Borrowing from your 401(k) plan can be helpful in accessing funds when you need it — here’s what to know

Borrowing from your 401(k) plan can be helpful in accessing funds when you need it — here’s what to know

Your retirement accounts are meant for saving and investing money instead of borrowing it. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to borrow money and have few options, a 401(k) loan may be helpful for your situation.

A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan that allows you to make pre-tax contributions. There are penalties for withdrawing money from your account before 59 ?, but you can borrow some of your 401(k) money if you’re able to follow a few specific rules.

What is a 401(k) loan?

A 401(k) loan is exactly what it sounds like – borrowing from your own 401(k) account and paying yourself back over time. However, a 401(k) loan isn’t a true loan since there’s no lender or credit score evaluation. Your 401(k) company ounts, but the IRS limits how much you can borrow to whichever is less: $50,000 or 50% of you vested 401(k) balance.

You do, however, have to pay origination fees and interest – you’ll just pay this back to yourself. To borrow money from your 401(k), you’d need to ask your employer about their 401(k) loan options and fill out the necessary paperwork.

Quick tip: Borrowing from a retirement account always comes with the risk of missing out on growth and compound interest . An alternative would be to consider getting a personal loan if your credit is good or try a 0% APR credit card for smaller expenses.

401(k) loan rules

  • You can borrow only a maximum of $50,000 or 50% of your vested 401(k) balance within a 12-month period.
  • A portion of the amount you borrowed, plus interest, is withheld from each paycheck right after the loan funds are dispersed to you.
  • Borrowers typically have up to five years to repay the loan. (The only exception to this repayment term is if you’re using the loan to purchase a primary residence.)
  • If you lose your job during the repayment process, the remaining loan amount may be due immediately or with your next tax payment.
  • If you’re unable to repay your 401(k) loan by the end of the tax year, the remaining balance will be considered a distribution and you’ll need to pay taxes as well as a 10% early withdrawal fee penalty on the amount.
  • Depending on your retirement plan, you may need your spouse’s consent to borrow more than $5,000.

„The interest rate on 401(k) loans tends to be relatively low, perhaps one or two points above the prime rate , which is less than [what] many consumers would pay for a personal loan,” says Arvind Ven, CEO of Capital V Group located in California. „Also, unlike a traditional loan, the interest doesn’t go to the bank or another commercial lender, it goes to you.”

Ven also warns that if you’re unable to repay your 401(k) loan, the brokerage company managing your 401(k) will report it to the IRS on Form 1099-R.

„By then, it’s treated as a distribution which includes more fees, so it’s important to keep up with payments and stay on track.”

Quick Tip: The IRA requires 401(k) loan payments to be made at least quarterly to avoid classifying the loan balance as a distribution. Even if you’re falling behind with payments, you should aim to pay something on your 401(k) loan and communicate with the brokerage so you can get back on track and avoid paying taxes and penalties.

Pros and cons of a 401(k) loan

There are some people who might say that getting a 401(k) loan is a good idea while others would disagree. This is why it’s important to compare the pros and cons so you can make the best decision for your situation.

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