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Keeping Investments and Retirement Savings Intact

Even if you have investments and savings, using credit for large purchases and big expenses may make more sense when you consider your overall financial picture.

Safeguard your retirement savings

Most retirement plans allow you to borrow from your account and repay the funds over time. However, before you tap into your retirement savings to pay for a large purchase or expense, consider:

  • The costs of early redemption fees, penalties, and taxes for accessing retirement money prematurely
  • Repayment requirements —  some plans require loans to be repaid within 5 years or within 90 days if you change or lose your job.
  • If you withdraw from your retirement savings, those funds are no longer growing and earning interest.

Compare your options

In this scenario, a family in the 25% tax bracket needs $30,000 to pay for a student’s college expenses.
Here’s what they need to consider.

Option 1: Withdrawing funds from a retirement plan

10% early withdrawal penalty (if under age 59 1/2)
$  5,000
Income tax on the withdrawal

Amount left for college expenses


  • Withdrawal normally has to be paid back within 5 years, so payments may be steep.
  • A reduction of $50,000 in your retirement savings also decreases the compound interest that could be earned, equating to as much as $15,989 (calculated at 6% x 20 years) lost.
  • Due to taxes and penalties, in order to net $30,000, you would need to withdraw roughly $50,000 depending on your age and tax bracket. (Source: 401(k) Early Withdrawal Costs Calculator)
  • Some plans allow you to borrow against your retirement, rather than doing a straight withdrawal. Read the restrictions carefully to ensure you understand all of the terms involved.

Option 2: Consider a private student loan*

Private Student Loan $30,000
Wells Fargo Collegiate® Loan payment 15-year loan at 5.99% APR
$253.16 a month/$3,038 a year
Amount for college expenses


* This example is for illustrative purposes only. This example doesn’t take into account your actual credit qualifications and income level. The example also doesn’t consider the impact of deferring payments during, or capitalizing interest after, an in-school or grace period, or a forbearance.


  • Over the 15-year life of the loan, you’ll pay roughly $15,568 in interest.
  • The interest paid on a student loan may be tax-deductible.
  • Payments are deferred until 6 months after student leaves school.
  • Your retirement savings may grow uninterrupted.

Source: Student loan payment calculator


Speak with your tax advisor and financial planner to understand all the options and implications before you tap into your retirement savings.

Protect your investments

Before you sell off investments to pay for a major expense, weigh the pros and cons:

  • What’s the impact of selling long-term investments?
  • Does it make more sense to preserve cash for emergency needs?
  • Are there potential tax advantages? Interest paid on credit accounts may be deductible.
  • Are there negative tax implications for selling the investment?