How Debt Can Sabotage Your Retirement Plans

July 25, 2018 Posted by kingcade

Getting out of debt can be tough at any age, but for those nearing retirement age the challenge can be particularly daunting.

According to an Experian study published in 2017, Baby Boomers hold on average approximately $188,828 in mortgage debt and over $27,000 in other debt. Consumers who are considered Generation X who are now entering their 50s hold even more debt, with $231,774 in mortgage debt and $30,334 in other debt.

While it is normally agreed that younger individuals are more likely to carry debt because they are just starting their lives and have a longer period to pay off the debt, the survey showed that only 18 percent of households with workers 50 years or older did not have any debt. The most common types of debt include: credit cards, mortgages and car loans.

People who carry debt tend to have less discretionary income to save for the future, especially when it comes to retirement. However, with pensions being eliminated and the uncertainty of Social Security benefits, the need to save for retirement is more important now than ever. It is a given that workers need to contribute towards their 401(k) accounts, which many do. However, more workers are also borrowing from their 401(k) accounts- and paying the price for it.

In fact, approximately one in six workers over the age of 50 have taken a loan from their 401(k) to pay off some other type of debt, an unplanned major expense, medical bills or other financial issue. In the past, emergency savings accounts were meant to help people through these types of financial issues, but currently, for workers who are over 50 years old have only an average of $10,000 in their savings accounts.

The problem with borrowing from a 401(k) is it can be risky for the borrower. Many times, if the person cannot repay the loan from the 401(k) within a set period for any reason, he or she will end up owing the IRS a great deal of money, which can include a 10 percent early withdrawal tax penalty.

Prior to the 2017 tax law, a person who borrowed from his or her 401(k) had 60 days after leaving a job to repay the loan, or a penalty would be assessed. However, for loans taken from a 401(k) after the start of 2018, and the person leaves a job, the borrower can put the money back into the plan, into an IRA or a new 401(k) plan up until October of the following tax year to avoid the penalty.

How are retirement accounts treated in bankruptcy?  Individual retirement accounts like 401(k)’s and IRA’s are protected in bankruptcy, along with social security and pensions worth up to $1.245 million are all exempt from creditors during bankruptcy. This means that retirement income and savings are out of reach and protected under federal law.  That is why you should never pull from retirement accounts to pay off debt like credit cards or medical bills you cannot afford to pay.

Some people think that filing for bankruptcy means they will lose everything.  That is one of the biggest bankruptcy myths out there.  To the contrary, you will likely get to keep a lot of your possessions including homes, cars and other assets.  A vast majority of Chapter 7 cases are “no-asset” cases, which means the debtor is not required to give up any of their possessions.

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If you have any questions on this topic or are in financial crisis and considering filing for bankruptcy, contact an experienced Miami bankruptcy attorney who can advise you of all of your options. As an experienced CPA as well as a proven bankruptcy lawyer, Timothy Kingcade knows how to help clients take full advantage of the bankruptcy laws to protect their assets and get successful results. Since 1996 Kingcade Garcia McMaken has been helping people from all walks of life build a better tomorrow. Our attorneys’ help thousands of people every year take advantage of their rights under bankruptcy protection to restart, rebuild and recover. The day you hire our firm, we will contact your creditors to stop the harassment. You can also find useful consumer information on the Kingcade Garcia McMaken website at