Affected by Hurricane Damage? You May Be Able to Tap Your Self-Directed IRA or 401(k)

If you are undergoing financial hardship because of damage from one of this years’ devastating hurricanes, Congress just cut you some slack: People affected by Hurricanes Maria, Harvey or Irma may make an emergency hardship withdrawal from their retirement plans, including self-directed IRAs, without having to pay the usual 10 percent excise tax on early withdrawals.

Withdrawals from traditional tax-deferred IRAs and self-directed IRAs are normally assessed a 10 percent excise tax if the account owner is younger than age 59½, unless some specific ‘hardship’ circumstances apply.

Also, the six-month moratorium on new contributions normally imposed on those who take hardship withdrawals will not apply for taxpayers who take hurricane-related hardship withdrawals.

The relaxed rules may benefit IRA accountholders who live in one of the areas designated by the Federal Emergency Management Authority as an eligible disaster area. You can find FEMA’s list of qualifying localities. To qualify for the benefit, you must make any withdrawals by January 31, 2018.

Tapping Your Self-directed 401(k)

The waiver of the 10 percent excise tax for early distributions has also been waived for 401(k) plans, including self-directed 401(k) plans. Normally in order for you to make an in-service withdrawal from an employer-sponsored plan like a 401(k), the plan’s documents must allow them. However, the IRS is now allowing plan sponsors to release 401(k) assets to those experiencing hurricane-related hardships even if plan documents have not yet been formally updated to allow for withdrawals.

401(k)s and self-directed 401(k)s allow for a lower early distribution cutoff: Those who have left the service of a company may begin taking early withdrawals penalty free at age 55, as opposed to age 59½ for individual retirement arrangements (IRAs).

401(k) Loans

In some circumstances, you may be able to take a loan from a 401(k) or self-directed 401(k). However, your plan must allow for 401(k) loans. If you do take out a loan, you will not have to pay the 10 percent early distribution penalty or income taxes, provided you pay the loan back to your 401(k) within five years. After five years, any outstanding loan balance may be deemed a taxable distribution and you may owe taxes and penalties.

Note: In-service hardship distributions are generally not permitted from pension plans or from accounts holding qualified non-elective contributions (“QNECs”) described in § 401(m)(4)(C) or qualified matching contributions (“QMACs”) described in § 401(k)(3)(D)(ii)(I). However, you may be able to withdraw assets in these plans attributable to a rollover. Amounts in these plans attributed to a rollover from an IRA may be withdrawn at any time.

Furthermore, the IRS also allows you to take out a hardship distribution or loan from a retirement plan and send the proceeds to assist a family member financially affected by one or more of this year’s devastating hurricanes.