Troubled Homeowners Tap Retirement Funds, Still Fall Behind

An increasing number of troubled homeowners are tapping into retirement accounts, despite the negative financial consequences, but wind up struggling to pay their mortgage anyway, said the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta Thursday. A survey by the Counseling service found that 29.6 percent of people who called the nonprofit agency for foreclosure prevention counseling received an early distribution from their 401(k) or other retirement plan within the six months prior to contacting the agency. “The fact that people are taking early withdrawals and falling behind on their bills again indicates they only got a temporary solution to their problem,” said Suzanne Boas, president of CCCS of Greater. “Our hope is people will seek credit counseling to discuss all of their options before taking the drastic step of depleting funds they’ve set aside for retirement.” The survey also found nearly half of foreclosure prevention clients are “very worried” they will not have enough assets to retire and 15 percent said they currently assume retirement just won’t be an option. In contrast, fewer than 15 percent of bankruptcy clients reported withdrawing money from a retirement plan in the past six months — retirement plans are among the assets that can be protected in bankruptcy. “So these clients appear to have chosen to protect their nest egg even though the immediate financial consequences of bankruptcy are painful,”  the counseling service said in a press statement. More than 90 percent of respondents said they are younger than 59 1/2, meaning the distribution of retirement dollars, for those who choose to take that route, will likely be taxed as income and also incur a 10 percent penalty. Write to Kelly Curran at Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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