Using Retirement Funds To Pay for House Is Risky

Using Retirement Funds To Pay for House Is Risky

Washington — The housing market is expected to be busier than usual this winter as some home buyers rush to act before the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.

Some consumers who haven’t yet been able to save the money for a downpayment may be tempted to raid their retirement accounts for the cash. For people with decent retirement savings, that can be a way to diversify investments. But people considering the move should consider all of the costs they might face, including interest, lost investment growth and penalties if plans fall apart.

Here’s what you need to know:

In most cases, the home in question doesn’t actually have to be a person’s first home. Generally, the IRS requires that a person using retirement funds to buy a home must not have owned a home in the past two years. (That restriction also applies to spouses.) The house must be the person’s main home.

Savers using 401(k) plans can take loans of up to 50 percent of their vested account balance, with a maximum of $50,000, to help pay for a main home. Borrowers generally have up to 10 years to pay back the loan, with interest — though the interest goes right back into their savings.

Savers can also withdraw up to $10,000 from a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA penalty-free to buy a first home for themselves, their spouse or their children. Withdrawals taken from a traditional IRA would be subject to income taxes, and the money must be spent within 120 days of being withdrawn in order to avoid the 10 percent penalty tax charged on early distributions. People may withdraw money they’ve contributed to a Roth IRA at any time. Up to $10,000 of earnings may be withdrawn tax-free and penalty-free to purchase a first home as long as the account has been open five years or more.

Unlike with an IRA, where the money is simply being withdrawn, people borrowing from their 401(k) loans to buy a house must eventually replenish their savings. But they may face a sudden bill if they lose their jobs or change employers. In that case, the remaining balance on the loan would be due within 60 days. Any money not paid back in time would be considered an early withdrawal, which would be subject to income taxes and a 10 percent early-withdrawal penalty.

For most savers using retirement funds to buy a home, one of the biggest downsides is that the move cuts down on the amount of time their savings are invested in stocks and other markets. While borrowers are using the money to make an investment, the growth potential for the property may not be as large as the growth the cash might have seen had it stayed invested.

People who withdraw $10,000 from an IRA to buy a home with plans that they will replenish their account later will need to add much more than $10,000 to make up for lost investment growth. Even people who pay back their 401(k) loans in full would miss out on time that the money could be growing.

People who borrow from their retirement accounts one time may also be tempted to borrow again, creating a dangerous habit of serial borrowing. What’s best will depend on a person’s situation. Savers should understand the full consequences of the move before they decide.

Author: Jonnelle Marte The Washington Post

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