Some assets enjoy legal protection from creditors. Under ERISA, for example, the federal law covering retirement plans, funds held in employer-sponsored plans are sheltered. Therefore, contributions to such plans offer asset protection as well as tax deferral.
Not all retirement plans are covered by ERISA. Non-ERISA plans, notably IRAs, are covered by state laws, which vary widely.
Consequently, in states where IRAs have only limited protection from creditors, keeping those funds inside a former employer