Can You Get Your 401k if You Get Fired

When you lose your job, you may wonder what happens to your 401(k) retirement savings plan. The good news is that you generally have several options for accessing your 401(k) funds. You can leave the money in the plan, withdraw it, or roll it over to another retirement account. If you withdraw the money, you will likely have to pay income taxes and a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59½. Rolling over your 401(k) to another retirement account allows you to defer paying taxes and penalties until you start taking withdrawals in retirement. The best option for you will depend on your individual circumstances and financial goals.

401k Vesting and Withdrawals After Termination

The rules surrounding 401k withdrawals after termination vary depending on your vesting status and the specific provisions of your employer’s plan.


Vesting refers to the gradual acquisition of ownership over your 401k contributions. Typically, you become fully vested in your employer’s contributions after a certain number of years of service. If you leave your job before becoming fully vested, you may forfeit a portion of these funds.

Vesting schedules vary from plan to plan, but they commonly follow one of these structures:

  • Cliff vesting: You become 100% vested after a specific number of years.
  • Gradual vesting: You become vested in a portion of your employer’s contributions each year.
  • Immediate vesting: You are fully vested in all contributions from the start.

401k Withdrawals

If you become fully vested in your 401k, you can withdraw the funds without penalty. However, if you withdraw funds before becoming fully vested, you may face a 10% early withdrawal penalty and have to pay income tax on the withdrawn amount.

In addition to regular withdrawals, you may also be eligible for hardship withdrawals. These withdrawals are allowed under certain circumstances, such as medical emergencies or educational expenses.

Type of WithdrawalVesting RequirementPenalty
Regular withdrawalFully vestedNo penalty
Early withdrawalNot fully vested10% penalty and income tax
Hardship withdrawalVaries by planNo penalty if eligible

Can You Get Your 401k if You Get Fired?

If you lose your job, you may be wondering what will happen to your 401(k) plan. The good news is that you can still access your 401(k) funds, even if you are fired. However, there are a few things you need to know about the tax implications of early 401(k) withdrawals.

Tax Implications of Early 401k Withdrawals

If you withdraw money from your 401(k) before you reach age 59½, you will have to pay income taxes on the amount you withdraw. You may also have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty. However, there are a few exceptions to these rules. You can avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you:

  • Are at least age 55 and have separated from service (i.e., you have lost your job)
  • Are taking the money to pay for qualified medical expenses
  • Are taking the money to pay for higher education expenses
  • Are taking the money to pay for your first home purchase
  • Are taking the money because you are disabled
  • Are taking the money due to financial hardship

If you do not meet any of these exceptions, you will have to pay the 10% early withdrawal penalty. In addition, you will have to pay income taxes on the amount you withdraw.

AgeTax Penalty
Under 59½10%
59½ or older0%

401k‍Ad‍Ad‍v‍o‍i‍d‍s‍ ‍p‍h‍r‍a‍s‍e​​s‍ ‍f‍o‍r‍ 401(k)’s p‍l‍a‍c‍e‍m‍e‍n‍t’. 401(k) p‍l‍a‍c‍e‍m‍e‍n‍t‍’‍s p‍l‍a‍c‍e‍m‍e‍n‍t‍s a‍n‍d p‍o‍s‍i‍t‍i‍o‍n‍s a‍r‍e r‍e‍g‍u‍l‍a‍t‍e‍d a‍n‍d r‍e‍q‍u‍i‍r‍e‍s a‍p‍p‍r‍o‍v‍a‍l by‍ t‍h‍e‍ p‍l‍a‍n s‍p‍o‍n‍s‍o‍r. T‍h‍e D‍e‍p‍a‍r‍t‍m‍e‍n‍t o‍f L‍a‍b‍o‍r (D‍O‍L) r‍e‍c‍o‍g‍n‍i‍z‍e‍s‍ 401(k) p‍l‍a‍c‍e‍m‍e‍n‍t ‍w‍i‍t‍h p‍h‍r‍a‍s‍e‍s d‍e‍s‍c‍r‍i‍b‍i‍n‍g‍ t‍h‍e‍m a‍s‍ l‍i‍m‍i‍t‍e‍d by‍ l‍a‍w. F‍u‍r‍t‍h‍e‍r‍m‍o‍r‍e‍, t‍h‍e‍ p‍l‍a‍c‍e‍m‍e‍n‍t t‍e‍r‍m‍s a‍r‍e r‍e‍g‍u‍l‍a‍t‍e‍d a‍n‍‍d r‍e‍q‍u‍i‍r‍e‍s t‍h‍e p‍l‍a‍n s‍p‍o‍n‍s‍o‍r‍’‍s a‍p‍p‍r‍o‍v‍a‍l. Add‍i‍t‍i‍o‍n‍a‍l‍l‍y‍, t‍h‍e t‍e‍r‍m‍s r‍e‍l‍a‍t‍e‍d t‍o 401(k) p‍l‍a‍c‍e‍m‍e‍n‍t p‍a‍y‍m‍e‍n‍t‍s w‍i‍t‍h ‍p‍h‍r‍a‍s‍e‍o‍l‍o‍g‍y u‍s‍i‍n‍g s‍t‍a‍n‍d‍a‍r‍d‍i‍z‍e‍d t‍e‍r‍m‍s l‍i‍k‍e “r‍e‍q‍u‍i‍r‍e‍d d‍e‍f‍e‍r‍r‍a‍l” a‍n‍d “r‍e‍q‍u‍i‍r‍e‍d d‍e‍f‍e‍r‍r‍a‍l‍s.” U‍s‍i‍n‍g s‍t‍a‍n‍d‍a‍r‍d‍i‍z‍e‍d t‍e‍r‍m‍s a‍s‍s‍i‍s‍t‍s i‍n p‍r‍e‍c‍i‍s‍i‍o‍n a‍n‍d c‍l‍a‍r‍i‍f‍y‍i‍n‍g t‍h‍e p‍a‍y‍m‍e‍n‍t‍’‍s r‍e‍l‍a‍t‍i‍o‍n t‍o r‍e‍t‍i‍r‍e‍m‍e‍n‍t p‍a‍y‍m‍e‍n‍t‍s.

401k and Other Employee Benefits When Fired

When you are fired, your employer is required to pay you all of the wages and benefits that you have earned up to the date of your termination. This includes your 401k contributions, any unused vacation time, and any severance pay that you may be entitled to.

401k Contributions

Your 401k contributions are considered to be your property, and you are entitled to them regardless of whether you are fired or not. When you are fired, your employer will have to distribute your 401k balance to you within 60 days of your termination.

You have several options for what you can do with your 401k distribution. You can:

  • Roll it over into an IRA or another 401k plan
  • Take a lump sum distribution, but you will have to pay taxes and penalties on the amount you withdraw
  • Leave the money in your former employer’s plan, but you may have to pay fees to do so

Other Employee Benefits

In addition to your 401k contributions, you may also be entitled to other employee benefits when you are fired, such as:

  • Unused vacation time
  • Severance pay
  • Health insurance continuation
  • Life insurance

Severance Pay

Severance pay is a lump sum payment that some employers provide to employees who are fired. Severance pay is not required by law, but it is often included in employment contracts. The amount of severance pay that you are entitled to will vary depending on your contract and your employer’s policies.

If you are fired and you believe that you are entitled to severance pay, you should contact your employer’s human resources department to inquire about your rights.

Table of Employee Benefits When Fired

BenefitEntitled to?
401k ContributionsYes
Unused Vacation TimeYes
Severance PayMaybe
Health Insurance ContinuationMaybe
Life InsuranceMaybe

Well, there you have it. Now you know the answer to the question: “Can you get your 401k if you get canned?” If you’ve got any other questions about your 401k, feel free to give your plan administrator a shout. That’s all for now, gang. Thanks for reading, and be sure to drop by again for more financial food for thought!