Reasons Not to Borrow from Your 401k

Jun 11, 2023 By Susan Kelly

When 401k accounts became available, borrowing from them was considered a last resort. However, now it's become more accepted, but that doesn't mean you should take advantage of this borrowing opportunity. Borrowing from your 401k should be approached with caution and deliberation since there are a variety of potential risks and disadvantages.

We'll discuss the various reasons you should think twice before considering taking out a loan from your 401k account. We'll also provide alternative solutions to consider if you need financial assistance. Whether you've already started to borrow against your 401k or want to know what could happen if you make this decision, read on for all the details.

A loan from Your 401k

A loan from your 401k is an option many employers offer, allowing you to borrow a certain amount of money from your retirement savings account. You can use the borrowed funds for any purpose, though there are usually restrictions on how much you can borrow (generally at most 50 percent of your vested balance) and how long it can be paid back (typically five years or less).

When you take out a loan, interest accrues on the outstanding balance and must be repaid within the specified timeframe.

The Reasons Not to Borrow From Your 401k

Foregone Investment Returns

When you take out a loan from your 401k, the money is removed from potential investments, so you miss out on any potential returns that could have been earned during the loan period.

Fees and Penalties

Your 401k plan may charge fees to initiate a loan, taxes, and penalties if you cannot repay it in full or within the predetermined time frame.

Early Withdrawal Tax Consequences

Suppose you cannot repay your loan by the repayment date. In that case, it will be considered an early withdrawal from your account which can trigger tax consequences depending on your age and other qualifications for exceptions.

Reduced Contribution Limit

If you take out a loan from your 401k, you reduce your contribution limit for that year since the money is no longer being invested in the fund but used to repay the loan.

Lost Job Security

Taking a loan from your 401k can leave you in a vulnerable position if you lose your job or become disabled since any remaining balance is due within 60 days of leaving the company, which can be difficult to pay off without a source of income.

Reduction of Retirement Savings

When you borrow against your 401k account, that money is taken out of potential long-term retirement savings growth and thus reducing overall gains over time.

Repayment will cost you more than your original contributions

You must repay the loan plus interest when you borrow from your 401k. The interest rate on the loan may seem like little, but it adds up over time and can end up costing you more than your original contributions.

The negligible "interest rate" ignores opportunity costs

The "interest rate" on a 401k loan is often much lower than rates charged by other sources of borrowing. But this low-interest rate overlooks the opportunity cost of what you could earn if those funds were invested in the market instead of being loaned to yourself.

Possible Default and Tax Implications

If you fail to repay your loan as agreed, it will automatically default, which can trigger tax penalties. This occurs when the outstanding balance is treated as an early withdrawal from your account and taxed accordingly – meaning that you not only lose out on potential earnings but also may have to pay taxes.

You risk losing even more money if your financial condition worsens

If your financial situation changes and you cannot repay the loan, you will likely face additional taxes or penalties. This means that not only may you lose out on potential earnings when the money is taken out of your account, but now you're also losing more due to taxes and penalties.

You might be influenced by a loan to maintain bad financial habits

Borrowing from your 401k can give you a false sense of financial security. This could lead to more risky financial behaviors like overspending or taking out additional loans in the future.

You're unlikely to repay the loan quickly

The average repayment time for a 401k loan is five years. This means you need to catch up on potential growth in your account for an extended period.

Your monthly paychecks are squeezed

When you take out a 401k loan, the repayment will come from your monthly paychecks. This can impact your ability to cover other costs in your budget and may cause financial hardship if you are already living paycheck to paycheck.

For all these reasons, consider carefully whether or not borrowing from your 401k is the right choice for you. There may be other solutions that don't require depleting your retirement savings which should be explored before taking a loan against your 401k account.

If, after evaluating all options and costs involved, you still decide this is the best route for you, then make sure to have a solid repayment plan to avoid losing any of those hard-earned retirement savings.

Investigate alternatives to meet your financial needs without touching your retirement funds

Before considering a loan from your 401k, consider other options that better meet your needs. Here are some potential alternatives to consider:

  • Negotiating with creditors for more favorable terms
  • Examining other savings or investments
  • Looking into low-interest credit cards
  • Consulting with a financial adviser to explore other avenues of financing.

These alternative solutions can help you get the money you need without tapping into your retirement funds and potentially jeopardizing your future retirement security. It's important to ensure you have an emergency fund set up in the event of sudden unexpected expenses so you don't have to turn to depleting your retirement savings.


How do I withdraw money from my 401k before retirement?

If you qualify, you can take a loan against your 401k, make a hardship withdrawal, or rollover your funds into an IRA.

What happens if I don't repay my 401k loan?

If you fail to repay the loan as agreed, it will automatically default, which can trigger tax penalties. This occurs when the outstanding balance is treated as an early withdrawal from your account and taxed accordingly.

Can I move my 401k to a cash account?

You can move your 401k money to an IRA or other cash account. However, it's important to note that this may trigger taxes and penalties, so consult a financial adviser before making any decisions.


Understanding the implications of taking a 401(k) loan is important. Borrowing from retirement can become a costly mistake, and compounded funds lost in future earnings may affect retirement planning drastically. Consider conventional credit options, such as requesting a bank loan or utilizing an emergency fund first before taking out of your 401(k). Even if you decide to take a 401(k) loan as your best option, consult an expert financial advisor for specific advice.

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