Q: I am only 39 years old and after 16 years of service I have been declared surplus by SBC and need to roll my pension into another account.

Are all traditional IRAs the same, or do different institutions offer different things? What should I look for, and/or watch out for?

A: I’m sorry that you’re going to lose your job. That’s a tough thing to go through after 16 years with the same company.

What you’ll want to do with your IRA is to open up another account and then have that account request an electronic rollover from your old account. That way, you won’t touch the cash, and you won’t have anything taken out from the account.

Once the cash is in the IRA, you’ll have to decide where to invest the money. And, that’s where choosing the right investment company can come in handy.

My suggestion is to open up your account at either Fidelity Investments, Vanguard, Charles Schwab or Merrill Lynch. All of these companies offer low trading rates and a wide variety of investment options with low fees.

If you’re interested primarily in index funds, Fidelity has the least expensive index funds (charging one-tenth of one percent) and Vanguard’s index funds are nearly as cheap.

Wherever you go, be sure you understand how much the basic account will cost you each year (for many of these companies, it’s free or $30 per year), and how much each trade will cost. Finally, be sure you read the prospectus or check out www.morningstar.com to understand what companies each fund invests in.

May 2, 2006.