Borrowing from your 401(k) or withdrawing money from your IRA before you have retired is generally a bad idea because it can set you back years in reaching your retirement savings goals. Not only do you lose the opportunity to earn compound returns on the money you withdraw or borrow, but people usually stop making contributions when they make a withdrawal or take a loan from their plan, setting them even further back.
Depending on your age and how you plan to use the money, you may also be subject to penalties and a higher-income tax bill.
Before you take any loan, take a hard look at ways to raise money by increasing your income (temporarily taking a side job, for example) or reducing your expenses. What’s more, you might have possessions you could sell on eBay, Craigslist, Poshmark, or Facebook to earn extra cash.
Maybe you need a budget to help you track your inflows and outflows. If none of these options can get you all the money you need, below are the least expensive borrowing alternatives to consider.
- You have to leave a minimum of 20% equity in your home if you take out a home equity loan.
- A cash-out refinance of your mortgage may get you a lower interest rate, but the fees could outweigh what you save in interest.
- Personal loans are unsecured—there's no collateral—which leads to higher interest rates, and that interest is not tax-deductible.
- Credit cards with 0% APR or a balance transfer option can help, but if you can't repay the balance by the end of the 0% period, a higher rate will kick in.
Home Equity Loan
If you own a home, determine if you have enough equity to borrow against your home’s value. The equity is the difference between the mortgage loan amount and the value of your home. Over time, you gain equity in your home by paying down your mortgage balance and through market appreciation of your home’s value.
In 2020, most lenders will require you to have at least 20% equity and retain that amount after taking out a home equity loan. So if your home is worth $200,000, you will need to have $40,000 in equity plus whatever the minimum loan amount is to be eligible for a home equity loan. If a lender’s minimum home equity loan amount is $10,000, you’ll need to have $50,000 in equity.
The national average interest rate on a home-equity loan was about 5.33% as of Nov. 18, 2020, according to Bankrate, which is low compared to other forms of borrowing, such as credit cards. However, homeowners can no longer deduct interest paid on a home equity loan (or home equity line of credit)—unless the loan is used for renovation on the home anchoring the loan. The deduction was eliminated or banned from 2018 to the end of 2025 due to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 by the U.S. Congress. If your financial need is for some other purpose, you no longer get a tax deduction.
To figure out if you have the required equity, estimate your home’s value by looking at the Zestimate of your home’s market value using Zillow.com or use a real estate website to search for recent sales prices of homes similar to yours. Next, look at your last mortgage statement to see how much you still owe on your loan, and subtract the amount owed from the market value to get your equity.
Borrowing against your 401(k) or withdrawing money from an IRA can significantly derail your retirement savings train.
Remember, lenders will want you to retain 20% equity in your home even after taking out the loan, so subtract the dollar amount that 20% translates into from your total equity to determine how much you might be able to borrow. Also, please keep in mind that lenders have minimums for home equity loans, so if you only have $1,000 in equity above the required 20%, you might not be able to get a loan.
Home equity loans also have considerable closing costs, which you’ll need to factor in to see whether this borrowing option makes sense.
A similar option is to refinance your mortgage and take cash out at closing. If you go this route, you will increase your mortgage balance, and it will take you longer to pay off your mortgage unless you refinance into a shorter term.
The tax law has also changed the deductions for mortgages. From 2018 through 2025, you can only deduct mortgage interest from your taxes on loans of up to $750,000 if you itemize and the loan is for your primary residence. Previously that number was $1 million. However, if you are refinancing an existing loan larger than $750,000, the $1-million threshold still holds.
Whether it makes sense to do a cash-out refinance depends on how the interest rate on your current mortgage compares to the interest rate you could get on a new mortgage. Remember that you may pay several thousand dollars in closing costs to refinance your entire mortgage.
As the interest rates on 30-year first mortgages (what you’re getting when you do a cash-out refi) are around 3.57% in May 2020, according to Bankrate, while the interest rates on home equity loans are around 5.33%, a cash-out refi may be less expensive. As a result, the closing costs of a cash-out refi might be worth it if you need to borrow a large sum. Be sure to compare the closing costs, monthly payments, and total interest costs over the life of the loan to determine whether a home equity loan or cash-out refi is the most cost-effective option.
Finally, if you’re currently paying mortgage insurance premiums and a cash-out refi would allow you to get rid of them, it could be a better option than a home equity loan.
What if you don’t own a home? Or, if you are a homeowner, maybe you don’t want to borrow more against your home, don’t have enough home equity to get a loan, can’t get a good interest rate on a refinance, or don’t want to pay closing costs? A personal loan may be a good option.
Personal loans generally have higher interest rates than home loans because they are not secured. That means they aren’t tied to any collateral—anything you physically own, such as a house or car. If you default—or fail to make your payments—on a home loan or an auto loan, the lender can seize your house or car and sell it to get some of the money back. If you default on a personal loan, the lender can sue you, but there’s no car, house, or other assets of value that the lender can claim. As a result, there's a higher risk to the lender for personal loans, which translates to a higher interest rate for the borrower, and that interest is not tax-deductible.
Bankrate reported that personal loan rates ranged from 5.95% to 36% as of Nov. 2020. Personal loan rates depend on the lender and the borrower’s creditworthiness. If you have excellent credit, you may be able to get a personal loan for not much more than a mortgage but without the expensive closing costs.
In May 2020, Investopedia recommended SoFi as best overall for personal loans and Marcus as best for Debt Consolidation. For borrowers with good credit, LightStream is best—with Upstart best for those with fair credit and Avant for bad credit.
0% APR Credit Card
If you have good-to-excellent credit, you could apply for a credit card in which you might qualify for a 0% APR balance transfer or a 0% APR introductory rate. Either of these options could help you get the cash you need. The big question is whether you’ll be able to repay your credit card balance in full before the 0% APR period ends. This period might range from nine to 18 months, depending on the card.
Of the options we’ve presented in this article, a credit card is the riskiest because it puts you in a position to end up with high-interest debt if you don’t repay your loan on time or if you’re late on one of your minimum monthly payments.
The Bottom Line
We’re not saying that you should never take a loan from your 401(k) or a withdrawal from your IRA. In some circumstances, these may be your best options (withdrawing contributions from a Roth IRA, for example, are both penalty-free and tax-free at any time). However, if you are looking for an alternative, consider a home equity loan, cash-out refinance, personal loan, or 0% APR credit card.