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College Students and Recent Grads, Life Events, Pay Down My Debt

What is a 401(k) Loan and How Does it Work?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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If you’re in need of money and your savings account balance is low, you may be tempted to use the handy little loan provision that most 401(k) plans offer. That’s right! You can probably borrow money from your 401(k). Right from your own account! It’s a nifty feature, but is it a good idea?

Today we’re going to start examining that question by diving into what exactly a 401(k) loan is and how it works. The next post in this series will look at a few situations in which borrowing from your 401(k) can work in your favor.

Let’s get into it!

Quick note: Every 401(k) plan has different terms and conditions and some plans don’t allow for loans at all. Consult your Summary Plan Description for specific details about how your plan handles loans.

What Is a 401(k) Loan?

When you borrow from your 401(k) you are actually borrowing money directly from yourself.

The loan is taken directly out of your 401(k) account balance. Then a repayment plan is created based on the amount you borrowed and the interest rate and those payments are made back into your 401(k) account, typically through an automatic payroll deduction.

In other words, you are borrowing from yourself and paying yourself back. Both the principal and the interest on the loan eventually make their way back into your 401(k).

How Much Can You Borrow?

Figuring out how much you can borrow from your 401(k) can be a little tricky, but here’s a quick summary.

If you haven’t had any outstanding 401(k) loan balance within the past 12 months, you are allowed to borrow the lesser of:

  • $50,000, or
  • 50% of your vested 401(k) balance. If that amount is less than $10,000 then you can borrow up to $10,000, but never more than your total account balance.

Sounds simple, right? But wait, there’s more…

If you have had an outstanding 401(k) balance within the past 12 months, the amount you’re allowed to borrow is reduced by the largest balance you had over that period.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Example #1: Joe has $25,000 in his 401(k) and has not had a 401(k) loan balance within the past 12 months. He is allowed to borrow up to $12,500.
  • Example #2: Theresa has $15,000 in her 401(k) and has not had a 401(k) loan balance within the past 12 months. She is allowed to borrow up to $10,000.
  • Example #3: Becca has $150,000 in her 401(k) and has not had a 401(k) loan balance within the past 12 months. She is allowed to borrow up to $50,000.
  • Example #4: Steve has $25,000 in his 401(k) and did have a 401(k) loan balance of $5,000 within the past 12 months. He is allowed to borrow up to $7,500.

What Is the Interest Rate?

Each 401(k) plan is allowed to set their own loan interest rate. You should consult your Summary Plan Description or ask your HR rep for details about your specific plan.

However, the most common interest rate is the prime rate plus 1%.

What Can the Money Be Used For?

In many cases there are no restrictions on how you use the money. It can be put to work however you want.

But some plans will only lend money for certain needs, such as education expenses, medical expenses, or a first-time home purchase.

How Long Do You Have to Pay the Loan Back?

Typically, your 401(k) loan must be paid back within 5 years. If the loan is used to help buy a house, the term may be extended up to 10-15 years.

The catch is that if your employment ends for any reason, the entire remaining loan balance is typically due within 60 days. If you aren’t able to pay it back within that time period, the loan defaults.

What Happens If You Default on the Loan?

A 401(k) loan defaults any time you aren’t able to comply with the terms of the loan. That could be failing to make your regular payments or failing to repay the remaining loan balance within 60 days of leaving the company.

When that happens, the remaining loan balance is counted as a distribution from your 401(k). That has two big consequences:

  1. Unless you’re already age 59.5 or meet other special criteria, that money will be taxed and hit with a 10% penalty.
  2. The defaulted amount is not eligible to be rolled over into an IRA or other employer retirement plan. So there’s no way to avoid the taxes and penalty.

The good news is that the default is not reported to the credit bureaus and therefore has no impact on your credit score. Though if you’re applying for a mortgage or other loan, the lenders may ask about any 401(k) loan defaults and factor that into their decision.

How Do You Apply for a 401(k) Loan?

And as long as you have a vested 401(k) balance, the process loan application process is typically pretty simple.

Other than adhering to any specific restrictions your plan may enforce (see above), it’s usually as easy as requesting the loan. That can often be done online or at worst with a little paperwork through your human resources department.

There is no credit check for 401(k) loans, which can make them easier to get than other types of loans. And loans must be available to all employees, so you should be able to get approved no matter what your position is in the company.

Other Considerations

Here are a few other things to consider as you weigh the pros and cons of taking out a 401(k) loan:

  • Other than the possibility of default, the biggest potential cost is the missed investment returns while the money is out of your 401(k). Depending on the size of the loan and the market returns during the life of the loan, that could be significant.
  • Your spouse often has to sign off on the loan.
  • You can have more than one 401(k) loan out at a time, but the total loan balance can’t exceed the limits described above.
  • There may be a fee involved with taking out the loan.
  • Your loan payments do not count as 401(k) contributions, and your employer may or may not allow you to keep contributing to your 401(k) while your loan is outstanding.
  • Because the loan is not reported to credit agencies, a 401(k) loan is not a way to build your credit history or increase your credit score.
  • You typically cannot take a loan from a 401(k) you still have with an old employer.

Is a 401(k) Loan a Good Idea?

Those are the nuts and bolts of 401(k) loans, so is taking out a 401(k) loan a good idea? The answer is a definite maybe. There are times where it can be the best option, times where it’s a bad idea, and times where it can actually increase your overall investment return. Regardless, you should be sure to do a deep analysis and determine if you will definitely be able to pay the loan back in a timely manner before utilizing the 401(k) loan.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Matt Becker
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Matt Becker is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Matt here

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College Students and Recent Grads

Top Checking Accounts for College Grads

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

For many college students, their default banking option while in school is a student checking account, which is typically free. Unfortunately, when you graduate you lose those benefits. Many student checking accounts will begin to charge you monthly maintenance fees unless you meet certain requirements.

So, where do you go from there?

Few young adults would turn to their parents for fashion or dating advice and, yet, one of the most common ways we’ve found young people choose their bank account is by going with whichever bank their parents already use. This could be a bigger faux pas than stealing your dad’s old pair of parachute pants.

The bank your parents use may carry fees or have requirements that don’t meet your lifestyle or budget, and make accounts expensive to use.

But where do you even begin to choose the right checking account?

When you’re nearing graduation, start planning your bank transition.

Many banks send a letter in the mail a few months prior to your expected graduation date informing you that your student checking account is going transition to a non-student account. If you’re not careful and you disregard the letter, you may be transitioned into an account that charges a fee if you don’t meet certain requirements.

You can always call the bank and ask to switch to a different account or you can choose a new account that offers more benefits, like interest and ATM fee refunds.

Account Name

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

Simple$0$0None1.75% - 1.90% depending on balance
Aspiration Spend and Save Account$0$50Unlimited1.00% APY
Discover Bank$0$0NoneNone, but 1% cash back on up to $3,000 debit card purchases per month
Ally Bank$0$0Up to $10 per statement cycle 0.10% to 0.50% APY depending on balance
Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking$0$0Unlimited ATM reimbursements5.09% on balances up to $10,000,
0.20% APY on balances between $10,000 and $25,000 and 0.10% APY on balances over $25,000
La Capitol Federal Credit Union Choice Plus Checking$0(if less than $1,000, there is a $8 fee)$50Up to $25 per month4.25% APY on balances up to $3,000 2.00% APY on balances $3,000-$10,000 and 0.10% on balances over $10,000
TAB Bank Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking$0$0Up to $15 in ATM fees reimbursed4.00% APY (applies to balances up to $50,000)
T-Mobile Money$0$0None4.00% APY (applies to balances up to $3,000)

The 5 key things you should look for in a checking account

When you’re shopping around for a new checking account, there are several things you should look for to ensure you’re getting the most value from your account:

  1. A $0 monthly fee: Sometimes banks may say they don’t charge a monthly fee but read the fine print — they may require a minimum monthly balance in order to avoid it. There are plenty of free checking accounts available for you to open, so there’s no reason to stay stuck with an account that charges a monthly fee. Take note, as some accounts may require you to meet certain criteria to maintain a free account like using a debit card, enrolling in eStatements or maintaining a minimum daily balance.
  2. No minimum daily balance: Accounts without minimum daily balances mean you can have a $0 balance at any given time. This may allow you to have a free account without meeting balance requirements — although other terms may apply to maintain a free account.
  3. Annual Percentage Yield: APY is the total amount of interest you will earn on balances in your account. Opening an account that earns you interest on your balance is an easy way to be rewarded for money that would typically sit without earning anything. You should definitely aim to earn a decent APY on your savings account.
  4. ATM fee refunds: You may not be able to access an in-network ATM at all times, so accounts providing ATM fee refunds can reimburse you for ATM fees you may incur while using out-of-network ATMs. Those $3 or $5 charges add up!
  5. No or low overdraft fees: Most banks charge you an overdraft fee of around $35 if you spend more money than you have available in your account. Therefore, it’s a good idea to choose an account that has no or low overdraft fees.

Top overall checking accounts for college grads

For the top overall checking accounts, we chose accounts that have no monthly service fees, no ATM fees, refunds for ATM fees from other banks, interest earned on your deposited balances and with strong mobile banking apps. While there is no all-inclusive account that contains every benefit, the accounts below are sure to provide value whether you want a high interest rate, unlimited ATM fee refunds or 24/7 live customer support.

1. Simple

Cash management app Simple acts as a hybrid checking and savings account with a generous APY and no fees. It features unlimited transfers between your checking account and Protected Goals account, as well as high APYs ranging from 1.75% on balances under $10,000 to 1.90% on balances over $10,000. Simple also provides fee-free access to 40,000 ATMs – although it doesn’t rebate ATM fees you might incur from machines outside its vast network. With built-in budgeting tools integrated into its app, Simple is a strong contender for the best checking account for college grads.

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on Simple’s secure website

2. Aspiration Spend and Save Account

The Aspiration Spend and Save Account offers a wide range of benefits for account holders and has few fees. The $50 amount to open is fairly low, and once you open your account there is no minimum monthly balance to maintain. Aspiration gives you up to five free ATM withdrawals per month.

As the account name suggests, there are two sides to the account: a spending sub-account and a savings sub-account. The spending side yields no interest, while the savings side earns 1.00% APY. To earn this APY, you must deposit at least $1,000 in the combined account monthly, or maintain a balance of $10,000.

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on Aspiration’s secure website

3. Discover Cashback Debit

Cracking our list for the best checking accounts for college graduates is Discover Bank, which takes a unique approach to checking account rewards. Instead of offering an APY on deposit balances, Discover opts for cash back as an incentive to get consumers to sign up for its checking product. The Discover Cashback Debit account offers up to 1% cash back on $3,000 of debit card transactions per month. That coupled with its zero fees and free access to 60,000 ATMs nationwide make it one of the best checking accounts for college graduates.

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4. Ally Bank

Online bank Ally Bank offers a solid checking account with minimal fees, decent APYs and other attractive perks. Its Interest Checking account charges no monthly maintenance fees and provides free access to Allpoint ATMs nationwide, as well as a $10 reimbursement per statement cycle for any other ATMs fees incurred. Ally Bank’s APY isn’t too shabby, either: You can earn an APY of 0.50% with a $15,000 minimum balance. Other cool features include its Ally Skill for Amazon Alexa, which enables you to transfer money with just your voice.

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Member FDIC

Top high-yield checking accounts for college grads

Since most checking accounts offer little to no interest, high-yield checking accounts are a great way for you to maximize the money that typically would just sit in your account without earning interest. These accounts often offer interest rates that fluctuate depending on how much money you have in the account. However, in order to earn interest, there are some requirements that you may have to meet such as making a certain number of debit card transactions and enrolling in eStatements.

1. Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking

The Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking account is just that: Rewarding. It offers a tier-based APY, which includes a 5.09% APY on balances up to $10,000, 0.20% APY on balances between $10,000 and $25,000 and 0.10% APY on balances over $25,000. In order to earn the highest APY, you must complete at least 12 signature-based debit purchases, receive at least one direct deposit, ACH debit, or pay one bill through their free bill payment system, log into your online banking account and be signed up for eStatements and spend $1,000 or more with a Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card each month. This account has no fees and offers unlimited ATM reimbursements if requirements are met.

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on Consumers Credit Union (IL)’s secure website

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2. La Capitol Federal Credit Union Choice Plus Checking

This checking account has a $2 monthly service fee, which can easily be waived if you enroll in eStatements.

While the terms state a minimum balance requirement of $1,000 and a low balance fee of $8, the fee can be waived if you make 15 or more posted non-ATM debit card transactions per month.

To earn the top interest rate on your checking balance, you just need to make at least 15 or more posted non-ATM debit card transactions per month. There are numerous surcharge-free La Capitol ATMs for you to use, and after signing up for eStatements you can receive up to $25 per month in ATM fee refunds when you use out-of-network ATMs.

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on La Capitol Federal Credit Union’s secure website

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3. TAB Bank Kasasa Cash Rewards Checking Account

Based in Ogden, UT, TAB Bank’s Kasasa Cash Checking account is a great choice for recent graduates. You can earn a very competitive 4.00% APY by meeting a few simple requirements: Have at least one direct deposit, ACH payment, or bill pay transaction posted to the account during each billing cycle and make at least 15 debit card purchases of $5 or more. Even better, the bank will reimburse up to $15 in ATM fees per month from making withdrawals outside their ATM network.

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on TAB Bank’s secure website

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4. T-Mobile Money Checking Account

Wireless carrier T-Mobile has forayed into finance with a checking account, T-Mobile Money. The account offers a generous APY of 4.00% on balances up to $3,000, with balances over that threshold earning 1.00% APY. In order to receive the higher APY, you must meet the following requirements: Be enrolled in a qualifying T-Mobile wireless plan, be registered for perks with your T-Mobile ID and have deposited at least $200 in qualifying deposits to your checking account within that current calendar month. T-Mobile Money does not reimburse for out-of-network ATM fees, but it does not charge any maintenance fees.

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on T-Mobile Money’s secure website

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Eliminating Fees, Life Events

When to Avoid a Company 401k

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Man Paying Bills With Laptop

Gone are the days of workers depending upon pensions when they retire. Today, instead of offering defined benefit pensions guaranteeing an employee a monthly payment for the rest of his or her life, employers are moving to more employee-managed retirement savings plans.

Today, more employers offer a 401k plan – if they have an employer-based plan at all. With a 401k, employees make a defined contribution from their income each year. With a pension plan, employees knew exactly how much income they could depend on each month during retirement. Now, it is up to the employees to determine how much they need to save in order to reach their retirement savings goals.

A 401k allows employees to make defined contributions, pre-tax (or post-tax), towards retirement. If you contribute to a traditional 401k, contributions are automatically deducted from your paychecks each pay period, pre-tax. As a result, you don’t pay taxes until money is withdrawn from the account and you cannot withdraw money before 59 ½ without penalties. Some employees offer the option to contribute post-tax in a Roth 401k, so money withdrawn in retirement will not be taxed.

With this change toward employee-directed retirement, rather than retirement guaranteed by the employer, it is up to you to make the best decisions regarding your retirement savings. This could mean it’s best to avoid a company 401k.

Take a look at these situations in which you should not pay into your employer’s 401K, and see if any of them apply to you.

No Employer Match

Many employers provide a match to their employees’ 401k contributions. Employer matches vary greatly by employer, but a common example of this is $0.50 per $1.00, up to 6% of employees’ pay.

Let’s say you earn 40,000 per year at your current job, and your employer provides a $0.50 per $1.00 match, up to 6% of your pay. If you were to contribute the full 6% of your pay annually, you would contribute a total of $2,400 to your 401K over the course of a year. Your employer would then contribute $0.50 for every dollar you contributed, for a total of $1,200 for the year.

In total, over the course of the year your 401K would contain $3,600, and you only would have contributed $2,400 of the balance.

But if your employer does not provide a match, it may be time to reconsider contributing to its 401K plan. Never walk away from an employer match, as it is basically free money, but if your employer does not provide a contribution match, it may be time to consider other options like saving for retirement in a traditional or Roth IRA.

You Have Reached The Contribution Limit

Effective January 1, 2020, the 401k contribution limits are $19,500 if you are age 49 and under. If you are 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,500 above and beyond the $19,500 regular contribution, for a total of $26,000. Of course, you are free to contribute less to a 401K, but saving as much as possible for retirement is always best.

Once you have reached the contribution limit on your 401k, you cannot make any more contributions pre-tax, and it is time to consider alternative investments.

One good alternative is a Traditional IRA. Contributions are made to a traditional IRA after tax, meaning that you pay taxes, and then make contributions out of your paycheck. For 2020, individuals can contribute up to $6,000 per year to a traditional IRA if they are 49 and under. You can contribute up to $7,000 per year if you are 50 or older.

Another solution for aggressive savers is a taxable account such as stock index funds. When using taxable accounts such as these, you can expect to pay 15% on long-term gains and qualified dividends. Additionally, contributions to these plans are made after-tax. However, the benefits of using accounts such as these include being able to withdraw from them for things such as children’s college expenses before age 59 ½ without additional penalties and fees.

You Qualify For a Roth IRA

If you employer does not offer a 401k match – or a 401k plan at all – and you meet income thresholds, then a Roth IRA may be an excellent option for your retirement savings.

A Roth IRA allows individuals whose modified adjusted gross income, which you can calculate at the IRS website, is less than $139,000, or married couples whose income does not exceed $206,000 to contribute to their retirement.

A Roth IRA is different from other accounts, though, because of the way taxes are handled. Contributions are made after tax. However, once the initial contribution is made, you enjoy tax-free growth as long as you follow the rules:

  • 49 and under can contribute a maximum of $6,000
  • 50 and over can contribute up to $7,000
  • You can withdraw your contributions (not growth) at any time without penalty

How much can a Roth IRA save in taxes? If you contribute $5,500 per year to a Roth IRA for 40 years, and your marginal rate is 15%, this is what your account’s growth could look like over the course of 40 years:

401k_1

In this scenario, you would have only paid in $230,000 during the entire 40 years you worked. You would have paid $34,500 in taxes from your paychecks.

However, your relatively small investment could grow to $1,189,636 – and you will not have to pay taxes on any of that balance when you withdraw it. If your marginal tax rate stayed at 15% when withdrawing money from your Roth IRA, you could save more than $143,000 in taxes alone.

See how much money you can save with a Roth IRA, and how much money it can save you in taxes here, with Bankrate’s Roth IRA calculator.

High Fees

If your employer offers a 401k without a match, a good way to gauge whether it is a good investment vehicle for your retirement savings is to take a look at the fees. Many times both employees and employers are unaware of just how much fees are costing them. After all, 3% seems like such a small number, doesn’t it?

3% may feel like a very small amount to pay in fees, but this example will show you just how much a small percentage can affect your retirement savings.

401k_2

In this example, the investor is a 29 year old, contributing $18,000 per year to her company’s 401k, and her retirement age will be 65. The current balance of their 401K is $100,000, and fees are 3%.

Just by switching to a plan that cuts fees in half, 1.5%, she could save $801,819.03. Instead of having $1.8 million upon retirement, she could have more than $2.6 million – making for a much better retirement.

You can check out a fee calculator here and find out just how much your fees are costing you!

Even if your 401k has high fees, be sure to consider the employer match. Many times the match will more than cover the fees, making the 401k a good investment vehicle in spite of the high fees.

If You Need Flexibility

401k’s, while they offer tax advantages, and often free money through the form of an employer match, do not offer any sort of flexibility. Contributions are automatically deducted pre-tax from an employee’s paycheck in pre-set amounts, and cannot be withdrawn without serious penalties until age 59 ½.

For many families, saving and investing money is not just about retirement. It is about college, medical expenses, large purchase, and even vacations. Always contribute to your 401k up to the maximum amount that your employer will match, but if no match is available and you need flexibility for other savings priorities, check out some of these options:

A 529 Plan: An education savings plan operated through your state or an educational institution to help families set aside income for education costs. Although contributions are not deductible on your federal income tax return, the investment grows tax-deferred, and distributions used to pay the beneficiary’s college costs come out tax-free. Some states offer tax breaks for 529 contributions, you can find yours here. In addition, there are very few income and contribution limitations, making the 529 plan a great, flexible way to save for college.

A Health Savings Account: An HSA offers individuals and families the opportunity to save money exclusively for medical expenses, and contributions are 100% tax deductible from gross income. For 2020, individuals can contribute up to $3,550, and families are allowed to contribute up to $7,100. HSA accounts holders age 55 and older can contribute an extra $1,000. If using savings for medical expenses if a priority, talk to your employer about an HSA. Not all insurance plans are eligible.

Taxable Investment Accounts: When saving for large purchases or vacations, more flexible accounts are better. As explained above, index funds, mutual funds, or even traditional savings accounts leave the account holder with more of a tax burden, but far greater flexibility for withdrawals. These accounts do not need to be opened through your employer, but can be opened and managed on your own, or with the help of a financial planner.

If your employer offers a contribution match, they are essentially offering you free money, so go ahead a take advantage of the 401k, regardless of high fees or a low income. However, if your employer offers no match, high fees, or you have reached the yearly contribution limit, then it is a good idea to avoid that 401k plan and look into other retirement savings options.

At the end of the day, saving for retirement or other goals is all about you. How much flexibility you need, how much you need to save, and your tax situation. Be sure to weigh all of your options to guarantee that you are making the best decision for you and your family.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Gretchen Lindow
Gretchen Lindow |

Gretchen Lindow is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Gretchen at [email protected]