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401k Hardship Withdrawals - An Overview


A 401k retirement plan may, but is not required to, provide for hardship distributions. Again, most plans do, but some don't. Check with your Human Resources department if you're not sure if your plan allows hardship withdrawal.

Like a 401k loan, your employer must adhere to some very strict and detailed guidelines.

The IRS code that governs 401k plans provides for hardship withdrawals only if: (1) the withdrawal is due to an immediate and heavy financial need; (2) the withdrawal must be necessary to satisfy that need (i.e. you have no other funds or way to meet the need); and (3) the withdrawal must not exceed the amount needed by you.

Under the provisions of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, the need of the employee also may include the need of the employee's non-spouse, non-dependent beneficiary.

The following items are considered by the IRS as acceptable reasons for a hardship withdrawal:

  1. Medical care expenses for the participant, his/her spouse, dependents, or beneficiaries.
  2. Costs directly related to the participant's purchase of his/her principal residence (not including mortgage payments).
  3. Amounts necessary to prevent the participant's eviction from, or foreclosure on, the participant's principal residence.
  4. Funeral expenses for the participant, his/her spouse, dependents, or beneficiaries.
  5. Tuition and related expenses (fees, room and board, etc.) for the next 12 months of post-secondary education for the participant, his/her spouse, dependents, or beneficiaries.
  6. Expenses incurred to repair damage to the participant's principal residence*.

Hardship withdrawals are subject to income tax and, if you are not at least 59½ years of age, the 10% withdrawal penalty. You do not have to pay the withdrawal amount back.

A hardship distribution may not exceed the amount of the need. However, the amount required to satisfy the financial need may include amounts necessary to pay any taxes or penalties that may result from the distribution.

A Couple of Other Notes

The rules for hardship distributions from 403(b) plans are similar to those for hardship distributions from 401k plans.

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The information provided here is intended to help you understand the general issue and does not constitute any tax, investment or legal advice. Consult your financial, tax or legal advisor regarding your own unique situation and your company's benefits representative for rules specific to your plan.


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