Why millions of Americans are raiding their retirement savings

Yes, you can tap your 401(k) early, but it's a terrible idea

With the effects of the financial crisis still lingering, 30 million Americans in the last 12 months tapped retirement savings to pay for an unexpected expense, new research shows. This undercuts financial security and underscores the need for every household to maintain an emergency fund.

Boomers were most likely to take a premature withdrawal as well as incur a tax penalty, according to a survey from Bankrate.com. Some 26% of those ages 50-64 say their financial situation has deteriorated, and 17% used their 401(k) plan and other retirement savings to pay for an emergency expense.

Pulling money out of your 401(k) early is one of the worst moves you can make. For boomers, once you’re at or near retirement, you have little time to rebuild your savings. Millennials have decades to repair any such early distribution, but taking money out will still cost you future growth. So far only 11% in this generation say they are worse off financially than a year ago, and just 8% tapped retirement savings early, Bankrate.com found.

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