Are you tapping your 401 (okay) due to Covid? Here is what you have to know
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If you’ve almost used up your savings due to the coronavirus pandemic but you have a retirement account, it is now easier than ever to settle it.
While withdrawing money from such an account prior to retirement is generally something financial advisors should avoid, it may be for those affected by the crisis, including the millions of unemployed Americans who are struggling to pay bills and basic expenses to cover, be useful.
“We usually like to look at retirement accounts as a last resort, but I like to say if you can’t eat today, worry about tomorrow, tomorrow,” CPA and certified financial planner Jeffrey Levine told CNBC’s Darla Mercado during CNBC Financial Advisor Summit. “Unfortunately, some people find themselves in a situation where this is the case. This is the only asset they can still use.”
What has changed due to Covid-19
Federal CARES bill, passed in March, made it easier for Americans under 59½ years of age to access funds stored in eligible retirement accounts, including employer-sponsored 401 (k) plans, 403 (b) plans, and individual retirement accounts.
The CARES Act “was really about providing liquidity and liquidity in multiple ways,” said Megan Gorman, attorney and managing partner at Checkers Financial Management in San Francisco, during the FA summit on Tuesday.
This year, you can take up to $ 100,000 from eligible retirement plans without paying the usual 10% early withdrawal penalty. In addition, people who make such a withdrawal have up to three years to pay the tax liability for the money withdrawn.
We usually like to consider retirement accounts as a last resort, but I like to say if you can’t eat today, worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
Director of Advanced Planning at Buckingham Strategic Wealth
“This is really powerful, but what is really going to be crucial here is defining a qualified person,” said Gorman. To conduct a coronavirus-related distribution, you or your family must be physically or financially affected by the Covid-19 crisis, including testing positive, losing a job or reducing income due to the pandemic.
The CARES Act also made it easier for people to take out larger loans from retirement plans. It doubled the maximum amount people can borrow to $ 100,000 and made it so that people could borrow all of their vested benefits – the total amount in the account. In addition, the repayment terms have been extended so that repayment of the loan can take up to six years.
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According to Levine, director of advanced planning at Buckingham Strategic Wealth on New York’s Long Island, a key difference between taking out a coronavirus-related distribution and taking out a loan is that different plans can decide which loan benefits to avail .
“It is really up to the plan participants to reach out to their 401 (k) vendors, plans, and companies to see what options are specifically available to them,” he said.
When do you need to withdraw your retirement account?
The pandemic has placed extreme financial stress on many American families that may not end soon. Gorman says people have run out of cash, are receiving less unemployment benefits, and may have difficulty putting food on the table.
“When you reach that level of desperation, start looking at the retirement plan,” she said, adding that it’s best used to pay bills, keep housing, and avoid high interest rate credit card debt.
When working with clients in crisis, Gorman said it is important to understand the rules of the options available to aid decision-making at a time when they may be losing sleep and being thin.
“Half of the equation is financial and the other half is psychological,” Gorman said.
According to Levine, it’s also important for consultants to help clients see all the possibilities. It is the job of the advisor “to review the client’s available resources, identify the spending including debt options, and find the best path available,” he said.
Before creating a retirement plan, customers may be able to request flexibility with certain payments such as mortgages, credit cards, or even private student loans. They could also have access to another retirement account, like a Roth IRA, that they can withdraw some money from with no penalty, Levine said.
Retire or Borrow?
It’s important for customers to understand that coronavirus-related distributions and retirement account loans are just a few of the tools they can access in a general finance toolbox, Gorman said.
Depending on your particular circumstances, it may make sense to choose one option over the other in order to use the retirement savings. For example, if you’re facing great financial uncertainty, a distribution that you don’t have to pay back may make more sense, Gorman said. And because of the CARES Act, you have up to three years to deal with related taxes.
Half of the equation is financial, the other half is psychological.
Managing partner at Checkers Financial Management
On the other hand, a loan can make sense if you think you can pay it back, especially over a long period of time.
“Ultimately, each option has different advantages and disadvantages,” said Levine. “It’s just about sitting down with a customer and asking what’s best for them.”
In addition, it is important that financial advisors work with their clients to understand the tax implications of each option and what makes more sense over time. If you’re a non-tax consultant, working with a tax forecasting company can be a huge added benefit, Gorman said.
“The game is not won by whoever has the lowest tax burden in a year. The game is won by creating the lowest tax burden in an individual’s life,” said Levine.