The most difficult part of buying a house is coming up with the down payment. This leads to the question, “Can I access cash in my retirement accounts to help toward the down payment on my house?”. The short answer is in most cases, “Yes”. The next important questions is “Is it a good idea to take a withdrawal from my retirement account for the down payment given all of the taxes and penalties that I would have to pay?” This article aims to answer both of those questions and provide you with withdrawal strategies to help you avoid big tax consequences and early withdrawal penalties.
401(k) Withdrawal Options Are Not The Same As IRA’s
First you have to acknowledge that different types of retirement accounts have different withdrawal options available. The withdrawal options for a down payment on a house from a 401(k) plan are not the same a the withdrawal options from a Traditional IRA. There is also a difference between Traditional IRA’s and Roth IRA’s.
401(k) Withdrawal Options
There may be loan or withdrawal options available through your employer sponsored retirement plan. I specifically say “may” because each company’s retirement plan is different. You may have all or none of the options available to you that will be presented in this article. It all depends on how your company’s 401(k) plan is designed. You can obtain information on your withdrawal options from the plan’s Summary Plan Description also referred to as the “SPD”.
Taking a 401(k) loan………….
The first option is a 401(k) loan. Some plans allow you to borrow 50% of your vested balance in the plan up to a maximum of $50,000 in a 12 month period. Taking a loan from your 401(k) does not trigger a taxable event and you are not hit with the 10% early withdrawal penalty for being under the age of 59½. 401(k) loans, like other loans, change interest but you are paying that interest to your own account so it is essentially an interest free loan. Typically 401(k) loans have a maximum duration of 5 years but if the loan is being used toward the purchase of a primary residence, the duration of the loan amortization schedule can be extended beyond 5 years if the plan’s loan specifications allow this feature.
Note of caution, when you take a 401(k) loan, loan payments begin immediately after the loan check is received. As a result, your take home pay will be reduced by the amount of the loan payments. Make sure you are able to afford both the 401(k) loan payment and the new mortgage payment before considering this option.
The other withdrawal option within a 401(k) plan, if the plan allows, is a hardship distribution. As financial planners, we strongly recommend against hardship distributions for purposes of accumulating the cash needed for a down payment on your new house. Even though a hardship distribution gives you access to your 401(k) balance while you are still working, you will get hit with taxes and penalites on the amount withdrawn from the plan. Unlike IRA’s which waive the 10% early withdrawal penalty for first time homebuyers, this exception is not available in 401(k) plans. When you total up the tax bill and the 10% early withdrawal penalty, the cost of this withdrawal option far outweighs the benefits.
If You Have A Roth IRA…….Read This…..
Roth IRA’s can be one of the most advantageous retirement accounts to access for the down payment on a new house. With Roth IRA’s, you make after tax contributions to the account, and as long as the account has been in existence for 5 years and you are over the age of 59½ all of the earnings are withdrawn from the account 100% tax free. If you withdraw the investment earnings out of the Roth IRA before meeting this criteria, the earnings are taxed as ordinary income and a 10% early withdrawal penalty is assessed on the earnings portion of the account.
What very few people know is if you are under the age of 59½ you have the option to withdraw just your after-tax contributions and leave the earnings in your Roth IRA. By doing so, you are able to access cash without taxation or penality and the earnings portion of your Roth IRA will continue to grow and can be distributed tax free in retirement.
The $10,000 Exclusion From Traditional IRA’s…….
Typically if you withdraw money out of your Traditional IRA prior to age 59½ you have to pay ordinary income tax and a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the distribution. There are a few exceptions and one of them is the “first time homebuyer” exception. If you are purchasing your first house, you are allowed to withdrawal up to $10,000 from your Traditional IRA and avoid the 10% early withdrawal penality. You will still have to pay ordinary income tax on the withdrawal but you will avoid the early withdrawal penalty. The $10,000 limit is an individual limit so if you and your spouse both have a traditional IRA, you could potentially withdrawal up to $20,000 penalty free.
Helping your child to buy a house……….
Here is a little known fact. You do not have to be the homebuyer. You can qualify for the early withdrawal exemption if you are helping your spouse, child, grandchild, or parent to buy their first house.
Be careful of the timing rules……….
There is a very important timing rule associated with this exception. The closing must take place within 120 day of the date that the withdrawal is taken from the IRA. If the closing happens after that 120 day window, the full 10% early withdrawal penalty will be assessed. There is also a special rollover rule for the first time homebuyer exemption which provides you with additional time to undo the withdrawal if need be. Typically with IRA’s you are only allowed 60 days to put the money back into the IRA to avoid taxation and penalty on the IRA withdrawal. This is called a “60 Day Rollover”. However, if you can prove that the money was distributed from the IRA with the intent to be used for a first time home purchase but a delay or cancellation of the closing brought you beyond the 60 day rollover window, the IRS provides first time homebuyers with a 120 window to complete the rollover to avoid tax and penalties on the withdrawal.
Don’t Forget About The 60 Day Rollover Option
Another IRA withdrawal strategy that is used as a “bridge solution” is a “60 Day Rollover”. The 60 Day Rollover option is available to anyone with an IRA that has not completed a 60 day rollover within the past 12 months. If you are under the age of 59½ and take a withdrawal from your IRA but you put the money back into the IRA within 60 days, it’s like the withdrawal never happened. We call it a “bridge solution” because you have to have the cash to put the money back into your IRA within 60 days to avoid the taxes and penalty. We frequently see this solution used when a client is simultaneously buying and selling a house. It’s often the intent that the seller plans to use the proceeds from the sale of their current house for the down payment on their new house. Unfortunately due to the complexity of the closing process, sometimes the closing on the new house will happen prior to the closing on the current house. This puts the homeowner in a cash strapped position because they don’t have the cash to close on the new house.
As long as the closing date on the house that you are selling happens within the 60 day window, you would be able to take a withdrawal from your IRA, use the cash from the IRA withdrawal for the closing on their new house, and then return the money to your IRA within the 60 day period from the house you sold. Unlike the “first time homebuyer” exemption which carries a $10,000 limit, the 60 day rollover does not have a dollar limit.
Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.