What Are The Pros of Borrowing Against Your 401(k)?
Although many financial planners and money managers advise against borrowing from your 401(k), there are some pros of doing so:
You don’t have to apply. Because you are borrowing money from your own retirement savings account, there is no loan application to fill out. Nor do you have to provide reams of documents, a business plan or other paperwork, all of which are required for small business loans. [Considering a small business loan? Check out our guide and best picks]
Your credit score doesn’t matter. There is no due diligence when borrowing against your 401(k), which means it doesn’t matter if you have a bad credit score. Repayments aren’t reported to the credit rating agencies, either, which ensures your credit score remains intact.
It doesn’t change your debt-to-income ratio. Money you borrow from a 401(k) isn’t added to your debt balance on your credit report. That’s important if you want to take on a car loan or a mortgage. The more debt you have compared to income, the less likely a lender will be to approve you for a loan.
The interest rate is typically lower. When you borrow against your 401(k), it is a loan, which means you are required to pay it back with interest. However, the interest rate is usually much lower for a 401(k) loan than for a bank or alternative lender’s loan.
Repayment is automatic. There’s no risk of missing a payment with a 401(k) loan, because the payment is an automatic payroll deduction.
There are no penalties. Unlike with an early withdrawal from your 401(k), there are no penalties or taxes owed if you take out a loan against your 401(k). There is one caveat, however: You need to pay it back on time.
Key takeaway: Pros of borrowing against your 401(k) include the lack of a credit check or application, a lower interest rate than with a bank loan, automatic repayment and no penalties if you pay it back on time.
What are the cons of a 401(k) loan?
Here are the biggest reasons for keeping your hands off that nest egg:
Your earning potential takes a big hit. Missed growth opportunities is the primary and most obvious reason to avoid borrowing from your 401(k). Recent market volatility aside, over time, your managed investments will grow. The more dollars you have working for you, the more you can make. Pulling money out reduces your earning potential. The closer you are to retirement, the harder it is to catch up.
For the duration of your loan, you can’t contribute to your 401(k). According to Charisse Mackenzie, a financial advisor and president of Saturn Wealth, most people who borrow from their 401(k) stop contributing to their plan while the loan is outstanding. In fact, many plans rule out contributions for the duration of the loan. Since your employer can’t match what you don’t contribute, that free money you’d be getting in matching funds dries up, too. That’s a double whammy that you may regret in the future.
When you repay the loan, your take-home pay is reduced. Eventually, you have to repay yourself, and that’s hard to do when you have an additional payroll deduction. Most loan terms range from one to five years, and payments come from payroll deductions using after-tax dollars. This decreases your take-home pay.
You’re locked into your job for the duration of the loan. Changing or losing your job means you’ll have to repay the debt. While it’s true that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 gave job changers more time to come up with the funds, it didn’t remove the requirement to repay the loan. Regardless of your plan’s wording, you have until the tax-filing deadline to get that money into an IRA. If you miss the deadline, the outstanding loan amount will be considered a distribution, and you will be liable not only for the taxes but also a 10% early withdrawal penalty (assuming you’re under 59 1/2 years of age).
Key takeaway: The biggest downside of borrowing against your 401(k) is the hit to your retirement earning potential, as you can’t grow or contribute to these savings while you repay the loan.