Getting the most out of your plan

Hi, I’m Janice. As of this writing, I am in a financial soup. I need money urgently to make some payments and I was thinking whether I can do a hardship withdrawal from my 401k to get a cash infusion. However, I am not entirely sure of the ramifications. Can you please advise me on the same?

With the next presidential election approaching, it is difficult to tell what turn the economy is going to take. As the strained times continue, doing a hardship withdrawal from your 401k account is very tempting. Before you tap into the retirement savings, you need to understand the rules and have a clear idea of the consequences.

According to the IRS guidelines, a hardship withdrawal must only be made in the event of a heavy and immediate financial need. Moreover, the amount you withdraw must be absolutely necessary to fill the financial need. The employee’s need also includes the need of a dependant or a spouse. A withdrawal is regarded as heavy and immediate if you make it for any one of the following reasons:

  • To prevent foreclosure or eviction from your primary residence.
  • If you have expenses related to the purchasing of a primary residence, not including mortgage payments.
  • Education expenses (post-secondary) for the upcoming 12 months either for you, your spouse or your dependants.
  • Improvements or qualifying expenses for your primary residence.
  • Funeral expenses.

While the IRS rules make an allowance for the aforementioned withdrawals, it is not necessary that your plan allows them. Your plan provider can also limit the kind of hardship withdrawal that they allow. Withdrawing money from the retirement account sounds easy, but there are substantial drawbacks to it.

In a lot of the cases, such withdrawals are subject to taxes and 10 percent penalty, unless you meet certain criteria. In some of the cases, if an employee utilizes the hardship withdrawal, it restricts the investor from making any further plan contributions for six months or more.

Apart from the immediate costs of getting your hands on the funds from your retirement account, there are certain long-term consequences to the action that you will not realize for some time to come. The money that you remove from your account will no longer receive the benefits of compounding and growth over time. This is also applicable for contributions that are made to the plan in the restricted period following a withdrawal.

Desperate time call for desperate measures, but before you dip into your 401k to ease your financial bind, consider the immediate costs and the long-term impact on your retirement goals. If you want to get more in-depth information on your 401k, visit 401keasy.com. It is the most comprehensive 401k resource on the internet and you are sure to find answers to all the tricky questions you have.

About Elliot Earl, Director, Pension Trade Association
Director, Pension Trade Association Founded in 1982, the Pension Trade Association [California Domestic Nonprofit Corporation #C1629080] is dedicated to helping workers save for their retirement through expanded coverage of 401k -type defined contribution pension plans.

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