When educating employees about their retirement plans, Pottichen said he emphasizes one key point: Try and focus on avoiding loans from your retirement plan if at all possible.
Instead, you should have an emergency fund of three to six months’ worth of earnings in cash, he said. And if you don’t, you should stop contributing to your retirement plan until you have built up that fund.
It also helps to identify your short-, medium- and long-term goals. If you want to buy a home in five years, planning for that down payment ahead of time can help avoid the need to take loans from your retirement plan, Pottichen said.
One strategy Curtis said she sometimes advocates for her clients: Funding their 401(k) plan up to the employer match, and then allocating the rest of the money to a Roth IRA account.
With Roth accounts, you have more flexibility to withdraw the funds you’ve invested without having to take out loans and pay interest.
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And if you absolutely must take a loan, it may be more advantageous to secure those funds from elsewhere, Curtis said.
A home equity line, if someone owns a home, can be a better option, she said. That is because you keep your retirement money invested. And the interest rates on home equity loans may be more competitive, though they are going up.
To understand what’s truly best for you, it’s best to meet with a fiduciary advisor who can help you sort through your options, Pottichen said.
J.P. Morgan’s research analyzed saving and spending behaviors of more than 4,000 defined contribution plans with about 2 million participants.