11 financial to-dos when you’re changing jobs

Any time you change jobs, you’ll have paperwork to fill out, new routines to learn—and financial choices to make. What should you do with previous 401(k) balances, health savings accounts, and more? Use our step-by-step list to check off financial to-dos before you leave your current position and after you start your new one.

What to do before you leave your job

1. Use “old” benefits (while you can) and choose new ones.

Ask your human resources departments what dates benefits end and new ones begin.

  • Health insurance: Compare current and new coverage, and get details for anything that’s continuing, such as specialty medications.
  • Dental and vision insurance: Especially if you won’t have this coverage when you change jobs, schedule appointments as soon as you can.
  • Life insurance: Voluntary policies (life insurance you bought or got through your employer) can be converted to an individual policy. Instead of being deducted from your payroll, you’ll pay the premium directly to the insurance company.
  • Retirement savings: Check out the options for existing funds later in this article.

2. Cover any gaps in health insurance.

You have a couple of options.

  • COBRA continuation coverage: You and your family can continue to have health insurance for a while after losing your coverage through work. Because you pay the full premium, it can be pricey, but going without coverage, even for a short time, can be a risk. Previous dental and/or vision insurance is included as part of COBRA, too.
  • A Health Insurance Marketplace plan: Cost varies based on your household income and available plans vary from state-to-state. Visit healthcare.gov to learn more.
  • A spouse/partner insurance plan: Usually you need to sign up within 30 days of your last day on the job.

3. Check your flexible spending account (FSA) balance.

Use it or you lose it. Review your company’s benefit rules and deadlines and submit claims before your termination date so you’ll get reimbursed. Not sure what’s covered? Your employer has a list. Visit healthcare.gov for more information about FSAs.

4. Understand your last paycheck.

Most of the time, a last check includes anything you’re owed such as back pay, earned time off, commissions, or a bonus.

5. Adjust your budget.

Companies pay on different schedules; for example, some are bi-weekly and others may be monthly. That might equal a short-term impact on your budget so plan now to cover any gaps. (You could tap your emergency fund instead of using credit cards.)

6. Review non-salary compensation details.

If you have stock options or restricted stock awards, find out the rules for vesting, what you get when you leave, tax implications, and so on. Many companies require you to exercise stock options within a certain amount of time, often 90 days from your termination date.

Taking classes? Note the details on the tuition reimbursement program. It often depends on your last day of class. If you’re in the middle of the semester, find out the specifics.

What to do when you start a new job

1. Focus on details for both old and new retirement savings.

There are four choices for your old plan:

  • Keep your money where it’s at, if allowed. Note that some plans don’t allow this option if you have a low balance ($5,000 is common).
  • Move your money to your new employer’s plan. This is typically an option if you’re joining a company that offers a retirement plan and allows roll-ins.
  • Roll your savings from your 401(k) into an IRA. Combining retirement accounts gives you flexibility in decision-making to ensure your assets are supporting your goals. Learn how to start a rollover IRA.
  • Cash out your account balance. It may be tempting to have the money now but there are serious downsides: Hefty taxes and penalties—up to 30%—and you’ll miss out on any future growth or earnings. Learn more about cashing out your 401(k).

For your new plan consider:

  • Can you save more to help meet your retirement goals? “Did the new job come with a higher salary?” says Heather Winston, assistant director of financial planning and advice at Principal. “Is now a good time to consider increasing how much you’re saving from each paycheck?” Learn more about creating your retirement plan.
  • Does your employer offer a savings match? If so, how much will you need to defer to take full advantage of it?

2. Decide what to do with health savings account (HSA) funds.

If you’re enrolling in a high deductible health plan (HDHP) at your new employer, you can often transfer a balance in your HSA. If you don’t plan to enroll in a HDHP, you can generally leave remaining funds (and contribute) and use as needed for future eligible healthcare expenses.

Graphic of a thumbtack. Tip: If you use HSA funds for unapproved health care expenses, you’ll face tax implications.

3. Compare old and new life and disability coverage and fill any gaps.

  • Life insurance: You may be able to contribute to a group life insurance policy through your employer, with the premiums deducted from your paycheck.
  • Disability income insurance: First, find out if you have any disability coverage, and if you do, how much of your income it covers. Most plans will cover about 60% of your income; that equals significantly less take-home pay after taxes (down to about 40–50% of your income).

Graphic of a thumbtack. Tip: Use a job change as a chance to check the beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts and update as needed. If you're a Principal customer, you can grab a form to update beneficiaries on your account(s).

4. Update income-based student loan repayment plans.

A new, higher income could mean a new, bigger payment. Visit the Federal Student Aid site for more information and log in to your account for specifics.

5. Update (or create) your financial plan.

Changing jobs is a good time to revisit your financial plan, especially if you’re gaining a welcome income jump. “If you have a bigger paycheck, be wary of lifestyle creep where the more you make, the more you spend,” Winston says.

Not sure where to start? Check out “Build your own financial plan: A step-by step guide.”

Next steps

  • If you have a Principal retirement account or insurance from your employer, log in to principal.com to check it, learn about rollover options, and access personalized planning. First time logging in? Create an account.
  • A financial professional can talk you through your options after a job change. Don’t have one? Check with your HR contact or employer to see if your company’s retirement savings plan offers this service. Or, we’ll help you find one.

You should consider the differences in investment options and risks, fees and expenses, tax implications, services and penalty-free withdrawals for your various options. There may be other factors to consider due to your specific needs and situation. You may wish to consult your tax advisor or legal counsel. The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel, financial professional or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.

Principal® does not make available products related to Health Savings Accounts.

Disability insurance has exclusions and limitations. Costs and coverage details can be obtained from your financial professional.

Investment advisory products offered through Principal Advised Services, LLC. Principal Advised Services is a member of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.