How Does an Early Withdrawal from a Retirement Plan Affect My Taxes?

Oftentimes we are faced with difficult situations in life – where we need extra money to pay for a major car repair, a new roof for the house, or just day-to-day living expenses – and our emergency funds are all tapped out.  Now your options become poor: should I go to a payday loan place, put more on my credit card?  My mortgage is upside-down so there’s no home equity loan in my future, and I can’t ask my folks for a loan, I’ve asked them for too much.  Hey, what about my retirement plan?  I’ve got some money socked away in an IRA that’s just sitting there, why don’t I take that money?

It’s really tough to be in a situation like this, but you need to understand the impacts that you’ll face if you decide to go the route of the IRA withdrawal, especially if you’re under age 59½.

Any money that you take out of a retirement plan as a withdrawal will be taxed as ordinary income – just like wages, salaries, and tips.  So if you’re in the 25% marginal tax bracket, every dollar that you withdraw from your IRA or 401(k) plan (if allowed) will cost you 25 cents right off the top.

In addition to the ordinary income tax, if you’re less than 59½ years of age you’ll also be hit with an additional 10% penalty for an early withdrawal (unless your withdrawal meets one of these 19 exceptions). So now every dollar that you withdraw costs an extra 10 cents on top of the ordinary income tax.  If you’re in the 25% bracket, that $10,000 withdrawal from your IRA can cost you as much as $3,500 in extra taxes and penalties.

Bear in mind that you may be able to take a temporary loan from your 401(k) or other qualified retirement plan (QRP) if you’re still employed by that employer.  Naturally you’ll need to repay the loan, but it might be a better option cost-wise than the other choices.  Plus, if you have an outstanding loan from your QRP and you leave the employer you’ll be required to either recognize the balance of the loan as a withdrawal or pay it back to the plan immediately.

Armed with this information makes your decision points much more clear: review all of the available options mentioned above (loans from family and friends, home equity loans, payday loans, and the like) against the cost of the taxes for taking an early withdrawal from your retirement plan.  The best option may be to see about a formal loan from family, paying them a reasonable rate of interest.  But of course, your circumstances are going to dictate the best option for you.  Just go into it with your eyes wide open.

About the author

Jim Blankenship, CFP®, EA

Jim Blankenship is the founder and principal of Blankenship Financial Planning, Ltd., a financial planning firm providing hourly, as-needed financial planning and advice. A financial services professional for over 25 years, Jim is a CFP professional and has earned the Enrolled Agent designation, a designation that qualifies him as enrolled to practice before the IRS. Jim is also a NAPFA-registered financial advisor, which designates him as a Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

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