Q. My house was damaged in a big storm, and I need to make major repairs, some of which won't be covered by homeowners insurance. Most of my savings are in my 401(k). Can I withdraw money from the account to cover the costs?
A. You generally can't withdraw money from a 401(k) until you leave your job. But because you need the cash for home repairs caused by storm damage, you may qualify for a hardship withdrawal. The rules for hardship withdrawals vary widely from plan to plan. Some plans don't allow them at all. Others let you take up to the amount you have contributed if you need the money to satisfy a "heavy and immediate financial need," according to the IRS, for major expenses such as home repairs resulting from a casualty loss (which includes storms, fires and floods), a home purchase or uninsured medical expenses. Your employer may require documentation of the cost.
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Instead, take a 401(k) loan. Generally, you can borrow 50 percent of your balance, up to $50,000, for any reason without taxes or penalty, and you have five years to repay the loan. The interest goes back into your account. One caveat: If you leave or lose your job, you usually have just 60 to 90 days to repay the loan or it's taxed and subject to a 10-percent penalty if you are younger than 55.
(Kimberly Lankford is a contributing editor to Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, $18.95). Send your questions and comments to email@example.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com. Kiplinger's has a new service to pinpoint the ideal time to claim Social Security to maximize benefits. Visit http://kiplinger.socialsecuritysolutions.com.)