Hardship Distributions From 401k Plan
If you are younger than 59 ½, youre going to have to demonstrate that you have an approved financial hardship to get money from your 401k account. And thats only if your employers retirement plan allows it. They are not required to offer hardship distributions, so the first step is to ask the Human Resources department if this is even possible.
If it is, the employer can choose which of the following IRS approved categories it will allow to qualify for hardship distribution:
- Certain medical expenses
- Certain expenses for repairs to a principal residence
The only other way to get access to your funds is to leave your employer.
Whats The Difference Between A Withdrawal And A 401 Loan
With a 401 loan, you must repay the money back into your account over a period of time. With a standard withdrawal, there are no repayment requirements. You will be charged interest on the loan, although you are technically paying the interest back to yourself. The money goes back into your 401 account, and you usually can spread the payments out up to 5 years. If you are using the money for a down payment on a home, you can even spread them over 15 years. A loan is usually a much better option than a withdrawal because at least you will be replacing the money. However, not all plans offer 401 loans, so that might not be an option for you.
High Unreimbursed Medical Expenses
This particular exception is similar to the hardship distributions mentioned earlier, and these medical bills might qualify you under either category. You should know that a hardship withdrawal for medical bills will not entitle you to a waiver of the 10% penalty in all cases. To qualify for a penalty-free withdrawal, the amount of the bills must be greater than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income . You must also take the distribution in the same year in which the bills were incurred. You cannot take money for estimated future bills either. The bills must be currently due for services already provided.
Also note the requirement that the bills be unreimbursed. If your insurance covers part of the bills or will reimburse you for the payments, then you cannot use money from your 401 to pay them. Likewise, the bills must be for you, your spouse, or a qualified dependent. You cannot use the money to pay bills for a parent, sibling, or any other family member. The limit to the amount of money you can withdraw for medical bills was recently removed, so you are allowed to withdraw as much as is needed to cover all the expenses.
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When To Begin Taking Rmds
You are generally allowed to take penalty-free distributions starting at age 59½. However, by April 1 of the year after you reach age 72, you are required to begin taking RMDs from your IRAs.
Depending upon the terms of your 401 or other employer plan, you may be able to delay taking RMDs until April 1 of the year following the later of the year you attain age 72 or the year you retire, provided you are not a 5% or greater owner of the business. Check with your plan administrator for details.
For subsequent years, you must withdraw your RMD amount from your plans by Dec. 31 of each year. This includes the year after you turn age 72, even if you take your first withdrawal that year. NOTE: If you were born on June 30, 1949 or earlier, you were required to begin taking RMDs by April 1 following the year you reached age 70½.
For example, if you turn 72 in October 2021, your first RMD must be taken by April 1, 2022 and your second RMD must be taken by Dec. 31, 2022. Most IRA owners will take their first RMD in the year they turn 72 rather than delaying until April 1 of the next year to avoid having two taxable distributions in one year.
What you do with RMDs is generally up to you you may be able to take distributions in cash or in kind which you can then move to a non-qualified brokerage account. The amount of each year’s RMD depends on your age and the account balance at the end of the previous year.
Next Steps To Consider
This information is intended to be educational and is not tailored to the investment needs of any specific investor.
Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.
Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917
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New & Outstanding Disaster Loans:
- Loan payment dates that are due between the disaster event date and ending 180 days after the disaster period may be delayed.
- Loan repayments may be delayed for one year , with the loans term extended by the period of the delay.
- Loan balances will continue to accrue interest during this delayed timeframe.
- The max 5-year loan term is disregarded for outstanding loans deferring payment for 1 year.
Exceptions To 401 Early Withdrawal Penalty:
- You stopped working for the employer sponsoring the plan after reaching age 55
- Your former spouse is taking a portion of your 401 under a court order following a divorce
- Your beneficiary is taking a withdrawal after your death
- You are disabled
- You are removing an excess contribution from the 401
- You are taking a series of equal payments that meet certain rules under the tax laws
- You are withdrawing money to pay unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income
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You Can Spread Your Tax Liability Out Over Three Years
You usually have to pay taxes on 401 withdrawals in a single year. You still have the option to do this in 2020, but if doing so would significantly raise your tax bill, you can choose to spread the tax liability over three years instead. So if you withdraw $3,000 this year, you could pay taxes on just $1,000 of your withdrawal in 2020, then another $1,000 in 2021, and the final $1,000 in 2022.
It’s up to you to decide if this is advantageous. If your income is lower this year than normal, it might make more sense to pay taxes on your full withdrawal this year rather than potentially paying more in a future year when your income is higher and you may be in a higher tax bracket. But the added flexibility available in 2020 is a plus for those who are worried about the potential effect of the withdrawal on their taxes.
Withdrawing From A 401 In Retirement
Under the IRSâ 401 withdrawal rules, investors can begin making withdrawals after they turn 59 Â½. All distributions are subject to ordinary income tax.
As with a traditional IRA, once investors turn 72, they need to begin taking whatâs known as required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from their 401. In 2020, president Donald J. Trump enacted the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, which notably raised the age for RMDs from 70 Â½ to 72.
The IRS offers a worksheet to calculate RMDs, and account holders can use an online RMD calculator to verify 401 withdrawal rules after 59. The IRS Uniform Lifetime Table can help individuals determine how much they need to withdraw each year.
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What Are The Pros And Cons Of Withdrawal Vs A 401 Loan
A withdrawal is permanent. While you won’t have to pay the money back, you will have to pay the taxes right away and possibly a penalty. Additionally, by pulling out money early, you’ll miss out on the long-term growth that a larger sum of money in your 401 would have yielded. A loan has to be paid back, but on the upside, if it is paid back in a timely manner, you at least won’t lose out on long-term growth.
Taking 401 Distributions In Retirement
The 401 withdrawal rules require you to begin depleting your 401 savings when you reach age 72.
At this point, you must take a required minimum distribution each year until your account is depleted. If you are still working for the employer beyond age 72, you may be able to delay required minimum distribution until you stop working if your plan allows this delay. The delay option is not available to you if you own 5% or more of the business.
You have until April 1 of the year after you turn 72 to take your first required minimum distribution. After that, you must take a minimum amount by December 31 each year. Your 401 plan administrator will tell you how much you are required to take each year.
The amount is based on your life expectancy and your account balance. If you dont take your required minimum distribution each year, you will have to pay a tax of 50% of the amount that should have been taken but was not. If you participate in more than one employer plan, you must take a required minimum distribution from each plan.
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Other Ways To Avoid The 401 Withdrawal Penalty
The rule of 55 isnt the only way to avoid the 401 early withdrawal penalty. Other circumstances that allow you to avoid that additional 10% penalty include:
Total and permanent disability.
Medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
Withdrawals made because of an IRS levy plan.
Qualified disaster distributions.
Status as active duty and qualified reservist.
Additionally, Whitney points out, its possible to set up a situation where you take substantially equal periodic payments. This is sometimes called the 72t rule.
With 72t, you use IRS tables to decide how much to take each year if youre under age 59 ½, he says. You wont be stuck with the penalty, but you wont have flexibility. You have to commit to taking those withdrawals for at least five years or until youre 59 ½, whichever is greater.
With the rule of 55, you have more flexibility, Whitney says. As long as you meet the requirements, you can take as much or as little as you want from the 401 without committing to a set schedule.
Series Of Substantially Equal Periodic Payments
This is the classic Section 72t ) method for early withdrawal exceptions to the penalty. Essentially you agree to continue taking the same amount from your plan for the greater of five years or until you reach age 59½. There are three methods of SOSEPP:
7. Required Minimum Distribution method uses the IRS RMD table to determine your Equal Payments.
8. Fixed Amortization method in this method, you calculate your Equal Payment based on one of three life expectancy tables published by the IRS.
9. Fixed Annuitization method this method uses an annuitization factor published by the IRS to determine your Equal Payments.
Section 72 provides additional methods for premature distribution exceptions which can occur before leaving employment :
10. High Unreimbursed Medical Expenses for yourself, your spouse, or your qualified dependent. If you face these expenses, you may be allowed to withdraw a limited amount without penalty.
11. Corrective Distributions of Excess Contributions under certain conditions, when excess contributions are made to an account these can be returned without penalty.
12. IRS Levy when the IRS levies an account for unpaid taxes and/or penalties, this distribution is generally not subject to penalty.
And lastly, here are a few additional ways that you can withdraw your 401k funds without penalty:
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Substantially Equal Period Payments
Substantially Equal Period Payments might be a good option if you need to withdraw money for a long term need. These payments must last a minimum of 5 years or until you reach the normal 401k withdrawal age of 59 1/2, whichever is shorter. For this reason, this is not a good option if you have a short term need like a sudden unexpected expense. You cannot withdraw funds under this method if you still work for the employer through which you have the 401. To calculate the amount of these payments, the IRS recognizes three acceptable methods.
Cashing Out Your 401k While Still Employed
The first thing to know about cashing out a 401k account while still employed is that you cant do it, not if you are still employed at the company that sponsors the 401k.
You can take out a loan against it, but you cant simply withdraw the money.
If you resign or get fired, you can withdraw the money in your account, but again, there are penalties for doing so that should cause you to reconsider. You will be subject to 10% early withdrawal penalty and the money will be taxed as regular income. Also, your employer must withhold 20% of the amount you cash out for tax purposes.
There are some exceptions to the rule that eliminate penalties, but they are very specific:
- You are over 55
- You are permanently disabled
- The money is needed for medical expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income
- You intend to cash out via a series of substantially equal payments over the rest of your life
- You are a qualified military reservist called to active duty
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You Don’t Really Need The Money
The government may have eased the restrictions on 401 withdrawals, but you should only take advantage of this if you absolutely need the money. Taking money from your retirement account sets you back. That forces you to save more money per month going forward in order to afford to retire according to your original schedule.
Say you have $25,000 saved for retirement and you’re hoping to get to $1 million. If you’re 35 and hope to retire at 65, you must save about $653 per month, assuming you earn a 7% average annual rate of return. Now let’s say you withdraw $5,000 this year, leaving you with only $20,000 in your retirement savings. If you still want to have $1 million by 65, you must save about $753 per month — $100 more — every year thereafter to have enough. It’s doable, but you can save yourself a lot of hassle by just leaving your retirement savings alone if you don’t actually need the money.
Withdrawals After Age 59 1/2
Age 59 1/2 is the magic number when it comes to avoiding the penalties associated with early 401 withdrawals. You can take penalty-free withdrawals from 401 assets that have been rolled over into a traditional IRA when you’ve reached this age. You can also take a penalty-free withdrawal if your funds are still in the 401 plan, and you’ve retired.
You can take a withdrawal penalty-free if you’re still working after you reach age 59 1/2, but the rules change a bit. Check with the plan administrator about its specific rules if you’re still working at the company with which you have your 401 assets.
Your plan might offer an “in-service” withdrawal that allows you to access your 401 assets penalty-free, but not all plans offer this option. And remember, the withdrawal will still be subject to income taxes, even if it’s not penalized.
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Reasons To Proceed With Caution
Experts suggest moving slowly with any withdrawal. Here are three things to consider.
Hardship withdrawals are still subject to income taxes. Since your savings went into your retirement plan on a pretax basis, you’ll be paying income taxes on the contributions and earnings withdrawn.
“You get a three-year period to pay the taxes to Uncle Sam,” said Paul Porretta, partner at Pepper Hamilton LLP in New York.
Plan ahead to cover the tax bill and spread it over that period of time, perhaps out of your cash flow.
Know your 401 plan’s rules. Be aware that a workplace retirement plan may allow hardship distributions from participants’ savings, but it isn’t required to do so.
You’ll need to talk to your human resources department or your plan administrator before you proceed.
“A 401 plan or a 403 plan, even if it allows for hardship withdrawals, can require that the employee exhaust other sources of money before taking a withdrawal,” said Porretta.
Better Options For Emergency Cash Than An Early 401 Withdrawal
We know it can be a struggle when suddenly you need emergency cash for medical expenses, student loans, or crushing consumer debt. The extreme impact of coronavirus on public health and the economy has only compounded some of the more routine challenges of consumer cash flow.
We get it. The money squeeze can be quick and traumatic, especially in a more volatile economy.
Thats why information about an early 401 withdrawal is among the most frequently searched items on principal.com. Understandably so, in a world keen on saddling us with debt.
But the sad reality is that if you do it, you could be missing out on crucial long-term growth, says Stanley Poorman, an advice and planning manager for Principal® Advised Services who helps clients on household money matters.
In short, he says, Youre harming your ability to reach retirement. More on that in a minute. First, lets cover your alternatives.
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