Read this before you borrow from your 401(k) to purchase a home

Gina Pogol
The Mortgage Reports contributor

Some good reasons to borrow from your 401(k)

First-time homebuyers indicate that “saving for a down payment” is often the number one obstacle to homeownership.

Sure, some households manage to put money aside each month into savings, but with each passing year, and as home values climb, the required down payment size grows.

Not to mention closing costs.

This is one reason why buyers sometimes borrow from a 401(k) retirement plan.

When you borrow from your 401(k), you can get the money you want for a home in as little as a week and with nothing more than a phone call.

Plus, as you “pay yourself back,” you earn interest on your loan, which can make the 401(k) withdrawal seem like a good deal. But, is it, really?

Here’s what to know when you want to borrow from your 401(k) retirement plan to buy a home.

Start your home buying eligibility check here. (Sep 22nd, 2020)

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Just because you can borrow from your 401(k) to purchase a home doesn’t mean you should. Here’s why:

  • You may think you need to borrow from your 401(k) to have enough for a large down payment. However, you don’t actually need a large down payment to purchase a home.
  • A 401(k) loan is different from a withdrawal, and comes with some advantages.
  • However, if you borrow from your 401(k) and then leave the company for any reason, you will have just 60 days to repay the entire remaining balance. And you can’t contribute to your plan while you have the loan (and miss out on employer matches as well).

Borrow from your 401(k) to purchase a home

When you invest in a retirement program, such as 401(k), there’s no rule to prevent you from withdrawing your money before you actually retire.

You may have a life emergency, for example, which demands the use of your retirement monies.

These types of withdrawals are known as hardship withdrawals, and they come with a 10 percent tax penalty.

There’s also a provision which allows withdrawals to help with the purchase of a home. Rather than taking a hardship withdrawal, you can actually borrow from your 401(k) account with a promise to pay it back.

Arranging for a 401(k) loan can be quick. With just a phone call and some written notes to your plan’s administrator, money to purchase a home be wired to you in as little as a week.

However, just because you can borrow from your 401(k) to purchase a home, that doesn’t mean that you should.

Verify your mortgage eligibility (Sep 22nd, 2020)

The pitfalls of using 401(k) money to buy a home

There are some “gotchas” when you borrow from a 401(k) to purchase a home which could raise your total loan costs to a figure much higher than what you borrow.

As one example, during the period your 401(k) loan is outstanding, you’re typically prevented from making full contributions to your existing retirement plan.

This means that you could forgo up to 5 years of retirement fund contributions, which could make a significant impact on you later in life.

And, to compound matters, if your employer is one that matches 401(k) contributions, you miss out on those contributions to your retirement plan as well.

However, the biggest risk of borrowing against your 401(k) is one of the unforeseen circumstances.

Should you borrow against your 401(k) and then leave the company for any reason — including being let go — you will have just 60 days to repay the entire remaining balance of your 401(k) loan.

If you’re unable to make that repayment, the remaining balance is considered a taxable withdrawal and is, therefore, subject to a 10 percent tax.

When you borrow from a 401(k) to purchase a home, then, one of the only ways to “beat the market” is to keep your job through the period of the loan, and hope that the stock market loses value — or is at least flat — throughout the 5-year term of your loan.

Borrowing from a 401(k) loan is a legitimate long-term risk.

Verify your mortgage eligibility (Sep 22nd, 2020)

Why you don’t need to borrow from your 401(k)

When you borrow from a 401(k) to buy a home, the decision is based on the premise that a large down payment is needed to purchase a home.

That premise is false. You don’t need to put 20 percent down to purchase a home.

In today’s mortgage market environment, there is a bevy of low- and no-downpayment mortgage options available which make it simpler to purchase a home than during any period this decade.

There are no fewer than 7 low-down payment programs available to today’s home buyers. Nearly all are backed by the U.S. government, too, which means that they’re not going away soon.

  • The VA loan (Department of Veterans Affairs) allows 100 percent financing
  • The FHA loan (Federal Housing Administration) allows a 3.5 percent down payment
  • The FHFA, which runs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, requires just 3 percent down
  • The HomeReady™ program (Fannie Mae) requires just 3 percent down payment
  • The Conventional 97 loan (Fannie Mae) allows 3 percent down
  • The USDA loan (U.S. Department of Agriculture) requires 0 percent down
  • The Good Neighbor Next Door program (HUD) allows for $100 down

The newest of these low- and no-down-payment programs is the HomeReady™ mortgage, which is the most flexible, allowing income from all members who live in a household; and, providing below-market mortgage rates to qualified borrowers.

You can read a complete HomeReady™ Q&A here.

With so many options to purchase a home with less than 20 percent down, then, there is often little need to borrow from a 401(k). When you borrow from a 401(k), you put yourself at risk.

Personal loans: an alternative to 401(k) borrowing

If you need down payment funds, you can borrow them via a personal loan.

You’ll just have to have enough income to qualify for the payment when you apply for your mortgage.

Personal loans are fast, and can help you avoid mortgage insurance. Simply pay off the loan when you have the funds available.

How do I know if I qualify to buy a home?

Mortgage rates are low, which makes for low mortgage payments. And, in many cities, now it’s less expensive to purchase than to rent.

Get a home buying eligibility check to see if you qualify to buy with and without removing your 401(k) funds.

Verify your mortgage eligibility (Sep 22nd, 2020)