Athletic officials from the New Jersey University, Rutgers, announced the early termination of their infamous Men’s Basketball Coach, Mike Rice.  The decision was based on a videotape depicting Rice hurling balls and gay slurs at his players.  As ESPN broadcast the incriminating footage, Rice’s behavior can be summarized in one word…foul.

Everyone from LeBron James to Governor Chris Christie weighed in on the coach’s shameful behavior. The inevitable decision to fire Rice 3 years into his 5 year contract sealed the fate on his career.  Rice will be forced into an unexpected early retirement.  Given the state of our economy, many South Florida residents have also had to face the prospect of an early unexpected retirement.

So what happens when you find yourself without the steady income of a job and bills to pay?  Though it is best to avoid taking money out of your retirement plan, emergency situations such as job termination, divorce, sickness, and economic crashes can get the best of us.  You may be pleasantly surprised to find out that there are some instances when you can take money out of your retirement plans without paying the 10% federal penalty imposed by the IRS.

Here is a list of Uncle Sam’s most common exceptions:

  • Borrow from your own 401(k). You can legally borrow up to $50,000, or half your vested balance, whichever is less, from your 401(k).  Most big firms allow these loans and give you up to 5 years to repay it without any taxes or penalties.  However, if your job terminates for any reason, your ex-employer will likely demand repayment, otherwise the outstanding balance will be treated as an early distribution, subject to penalties.
  • Paying Large Medical Bills.    You can request a distribution from an IRA or 401(k) without any penalties for CERTAIN medical expenses.  Note that only expenses that are more than 10% of your adjusted gross income will qualify.
  • Paying for Health Insurance.  If you become unemployed, you can take money out of an IRA account (not a 401K) to obtain health insurance for yourself, spouse, and dependents, without paying a penalty.  To qualify, you must be collecting unemployment for at least 12 weeks and this exemption ceases 60 days after starting a new job.
  • Disability. If you become disabled before age 59½, you may be able to take penalty-free distributions from an IRA. However, you must carefully understand what qualifies as a permanent physical disability that prevents you from being gainfully employed, as per Uncle Sam’s legal and medical guidelines.
  • Inheriting an IRA.  If you are the beneficiary of a deceased owner of an IRA, you can take money from an “inherited IRA” without penalty at any age. Note that if you roll the inherited IRA into your own name, you lose the ability to take out money without paying the penalty. Note that unlike an IRA, a 401k will automatically transfer to a surviving spouse no matter who the designated beneficiary is.
  • Paying for Education. You can take money out of a pre-tax IRA account to pay for undergraduate or graduate tuition, books, supplies, and fees for yourself, your children, or grandchildren.  Be careful however, because IRA withdrawals will count as income and MAY limit eligibility for financial aid for the following year.
  • First Home Purchase.  You can take up to $10,000 penalty-free from an IRA (not a 401K) to pay for the purchase or building of your first home.  If both you and your spouse will be first time homeowners, the amount doubles to $20,000.


But with all of these tips, the devil is in the details.  It is always best to seek the advice of a well-seasoned Florida attorney before making any major financial decisions.  With the help of our experienced South Florida estate planning attorneys, we can make the complex United States tax-code work for you, no against you!

For more information on successful Florida early retirement tips and asset protection techniques, please contact the South Florida law firm of Wild Felice & Partners, P.A. at (954) 944-2855 to schedule your free consultation.

It’s a Wild world. Are you protected? SM