Running Low on Money? Congress Has Made it Easier for You to Tap Your Retirement Savings

Article Highlights:

  • COVID-19 Tax Benefits 
  • Retirement Plan Withdrawals 
  • Waiver of 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty 
  • Retirement Plan Loans 
  • Roth IRAs 
  • Other Sources of Income 
  • Way to Reduce Payments 
If you are struggling financially due to the COVID-19 epidemic, you will be happy to know Congress, as part of the CARES Act enacted on March 27, has made it easier for you to access your retirement funds during this emergency.

Normally, withdrawals from traditional IRAs and qualified plans such as 401(k)s, self-employed pension plans (SEPs), tax sheltered annuities (TSAs), etc., are taxable when withdrawn and subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty if withdrawn before you turn age 59½.

For the rest of 2020, you will be able to tap those accounts for up to $100,000 and avoid the 10% penalty, although the distributions will still be taxable. To qualify, you, your spouse or a dependent must have been diagnosed with either SARS-CoV-2 or the COVID-19 virus or have been quarantined, lost your job, had your hours reduced or are unable to work due to lack of child care. To ease the taxes on these distributions, you can choose to have distributions taxed 1/3 in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Or, if your income is very low in 2020, it might be better to tax a distribution entirely in 2020. That is a decision that can be made when you file your 2020 tax return. You also have the option of paying the distribution back over a three-year period.

Another available option is taking a loan of up to $100,000 from a qualified plan (does not apply to IRAs). Congress has increased the maximum amount that can be borrowed from $50,000 to $100,000 through December 31, 2020. Taking a loan avoids both the 10% early distribution penalty and the income tax on the distribution. However, it will have to be paid back over five years.

If you have a Roth IRA, you may be able to tap it without any tax or penalty liability at all, since the contributions were made with after-tax money. Therefore, there are no taxes or penalties when distributed. Contributions are distributed first to the extent of your original contributions, and that portion of the distribution is tax-free and penalty-free. However, there is a caveat: if you have previously converted a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, the converted funds must remain in the IRA for five years after the conversion in order to avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty. The first and last year of the five-year period do not need to be full years. Luckily, the converted funds are distributed after the regular contributions. Of course, if you work your way down to the earnings, that portion of the distribution is taxable and subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under the age of 59½.

Tapping your retirement funds is never a good idea unless there isn’t any other option. It is recommended that you tap retirement funds only as a last resort—if you must dip into these funds, limit the amount to what you actually need. You are not restricted to a single distribution, so you can take out funds as your need dictates. Look for other sources of funds, such as home equity loans, reverse mortgages, insurance cash value, family loans, unemployment compensation, selling unused assets, etc. If your business has been interrupted, you may qualify for an SBA loan.

Look for ways to limit your expenses. Many lenders are allowing loan payments to be deferred and tacked on to the end of the loan. Certain auto financing institutions and auto dealers are allowing payments to be deferred and waiving late fees. Some landlords are reducing rents during the crisis. In some regions, evictions have been suspended for a period of time.

If you need assistance or have questions about how all these law changes might apply to you, please call to schedule a tele-appointment.

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