When Can You Withdraw From A 401(k)?

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Retirement planning is an essential aspect of every individual’s financial journey. A 401(k) plan is a standard employer-sponsored retirement savings plan in the United States that helps individuals save for retirement. One of the key benefits of a 401(k) plan is the ability to withdraw funds from the account when needed. However, there are specific rules and regulations surrounding withdrawals that every individual must know to avoid incurring penalties and taxes. This guide will discuss when to withdraw from a 401(k) plan and everything you need to know.

Age and Employment Status

The rules surrounding 401(k) withdrawals depend on an individual’s age and employment status.

  • For individuals who are 59 ½ years or older: These individuals can withdraw funds from their 401(k) account penalty-free, regardless of their employment status. However, depending on their tax bracket, they may still have to pay income tax on the withdrawals.
  • For individuals under 59 ½ years old: These individuals can only withdraw funds from their 401(k) account penalty-free if they experience certain qualifying events, such as disability, death, or separation from service from their employer at or after age 55.
When Can You Withdraw From A 401(K)?

Hardship Withdrawals

A hardship withdrawal is a withdrawal from a 401(k) account due to an immediate and heavy financial need.

  • Qualifying expenses: The IRS allows hardship withdrawals for specific expenses such as medical expenses, funeral expenses, tuition, and payments to prevent eviction or foreclosure.
  • Penalties and Taxes: While a hardship withdrawal allows individuals to access funds when needed, it comes with a penalty of 10% of the withdrawn amount and income taxes.

In-Service Distributions

An in-service distribution is taken from a 401(k) account while the plan sponsor still employs an individual.

  • Age-based: Some 401(k) plans allow individuals to take in-service distributions once they reach a certain age, typically 59 ½ years old.
  • Hardship-based: Some 401(k) plans may also allow for in-service distributions in the event of a hardship, similar to a hardship withdrawal.

Separation from Service

A separation from service occurs when an individual stops working for their employer.

  • Age-based: Individuals who separate from service at or after age 55 can take penalty-free distributions from their 401(k) account.
  • Non-age-based: Individuals who separate from service before age 55 can take penalty-free distributions from their 401(k) account if they qualify for an exception to the penalty rule.

401(k) Loans

A 401(k) loan allows individuals to borrow money from their 401(k) account and pay it back over time.

  • Loan amount: Individuals can borrow from their 401(k) account is limited to the lesser of $50,000 or 50% of their vested account balance.
  • Repayment: The loan must be repaid within a specific time frame, typically five years, through regular payroll deductions.

Last Resort Option

While taking a 401(k) loan can be tempting when facing financial hardship, it should be considered a last resort option. Individuals who default on their 401(k) loan or cannot repay it within the specified time frame will face penalties and taxes.

Next Steps

Knowing when you can withdraw from a 401(k) plan is crucial for every individual who has one. While it is tempting to withdraw funds from the account when faced with financial difficulties, it is essential to consider the penalties and taxes that come with it. Individuals can make informed decisions about their finances by understanding the rules and regulations surrounding 401(k) withdrawals.

When Can You Withdraw From A 401(K)

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Frequently Asked Questions

When can you start withdrawing from a 401(k)?

59 1/2 years old

What are the penalties for early withdrawal from a 401(k)?

Early withdrawal penalties for a 401(k) include taxes and fees.

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

The Annuity Expert is an online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. My goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning or find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates for you. 

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