Do I Have to Pay Back a Defaulted 401k Loan

By borrowing funds from your 401(k), you’re essentially taking a loan from yourself. Failing to repay this loan comes with certain consequences. If you leave your job while still in debt, you have 60 days to repay the loan. If you fail to do so, the IRS considers the outstanding balance as a taxable distribution, meaning you’ll have to pay income tax on it. Furthermore, you may also face a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59½. Repaying the loan as soon as possible is crucial to avoid these potential financial burdens.

Distinguishing Loan Defaults from Withdrawals

It’s crucial to distinguish between loan defaults and withdrawals from a 401(k) plan. While both involve taking money from the plan, the tax consequences and repayment requirements differ significantly.

Loan Defaults

  • Occur when the borrower fails to make the required loan repayments within the established repayment period.
  • Trigger immediate taxation of the outstanding loan balance by the IRS.
  • May also result in an additional 10% early withdrawal penalty if the borrower is under age 59½.
  • Require repayment of the defaulted amount to the plan to avoid further penalties and tax implications.


  • Involve taking money from the plan for non-loan purposes.
  • Always trigger immediate taxation of the withdrawn amount.
  • May also incur an additional 10% early withdrawal penalty if the borrower is under age 59½.
  • Do not require repayment to the plan.

Repayment of Defaulted 401(k) Loans

If a 401(k) loan defaults, the borrower is generally required to repay the outstanding loan balance within 60 days to avoid the tax penalties mentioned above. The repayment can be made in a lump sum or through payroll deductions.

Consequences of Not Repaying a Defaulted Loan

Failure to repay the loan within the 60-day period can lead to the following consequences:

  • Immediate taxation of the outstanding loan balance.
  • Additional 10% early withdrawal penalty if the borrower is under age 59½.
  • Loss of future 401(k) loan privileges.
Loan DefaultTax ConsequencesEarly Withdrawal PenaltyRepayment Required
YesImmediate taxation of outstanding balanceYes (if under age 59½)Yes, within 60 days
NoImmediate taxation of withdrawn amountYes (if under age 59½)No

Tax Implications of Defaulting on a 401k Loan

Defaulted 401k loans have severe tax implications, including:

  • Income tax: The outstanding loan balance is considered a distribution from the 401k and is subject to income tax at your current tax rate.
  • 10% early withdrawal penalty: If you’re under 59½, you may also incur a 10% early withdrawal penalty, further reducing the proceeds you receive.
  • Additional taxes for Roth 401k loans: If you defaulted on a loan from a Roth 401k, you’ll owe income tax on the loan’s earnings. These earnings were tax-free when you contributed them, so you will owe taxes on them upon withdrawal.
Tax Consequences of Defaulting on a 401k Loan
Loan TypeIncome TaxEarly Withdrawal PenaltyRoth Earnings Tax
Traditional 401kYesYes (if under 59½)No
Roth 401kYesYes (if under 59½)Yes

Consequences of Defaulting on a 401(k) Loan

Defaulting on a 401(k) loan can have significant consequences. Here’s what happens to the loan balance after a default:

Loan Balance Treatment

  • Pre-tax Loan: The outstanding loan balance is considered a taxable distribution and is added to your taxable income for the year.
  • Roth Loan: The loan balance is not subject to income tax, but any investment earnings on the loan are taxable.


  • Taxes and Penalties: You may owe federal and state income taxes on the loan balance, plus a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59½.
  • Reduced Retirement Savings: The amount you defaulted on is no longer contributing to your retirement savings.
  • Credit Impact: A 401(k) loan default can negatively impact your credit score.
  • Limited Future Loans: You may not be eligible for future 401(k) loans.


Consider a hypothetical situation where you default on a $10,000 401(k) loan that was pre-tax:

Loan AmountTax RateIncome TaxEarly Withdrawal PenaltyTotal Taxable Amount

In this scenario, you would owe $11,500 in additional taxes and penalties as a result of the default.

Facing a Defaulted 401(k) Loan

Defaulting on a 401(k) loan can have serious consequences, including income tax implications and a reduced retirement savings balance. Understanding your repayment options and potential penalties is crucial.

Negotiating Repayment Options

If you’re unable to repay the loan balance, it’s essential to contact your plan administrator as soon as possible. They may be willing to work with you to negotiate repayment options, such as:

  • Extended repayment period
  • Reduced monthly payments
  • Partial loan forgiveness

Understanding Tax Consequences

When a 401(k) loan defaults, the outstanding balance is considered a premature distribution. This means you’ll owe income taxes and a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the amount not repaid.

Tax Consequences of a Defaulted 401(k) Loan
Loan AmountTaxes DuePenalty DueTotal Due

Minimizing the Impact

To minimize the impact of a defaulted 401(k) loan, consider the following steps:

  • Negotiate a flexible repayment plan with your plan administrator.
  • Consider rolling over the loan balance to an IRA to avoid early withdrawal penalties.
  • Seek professional financial guidance to explore your options.

Thanks for reading! I hope this article has been helpful in answering your question about repaying a defaulted 401(k) loan. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to a financial advisor or tax professional for guidance. In the meantime, be sure to check back later for more informative articles on personal finance and retirement planning.