How do 401k loans work – Updated September 2023

Managing unexpected expenses or financial emergencies can be a daunting task. In such situations, individuals may consider tapping into their 401(k) retirement savings account through a loan. You can borrow from your 401(k) without a lender or credit check. How do 401k loans work But you need to know the details. How much can you borrow? What are the costs and terms? How will it affect your retirement goals? This guide explains 401(k) loans and their pros and cons. It also answers 10 Frequently Asked Questions about them.

5 Important Facts About 401(k) Loans

Understanding 401(k) Loans

A 401(k) loan allows individuals to borrow money from their retirement savings account without involving a lender or credit evaluation. Typically, borrowers can access up to $50,000 or 50% of their account balance, whichever is less.

Cost and Repayment

Compared to traditional loans, 401(k) loans tend to have lower costs. Any interest charged on the loan is repaid by the borrower into their own 401(k) account. However, withdrawing funds from a retirement account can impact its long-term growth potential.

Credit Impact

One advantage of 401(k) loans is that defaulted loans or missed payments do not affect the borrower’s credit score. These loans are not reported to credit bureaus, providing some peace of mind.

Interest Rates and Accessibility

401(k) loan interest rates are usually a few points above the prime rate. This makes them an attractive option for many individuals, as the interest rate remains the same regardless of credit score. However, 401(k) loans are typically available only to active employees.

Important Considerations

Repaying a 401(k) loan involves using after-tax earnings to repay pre-tax funds, which can extend the repayment period. Withdrawing money from a retirement account also limits its growth potential, impacting long-term savings.

Advantages and Disadvantages of 401(k) Loans

The Advantages and Disadvantages
Advantages Disadvantages
No credit check or application required Reduces your retirement savings potential
Quick access to funds Repayment with after-tax earnings
Lower interest rates compared to other forms of borrowing Payments are taken out of your paychecks
Interest paid goes back to yourself, not a bank Limits on the amount you can borrow
Flexible repayment terms The loan is due in full if you leave your job
No taxes or penalties if you repay the loan on time The loan is considered a taxable distribution if you don’t repay it on time

Borrowing from your 401(k) has pros and cons. You can get funds easily and at low rates. You repay yourself. But you may lose retirement savings. Taxes, penalties, and low borrowing limit are drawbacks. Think carefully before taking a 401(k) loan. Look for other options first.

10 Most Frequently Asked Questions About 401(k) Loans

How much can I borrow from my 401(k) plan?

The amount you can borrow from your 401(k) plan is limited to the lesser of $50,000 or 50% of your vested account balance. However, some plans may have lower limits.

What is the interest rate for a 401(k) loan?

The interest rate on a 401(k) loan is typically the prime rate plus 1 or 2 percentage points.

Can I get a loan on my 401(k)?

Yes, you can get a loan on your 401(k) if your plan allows it. However, not all plans allow loans, and the specific terms and conditions of the loan will depend on your plan.

Are 401(k) loans ever a good idea?

Sometimes you may need to borrow from your 401(k). It can be fast and cheap. But it has risks. You may lose retirement savings. You may pay penalties. Try other options first. Borrow from your 401(k) only if you must.

How can I borrow money from my 401(k) without penalty?

You can borrow money from your 401(k) without penalty by following the rules and regulations set by your plan. Generally, you must repay the loan within a certain time frame, usually five years, and make regular payments with interest. If you don’t repay the loan on time, you may face penalties and taxes.

How long do I have to pay back a 401(k) loan?

You generally have to repay a 401(k) loan within five years, although some plans may allow longer repayment periods for loans used to purchase a primary residence.

Do 401(k) loans affect credit scores?

No, 401(k) loans do not hurt your credit score because you are borrowing money from yourself, so there is no need for a creditor to pull your credit score.

Is it better to take a loan from my 401(k) or from a bank?

It depends on your specific situation. Borrowing from your 401(k) can be a good option in certain circumstances, such as when you need quick access to funds and the interest rate is lower than other forms of borrowing. However, it is important to consider the potential drawbacks, such as reducing your retirement savings potential and the potential penalties if you don’t repay the loan on time. It is recommended to explore other options before borrowing from your 401(k) and to only do so as a last resort.

Can I take money out of my 401(k) to buy a car?

Yes, you can take money out of your 401(k) to buy a car, but it is generally not recommended. Withdrawing money from your 401(k) before age 59 1/2 may result in taxes and penalties, and it reduces your retirement savings potential.

Does a 401(k) loan affect my tax return?

A 401(k) loan generally does not affect your tax return unless you default on the loan or leave your job with an unpaid loan balance. If you default on the loan, the unpaid amount is considered a taxable distribution, and you could face a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are younger than 59 1/2 years old. If you leave your job with an unpaid loan balance, the loan is considered a distribution subject to ordinary income taxes and potentially the 10% early withdrawal penalty.


401(k) loans can be a convenient option for accessing funds quickly and at lower interest rates. However, they come with certain drawbacks, such as reducing your retirement savings potential, using after-tax earnings for repayment, and the risk of penalties if the loan is not repaid on time. It is crucial to carefully evaluate your financial situation, consider alternative options, and consult with a financial advisor before deciding to borrow from your 401(k). By making informed choices and having a well-defined repayment plan, you can leverage the benefits of a 401(k) loan while safeguarding your long-term financial stability. With the 10 frequently asked questions addressed in this guide, you can gain a better understanding of 401(k) loans and make confident decisions regarding your financial future.


What is the minimum 401k loan?

The minimum 401(k) loan amount varies depending on your plan rules and account balance, with some plans having a minimum loan requirement of around $1,000. However, the loan amount cannot exceed the available balance in your 401(k) account.

Can I cash out my 401k if I get fired?

Yes, you can cash out your 401(k) if you get fired, but you may have to pay taxes and penalties on the amount you withdraw. You will have to pay income tax on the entire amount, plus a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under 59 1/2 years old.

What to do with 401k after leaving job?

When leaving a job, you have several options for your former employer’s 401(k) plan: leave the money, transfer to a new employer’s plan, roll over to an IRA, or cash out. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to consider your individual circumstances and consult a financial advisor for guidance.

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