I have just been laid off. Can I use my 401(k) for living expenses now and report it as income next year?
The natural response to an unexpected event, such as being laid off, is to look for the place that holds your money, namely the 401(k) plan. That could be a possibility if that is your last resort, but I must caution you on the consequences of such an action: You could be facing not only the ordinary income tax from the amount you withdraw, but also an additional 10% tax penalty if you’re under 59 ½. Furthermore, if you start to tap your retirement fund now, where do you draw the money when you do retire in the future?
Instead of withdrawing from the 401(k), is it possible you can borrow a loan from the 401(k)? In doing so, you may be penalized for an interest, but you’re paying yourself that interest without jeopardizing your retirement fund. Next, if you have built an equity, could you tap your home equity line of credit for such emergency needs? Look all possibilities first. Best!
Any amounts withdrawn from your 401(k) plan must be treated as ordinary income for the year the amount is distributed from your 401(k) account. Consider the following:
- If any portion of the withdrawal is rollover eligible, the plan administrator must withhold 20% for federal taxes if the amount is paid to you instead of being processed as a direct rollover. State tax withholding may also apply.
- If you want to avoid the mandatory federal (and if applicable, state) tax withholding, you should have the amount processed as a direct rollover to a Traditional IRA and then take the distribution from the traditional IRA where you can waive withholding. However, you may want to check with your tax professional for assistance with determining whether you should have taxes withheld to satisfy any requirements for paying estimated taxes.
- As you may already know, withdrawing from your retirement plan should be a last resort, as you not only reduce the amount in your nest egg, but you also lose the benefit of having the amounts continue to accrue earnings on a tax-deferred basis. The impact can be quite significant and could put you behind with your retirement program.
- If you have no option but to withdraw amounts from your retirement account, you can roll over the amount within 60 days of receiving the check.
- You may be eligible for unemployment insurance in your state. See the Department of Labor's website for details. This could provide sufficient income until you find another job and negate the need to tap into your 401(k) plan.
You may want to talk to a retirement/financial counselor for some additional financial guidance.
This question was answered by Denise Appleby
I am sorry that you have been laid off. You could take early distributions from your 401(k) to cover living expenses. The distributions will be taxable in the year that you have taken them as income. In addition, you will owe an early withdrawal penalty of 10%.