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More Money Mistakes: Using Your Retirement Plan As A Bank

BOSTON (CBS) - Here again some listeners tell of getting screwed. They borrowed from their plans, left their employment, and the money was owed back within 30 days or it became a withdrawal. With no money available to pay it back they ended up owing taxes and a penalty for many were under 59½.

Most 401(k) plans and some 403(b) and 457 plans allow the participant to borrow from their plan. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute's latest study on borrowing, more than 20% of participants have outstanding loans from their plans.

The maximum you can borrow from your account is 50% or $50,000, whichever amount is smaller. And sometimes there is a minimum such as $1,000. There are also fees associated with borrowing for there is paperwork involved. And often it is a short-term loan of five years.

Over 80% of 401(k) plans allow borrowing. The thinking here is that the employee will be more likely to contribute to the retirement plan if they are allowed to get at the money thru borrowing. It could very well be a selling point but I am not a big fan of borrowing.

It sounds so good, borrow from yourself and pay yourself back! When you do the actual math it doesn't work that neatly.

You borrow money you contributed to the plan; these are dollars you have not paid taxes on for they went into your account pre-tax. You pay back the loan with after tax dollars. Then in retirement you withdraw the money, as a good citizen should, and you pay income taxes again on it. You have double taxed yourself on your money.

And what if you lose your job? You are required to pay back the outstanding loan within 30 to 60 days. If you can't pay back the loan the balance is now considered a withdrawal from your retirement plan and you will owe income taxes on the amount outstanding when you file your tax return and if you are under the magic age of 59½ you will also owe a 10% penalty on top of the taxes!


You can hear Dee Lee's expert financial advice on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 each weekday at 1:55 p.m. and 3:55 p.m.

Subscribe to Dee's Money Matters newsletter here.

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