Dave Ramsey says you shouldn't take money out of your IRA early unless it's to avoid bankruptcy or foreclosure. Why? Because using your retirement fund for anything other than retirement can come at a big cost. You can pay off debt faster!
Looking back, Nitzsche says that liquidating his 401(k) to pay off credit card debt is something he wouldn't do again. “It is so detrimental to your long-term financial health and your retirement,” he says. Many experts agree that tapping into your retirement savings early can have long-term effects.
First and foremost, yes, it is possible to borrow from a 401(k) to pay off debt. The question is whether or not it is advisable to do so. Typically, your retirement savings should stay in your account until you are old enough to start taking regular distributions.
Cashing out a 401(k) gives you immediate access to funds. If you lose your job and use the money to cover living expenses until you start a new job, an early 401(k) withdrawal might help you avoid going into debt. Once your income increases again, you can get back to saving for retirement.
401(k) withdrawals are usually worse than loans, but in the current climate, they're actually the better choice for most people. You have to start paying taxes on your distributions this year, but you can spread the tax liability out over three years, and you have the option to put back what you borrowed.
Since the 401(k) loan isn't technically a debt—you're withdrawing your own money, after all—it has no effect on your debt-to-income ratio or on your credit score, two big factors that influence lenders.
The truth is that dipping into your 401(k) early—or cashing it out altogether—is going to cost you more than you might imagine. Not only are you going to get hit with taxes and withdrawal penalties, but you'll also miss out on the long-term benefit of compound growth.
If you withdraw money from your 401(k) before you're 59½, the IRS usually assesses a 10% penalty when you file your tax return. That could mean giving the government $1,000 or 10% of that $10,000 withdrawal in addition to paying ordinary income tax on that money.
The easiest way to borrow from your 401(k) without owing any taxes is to roll over the funds into a new retirement account. You may do this when, for instance, you leave a job and are moving funds from your former employer's 401(k) plan into one sponsored by your new employer.
If you have low interest rate loans, and expect higher returns on the investments in your 401(k), it's a good strategy to contribute to the 401(k) while you are also paying off the debt, making certain to pay off high interest rate debt first.
Taking money out of a 401k
Not all plans 401k plans allow for hardship withdrawals. That's up to your employer's discretion. However, even if your 401k plan does allow for hardship withdrawals, credit card debt usually doesn't qualify as a reason to make the withdrawal under hardship rules.
Once you start withdrawing from your 401(k) or traditional IRA, your withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income. You'll report the taxable part of your distribution directly on your Form 1040.
401(k) and IRA Withdrawals for COVID Reasons
Section 2022 of the CARES Act allows people to take up to $100,000 out of a retirement plan without incurring the 10% penalty. This includes both workplace plans, like a 401(k) or 403(b), and individual plans, like an IRA.
By age 50, retirement-plan provider Fidelity recommends having at least six times your salary in savings in order to retire comfortably at age 67. By age 55, it recommends having seven times your salary.
But, if you took the money out because of COVID-19, you don't have to pay tax on all of it this year. Instead you can spread it out evenly over 3 years. For example, if you took out $9,000 because of COVID-19 in 2020, you could report $3,000 in income on your federal income tax return for each of 2020, 2021, and 2022.
Put simply, to cash out all or part of a 401(k) retirement fund without being subject to penalties, you must reach the age of 59½, pass away, become disabled, or undergo some sort of financial “hardship” (if the plan provides for this last exception).
Can You Use a 401(k) to Buy a House? The short answer is yes, since it is your money. While there are no restrictions against using the funds in your account for anything you want, withdrawing funds from a 401(k) before the age of 59 1/2 will incur a 10% early withdrawal penalty, as well as taxes.
Documentation of the hardship application or request including your review and/or approval of the request. Financial information or documentation that substantiates the employee's immediate and heavy financial need. This may include insurance bills, escrow paperwork, funeral expenses, bank statements, etc.
First the loan repayments are made with after-tax income (that's once) and, second, when you take those payments out as a distribution at retirement you pay income tax on them (that's twice). So yes, you pay twice.
Bottom Line. A 401(k) loan shouldn't affect your mortgage application—though if you're concerned about it you can ask your lender whether it will be included in your DTI calculation.
Employees do, however, need to keep source documents, such as bills that resulted in the need for hardship withdrawals, in case employers are audited by the IRS, the agency said.
Our recommendation is to prioritize paying down significant debt while making small contributions to your savings. Once you've paid off your debt, you can then more aggressively build your savings by contributing the full amount you were previously paying each month toward debt.
It's best to avoid using savings to pay off debt. Depleting savings puts you at risk for going back into debt if you need to use credit cards or loans to cover bills during a period of unexpected unemployment or a medical emergency.