Weighing Pros And Cons
Before you determine whether to borrow from your 401 account, consider the following advantages and drawbacks to this decision.
On the plus side:
- You usually dont have to explain why you need the money or how you intend to spend it.
- You may qualify for a lower interest rate than you would at a bank or other lender, especially if you have a low credit score.
- The interest you repay is paid back into your account.
- Since youre borrowing rather than withdrawing money, no income tax or potential early withdrawal penalty is due.
On the negative side:
- The money you withdraw will not grow if it isnt invested.
- Repayments are made with after-tax dollars that will be taxed again when you eventually withdraw them from your account.
- The fees you pay to arrange the loan may be higher than on a conventional loan, depending on the way they are calculated.
- The interest is never deductible even if you use the money to buy or renovate your home.
CAUTION: Perhaps the biggest risk you run is leaving your job while you have an outstanding loan balance. If thats the case, youll probably have to repay the entire balance within 90 days of your departure. If you dont repay, youre in default, and the remaining loan balance is considered a withdrawal. Income taxes are due on the full amount. And if youre younger than 59½, you may owe the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty as well. If this should happen, you could find your retirement savings substantially drained.
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Dividing Your 401 Assets
If you divorce, your former spouse may be entitled to some of the assets in your 401 account or to a portion of the actual account. That depends on where you live, as the laws governing marital property differ from state to state.
In community property states, you and your former spouse generally divide the value of your accounts equally. In the other states, assets are typically divided equitably rather than equally. That means that the division of your assets might not necessarily be a 50/50 split. In some cases, the partner who has the larger income will receive a larger share.
For your former spouse to get a share of your 401, his or her attorney will ask the court to issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order . It instructs your plan administrator to create two subaccounts, one that you control and the other that your former spouse controls. In effect, that makes you both participants in the plan. Though your spouse cant make additional contributions, he or she may be able to change the way the assets are allocated.
Your plan administrator has 18 months to rule on the validity of the QDRO, and your spouses attorney may ask that you not be allowed to borrow from your plan, withdraw the assets or roll them into an IRA before that ruling is final. Once the division is final, your former spouse may choose to take the money in cash, roll it into an IRA or leave the assets in the plan.
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Where Is My 401
When you leave your employer you have three options for the money youâve accumulated in your old 401 account. You can either:
- Leave it alone and keep it in the same account
- Roll over the funds to your new employerâs 401 plan or
- Roll over the funds to an IRA.
Most people leave their 401âs alone, either from neglect or they donât bother with facilitating the transfer.
You can rollover your old 401 funds to an IRA as soon as youâd like. If your IRA is already set up then it can accept the funds immediately.
However, if your new employer implements a waiting period before you can participate in their 401 program, then you have no choice but to leave it alone until youâre eligible.
This is where things fall through the cracks. Unattended 401âs can end up in a few different places: the old account you have with your former employers, an automatic safe harbor rollover account set up by your plan, the unclaimed property department in the state, or your old 401s could have been cashed out already if the balance was less than $5,000 when you left the job.
Look For Contact Information
If you don’t know how to contact your former employer perhaps the company no longer exists or it was acquired or merged with another company see if you have any old 401 statements. These should have contact information to help put you in touch with the plan administrator.
If you don’t have an old 401 statement handy or yours doesn’t tell you what you need to know, visit the U.S. Department of Labor website and look up your employer. There you should find your old retirement account’s tax return, known as Form 5500. That will most likely have contact information for your 401’s plan administrator.
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How To Check Your 401 Balance
If you already have a 401 and want to check the balance, it’s pretty easy. You should receive statements on your account either on paper or electronically. If not, talk to the Human Resources department at your job and ask who the provider is and how to access your account. Companies dont traditionally handle pensions and retirement accounts themselves. They are outsourced to investment managers.
Some of the largest 401 investment managers include Fidelity Investments, Bank of America – Get Bank of America Corp Report, T. Rowe Price – Get T. Rowe Price Group Report, Vanguard, Charles Schwab – Get Charles Schwab Corporation Report, Edward Jones, and others.
Once you know who the plan sponsor or investment manager is, you can go to their website and log in, or restore your log-in, to see your account balance. Expect to go through some security measures if you do not have a user name and password for the account.
Much of this should be covered when you initiate the 401 when you are hired or when the retirement account option becomes available to you. Details like contributions, company matching, and information on how to check your balance history and current holdings should be provided.
Finding a 401 from a job you are no longer with is a little different.
Read more on TheStreet about how to find an old 401 account.
What Type Of Situation Qualifies As A Hardship
The following limited number of situations rise to the level of hardship, as defined by Congress:
- Unreimbursed medical expenses for you, your spouse or dependents
- Payments necessary to prevent eviction from your home or foreclosure on a mortgage of principal residence.
- Funeral or burial expenses for a parent, spouse, child or other dependent
- Purchase of a principal residence or to pay for certain expenses for the repair of damage to a principal residence
- Payment of college tuition and related educational costs for the next 12 months for you, your spouse, dependents or non-dependent children
Your plan may or may not limit withdrawals to the employee contributions only. Some plans exclude income earned and or employer matching contributions from being part of a hardship withdrawal.
In addition, IRS rules state that you can only withdraw what you need to cover your hardship situation, though the total amount requested may include any amounts necessary to pay federal, state or local income taxes or penalties reasonably anticipated to result from the distribution.
A 401 plan even if it allows for hardship withdrawals can require that the employee exhaust all other financial resources, including the availability of 401 loans, before permitting a hardship withdrawal, says Paul Porretta, a compensation and benefits attorney at Troutman Pepper in New York.
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The Costs Of Early 401k Withdrawals
Early withdrawals from an IRA or 401k account can be an expensive proposition because of the hefty penalties they carry under many circumstances.
The IRS allows penalty-free withdrawals from retirement accounts after age 59 ½ and requires withdrawals after age 72 . There are some exceptions to these rules for 401ks and other qualified plans.
Try to think of your retirement savings accounts like a pension. People working towards a pension tend to forget about it until they retire. There is no way they can access it before retirement. While that money is locked up until later in life, it becomes a hugely powerful resource in retirement. The 401k can be a boon to your retirement plan. It gives you flexibility to change jobs without losing your savings. But that all starts to fall apart if you use it like a bank account in the years preceding retirement. Your best bet is usually to consciously avoid tapping any retirement money until youve at least reached the age of 59 ½.
If youre not sure you should take a withdrawal, you can use this calculator to determine how much other people your age have saved.
Private Sector Employees Can Invest For Retirement With A 401 Plan
A retirement plan may be one of the most valuable benefits of employment. Used effectively, it can deliver a long-term impact on your financial well-being. See how a retirement plan works and learn about the power you have to control your financial future.
In general, a 401 is a retirement account that your employer sets up for you. When you enroll, you decide to put a percentage of each paycheck into the account. These contributions are placed into investments that youve selected based on your retirement goals and risk tolerance. When you retire, the money you have in the account is available to support your living expenses.
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Withdrawing Funds Between Ages 55 And 59 1/2
Most 401 plans allow for penalty-free withdrawals starting at age 55. You must have left your job no earlier than the year in which you turn age 55 to use this option. You must leave your funds in the 401 plan to access them penalty-free. But there are a few exceptions to this rule. This option makes funds accessible as early as age 50 for many police officers, firefighters, and EMTs.
Make sure to understand the rules around the age requirement for penalty-free withdrawals. For example, the age 55 rule won’t apply if you retire in the year before you reach age 55, and your withdrawal would be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty tax in this case.
The age 55 and up retirement rule won’t apply if you roll your 401 plan over to an IRA. The earliest age to withdraw funds from a traditional IRA account without a penalty tax is 59. 1/2.
You might retire at age 54, thinking that you can access funds penalty-free in one year. It doesn’t work that way. You must wait one more year to retire for this age rule to take effect.
The Sepp Distribution Options
As mentioned above, SEPP can be divided into three different options:
- Required Minimum Distribution
Required Minimum Distribution involves using a calculation based on your age and the account balance at the end of the prior year. The math you do with this option requires you to recalculate the early withdrawal amount every year based on the new prior year-end balance and current age. Consumers who opt-in to this are basically making calculations based on the balance of the account versus life expectancy.
The Amortization option for calculating the payment includes a life expectancy of the consumer calculation and an interest rate. The payout for each year is identical.
Annuitization is similar, calculated based on the taxpayers age, an interest rate, and with information supplied by a mortality table created by the Internal Revenue Service.
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Are You Prepared For Retirement
Find out with My Interactive Retirement PlannerSM
This material is not a recommendation to buy, sell, hold, or roll over any asset, adopt an investment strategy, retain a specific investment manager or use a particular account type. It does not take into account the specific investment objectives, tax and financial condition or particular needs of any specific person. Investors should discuss their specific situation with their financial professional.
Life and annuity products are issued by Nationwide Life Insurance Company or Nationwide Life and Annuity Insurance Company, Columbus, Ohio. The general distributor for variable products is Nationwide Investment Services Corporation , member FINRA, Columbus, Ohio. The Nationwide Retirement Institute is a division of NISC. Nationwide Funds are distributed by Nationwide Fund Distributors, LLC, Member FINRA, Columbus, OH. Nationwide Life Insurance Company, Nationwide Life and Annuity Company, Nationwide Investment Services Corporation and Nationwide Fund Distributors are separate but affiliated companies.
The Nationwide Group Retirement Series includes unregistered group fixed and variable annuities issued by Nationwide Life Insurance Company. It also includes trust programs and trust services offered by Nationwide Trust Company, FSB.
Option : Move The Money To An Ira
If you’re not able to transfer the funds to your current 401 or you don’t want to, you can roll over the funds to an IRA instead. The process is the same as doing a rollover to a new 401, and you still have the choice between a direct or indirect rollover.
You’ll need to set up a new IRA with any broker if you don’t already have one. Make sure you choose an IRA that’s taxed the same way as your old 401 funds. Most 401s are tax-deferred, which means your contributions reduce your taxable income in the year you make them, but you pay taxes on your withdrawals in retirement. You want a traditional IRA in this case because the government taxes these funds the same way.
If you had a Roth 401, you want a Roth IRA. Both of these accounts give you tax-free withdrawals in retirement if you pay taxes on your contributions the year you make them.
In most cases, losing track of your old 401 doesn’t mean the money is gone for good. But finding it is only half the challenge. You must also decide where to keep those funds going forward so they’ll be most useful to you. Think the decision through carefully, then follow the steps above.
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Withdrawals From A 401
401 hardship withdrawals If you find yourself facing dire financial concerns and need cash urgently, your 401 plan may offer a hardship withdrawal option. Unlike a 401 loan, you wont have to repay the money you take out, but you will owe taxes and potentially a premature distribution penalty on the amount that you withdraw. In addition, IRS 401 hardship withdrawal rules state that you may not take out more money than what is needed to cover your hardship situation. In order to qualify for a 401 hardship withdrawal, your plan administrator must offer this option and you must be facing an immediate and heavy financial need. According to the IRS, approved 401 hardship withdrawal reasons include:
- Postsecondary tuition for you or your family
- Medical or funeral expenses for you or your family
- Certain costs related to buying, or repairing damage to, your primary residence
- Preventing your immediate eviction from or foreclosure of your primary residence
If you experience a financial hardship from a circumstance not on this list, you may still be able to qualify for a hardship withdrawal, so check with your plan administrator.
- In-service, non-hardship withdrawals
This type of withdrawal is only allowed under certain plans and is mainly used by those who would like to explore other investment options. Learn more about in-service distributions. An Ameriprise financial advisor can provide more detailed information on in-service 401 distributions.
Tips On 401 Withdrawals
- Talk with a financial advisor about your needs and how you can best meet them. SmartAssets financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to quickly connect with professional advisors in your local area. If youre ready, get started now.
- If youre considering withdrawing money from your 401 early, think about a personal loan instead. SmartAsset has a personal loan calculator to help you figure out payment methods.
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Making The Numbers Add Up
Put simply, to cash out all or part of a 401 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 . Whatever the circumstance though, if you choose to withdraw funds early, you should prepare yourself for the possibility of funds becoming subject to income tax, and early distributions being subjected to additional fees or penalties. Be aware as well: Any funds in a 401 plan are protected in the event of bankruptcy, and creditors cannot seize them. Once removed, your money will no longer receive these protections, which may expose you to hidden expenses at a later date.
Contact Your Former Employer
The first place you should look is your prior employer. Contact their human resources department. There, they should have all of the information as to the whereabouts of the 401 account you had with them.
They should send you the proper paperwork and be able to facilitate the transfer of your funds to whatever account you choose.
If they are unable to locate any information on your account, they should be able to provide you the contact information of the administrator who handled your 401 on their behalf.
Let the administrator know your situation, and just like the HR department, should be able to assist you in moving your money properly.
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