Are There Penalties for Withdrawing From a 401k

There are potential penalties for withdrawing funds from a 401k before the age of 59.5. The primary penalty is an early withdrawal penalty of 10% on the withdrawn amount. This penalty is assessed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and is applied to both federal and state taxes. The penalty does not apply if the funds are used for certain qualified expenses, such as a down payment on a first home, medical expenses, or higher education costs.

Additionally, there may be income taxes due on the withdrawn amount, depending on the tax bracket you fall into. It’s crucial to weigh the potential penalties and tax implications before withdrawing funds from a 401k to ensure it’s the right financial decision for your circumstances.

Types of 401k Withdrawals

There are two main types of 401k withdrawals: qualified and nonqualified. Qualified withdrawals are eligible for tax-free treatment, while nonqualified withdrawals are subject to ordinary income tax and may also be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you’re under the age of 59 1/2.

Qualified withdrawals include:

  • Withdrawals made after age 59 1/2
  • Withdrawals made after retirement
  • Withdrawals made for qualified disability
  • Withdrawals made for certain medical expenses
  • Withdrawals made for qualified higher education expenses

Nonqualified withdrawals include:

  • Withdrawals made before age 59 1/2
  • Withdrawals made for reasons not listed above
Type of WithdrawalTax TreatmentEarly Withdrawal Penalty
NonqualifiedOrdinary income taxYes, if under age 59 1/2

Early Withdrawal Penalties

Withdrawing funds from a 401(k) before reaching age 59½ may result in early withdrawal penalties and additional income taxes.

Penalties and Taxes

  • 10% early withdrawal penalty: Applied to the amount withdrawn, regardless of tax bracket.
  • Additional income taxes: Withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income at your current tax rate.


There are certain exceptions to early withdrawal penalties:

  • Substantially equal periodic payments: Withdrawals made as part of a series of equal payments over your life expectancy or a period of at least 5 years.
  • Medical expenses: Withdrawals used to pay qualified medical expenses.
  • Education expenses: Withdrawals used to pay for higher education expenses, including tuition, fees, and room and board.
  • First-time home purchase: Withdrawals of up to $10,000 (lifetime limit) used to purchase a principal residence.
  • Disability: Withdrawals made due to a permanent and total disability.
  • Roth 401(k) contributions: Withdrawals of after-tax contributions (earnings are subject to income taxes).

Avoiding Penalties

Consider the following strategies to avoid early withdrawal penalties:

  1. Contribute to a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k), which allow penalty-free withdrawals of contributions after age 59½.
  2. Take a 401(k) loan, which must be repaid with interest. Loan repayments are not taxed or penalized.
  3. Withdraw funds after reaching age 59½ to avoid penalties and potential income taxes.

Note: Consult with a financial advisor or tax professional to determine the best strategy for your specific situation.

401(k) Early Withdrawal Penalties
Withdrawal TypePenaltyExceptions
Standard Withdrawal (before age 59½)10% + Income TaxesSubstantially Equal Periodic Payments, Medical Expenses, Education Expenses, First-Time Home Purchase, Disability, Roth 401(k) Contributions
Roth 401(k) ContributionsNo Penalty (earnings subject to income taxes)
401(k) LoanNo Penalty or Taxes (loan must be repaid)

Exceptions to Withdrawal Penalties

There are a few exceptions to the 10% early withdrawal penalty. These include:

  • Distributions to beneficiaries when the participant dies.
  • Distributions to the participant who becomes permanently disabled.
  • Qualified birth or adoption expenses up to $5,000 per year per child.
  • Medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of the participant’s adjusted gross income.
  • Distributions to pay for higher education expenses.
  • Distributions to a first-time homebuyer, up to $10,000.
  • Distributions to cover financial hardship due to an IRS-approved event, such as a natural disaster.
  • Distributions to victims of domestic violence.
  • Distributions of excess contributions and earnings.
  • Distributions from a Roth 401(k) that were made after age 59½ or after the participant had held the account for at least five years.

Table of Exceptions

Death of participantDistributions to beneficiaries
Permanent disabilityDistributions to the participant
Qualified birth or adoptionUp to $5,000 per year per child
Medical expensesExceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income
Higher educationDistributions to pay for qualified expenses
First-time homebuyerUp to $10,000 lifetime limit
Financial hardshipIRS-approved event, such as a natural disaster
Domestic violenceDistributions to victims
Excess contributionsDistributions of excess funds and earnings
Roth 401(k)Distributions made after age 59½ or after holding account for at least five years

Tax Implications of 401k Withdrawals

Withdrawing funds from a 401k account before reaching the age of 59½ typically incurs a 10% penalty, in addition to income tax. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule, including:

  • Substantially equal periodic payments: Withdrawals made as part of a series of substantially equal payments over your life expectancy or the joint life expectancy of you and your beneficiary.
  • Retirement after age 55: Penalty-free withdrawals are allowed after you separate from service in the year you reach age 55 or later.
  • Disability: You can withdraw funds without penalty if you become disabled.
  • Education expenses: Penalty-free withdrawals are allowed for qualified education expenses for yourself, your spouse, children, or grandchildren.
  • Medical expenses: You can make penalty-free withdrawals for unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
  • First-time home purchase: You can withdraw up to $10,000 without penalty for a first-time home purchase.

It is important to note that withdrawals from Roth 401k accounts do not incur a penalty, but may be subject to income tax if made before age 59½.

Taxation of 401k Withdrawals

Withdrawal TypeIncome Tax10% Penalty
Premature withdrawal (before age 59½)YesYes
Substantially equal periodic paymentsYesNo
Retirement after age 55YesNo
Education expensesYesNo
Medical expensesYesNo
First-time home purchaseYesNo
Roth 401k withdrawal before age 59½NoNo
Roth 401k withdrawal after age 59½NoNo

Well, there you have it folks! The ins and outs of 401k withdrawal penalties. I hope this little journey into the world of retirement savings has been enlightening. Remember, every situation is different, so if you’re thinking about dipping into your 401k, it’s always best to chat with a financial advisor first. Thanks for hanging out with me today, and be sure to stop by again soon for more financial wisdom, minus the snooze fest. Until next time, keep your investments safe and your dreams within reach!