their office with the commissions on my own transactions, but I have a good amount of money invested with them, and will probably be setting up educational and other accounts with them as time goes on. After a cooling off period of a couple of hours, I called back and asked to speak directly to the rep. When I was told that he was out for the day, I left my name and phone number and asked that he call in the next couple of days. "Is there anything I can help you with?", the lady asked. Um, no. I don't think you can.