The CARES Act makes it easier for Americans struggling with economic hardship from the coronavirus pandemic to withdraw money from their retirement accounts.

Should you take advantage of it? Experts typically advise against it, but the fallout from the crisis has left many people scrambling to pay their bills after being laid off or furloughed.

The new provisions from the CARES Act allow Americans to draw down money from tax-deferred accounts without penalties. It also relaxes rules on taking out a loan from a 401(k) savings plan.

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But there are factors to consider before rushing to tap into your retirement funds. Evaluate your short-term financial needs and potential tax implications when considering whether to withdraw money from your nest egg.

“People work hard for their retirement savings and you should dip into that as a last resort,” says Charlie Nelson, CEO of retirement and employee benefits at Voya Financial. “Americans need to think long and hard about other sources of savings first before withdrawing money from retirement funds.”

Unemployment: As coronavirus spread, the economy lost 701,000 jobs in March, breaking a 10-year string of gains

Coronavirus: How quickly can the economy bounce back?

Marc Walstedter of Danbury, Connecticut found out last month that he had been let go from his job. The 47-year-old was a sales director at Auction Simplified, a firm that provides software programs for auto dealers. The company came under financial pressure after auto dealerships shuttered due to the virus outbreak.

Now he’s worried about how he’s going to make his monthly $2,300 mortgage payment.

“Unemployment isn’t going to cover my mortgage payment,” Walstedter says. “My wife and I have already talked about dipping into our 401(k)s so that we can get by with our two kids.”

Experts advise taking a look at your expenses to identify where you can cut costs if you’re facing unemployment.

To be sure, pulling funds from retirement accounts out of fear isn’t the best immediate course of action, wealth advisors say. It’s a case-by-case basis. Do you have emergency savings? Are there opportunities to refinance student loan debt, mortgage or car payments? Investors should take advantage of lower rates first before they tap into their retirement funds, experts say.

Under the CARES Act, you can take out a 401(k) loan for up to $100,000, or if lower 100% of the vested account balance for the next six months. That’s up from a prior limit of $50,000, or if lower 50%. Individual retirement accounts don’t allow loans.

Typically, you have up to five years to repay a 401(k) loan. Now the new provision gives Americans an additional year to pay back the loan, raising the period to six years. Outstanding loans due between March 27 and Dec. 31 will also be extended by a year.

Experts say you could consider taking out a loan to tide you over if you’ve been furloughed, but are confident that you’ll be working again soon. A 401(k) withdrawal would make more sense for someone who has been laid off and doesn’t have a safety net or enough saved for basic expenses over the next three to six months, they said.

To be sure, if you lose your job, you could be on the hook for taxes for the amount borrowed for a loan.

The loan and withdrawal changes may provide current and future retirees more flexibility, but individuals need to understand the potential long-term financial consequences, experts say.

“You want to access your immediate savings first before you take out a loan or withdrawal from your 401(k),” says John Carter, president, and chief operating officer at Nationwide Financial. “History tells us that when markets rebound after a downturn, it typically happens fast. Tapping into your retirement funds may prevent you from benefiting over the long haul if you take out loans and stay out of the market.”

Full story on USA TODAY


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