Earlier access to penalty-free funds
Tapping an IRA early can be cumbersome and expensive. You basically have two choices: Take the amount you want and, if you're under age 59½, pay a 10 percent penalty plus income tax on the withdrawal. Or, set up a 72(t) distribution, which mandates regular withdrawals for at least five years, but limits the amounts to a tiny slice of your savings.
But if you are laid off or take early retirement at age 55 or after, you can tap your 401(k) without penalty, says Choate. "But that only applies to company plans."