Getting $50K From Your Own 401(k): The 401(k) Loan Option

Do you need access to your retirement account funds to start a business, to pay for non-traditional education expenses, to make a personal investment, or to pay off high interest debt? Rather than taking a taxable distribution from your 401(k), you can access a portion of the funds in your 401(k) via a loan from the 401(k) to yourself  without paying any taxes or penalties to access the funds. The loan must be paid back to the 401(k) but can be used for any purpose by the account owner. Many people are familiar with this loan option but are confused at how the rules work. Here is a summary of the items to know. For more details, check out the IRS Manual on the subject here.

FAQ’s on Loans From Your 401(k)

How much can I loan myself from my 401(k)? 50% of the vested account balance (FMV of the account) of the 401(k) not to exceed $50,000. So if you have a $200,000 401(k) account value you can loan yourself $50,000. If you have $80,000, you can loan yourself $40,000.

What can I use the funds for? By law, the loan can be used for anything you want. The funds can be used to start a business, for personal investment, for education expenses, to pay bills, to buy a home, or for any personal purpose you want. Some employer plans restrict the purpose of the loan to certain pre-approved purposes.

How do I pay back the loan to my own 401(k)? The loan must be paid back in substantially level payments, at least quarterly, with-in 5 years. A lump sum payment at the end of the loan is not acceptable. For loans where the funds were used to purchase a home, the loan term can be up to 30 years.

What interest rate do I pay my 401(k)? The interest rate to be charged is a commercially reasonable rate. This has been interpreted by the industry and the IRS/DOL to be prime plus 2% (currently that would be 5.75%). If the loan was for the purchase of a home for the account owner then the rate is the federal home loan mortgage corporate rate for conventional fixed mortgages. Keep in mind that even though you are paying interest, you are paying that interest to your own 401(k) as opposed to paying a bank or credit card company.

How many loans can I take? By law, you can take as many loans as you want provided that they do not collectively exceed 50% of the account balance or $50,000. However, if you are taking a loan from a current company plan, you may be restricted to one loan per 12 month period.

What happens if I don’t pay the loan back? Any amount not re-paid under the note will be considered a distribution and any applicable taxes and penalties will be due by the account owner.

Can I take a loan from my IRA? No. The loan option is not available to IRA owners. However, if you are self-employed or are starting a new business you can set up a solo or owner only 401(k) (provided you have no other employees than the business owners and spouses) and you can roll your IRA or prior employer 401(k) funds to your new 401(k) and can take a loan from your new solo 401(k) account.

Can I take a loan from a previous employer 401(k) and use it to start a new business? Many large employer 401(k) plans restrict loans to current employees. As a result, you probably won’t be able to take a loan from the prior 401(k). You may, however, be able to establish your own solo or owner only 401(k) in your new business. You would then roll over your old 401(k) plan to your new solo/owner only 401(k) plan.

Can I take a loan from my Roth 401(k) account? Yes, so long as your 401(k) plan doesn’t restrict loans from the Roth account.

What if I have a 401(k) loan and change employers? Many employer plans require you to pay off any outstanding loans within 60 days of your last date of employment. If your new employer offers a 401(k) with a loan option or if you establish a solo/owner only 401(k), you can roll over your prior employer loan/note to your new 401(k).

The 401(k) loan option is a relatively easy and efficient way to use your retirement account funds to start a small business, to pay for non-traditional education expenses, or to consolidate debt to a better rate of interest. If you have more questions about accessing your 401(k) funds, please contact us at the law firm at 602-761-9798.

By: Mat Sorensen, Attorney & Author of The Self Directed IRA Handbook.