As the nation emerges from the fog of tax season, many people who paid little attention to their taxes for the previous eleven months just received a crash course in tax planning, either on their own or with their tax professional. If they have a 401(k), they dealt with their retirement account in some way, either by having to pay tax on a distribution or looking at what they were able to contribute over the year; perhaps they were making one last payment before the tax filing deadline.
For many people, however, having a 401(k) plan begins and ends with a few simple actions: sign up for a plan through your job; contribute a pre-tax amount from each paycheck, and; never deal with it until you retire.
Such a simplified approach is a great way to ensure consistent savings and a retirement nest egg. It is not, however, the end of the equation. Recently, Paul T. Murray, president of PTM Wealth Management, wrote a blog entry on five techniques for avoiding the 10% tax penalty for an early withdrawal from a 401(k). This is great information because it sheds light on a practical issue many people going through a divorce or separation face: having to use the only accessible financial account available to them – the 401(k) – before they reach the mandatory distribution age.
Paul highlights five areas where people can avoid paying the 10% tax penalty on an early withdrawal. Not surprisingly, they are complicated and require significant planning to successfully utilize. The most intriguing, in my opinion, is the one-time withdrawal from a rollover of 401(k) funds. Many times a dependent spouse either had no retirement account or a lightly funded account. When the time comes for them to receive a substantial rollover from their spouse’s 401(k) to their IRA, the IRS provides for a one-time withdrawal in any amount. This could be a major tool for a spouse who is in a case with little cash in the marital estate and has the immediate need for cash. It might be the cash infusion they need to pay off a debt or cover their expenses as they transition into their new phase of life.
Four other techniques are highlighted and the blog entry is worth reading. The tax code is complicated, but if you know where to look it can also provide for some creative solutions to financial and tax problems.