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401K in Divorce: A Tip That Can Save You Thousands

There are many expensive financial mistakes that are commonly made when people are going through a divorce. It makes sense. Emotions are running high and it's common not to want to engage a financial professional if you are already paying legal fees. That said, the cost of a financial professional relative to the amount they can save you in financial mistakes is minimal. One of the most common financial mistakes I see is how money is withdrawn from a traditional pre-tax 401K in a divorce.

NOTE: I want to be clear that I'm not talking about just any retirement account here. There is a lot of confusion when I'm talking with clients about types of accounts. In this post, I am specifically referring to a pre-tax 401K account that is still held with an employer (not one that has been rolled into an IRA).

Unfortunately, going through a divorce leaves many people completely cash-strapped. While not ideal, if you have not built up enough liquid savings, you might be considering a withdrawal...

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QDRO: I need a what??

What does QDRO stand for anyway?

QDRO stands for Qualified Domestic Relations Order. If part of your divorce settlement includes a division of retirement assets held with a current or former employer, you may need a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) or similar document, depending on the retirement plan. A QDRO is a document that gets filed with the plan administrator that tells the plan how the account will be divided.

A Costly Mistake

One of the mistakes that I see people make when dividing assets, is simply dividing each account down the middle. Seems like it would be fair, right? While it might be fair, it may also cause you to incur more costs than you would, if you were a little more creative about your settlement.

There are a couple of costs to consider. There is a cost to having someone draft the QDRO, which generally ranges from $450-$1000. Additionally, each plan charges an administrative fee on their side as well. That fee generally...

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