How My 401k Loan Cost Me $1 Million Dollars


401k loan broke piggy bankWhat could be wrong with a 401(k) 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.

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

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 happen to ME!

There are risks associated with taking out this type of loan that is not typical with other loans.

Sadly, most people never learn about these risks until it is too late. But I am hear to save you a lot of stress, headaches and tears.

How A 401k Loan Almost Ruined Me Financially

How To Get A 401k Loan

My husband and I bought our dream house when we were just 28 and 29 years old. We had an 18 month old and wanted more kids.

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

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.

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.

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.

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 to repay the 401k loan.

Then Came The Bad News

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, 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 The 401k Loan Taxes

That was until a year later in January of 2015.

We got a 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 $6,500. So the loan 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.

The Good News

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 owed the money to the IRS, I put it on a 0% interest 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 Our 401k Loan

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 when we took out the loan and that $25,000 would have had a ton of time to earn compound interest until we retired.

If we had left it where it should have been, we would have had a lot more money come retirement age.

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.

Still Considering A 401k Loan?

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. The difference between $25,000 at 25 yrs old and 35 yrs old is around $800,000.

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

I learned exactly how 401k loans work by going through this experience. For example:

  • You lose out on compound interest
  • It’s not a loan, it’s a withdrawal from your 401k
  • If you want to change jobs or lose your job, the loan has to be paid back in 60-90 days depending on your employer
  • If you can’t or don’t pay it back, the loan counts as income on your taxes

Final Thoughts

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.

Author Bio: 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.

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