Should You Borrow From Your 401(k) if You Need Cash?

Thinking about borrowing money from your 401(k), 403(b), or 457 account? Think twice. Here are 6 reasons 401(k) loans are a bad idea.

REASON #1
Damages Retirement Prospects

A 401(k), 403(b), or 457 should never be viewed like a savings or checking account.

When you withdraw from a bank account, you pull out cash. When you take a loan from your workplace retirement plan, you sell shares of your investments to generate cash. You buy back investment shares as you repay the loan.

So in borrowing from a 401(k), 403(b), or 457, you siphon down your invested retirement assets, leaving a smaller account balance that experiences a smaller degree of compounding. In repaying the loan, you will likely repurchase investment shares at higher prices than in the past – in other words, you will be buying high. None of this makes financial sense.1

Most plans charge a $75 origination fee for a loan, and of course they charge interest – often around 5%. The interest paid will eventually return to your account, but that interest still represents money that could have remained in the account and remained invested.

REASON #2
Contributions Could Be Halted

May not be able to make additional contributions due to outstanding loans

Some workplace retirement plans suspend regular employee salary deferrals when a loan is taken. They can resume when you settle the loan.

REASON #3
Potential for Docked Pay

Your Take-Home Pay Could Be Docked

Most loans from 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans are repaid incrementally – the plan subtracts X dollars from your paycheck, month after month, until the amount borrowed is fully restored.

REASON #4
A. May Have to Pay Back Immediately

30-60 Days: If You Quit, Get Laid Off Or Are Fired

This applies if you quit, get laid off or are fired. You will have 30-60 days (per the terms of the plan) to repay the loan in full, with interest.

If you are younger than age 59½ and fail to pay the full amount of the loan back, the IRS will characterize any amount not repaid as a premature distribution from a retirement plan – taxable income that is also subject to an early withdrawal penalty.1,2

Even if you have great job security, the loan will probably have to be repaid in full within five years. Most workplace retirement plans set such terms. If the terms are not met, then the unpaid balance becomes a taxable distribution with possible penalties (assuming you will not turn 59½ in the year in which repayment is due). If you default on the loan, the retirement plan may bar you from making future contributions.1

B. 5 Years To Repay

If Terms Are Not Met Unpaid Balance is Taxable

Even if you have great job security, the loan will probably have to be repaid in full within five years. Most workplace retirement plans set such terms. If the terms are not met, then the unpaid balance becomes a taxable distribution with possible penalties (assuming you will not turn 59½ in the year in which repayment is due). If you default on the loan, the retirement plan may bar you from making future contributions.1

REASON #5
You Get Taxed Twice!

Repay with after-tax dollars AND Taxed on withdrawals

When you borrow from an employee retirement plan, you invite that prospect. One, you will be repaying your loan with after-tax dollars. Two, those dollars will be taxed again when you withdraw them for retirement (unless your plan offers you a Roth option).

REASON #6
Why Go Into Debt to Pay Off Debt?

It’s Better to Go to a Reputable Lender for a Personal Loan

If you borrow from your retirement plan, you will be assuming one debt to pay off another. It is better to go to a reputable lender for a personal loan; borrowing cash has fewer potential drawbacks.

SMART TIP:

Your 401(k) Plan is NOT a Bank Account

Always remember, you should never confuse your retirement plan with a bank account.


Sources:

  1. cnbc.com/id/101848407 [9/14/14]
  2. mainstreet.com/article/why-you-cant-borrow-your-401k-and-only-way-you-should [7/24/14]
  3. This material was prepared in part by MarketingPro, Inc.

One Comment

This blog is very helpful. Thank you for posting this and Kudos!

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