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What I don't understand is, why can't I do so without changing employers?

Most likely because the plan custodian does not allow it. Tax law allows in-service 401k rollovers, but the vast majority of plan implementations do not. The custodian wants to keep your money under their roof to earn fees and expenses for them. (After all, that's what makes it worthwhile for them to run your plan in the first place.)

I guess I could defer a percentage of my future 401(k) contributions to a RothIRA?

I suppose you actually mean reducing your 401(k) contributions, and then contributing the extra take-home pay into a Roth IRA. This is a good plan, and very common for investors that aren't satisfied with the investment options available in their 401k.

Finally, remember that you can still save and invest for retirement in a regular taxable account. You can keep money for retirement even if the account doesn't sport a big sticker saying "retirement". :)

Hope that helps,
- Erik
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