We entered summer with a plan. We were going to move many of our accounts over to Vanguard, including both of our Roth IRAs, an old traditional IRA that Davin had rolled over from an old 401k, an individual brokerage account that I had, and I was going to roll over my 403b from a previous employer into an IRA. We also were going to start up a new 403b and a 457 retirement plan through my work and max out both of those. Pretty good plan, right? Even though that sounds complicated, it was basically just moving all our existing accounts over to Vanguard and starting two new accounts through my work. So it should’ve been pretty simple stuff.
(Read more about retirement accounts here).
And then bureaucracy raised its ugly little head.
To be fair, the majority of this went more or less smoothly. There were a lot of phone calls, and phone tag, and different customer service representatives saying different things. And lots of forms. But we got the majority of it moved over in the span of 4 weeks.
Of course it was my accounts that were the most difficult, and still aren’t fully resolved. I’m really resisting the urge here to rant, so a long story short, that old 403b that I was trying to roll over wanted to charge me $200 in fees, which is substantial since there’s only $1100 in it. I’m pretty sure I’m just going to cash it out and pay the 10% penalty since that’s less than the $200, but I have a feeling they’re going to slap on more fees. I haven’t built up the energy to call back again. Plus I had a 6 page form to fill out, part of which had to be signed by Vanguard and then sent back to me and then mailed back to the 403b company. And then I have to go through a different third party company to get the money released.
And that new 403b and 457 I’m starting? What a nightmare. For the 403b I’ve had to call the financial institution, set up the account, and then go through another third party company that actually deducts my paycheck. And the 457 requires a signature from the head of HR (I don’t really understand why) which meant I had to drive 30 minutes to work in the summer just to wait around for a signature. And nobody seems to know where these forms are supposed to be sent. So I called the financial institution, went into HR, emailed payroll, went into payroll, called the third party company that deducts the paycheck, went back to HR, called the third party company again with HR, and finally got everything resolved an hour later.
This right here is why people hate investing. It’s what I hate about investing too. I understand all the theories, I know exactly what I want and in what accounts I want it in, but all this paperwork and phone calls and these ridiculous fees make it so much more difficult than it needs to be. Which brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves: If you want my money, then make it easy for me to give you my money!
Along this journey of spending half the summer moving accounts and starting investment accounts I’ve learned some lessons about how to make the process a little more tolerable:
- Stay on the phone. Often times, when you are dealing with the customer representatives, they’ll have you complete things online or fill out forms. Stay on the phone while you do this! That way you can ask questions without having to call back again. I also stay on the phone while I fill out the information for another company (like that 3rd party middle man I mentioned above). Basically, I keep the reps on the phone until I’m 100% sure that I have everything filled out and completed and have no questions.
- Insist on a three-way conference call. One of the annoying things of moving these accounts was being the messenger. I would talk to Company A, and then relay their message to Company B, and then go back to Company A to tell them what B said. It’s like middle school flashbacks! Davin had enough and insisted that they three-way call Company B. That way everything gets resolved in one go without the back and forth he-says she-says.
- Be pushy. I admit that this isn’t my strong suit, but you have to be pushy. My 403b company says I signed a six year contract. My reply, “Can I have a copy of where I signed that?” It’s your money so you have to be the one to fight for it. Be kind, be respectful, but also be strong and be your own advocate.
- Take notes. While I’m on the phone, I write down what the representative is saying. Usually I write this in an email and send it to myself. But whatever format, I always date it. I also ask for a timeline, such as, “When can I expect this money to be transferred?” That way I know when I need to follow up.
- Follow up and ask if they need anything further. If you don’t see your money move in a week or two, call and find out why. After completing a phone transaction, ask if they require any more action on your end. It’s easier to find this out now than two weeks later when you call to find out why your money hasn’t moved (although it doesn’t always prevent problems).
As frustrating as it is to jump through the hoops, keep your end goal in mind. I just kept imagining myself retired and sipping margaritas on the beach and that gave me the motivation I needed to persevere through the phone calls and forms and get our accounts set up on the road to retirement.