The Pros and Cons of Borrowing Against a 401(k) for a Down Payment on a Mortgage

If you’re in the market for a new house, you might be wondering if you can tap into your workplace 401(k) to cover the down payment. The short answer is yes, but there are definite disadvantages in doing so. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons to this approach.

Benefits of Borrowing from a 401(k) to Make a Down Payment on a House

  • You’re borrowing from yourself rather than another lender, which means you might not be losing as much money on interest payments as you would if you acquire the funds through other means, like taking out a larger home loan to cover your down payment costs.
  • The loan approval is typically hassle-free. Provided your workplace plan allows for loans, and you do indeed have sufficient funds in your 401(k), your credit score and other financial credentials shouldn’t impact your ability to borrow against it.
  • The process is typically quick. Every plan is different and works on its own timeframe, but once you’ve decided to borrow from your 401(k), it’s usually just a matter of filling out a few forms to gain quick access to the funds.
  • More money for a down payment may equal more options. Borrowing against your 401(k) plan will allow for a larger down payment, which will allow for wider options when it comes to mortgage lenders. It could also help you qualify for a better interest rate as well as help you dodge Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

A Note on PMI

PMI is customarily required when you have a conventional loan and make a down payment of less than 20 percent of the home’s purchase price. The most common way to pay for PMI is a monthly premium that is added to your mortgage payment.  Because it protects the lender and not the borrower, many home owners want to avoid this added expense, but some choose to see it as just another expense of owning a home.

Disadvantages of Borrowing from a 401(k)

  • You are diminishing your retirement savings, both in its immediate drop in balance and its future growth potential. Most likely, the return on investment (ROI) you would gain by keeping your money invested would be greater than the ROI from the interest you pay yourself (or the appreciation on your house).
  • Your budget will take a hit. You are required to repay the 401(k) loan, which means that a portion of your future paychecks will go toward repayment. That means less money at your disposal for other expenses, such as homeownership costs.
  • You will be on a repayment deadline. Borrowers typically get five years to repay a 401(k) loan. Depending on the size of your loan, you could potentially face large monthly payments in order to meet the repayment deadline.
  • Inability to repay the loan will result in penalties. Your loan will be treated as a withdrawal if you are unable to pay it back in full by the deadline, which means that you will owe income taxes on it. You will also be subject to a 10% penalty associated with early withdrawals unless you were older than 59 ½ when you took the money out.
  • Beware of the cost of leaving your job before the loan is paid. If you quit your job or experience a layoff, the entire loan amount will need to be paid by the due date for filing taxes that year. This could result in a need to repay the loan quickly in order to avoid penalties.

Smart Money Moves and Goals for Financial Progress in 2021

The beginning of a new year has long been associated with starting from a blank slate and setting new goals for the year ahead. While 2020 taught us that plans and goals can quickly veer off course through no fault of our own, maybe 2021 can teach us the value of planning anyway—even in the face of the unknown. The financial tasks set forth below will help you pay down debts, save money, and better prepare you for whatever 2021 has in store.

File Your Tax Return ASAP

Not only does filing early help stave off refund-hungry thieves, but, generally, the sooner you file the sooner you get your refund. If you’re planning on owing the IRS, it’s better to know early and make arrangements for payment.

Given the unemployment plunge of 2020, keep in mind that unemployment checks are typically taxable, so if you received extended jobless benefits, be prepared to face a potentially greater-than-expected tax bill.

Check Your Withholding

You can use an online income tax calculator to estimate how much you’ll owe in federal taxes. Use your prepared 2020 tax return and your first pay stub from 2021 to check that you’re on track with tax withholding. If not, the calculator can help work out adjustments to your paycheck, and you can contact your employer if you need to make changes.

If you’re a business owner, you may need to make estimated quarterly payments. Tax professionals can help you work out amounts and details.

Get Organized

There’s no time like the present to organize your financial life. All those paper receipts and statements scattered on desktops or tossed into random drawers? Corral them into labeled file folders, baskets, or envelopes. If you want to shed the paper clutter all together, go digital with an accounting software like QuickBooks. A digital snapshot of your finances will help you gain a better grasp for where you are financially before setting new goals.

Commit to Saving in a Realistic Way

Instead of just thinking about saving, commit to establishing a habit of saving by striving for a concrete goal. Set the amount and time frame for your goal, then come up with actionable steps on how you’re going to reach it. For instance, set up an automatic draft from checking into savings, take on a side hustle, and/or comb through your budget to see where extra funds could be found. In order to set yourself up for success from the get-go, be sure to be realistic. A goal of $100,000 in five years might be realistic for some people, while beginning with a goal to save $50 a month will be more on par for others.

Create a Budget

First, look back over bank and credit card statements from last year to help identify spending patterns and areas of improvement. Next, set a budget. Think of your budget as a roadmap of how you’ll save and spend your money, starting with essentials, such as mortgage, food, utilities, and healthcare; then move to recreation and savings. Keep in mind that your budget has movable parts, meaning life circumstances can change, even month to month.

Start an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is exactly what it sounds like—funds set aside for an unexpected cost like car or home repairs. At the minimum you should aim for $1,000 to be put into an emergency fund, and try to work your way to saving three months’ worth of income.

Spend Your Medical FSA Early Rather than Later

If you have an employer-provided flexible spending account, spending it as early in the year has possible has a few advantages, including:

  • Acquiring medical expenses early in the year can help you meet insurance deductibles, so the rest of your health care can cost less.
  • If you leave your job at any point during the year, you can spend the full amount you had planned to contribute—up to $2,750—and aren’t required to finish making the full FSA contribution.
  • You mitigate the risk of not using the full amount by the deadline and potentially losing money.

Consult a Financial Advisor

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a millionaire to seek professional guidance from a financial advisor. Whether you’re looking for a one-time consultation or on-going advice, someone in the know can help set you on the path for long-term planning.