How My 401k Loan Cost Me $1 Million Dollars

401k loan

401k loan

Today, I have a great guest post from a reader, Ashley Patrick. She asked if she could share her story with my audience, and I, of course, had to say yes! This is her personal story about how her 401k loan cost her a ton of money and why you shouldn’t take be borrowing from your 401k.

You’ve been thinking about getting a 401k loan.

Everyone says it’s a great loan because you are paying yourself back!

It sounds like a great low risk loan at a great interest rate for an unsecured loan.

But you know the saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

So you’re thinking, what’s the catch?

I take out a loan without having to do a withdrawal and I pay myself back. I’m paying myself back at a low interest rate right, so what’s wrong with that?

Well, I’m about to tell you how our 401k loan cost us $1,000,000 dollars.

You see, there are a lot of reasons to not take out a 401k loan and they all happened to ME!

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How My 401k Loan Cost Me $1,000,000

Let me start at the beginning….

My husband and I bought our dream house when we were just 28 & 29 years old. This was our second house and honestly, more house than we really should have bought. But you know, it had a huge 40×60 shop and we loved the house and property. So there we were buying a $450,000 house with a 18 month old.

This house was gorgeous on 10 acres of woods with floor to ceiling windows throughout the entire house.

So there we were with a $2200 a month house payment, an 18 month old in daycare, and both of us working full-time. Within 2 months of us buying this house we found out I was pregnant again! We had been trying for sometime so it wasn’t a surprise but there was a major issue with our new dream home.

The layout didn’t work for a family of 3. It was a small 2 bedroom with an in-law suite that didn’t connect to the main house.

There was a solution though. We could enclose a portion of the covered patio to include another bedroom and play area and connect the two living spaces.

The problem was this was going to cost $25,000. We certainly didn’t have that much in savings and the mortgage was already as high as it could go.

So what were we to do? We have numerous people that were “financially savvy” tell my husband that we should do a 401k loan. We would be paying ourselves back so, we weren’t “really borrowing” any money. It was our money and are just using it now and will pay it back later.

Our first issue with the loan

This seemed like a perfect solution to our problem. So we took out a $25,000 401k loan in the summer of 2013. I checked the 401k account shortly after the loan and realized they took the money out of the 401k. I was very upset about this and thought there must have been some mistake.

Come to find out, they actually take the money out of your 401k. So, it’s not earning any compound interest. I thought that the 401k was just the collateral. I didn’t realize they actually take the money out of it.

So, nothing else seemed like a good option so we just kept the loan. Construction was finished just in time for the arrival of our 2nd child. The layout is much better and much more functional for our family.

Everything seemed fine and the payments came out automatically from my husband’s paycheck.

Then issue #2 with 401k loans

Then came the second issue with the 401k loan…..

In January 2014, my husband was laid off from his job. So there we were with a newborn and a 2 yr old in an expensive house and my husband, the breadwinner, lost his job of 7 years. You know the one he never thought he would lose, so why not buy the expensive house? Ya, that one, gone.  

I cried about it but figured out how long our savings and severance package would last and knew we would be okay for several months.

Well, then we get a letter stating we have 60 days to payback the 401k loan, which at this point was over $20,000. We had made payments for less than a year out of the 5 year loan.

My husband didn’t have job yet and we didn’t have that much in savings. I certainly wasn’t going to use what was in savings to pay that loan either. I may have needed that to feed my children in a few months.

So, we ignored it because we couldn’t get another loan to pay it at this point.

Luckily, I married up and everyone loves my husband. So, he was able to find another job rather quickly.

We were thankful he had another job and didn’t think about the 401k loan again.

Then came issue #3

That was until a year later in January of 2015. Here came issue number three with 401k loans.

We got a nice tax form in the mail from his 401k provider. Since we didn’t/couldn’t pay back the loan in the 60 days, the balance counted as income. You know, since it actually came out of the 401k.

Then I did our taxes and found out we owed several thousand dollars to the IRS. We went from getting a couple thousand back to owing around $6500. So it cost us around $10,000 just in taxes. It even bumped us up a tax bracket and cost us more for taxes on our actual income as well.

I ended up putting what we owed on a 0% for 18 months credit card and chalked it up to a big lesson learned. I will never take out a 401k loan again.

The silver lining

In reality, my husband losing his job has been a major blessing in our lives. He is much happier at his new job. This also started my journey to financial coaching.

You see, when I put the taxes on the credit card, I didn’t have a plan to pay that off either. When I started getting the bills for it, I realized I had no idea how we would pay it off before interest accrued.

That led me to find Dave Ramsey. Not only did we have it paid off in a couple months, but we paid off all of our $45,000 debt (except the mortgage) in 17 months!

The true cost of 401k loans

Just recently I did the math and realized what our 401k loan really cost us.

It cost us $25,000 from our 401k and roughly about $10,000 in taxes. So that’s already $35,000 from the initial loan.

We were really young for that $25,000 to earn compound interest. If we had left it where it should have been, we would have had a lot more money come retirement age.

The general rule of thumb for compound interest is that the amount invested will double every 7 years given a 10% rate of return. And yes, you can earn an average of 10% rate of return after fees.

We were 28 and 29 years old when we took that loan out. If we say we would retire or start withdrawing between 65-70 years old, then that $25,000 cost us around $1 million dollars at retirement age.

Now yes, I could try to make up for the difference and try to put more in retirement but I’ve already lost a lot of time and compound interest. Even if we had $25,000 to put in retirement today to make up for it, I’ve already missed a doubling. 

But that won’t happen to me, so why shouldn’t I take out a 401k loan?

Life changes and now I am not working full-time and have an extra kid. So, thinking that you will pay it back later doesn’t always happen as fast as you think it will.  

Something always comes up and is more important at that time. So learn from my mistakes and don’t take out a 401k loan.

Actually, start saving as much as you can as young as you can. 

You may even be thinking that you aren’t quitting your job and will pay it all back, so no big deal, right? Actually you are still losing a ton of compound interest even if you pay the entire thing back.

The typical loan duration is 5 years. That’s almost a doubling of interest by the time it’s paid back in full. So, it may not be as dramatic as my example but you are still taking a major loss at retirement age.

The thing is, you have to figure in the compound interest. You can’t only look at the interest rate you are paying. You are losing interest you could be gaining at a much much higher rate than what you are paying on the loan.

Lessons Learned from my 401k loan

Some lessons I learned from taking out this 401k are:

  • Don’t miss out on compound interest
  • It’s not a loan, it’s a withdrawal
  • If you want to change jobs or lose your job, it has to be paid back in 60-90 days depending on your employer
  • If you can’t or don’t pay it back, it counts as income on your taxes

So if you are considering a 401k loan, find another way to pay for what you need. Cash is always best. If you can’t pay cash right now, wait and save as much as you can. This will at least limit the amount of debt you take on.

Determine if what you want is a need or a want. If it’s a want, then wait. A 401k loan should be used as an absolute need and last resort.

It keeps you tied to a job for the duration of the loan which is usually 5 years. This could limit your opportunities and put you in an even bigger hardship if you lose your job.

I hope you will learn from my mistakes and make an informed decision about these types of loans. Don’t be like me and make an ill-informed decision.

Ashley Patrick is a Ramsey Solutions Financial Master Coach and owner of Budgets Made Easy. She helps people budget and save money so they can pay off their debt.

What do you think of 401k loans? Have you ever taken one out?

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Gratitude in a Difficult Year

This year took so many twists and turns we haven’t been able to keep count– often leaving us in complete overwhelm with a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. Grief, anxiety, and sheer disappointment are just a handful that comes to mind when we reflect on the endless amount of curveballs life has thrown over the past year. Tragedy and loss plagued the entire world, leaving us speechless day after day. Despite the darkness that loomed for what seems like an eternity there has been an outpour of positives that we can’t forget to remember. As 2020 quickly comes to a close, let’s take the time to decompress and reflect on the happier moments we were lucky enough to live through and witness. Even though Thanksgiving may look less traditional than previous years, we still can readily name some things that shift our hearts to a place of gratitude.

Family first

Let’s face it – the hustle and bustle of life impact our family and friends more than we’d like to admit. Competing schedules, conflicts, and not making enough time for those that matter are often reasons why we are unable to nurture the people we hold near and dear. Because of restrictions on travel and other entertainment, we were forced to become more creative with our time indoors; in turn, helping us to restore the meaning of family and work-life balance. Quite frankly, it allowed us to hit the pause button on everything that probably was unintentionally too high on the priority list in the past. Our families served as the safety net it’s supposed to be when the weight of the world (and social media) became overbearing with less than desirable news. We utilized technology to a new degree when scheduling virtual happy hours, catch up sessions with our loved ones, and birthday celebrations in other geographic areas. It made us truly appreciate the very thing we took for granted; all the people that make up our family tribe.  

Curating and developing passions

2020 generated a newfound level of introspection, leaving our minds to really consider what it is that we really cherish the most. Whether it be career-related or new passion projects, this year made room for some much-needed self-reflection, making us reassess where our fulfillment really comes from. Leveraging books, social media outlets, and various streams of consuming knowledge-based information sent us on a path of rediscovery. Remember that ‘other’ to-do list that’s filled with the things you really don’t want to do around the house? It even made that list appear fun-filled! Home improvement projects and DIY tasks were done with enjoyment while being budget-friendly. Adulthood can be full of things that aren’t as exciting, but mustering up the courage to take ideas from ideation to execution served as a second wind. New business ventures and side hustles were birthed with unmatched creativity, a place many of us haven’t been in quite some time. Existing businesses were able to thrive despite the unprecedented events occurring nationally. Funding was also provided to various business owners which granted many small businesses to increase their visibility while positively generating profit. 

The importance of sustainment

There are a countless number of families that were impacted by job loss and/or unexpected expenses. It doesn’t matter if things started off rocky financially – what matters most is you’re still standing. Getting caught up on bills, eliminating some debt and saving are all things to be very proud of. Temporary hardships don’t have to turn into permanent problems. Creating a plan of action and sticking to it no matter what arises will always be rewarding. Celebrating the small wins should never be overlooked. We’ve all handled this year in different ways – but what’s most important is discovering what works for you. Rule of thumb for those that are battling with the ‘not enough’ emotions: don’t believe the hype. While there is a multitude of people accomplishing great things, there are also many imposters. Social media is a highlight reel, a virtual platform where people can share whatever information they choose, at their discretion. People are more likely to share their highs versus their lows, so be sure to keep in mind you may only be getting a small piece of the overall story. Don’t look at someone else’s life and fail to recognize what you’ve done on your own. Financial progress, no matter how insignificant you may think it is – is still progress. We all make financial missteps and life has a way of making things very difficult that hit us where it really hurts. Keeping your head above water, remaining afloat, maintaining your health, and providing for your family should never be considered a small feat. Grant yourself some grace and reflect on the dedication it took for you to get (and stay) where you currently are.

Back to the basics

This year forced us to really hone in on what matters and prioritize accordingly. This applies to our lives, but most importantly our finances. Pulling back the curtain to really take a look and evaluate where money was going served as a constant reminder that we should be doing this more than the occasional once or twice a year. It’s never too late (or too early) to create new money habits! Financial stability is essential – and maybe the cushion we imagined should be enough proved itself to be untrue. Our willingness to make changes at a faster rate to ensure the financial security of our families felt less painful and so much more intentional. The uncertainty of everything occurring allowed us to complain less while redefining comfort levels with our contingency plans.

No matter what has transpired this year, what are you most thankful for? As things come to mind be sure to jot them down. Reference them when your days seem laborious or when your feelings try to force you to reflect on things that aren’t as positive. It’s clear we don’t know what the future holds, but we do know (and have been reintroduced) to the moments, things, and people that continually keep us hopeful and thankful – no matter what lies ahead.

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Source: mint.intuit.com