Companies offer 401(k) plans to help their employees stash away money for retirement. But, to encourage people to use 401(k)s for retirement savings, there are only a few circumstances that enable you to access your money once it's in the plan. After you turn 60, however, getting your funds isn't a problem.
After you turn 59 1/2, you can take funds out of your 401(k) without issue, although income taxes on distributions do apply. You may also be eligible for a loan from your 401(k).
When Can I Access My Funds?
As soon as you turn 59 1/2, you're allowed to access the funds in your 401(k) plan whenever you want, even if you're still working for the company. So, if you're 60, your company can't stop you from withdrawing your money. However, just because you can get the money in your 401(k) doesn't mean you have to. You're not required to start taking money out until you turn 70 1/2 years old. So, if you don't need the money, you can continue to let it grow tax-free in your 401(k) plan.
What Taxes Will I Owe?
Being over 59 1/2 only gets you out of early withdrawal penalties for traditional 401(k) plans, but not the taxes on the distributions. Traditional 401(k) plans offer tax-deferred savings, which means that since the contributions were never included in your taxable income, you have to pay taxes on them when you take the money out. For example, if you take out $15,000 from your 401(k) plan when you're 60, that's an additional $15,000 you have to include in your taxable income.
What About Roth 401(k)s?
If you have a Roth 401(k) and you're 60 years old, your age meets only half the criteria for taking qualified withdrawals. In addition, your Roth 401(k) has to be open for at least five years before you can take qualified withdrawals. If it hasn't been open for five years and you take a distribution, the earnings portion is hit with income taxes. For example, say your Roth 401(k) has been open for three years when you're 60. If you take a withdrawal and 40 percent of your Roth 401(k) plan is earnings, you owe taxes on 40 percent of your withdrawal.
Are Loans a Good Alternative?
Even if you can take a qualified withdrawal from your 401(k) plan because you're 60, you still have the option of taking a loan instead – assuming your plan allows loans. If you only need the money for a short period of time, and don't want to lose the tax-sheltered growth the 401(k) plan offers, you won't have to pay income taxes on the loan as long as you repay it. Plus, the interest goes back in your 401(k) plan where it can continue to grow. However, you should check with your plan administrator first because not all plans offer loans.
Based in the Kansas City area, Mike specializes in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."