The True Cost Of A 401 Loan
Any money you borrow from your retirement fund misses both market gains and the magic of compound interest.
Just imagine taking out a five-year 401 loan during this current bull market at 30 or 35 years old it could severely impact your future nest egg, says Malik Lee, a certified financial planner at Henssler Financial in Kennesaw, Georgia.
According to Vanguards 401 loan calculator, borrowing $10,000 from a 401 plan over five years means forgoing a $1,989 investment return and ending the five years with a balance that’s $666 lower.
But the cost to your retirement account doesnt end there. If you have 30 years until retirement, that missing $666 could have grown to $5,407, according to NerdWallets compound interest calculator .
Moreover, many people reduce their 401 contributions while making payments on a loan from the plan. In fact, some plans prohibit contributions when a loan is outstanding. This further damages retirement plans.
Should You Take Out A Personal Loan Or Borrow From Your 401
There are a few reasons borrowing with a personal loan could be a smarter financial decision than borrowing from your 401, but everyones situation is unique. By closely considering the benefits and limitations of these borrowing options, you can ensure that you will be able to make the right call for your specific needs. We want to help you to decide, which financing option is best for you with a comparison of all the pros and cons:
|Taking out a Personal Loan|| Obtain funding without incurring an early withdrawal penalty
Will not jeopardize retirement savings
Money could be in your account in as little as one day
What Are Some Alternatives To A 401 Loan
When cash is tight, borrowing from your 401 plan and paying yourself interest may seem like a good idea. But before you borrow, weigh all your options. Here are a few.
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How To Borrow From Your 401k
If you’ve decided that borrowing from your retirement plan is right for you, here’s how to get money from a 401 loan.
If You Need Cash Borrowing From Your 401 Can Be A Low
Provided your 401 plan permits loans, borrowing from your 401 may help you pay bills, fund a big purchase or make a down payment on a home.
But youll need to pay interest if you want to tap your retirement account. How much you can borrow right now may depend on whether youve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic .
Well review how 401 loans and repayment works, as well as the temporary rules implemented by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.
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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.
Pros And Cons Of Borrowing A 401 Loan
|You might get a lower interest rate than you would on a different type of loan||The amount you borrow will no longer be invested, so you could miss out on interest earnings|
|You dont have to pass a credit check to borrow||Youll pay back the loan with after-tax income and might get taxed on it again when you make withdrawals during retirement|
|You have up to 5 years to pay back the loan||You might rack up fees and penalties if you dont pay your loan back on time|
|You can access the money relatively quickly||If you change or lose your job, you might have to pay it back right away|
While a 401 loan can make sense in some circumstances, it also has some inherent risks. Consider all the pros and cons before borrowing so you can make an informed decision and not inadvertently threaten your retirement savings.
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Q: Does It Make Sense To Borrow From My 401 If I Need Cash
When cash is tight, your 401 can seem like a perfectly reasonable way to make life a little easier. The money is there and its yoursso why not tap it to pay off debt or get out of some other financial jam? Or you might be tempted to use it to pay for that dream vacation you deserve to take.
Stop right there. The cash in your 401 may be calling youbut so is your financial future. The real question here: Will taking the money today jeopardize your financial security tomorrow?
Im not saying a 401 loan is always a bad idea. Sometimes, it may be your best option for handling a current cash need or an emergency. Interest rates are generally low and paperwork is minimal. But a 401 loan is just thata loan. And it needs to be paid back with interest. Yes, youre paying the interest to yourself, but you still have to come up with the money. Whats worse is that you pay yourself back with after-tax dollars that will be taxed again when you eventually withdraw the moneythats double taxation!
Borrowing From An Old 401
If you are no longer working for the company where your 401 plan resides, you may not take out a new 401 loan unless your plan specifically allows for it. You may transfer the balance from a former employer to your new 401 plan, and if your current employer plan allows for loans, then you can borrow from there. If you transfer your old 401 to an IRA, you cannot borrow from the IRA. It is best to know all the rules before you cash out or transfer an old 401 plan.
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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.
Home Equity Line Of Credit
Instead of fixed-term repayment, you get a variable repayment and interest rate. You may opt for an interest-only repayment, but most often that comes loaded with a balloon payment, Poorman says, and may be tough to afford. Keep in mind that with a variable interest rate loan, you could see your rates go up over time.
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Four Ways To Minimize The Negative Effects Of A Loan
401 loans have unavoidable drawbacks, but you can lessen their impact by doing these four things:
What Happens If You Leave Your Job
When you take out a loan from a 401, you may have no intention of leaving your current employer. But if you receive a better job offer, or are laid off or otherwise leave, you could be required to pay the loan back in full or face some serious tax consequences.
Employees who leave their jobs with an outstanding 401 loan have until the tax-return-filing due date for that tax year, including any extensions, to repay the outstanding balance of the loan, or to roll it over into another eligible retirement account. That means if you left your job in January 2020, you would have until April 15, 2021 when your 2020 federal tax return is due to roll over or repay the loan amount. Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the deadline was 60 days.
If you cant repay the loan, your employer will treat the remaining unpaid balance as a distribution and issue Form 1099-R to the IRS. That amount is typically considered taxable income and may be subject to a 10% penalty on the amount of the distribution for early withdrawal if youre younger than 59½ or dont otherwise qualify for an exemption.
Unfortunately, this worst-case scenario isnt rare. A 2014 study from the Pension Research Council at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that 86% of workers in the sample who left their jobs with a loan outstanding eventually defaulted on the loan.
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What Are The Pros Of Borrowing Against Your 401
Although many financial planners and money managers advise against borrowing from your 401, there are some pros of doing so:
Key takeaway: Pros of borrowing against your 401 include the lack of a credit check or application, a lower interest rate than with a bank loan, automatic repayment and no penalties if you pay it back on time.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Borrowing Money From Your 401
- If you don’t repay your plan loan when required, it will generally be treated as a taxable distribution.
- If you leave your employer’s service and still have an outstanding balance on a plan loan, you’ll usually be required to repay the loan in full within 60 days. Otherwise, the outstanding balance will be treated as a taxable distribution, and you’ll owe a 10 percent penalty tax in addition to regular income taxes if you’re under age 59½.
- Loan interest is generally not tax deductible .
- In most cases, the amount you borrow is removed from your 401 plan account, and your loan payments are credited back to your account. You’ll lose out on any tax-deferred investment earnings that may have accrued on the borrowed funds had they remained in your 401 plan account.
- Loan payments are made with after-tax dollars.
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Those Who Can Stomach The Loss In Stock Value
Because a 401 is an investment account, you should also consider the trade-off of missing the market rebound if you withdraw funds right now. Any money that you borrow from your 401 now wont be there when the market turns around, Renfro says. This would compound the adverse effects of an early 401 withdrawal if you dont truly need one.
Echoing that, Levine says many 401 balances have been hit hard, and taking a loan while theyre down essentially locks in the losses.
Taking an early withdrawal from your 401 can have long-term adverse effects on your financial health. However, so can the ramifications of COVID-19, especially if youve been particularly affected by the disease. The CARES Act gives options to those who need it most. Theres no right answer, but in times of uncertainty and struggle, those options can be a life raft.
What Are Alternatives
Because withdrawing or borrowing from your 401 has drawbacks, it’s a good idea to look at other options and only use your retirement savings as a last resort.
A few possible alternatives to consider include:
- Using HSA savings, if it’s a qualified medical expense
- Tapping into emergency savings
- Transferring higher interest credit card balances to a new lower interest credit card
- Using other non-retirement savings, such as checking, savings, and brokerage accounts
- Using a home equity line of credit or a personal loan3
- Withdrawing from a Roth IRAthese withdrawals are usually tax- and penalty-free
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If You Owe Back Taxes
If you find yourself in arrears with the IRS, and owe substantial
, a 401 loan can give you a clean slate with Uncle Sam.
Plus, with a 401 loan, the process is easy-peasy, it only takes a few days to get the cash, and you don’t have to deal with a bank to get a loan. Or undergo that credit check.
Alternatives To Tapping Your 401
If you must tap into retirement savings, it’s better to look at your other accounts firstspecifically IRAsespecially if you’re buying a first home .
Unlike 401s, IRAs have special provisions for first-time homebuyerspeople who haven’t owned a primary residence in the last two years, according to the IRS.
First, look to take a distribution from your IRAif you have one. You may be able to withdraw IRA contributions without penalty due to a qualified financial hardship. You can also withdraw up to $10,000 of earnings tax-free if the money is used for a first-time home purchase. As a first-time homebuyer, you can take a $10,000 distribution without owing the 10% tax penalty, although that $10,000 would be added to your federal and state income taxes. If you take a distribution larger than $10,000, a 10% penalty would be applied to the additional distribution amount. It also would be added to your income taxes.
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Loans To An Employee That Leaves The Company
Plan sponsors may require an employee to repay the full outstanding balance of a loan if he or she terminates employment or if the plan is terminated. If the employee is unable to repay the loan, then the employer will treat it as a distribution and report it to the IRS on Form 1099-R. The employee can avoid the immediate income tax consequences by rolling over all or part of the loans outstanding balance to an IRA or eligible retirement plan by the due date for filing the Federal income tax return for the year in which the loan is treated as a distribution. This rollover is reported on Form 5498.