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How to Calculate 401(k) Cash Out Penalties

Two women discussing potential cash out penalties of their 401(k)

A 401(k) serves as a retirement savings plan sponsored by your employer, allowing you to contribute a part of your paycheck pretax. It plays a significant role in retirement planning due to its long-term savings accumulation and potential tax advantages. But what transpires when you need to access these funds before the stipulated time? You may encounter substantial early withdrawal penalties when tapping into your 401(k) before the age of 59.5. Here is how you can calculate what you’ll pay, but you might want to talk to a financial advisor and make sure this is a good decision for your long-term finances. 

What Happens When You Withdrawal 401(k) Funds Early?

Cashing out a 401(k) early might potentially seem like an easy process, involving notifying your plan administrator and completing requisite paperwork. However, the implications of such an action might be significant.

Many people who cash out their 401(k) early end up losing out on not just the money they had saved for retirement but also the money it could earn over the next several years. Plus, if you cash out before you’re 59 ½ years old then you’ll end up paying some penalties and fees for cashing out. It’s important to understand all of the consequences before making this decision and it isn’t one that should be taken lightly. 

How to Calculate Your Penalty for Cashing Out Your 401(k)

A woman calculating how much she will pay in penalties for cashing out her 401(k)

The standard penalty is 10% of the withdrawn amount. This means if you withdraw $10,000, your penalty would be $1,000. However, bear in mind that individual circumstances may alter these calculations and professional advice is advised.

To calculate your penalty, you’ll multiply the withdrawal amount by 10%. For instance, withdrawing $25,000 would result in a penalty of $2,500. However, there may be additional income tax you might owe, depending on your tax bracket and overall income. Although the penalties might seem overwhelming, consulting a financial advisor could help you understand the implications of these penalties better.

Potential Tax Consequences of Early Withdrawals

Early withdrawal can lead to unforeseen tax implications. The money you withdraw is added to your yearly taxable income, which potentially bumps you up to a higher tax bracket. This subsequently increases your tax liability

Depending on how much money you’re withdrawing, this could be a significant hit on your tax return this year. Some individuals might not be able to afford how much of a tax hit that could be to their personal financial situation. That’s why it’s important to understand the full picture of withdrawing these funds before taking the money for a short-term need. 

How to Avoid Early Withdrawal Penalties

To effectively dodge early withdrawal penalties, consider building an emergency fund catering to unexpected costs. Consider diversifying your savings in a way that provides easier access to funds, minimizing the need for early 401(k) withdrawals. The goal should be to keep money in your retirement account until retirement so anything you can do to avoid wanting to touch that money is important. 

Additionally, be aware of exceptions for early withdrawal penalties, such as severe financial hardships or certain medical expenses, among others.

Bottom Line

A woman calculating her penalties for cashing out her 401(k)

Understanding the implications of an early 401(k) withdrawal, which incorporates penalties and tax consequences, is crucial for informed financial planning. No single financial decision is inherently superior to another financial decision. It’s vital to evaluate the immediate need against the long-term impact. Once you know how much you’ll pay and how much you could miss out on by withdrawing your 401(k) fund then you can make a proper decision for you. 

Tips for Retirement Savings

  • When saving for retirement, it’s important to make sure you have the right investments that will lead to you hitting your long-term goals. A financial advisor can help you create that plan or manage your investments accordingly. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t need to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now
  • Not sure if you’re saving enough for retirement? Estimate what you’ll need with SmartAsset’s free retirement calculator

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