You generally can't transfer assets from your 403(b) while you're below retirement age and still employed at the organization that offers it. However, if you leave the job, you can roll over the 403(b) to another retirement account like an IRA, a 403(b) or a 401(k) at another employer without paying a penalty. If you have the funds sent to you by check, you'll likely be subject to a tax penalty.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
While you usually can't transfer your 403(b) assets directly to another broker, you can roll over your 403(b) to another retirement account if you leave your job.
Understanding 403(b) Plans
A 403(b) is a retirement plan offered by public schools and nonprofits that works similarly to a 401(k). You and possibly your employer will contribute to it while you're employed, and you'll be able to withdraw money from the plan once you hit retirement age or if you experience certain qualified financial hardships. You don't pay tax on the money you put in the 403(b) until you withdraw it.
The plans often offer a variety of investment options for the money you contribute, including annuities and a range of mutual funds. Your exact options will vary based on your employer and the company managing the plan. You generally can't invest directly in individual stocks, though you can often invest in funds that will be invested in the stock market.
Plan Rollover Options
Once you leave a company with a 403(b) plan, you will have the option to roll the money over to another type of retirement plan. You can open an IRA with a financial institution of your choice and roll the money into that or roll funds into a 401(k) or 403(b) from another employer.
If you work with the company managing the 403(b) and the company managing the new plan to handle the rollover so that the money is transferred directly from one plan to another, you generally won't owe any tax or even temporarily face any withholding tax on the transfer. However, if you instead have the old plan issue a check to you, you will usually have a 20 percent withholding tax deducted from the amount in question.
Tax Implications of a Rollover
If you deposit the funds in an IRA or other qualified plan within 60 days, you ultimately won't owe tax, but you'll have to deposit the entire amount, including the amount withheld for tax, meaning you'll need to make up that money from your other funds.
If you don't deposit it within 60 days, you will likely owe tax on the money plus a penalty tax if you are below retirement age. Generally, it's easier to roll funds from one retirement plan directly to another without ever having the money sent directly to you.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.