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.