Borrow from retirement accounts for house?

Don TaylorDear Dr. Don,
Aloha! I was reading a Q&A about taking out a loan from an individual retirement account and an article about taking out a loan from a 401(k) on Bankrate. Can I take out a loan from either an IRA or a 401(k)? My husband and I want to buy a house and we need money for the cash down payment. We both have more in our 401(k)s than our IRAs. We think we would like to take out about $25,000 from his 401(k), pay it off with another loan from my 401(k) within about 55 days and then pay back into my account as much as we can within 55 days after that. We're prepared to pay 10% penalty and taxes on the amount that we can't pay back immediately. I was hoping for more specifics about how we can do this.

Many thanks,
-- Kelly from Hawaii

House inside of a nest © iStock

Dear Kelly,
Aloha to you! This is actually a bit simpler than it might appear. But the truth is you cannot (technically) borrow from an IRA.

You may take the money out of your IRA as long as it's redeposited into a new IRA within 60 days. Then it won't be considered a distribution. There are no damaging tax implications or penalties. It is like a 60-day loan. But that wouldn't be your best approach.

Buying a home for the first time?

If you're a first-time homebuyer, you can take up to $10,000 out of your IRA to buy, build or rebuild a first home without the distribution being subject to the 10% penalty tax. If the contributions to the IRA were made with pretax dollars, you still owe income taxes on the distribution.

Borrow from 401(k)?

If your 401(k) plan permits it, you can borrow against your plan balance. The loan limit in a 401(k) plan generally is $50,000 or 50% of your vested account balance, whichever is less. The loan typically must be repaid within 5 years, unless the loan is used to buy the plan participant's principal residence, and then the repayment can take longer. Talk to your employers about loan options available to you from the 2 401(k) plans.

But be careful

The downside to a plan loan is that it comes due upon separation from service, meaning employment. If you are laid off, the loan comes due. If you're unable to pay it back, then the loan balance is considered an early distribution subject to both income taxes and the 10% penalty tax if you're underage.

Between the first-time homebuyer's provision in your IRAs and your ability to take out 401(k) plan loans, there's no need to play financial hot potato with an IRA rollover contribution to get a 60-day loan.

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