Paying off debt may feel like a never-ending process. With so many potential solutions, you may not know where to start. One of your options may be withdrawing money from your retirement fund. This may make you wonder, “should I cash out my 401k to pay off debt?” Cashing out your 401k early may cost you in penalties, taxes, and your financial future so it’s usually wise to avoid doing this if possible. When in doubt, consult your financial advisor to help determine what’s best for you.
Before cashing out your 401k, we suggest weighing the pros and cons, plus the financial habits you could change to reduce debt. The right move may be adjusting your budget to ensure each dollar is being put to good use. Keep reading to determine if and when it makes sense to cash out your 401k.
How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement
Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in
Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in taxes and fees as your 401k has yet to be taxed. Meaning, the gross amount you withdraw from your 401k will be taxed in full, so assess your financial situation before making a decision.
Check Your Eligibility
Depending on your 401k account, you may not be able to withdraw money without a valid reason. Hefty medical bills and outstanding debts may be valuable reasons, but going on a shopping spree isn’t. Below are a few requirements to consider for an early withdrawal:
- Financial hardships may include medical expenses, educational fees, bills to prevent foreclosure or eviction, funeral expenses, or home repairs.
- Your withdrawal is lower or exactly the amount of financial assistance you need.
To see what you may be eligible for, look up your 401k documentation or reach out to a trusted professional.
Assess Your Current Financial Situation
Sit down and create a list of your savings, assets, and debts. How much debt do you have? Are you able to allocate different funds towards debts? If you have $2,500 in credit card debt and a steady source of income, you may be able to pay off debt by adjusting your existing habits. Cutting the cord with your TV, cable, or streaming services could be a great money saver.
However, if you’re on the verge of foreclosure or bankruptcy, living with a strict budget may not be enough. When looking into more serious debt payoff options, your 401k may be the best route.
Calculate How Much of Your Retirement Is at Risk
Having a 401k is crucial for your financial future, and the government tries to reinforce that for your best interest. To encourage people to save, anyone who withdraws their 401k early pays a 10 percent penalty fee. When, or if, you go to withdraw your earnings early, you may have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw. Your tax rates will depend on federal income and state taxes where you reside.
Say you’re in your early twenties and you have 40 years until you’d like to retire. You decide to take out $10,000 to put towards your student loans. Your federal tax rate is 10 percent and your state tax is four percent. With the 10 percent penalty fee, federal tax, and state tax, you would receive $7,600 of your $10,000 withdrawal. The extra $2,400 expense would be paid in taxes and penalties.
The bottom line: No matter how much you withdraw early from your 401k, you will face significant fees. These fees include federal taxes, state taxes, and penalty fees.
What Are the Pros and Cons?
Before withdrawing from your 401k, there are some pros and cons to consider before cashing out early.
- Pay off debt sooner: In some cases, you may pay off debt earlier than expected. By putting your 401k withdrawal toward debt, you may be able to pay off your account in full. Doing so could help you save on monthly interest payments.
- Put more towards savings: If you’re able to pay off your debt with your early withdrawal, you may free up your budget. If you have extra money each month, you could contribute more to your savings. Adding to your savings could earn you interest when placed in a proper account.
- Less financial stress: Debt may cause you daily stress. By increasing your debt payments with a 401k withdrawal, you may save yourself energy. After paying off debt, you may consider building your emergency funds.
- Higher disposable income: If you’re able to pay off your debts, you may have more financial freedom. With this freedom, you could save for a house or invest in side hustles.
- Higher tax bill: You may have to pay a hefty tax payment for your withdrawal. Your 401k is considered gross income that’s taxed when paid out. Your federal and state taxes are determined by where you reside and your yearly income.
- Pay a penalty fee: To discourage people from cashing out their 401k, there’s a 10 percent penalty. You may be charged this penalty in full.
- Cut your investment earnings: You gain interest on money you have stored in your 401k. When you withdraw money, you may earn a lower amount of interest.
- Push your retirement date: You may be robbing your future self. With less money in your retirement fund, you’ll lower your retirement income. Doing so could push back your desired retirement date.
6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k
There are a few ways to become debt-free without cutting into your 401k. Paying off debt may not be easy, but it could benefit your future self and your current state of mind. Work towards financial freedom with these six tips.
1. Negotiate Your Credit Card Interest Rates
Call your credit card customer service center and ask to lower your rates on high-interest accounts. Look at your current interest rate, account history, and competitor rates. After researching, call your credit card company and share your customer loyalty. Follow up by asking for lower interest rates to match their competitors. Earning lower interest rates may save you interest payments.
2. Halt Your Credit Card Spending
Consider restricting your credit card spending. If credit card debt is your biggest stressor, cut up or hide your cards to avoid shopping temptations. Check in on your financial goals by downloading our app for quick updates on the fly. We send out weekly updates to see where you are with your financial goals.
3. Put Bonuses Towards Your Debt
Any time you get a monetary bonus, consider putting it towards debts. This could be a raise, yearly bonus, tax refund, or monetary gifts from your loved ones. You may have a set budget without this supplemental income, so act as if you never received it. Without budgeting for the extra income, you may feel less tempted to spend it.
4. Evaluate All Your Options for Paying Down Debt
If you’re in dire need to pay off your debts, look into other accounts like your savings or emergency fund. While money saved can help in times of need, your financial situation may be an emergency. To save on early withdrawal taxes and fees, you can borrow from savings accounts. To cover future emergency expenses, avoid draining your savings accounts entirely.
5. Transfer Balances to a Low-Interest Credit Card
If high-interest payments are diminishing your budget, transfer them to a low-interest account. Compare your current debt interest rates to other competitors. Sift through their fine print to spot any red flags. Credit card companies may hide variable interest rates or fees that drive up the cost. Find a transfer card that works for you, contact the company to apply, and transfer over your balances.
6. Consider Taking Out a 401k Loan Rather than Withdrawing
To avoid early withdrawal fees, consider taking out a 401k loan. A 401k loan is money borrowed from your retirement fund. This loan charges interest payments that are essentially paid back to your future self. While some interest payments are put back in your account, your opportunity for compounding interest may slightly decrease. Compounding interest is interest earned on your principal balance and accumulated interest from past periods. While you may pay a small amount in interest fees, this option may help you avoid the 10 percent penalty fee.
As your retirement account grows, so does your interest earned — that’s why time is so valuable. While taking out a 401k loan may be a better option than withdrawing from your 401k, you may lose out on a small portion of compounding interest. When, or if, you choose to take out a 401k loan, you may start making monthly payments right away. This allows your payments to grow interest and work for you sooner than withdrawing from your 401k.
This type of loan may vary on principle balance, interest rate, term length, and other conditions. In most cases, you’re allowed to borrow up to $50,000 or half of your account balance. Some accounts may also have a minimum loan balance. This means you’ll have to take out a certain amount to qualify. Interest rates on these loans generally charge market value rates, similar to commercial banks.
Pulling funds from your retirement account may look appealing when debt is looming over you. While withdrawing money from your 401k to pay off debt may help you now, it could hurt you in taxes and fees. Before withdrawing your retirement savings, see the effect it could have on your future budget. As part of your strategy, determine where you’re able to cut out unnecessary expenses with our app. Still on the fence about whether withdrawing funds is the right move for you? Consult your financial advisor to determine a debt payoff plan that works best for your budgeting goals.