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Cashing Out 401k – Early Withdrawal Rules and Penalties

Last Update Date : April 29, 2019
Estimated Read Time: 6 min

Cashing Out 401k Withdrawal Penalty

Saving for your retirement years is always a wise financial decision.  However, sometimes life throws situations your way which may require early withdrawal of your funds from your 401(k) or traditional IRA. Read this guide by H&R Block India to know more about the rules for early withdrawal and the associated penalties.

401K Early Withdrawal Rules

Many people have some form of retirement savings plans, such as 401(K) or Individual Retirement Account(IRA).  The best benefit of these retirements plans is the tax deductions on the contributions.

While the age for retirement is 59 ½ , those who retire at the age of 55 can also withdraw their funds without facing penalties as well as those in public safety can retire as early as 50 years and withdraw the funds.  At the age of retirement and withdrawal of these funds, they are taxed, but as many are in a lower tax bracket, the tax liability is significantly less.  However, these tax benefits are only applicable if all the rules of the plans are followed.  If for any reason, a person was to withdraw these funds prematurely, then the penalties levied are heavy.

[ Read more: Withdrawal of 401K ]

401(k) Withdrawal Form

To report your withdrawal or early withdrawal of your 401(k) or IRA, you need to use IRS Form 5329 to report the amount of early distribution.  This will need to be filed along with your 1040 when you file your annual tax return.

Withdrawal Form 401K

Click to Download Withdrawal Form

Penalty for Cashing Out 401K

If your 401(K) is withdrawn before the age of 59 ½ then the amount withdrawn will not only attract tax, but there is an 10% additional penalty imposed on the withdrawn amount. So, for example, as shown below, if a person at the age of 35, was to withdraw $50,000 of their 401(K) or IRA, then the amount of taxes that are cut is almost half at $21,000.

Penalties for Early Withdrawal of 401kYou not only lose a major chunk of your savings to taxes, but your retirement funds shrink considerably, which may result in difficulties during your retirement.

What reasons can you withdraw from 401k without penalty?

Under certain circumstances, there are provisions for premature or hardship withdrawal options without penalties, which are listed below:


If you, your spouse, children or grandchildren, wish to pursue higher education, then you can qualify to take an IRA distribution.  The amount withdrawn to pay for tuition, books, etc., will be taxed as normal income, but there will be no extra penalty.

Purchase of First Home

As per the IRS, a first home buyer is loosely defined as a person has not held ownership interest for the past two years.  You can withdraw up to $10,000 of your IRA without attracting any penalties, towards the purchase of your first home.  This option can again be availed by your spouse, children, parents etc., even if you, yourself have previously used this option towards the purchase of your first home.

Cover Medical Expenses

If you are unable to get reimbursed for your medical expenses and the expenses equal to more than 10% of your adjusted gross income for the relevant year, then you can withdraw them from you IRA without facing any penalties.


By opting for 72T of the IRS tax code, you can take a “Series of Substantially Equal Periodic Payments” from your IRA without penalties levied.  This means that you will receive continuous payments for, the longer of, five years or until you reach 59 ½ years of age.  But the drawback to this is that you have to take the calculated distribution amount for the entire duration, even if the money is no longer needed.

Other Hardship Withdrawal Reasons

  • Repairs to Primary Residence
  • Funeral/Burial
  • Prevention of Foreclosure/Eviction from Primary Residence

The hardship withdrawal form (sample shown below) will need to be submitted to your employer to request a withdrawal from your 401(k) or IRA funds.

Withdrawal Form - Hardship

Other Penalty Free Options

401k Loan

With the permission of your employer, you can borrow up to the lesser of, $50,000 or half of your 401(K).  The borrowing interest rate is a few points above the prime rate.  You pay the interest and principle to yourself and they get deducted out of your salary, monthly.  The term is normally five years, but if the borrowed amount is for the purpose of securing a down payment on place of residence, then the term can be extended for up to fifteen years.

The best and most obvious benefit to this is, since you are borrowing from yourself, there is no credit check and nothing appears on your credit report. The interest, which is usually lower than the market rate, is paid to yourself.  However, the drawback is that if you change jobs or you are fired, your loan amount will be due immediately (within 60-90 days) and if you are unable to pay it back, then the IRS will issue a penalty.  Additionally, your retirement funds get depleted.

IRA Rollover

If you are in need of immediate cash for a short duration, then you can choose to roll-over the amount into a new IRA.  The new account must have the rolled over amount within 60 days and during this interim period, the money is free for you to use as you wish.  However, at the end of 60 days, the amount must be deposited into the new account else the IRS will see it is an early withdrawal and all penalties and taxes will be applicable.

Why is it Not a Good Idea to Make Early Withdrawal of 401(k)?

While, there are options available to you, when you are in a financial crisis to utilize your retirements savings, it is best not to withdraw prematurely, as not only do you face taxes and penalties, but your retirement future is also at risk.  So, if faced with life’s difficult situations, instead of dipping into your 401(K) or IRA, explore other options, such as loans or invest in other low-cost funds, which you can access during emergency situations.

People Also Ask

Q. What age can I withdraw 401(k)?

A. The retirement, while set at 59 ½ years, a person can withdraw from their 401(k) as early as 55 years of age.

Q. What is the tax rate for 401(k) withdrawal?

A.  If you withdraw your 401(k) at the age of retirement, you will be taxed as per normal income slab rates.  If situations of early withdrawal, the amount withdrawn will be added to your income, plus a 10% penalty imposed with federal and state taxes also levied..

Q.  What is the penalty for cashing out IRA

A.  The same penalty rules apply to early withdrawal of IRA.  The amount withdrawn will be added to your annual income and an additional 10% penalty will be levied.

How H&R Block Can Help You?

Growing old with your loved one and enjoying your golden years in comfort is a blessing, which should not be ignored or taken for granted. Diversify your investment options wisely and for maximizing your tax savings and expert tax planning, enlist the aid of your personal U.S Expat tax expert at H&R Block India.

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Anshu Jain
Anshu Jain is the Manager, Offshore Operations at H&R Block (India). She holds an MBA in Finance and has an experience of over ten years in business operations, U.S. tax advisory and program management. When she is not working, Anshu enjoys reading and writing about U.S. taxation.

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