A proper 401(K) and/or IRS are exempt assets in a bankruptcy and should not be taken by a trustee or your creditors. However, if you transfer unexempt assets like cash on hand (not the 401(K)) into an IRA soon before filing, that could be a problem. Transferring your 401(K) into an IRA should not interfer with the exempt nature of the asset and should be ok. If you withdraw money from either the 401(K) or IRA, it is considered income to you and will be taxable. Also, if you liquidate the IRA or 401(K) into cash, it may not then be fully exempted in a bankruptcy. Speak with a local bankruptcy attorney before you take any action. We hate to see people make a mistake that easially could have been avoided by obtaining good counsel.
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Your 401(k) or IRA will be protected as long as you exempt it properly in your bankruptcy paperwork.
Don't make the common mistake of withdrawing money from your retirement to try and pay off debts that your bankruptcy will take care of anyway. You'll lose the money without any benefit to yourself.
If you must withdraw your 401k due to the job termination you can arrange for a direct rollover into the IRA to preserve your exemption from creditors..
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You were not told to make a transfer from a 401k to an IRA by a bankruptcy attorney. If both accounts have been properly managed, both should be totally protected from the trustee and creditors. Do not seek or accept legal advice from non-lawyers.
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I agree with the other answers indicating that your 401K account, if maintained in that manner, will be exempt. There are federal and state exemptions from the general rule that the bankruptcy trustee would take your property to pay off creditors. This is in keeping with the "fresh start" policy. You may need to roll over your 401K into an IRA becuase your employment has terminated. That is a different issues, but you need to make sure that you roll it over into a qaualified plan, otherwise you will lose your exemption for bankruptcy purposes and also owe money in taxes. You need to tread carefully since once you take the money, you will owe the taxes, and lose your exemption evenif you decide to invest in an IRA at a later date. While it is possible to file bankruptcy pro se, or on your own, the legal fee for bankruptcy filing is not typically high, and doing it correctly would be worth the money. I would suggest you retain a lawyer to file it for you.
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