July 23, 2024
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‘The rainy day fund is drying out, credit cards are mounting’: I’m thinking of tapping my 401(k) to pay off two cars and my house. Is this the right move?

Hi Money Minder,

How can I assist you today?

Alright, Money Minder, I really need some advice. I’ve been out of work since February, and things are getting tight. My rainy day fund is almost gone, credit card debt is stacking up, and it’s time to make some tough calls.

I’m just over 50 years old, and I’ve got about $400k saved in my 401k, plus a small pension and Social Security. If I shell out around $130k, I could completely pay off my house and two cars. Those payments take up about 60% of our monthly expenses. So, I’m thinking if I clear those debts, it would open up more job opportunities for me.

Without those big bills hanging over our heads, my partner and I could probably get by on part-time work for a while. Ideally, I’ll land a job making over $100k annually in the Midwest so I can start rebuilding the 401k, since we’d be free of those hefty monthly payments.

Pulling out $130k now feels better than taking smaller amounts like $10k-$20k just to stall for time while still drowning in payments. I know I’ll face penalties and that money won’t be growing anymore, but maybe the interest savings on those loans could balance things out a bit.


Finding My Way

Response from THE MONEY MINDER:

"Hello There,"

I’m sorry to hear about the challenging situation you’ve found yourself in. It’s clear that you’ve given this a lot of thought, and you deserve recognition for planning carefully during a tough time. You have some significant resources available, and it’s important to make the best use of them.

Firstly, taking money out of your 401k can indeed alleviate your immediate financial pressure, but it’s crucial to weigh the long-term implications. The penalties and taxes associated with early withdrawal are substantial, and the opportunity cost of losing future earnings on that amount can be significant. However, the scenario you’re describing, where paying off your house and cars would drastically reduce your monthly cash flow needs, does have merit. This could provide you with the flexibility to seek out part-time or lower-paying jobs without the immense pressure of hefty living expenses, which in turn could help manage your stress levels and overall well-being.

A key point to consider is whether the act of liquidating a portion of your 401k aligns with your long-term retirement goals. If your potential job opportunities in the Midwest would indeed allow you to replenish your 401k swiftly due to the significantly reduced living costs, this could be a viable plan. Before making such a decision, it would be prudent to consult a financial advisor who can run through different scenarios and ensure that you’re accounting for all factors, including market conditions, penalties, and the time it would take to rebuild your savings.

Additionally, you might explore other intermediate steps before making withdrawals. For instance, could you refinance your home or negotiate for a lower interest rate, thereby reducing your monthly mortgage payments? Are there temporary adjustments you can make to your lifestyle to stretch your rainy day fund a little further? Could consolidating your credit card debt at a lower interest rate be an option?

Furthermore, before you make any irreversible decisions, check if you qualify for any unemployment benefits, government programs, or community assistance that could temporarily support your financial situation. Sometimes these resources can provide the breathing room you need without having to dip into retirement funds.

In summary, while leveraging your 401k to pay off large debts can seem like a straightforward solution, it’s essential to carefully evaluate all the repercussions with a professional. A detailed financial plan can provide clarity and help you navigate this decision in a way that protects your long-term financial health.

Good luck with your decision-making process, and don’t hesitate to reach out for personalized financial advice.

Farewell from THE MONEY MINDER.

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