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401(k) withdrawal penalty rule changes for 2024

401(k) withdrawal penalty rule changes for 2024

New IRS rules are providing relief for individuals needing to make early withdrawals from retirement accounts due to emergencies.

These changes, effective from January 1, 2024, are part of the SECURE 2.0 Act and aim to offer more flexibility for those facing financial hardships or domestic abuse.

Rise in early withdrawals due to financial emergencies

More people are tapping into their retirement savings to address immediate financial needs.

According to the Vanguard Group, early withdrawals from retirement accounts have risen to an all-time high of 3.6%, up from 2.8% the previous year, based on data from approximately 5 million accounts.

Traditional penalties for early withdrawals

Typically, early withdrawals from retirement accounts for those under age 59½ are subject to ordinary income tax plus a 10% additional tax penalty, making them a less attractive option during financial crises.

New penalty-free withdrawal rules

The SECURE 2.0 Act introduces significant changes that allow penalty-free withdrawals for emergency situations:

  • Annual penalty-free withdrawals: Individuals can withdraw up to $1,000 annually from their qualified retirement plans, such as 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), or IRAs (including SEP and Simple IRAs), without incurring the 10% tax penalty.
  • Tax implications: These withdrawals are still subject to ordinary income tax.
  • Repayment rule: If the withdrawn amount is not repaid within three years, no further penalty-free withdrawals for personal emergencies can be made during that period.

Self-certification requirement

To qualify for the penalty-free withdrawal, individuals must self-certify in writing to their employers that the withdrawal is necessary due to an emergency.

Definition and examples of emergency expenses

The IRS has clarified what constitutes an emergency personal expense.

These expenses must address unforeseeable or immediate financial needs related to personal or family emergencies.

Some examples include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Financial needs related to car repairs
  • Foreclosure prevention
  • Accident costs
  • Funeral or burial expenses

Domestic abuse distributions

The revised rules also provide financial relief for victims of domestic abuse:

  • Withdrawal limits: Victims can withdraw up to $10,000 (or 50% of their vested account balance, whichever is less) without the 10% penalty.
  • Tax implications: These withdrawals are subject to ordinary income tax.
  • Timing and certification: Withdrawals must be made within a year of the domestic abuse incident, and victims can self-certify the abuse.
  • Repayment option: If repaid within three years, victims may be eligible for a tax refund on the repaid amount.

IRS definition of domestic abuse

The IRS defines domestic abuse as physical, psychological, sexual, emotional, or economic abuse, including efforts to control, isolate, humiliate, or intimidate the victim.

This definition also covers abuse of a child or another family member living in the household.

Tax implications of 401(k) withdrawals

When withdrawing from retirement accounts, the federal tax depends on several factors, including the type of account, the individual’s age, and their federal tax bracket.

For example, Roth 401(k) withdrawals are tax-free since contributions are made with after-tax dollars.

Reporting withdrawals

Retirement plan distributions are reported on Form 1099-R, which details the amount received and the taxes withheld.

These amounts must be reported on your federal income tax return.


  • Consult a tax professional: Before making a withdrawal, seek professional advice to understand the full tax implications and ensure compliance with the new rules.
  • Evaluate financial needs: Carefully assess whether the withdrawal is essential and explore other financial options if possible.
  • Plan for repayment: If feasible, plan to repay the withdrawn amount within the stipulated period to avoid restrictions on future withdrawals and potential tax benefits.

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These changes reflect a more flexible approach by the IRS to accommodate real-life financial challenges while maintaining the integrity of retirement savings plans.

Bottom line

The changes introduced by the SECURE 2.0 Act provide critical relief for those needing to make early emergency withdrawals from retirement savings accounts.

While these provisions offer significant benefits, it's essential to consider the potential tax and financial effects of accessing retirement savings early.

Ines Zemelman, EA
Founder of TFX