Should 401k Loans Be Used to Avoid Bankruptcy?

Once in a while I am asked whether 401k loans should be used to pay off credit card debt and, therefore, avoid bankruptcy. In my opinion, it is a bad idea.

Filing for bankruptcy under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, is a difficult decision, and most of the time debtors will try to do just about anything to avoid filing. However, if you earn $50,000 in gross income, and you are $50,000 in debt, because of interest and other carrying costs, it is unlikely that you will be able to pay off that debt within a reasonable period of time. Thus, a debtor may think that whatever money he has in his 401k will save him from having to file bankruptcy. Unfortunately, for most people, this is unlikely to come true.

Initially, if 401k loan is used to pay off credit card debts, there is now a significant debt owed to the 401k plan. Usually, 401k loans carry lower interest rates than credit cards. However, while having a lower interest rate, 401k loans have to be paid back over a shorter period of time.

If a loan is taken out and not repaid, it is treated as income, and debtor will incur a 10% early withdrawal penalty since it is a distribution from a tax-deferred plan, and also will have to pay income taxes on the unpaid amount.  Unpaid amount of the loan is treated as additional income, and it is likely to increase debtor’s income tax rates as well.

If you quit working or change employers, the loan must be paid back right away. It’s not uncommon for plans to require full repayment of a loan within 60 days of termination of employment. If you can’t repay the loan, it is considered defaulted, and you will be taxed on the outstanding balance, including an early withdrawal penalty if you are not at least age 59 ½.

However, if the debtor decides to file bankruptcy, under either Federal exemptions or New York exemptions, 401k is completely exempt. If you file for bankruptcy, the credit card debt will be gone, and you will be able to retain the money in your 401k plan.

If you are contemplating filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, or are dealing with debt problems in Western New York, including Rochester, Canandaigua, Brighton, Pittsford, Penfield, Perinton, Fairport, Webster, Victor, Farmington, Greece, Gates, Hilton, Parma, Brockport, Spencerport, LeRoy, Chili, Churchville, Monroe County, Ontario County, Wayne County, Orleans County, Livingston County, and being harassed by bill collectors, and would like to know more about how bankruptcy may be able to help you, contact me today by phone or email to schedule a FREE initial consultation with a Rochester, NY, bankruptcy lawyer.