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RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS, DON'T MISTAKE CLUTTER FOR DIVERSIFICATION

Ever wonder why you seem to have more account statements than actual money? You're probably spreading it too thin. Almost half of Americans have too many retirement accounts, reports a new survey by American Express. It's common to have a 401(k) from a past job, another one with a current job and a handful of IRAs.

Put them together, says IRA expert Ed Slott, and you'll pay less in fees and more easily manage your money. Lots of accounts make it harder to keep your investment mix right. And don't confuse all that fragmentation with diversification: five different accounts all invested in big stock funds probably means you're too heavily invested in GE and Microsoft. Some tips:

It's easier than ever. Workers used to have to keep old 401(k) money in separate rollover accounts if they ever wanted to put it back into another company plan. A 2002 rule change allows savers to merge company rollovers and traditional IRAs without penalty.

You might be able to move it all into your current 401(k). But why would you? Change jobs and you'll be moving your money again. Better to put all that money into your best IRA.

Go shopping. Pick the bank, brokerage or fund company that gives you the best choices at the least cost, and direct them to consolidate your accounts into one IRA. If you have an old IRA that you funded with after-tax money, or a Roth, keep those separate.

Don't sweat the details. Let the fund company handle the transfer paperwork. Doing it yourself could create a headache. Taxes will most likely be withheld from your old account when you withdraw. If you don't get the money moved to the new account within 60 days, you'll lose the status that buys you all that tax deferral. And aren't you doing this to cut down on your paperwork in the first place?

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