Also, when you pay yourself back, you'll be using after-tax money. Most 401(k) plans are funded with pre-tax money that gets taxed when you take distributions at retirement. The after-tax money that you repay the loan with gets mixed up with the pretax money, and you will have to pay taxes on it again.
In most cases, you have to pay the loan back within five years. Should you lose your job, your loan may be payable within 60 days (depending on your plan's rules), or it may be considered a distribution on which you'll have to pay taxes and penalties.
Try not to plunder your IRAs either. You generally can't borrow from a traditional IRA, but certain hardship provisions enable you to take distributions without paying a penalty. However, taxes will be due. With Roth IRAs that are funded with after-tax contributions, your contributions can be withdrawn tax free, but earnings will be taxed and subject to a penalty if you are under age 59½ or have had the account for fewer than five years.
Again, it's almost never a splendid idea to raid retirement funds.
Watch out for sharks
Be careful not to fall prey to quick and easy money loaned at usurious rates. These include cash advances on credit cards, payday loans and refund anticipation loans. All offer convenience -- and charge high fees.
"If you get into one of those options and you haven't changed the way you think about money, you haven't changed your spending habits, you risk getting into a worse situation than you were in before," says Harrine Freeman, author of "How to Get Out of Debt."
"Payday loans are just wrong all the way around," says Freeman, "because they charge so much in interest. Most people end up owing more money because of all the fees."
Cash advances also involve fees, plus the interest rate is higher and accrues for a longer period than lower-interest-rate obligations.
These legal borrowing options usually offer terms reminiscent of those from loan sharks. While you won't be visited by thugs who threaten to break your limbs, your finances will definitely be hurting if you use them.