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Hardship Withdrawals Give Access to Your 401k Savings, But at a Cost

If you're in a financial pinch, you might be able to tap your 401k for a bailout -- but it could really cost you.

    

You're not alone in wondering if you should tap your retirement savings. With an uncertain economy and average consumers debt building up, many people are thinking about the money in their 401k plans.

It is safe to say that hardship withdrawal information is one of the most sought after items on this website. And that has some financial and retirement industry experts worried. A withdrawal taken in haste today could have a big impact on your golden years.

Hardship Basics

A hardship withdrawal is not like a plan loan. The withdrawal may be difficult to get, and costly if you receive it. Remember, your 401k is meant to provide retirement income. It should be a last-resort source of cash for expenses before then.

Knowing that workers would resist putting aside money for decades with no chance to access it, Congress made provisions in the 401k rules to allow plan withdrawals in a limited number of hardship situations. These include:

  • Un-reimbursed medical expenses for you, your spouse, or dependents.
  • Purchase of an employee's principal residence.
  • Payment of college tuition and related educational costs such as room and board for the next 12 months for you, your spouse, dependents, or children who are no longer dependents.
  • Payments necessary to prevent eviction of you from your home, or foreclosure on the mortgage of your principal residence.
  • For funeral expenses.
  • Certain expenses for the repair of damage to the employee's principal residence.

But to discourage these early hardship withdrawals, in most all cases the IRS imposes a hefty financial penalty including a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if you are younger than 59 1/2.

You may qualify to take a penalty-free withdrawal if you meet one of the following exceptions:

  • You become totally disabled.
  • You are in debt for medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • You are required by court order to give the money to your divorced spouse, a child, or a dependent.
  • You are separated from service (through permanent layoff, termination, quitting or taking early retirement) in the year you turn 55, or later.
  • You are separated from service and you have set-up a payment schedule to withdraw money in substantially equal amounts over the course of your life expectancy. (Once you begin taking this kind of distribution you are required to continue for five years or until you reach age 59 1/2, whichever is longer.)

Employers are not required to offer any type of hardship withdrawal, so you should check with your employer to see if it is available to you.

Withdrawal Process

If you need a new car or want to take a Caribbean Cruise and want to take a 401k hardship withdrawal for that purpose, think again. These withdrawals are meant for big emergencies. You really have to need the money and have no other source of funds.

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The information provided here is intended to help you understand the general issue and does not constitute any tax, investment or legal advice. Consult your financial, tax or legal advisor regarding your own unique situation and your company's benefits representative for rules specific to your plan.

 


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