Thinking of Raiding Your IRA for a Downpayment?

Posted by: Peter Coy on July 12, 2006

Just a wild guess, but I don’t think Carrie Schwab Pomerantz needed to take money out of her IRA in order to cough up a downpayment for her first house. director_schwab_pomerantz.jpgShe’s the daughter of Charles Schwab, founder of the San Francisco-based brokerage firm. But as the company’s chief strategist for consumer education, she’s in charge of giving advice to people who really do have to scrape nickels together to buy a first house.

Her advice: Think twice before you raid the IRA—even though the IRS does allow a penalty-free withdrawal of $10,000 for buying a first house (that’s $20,000 total if both husband and wife have IRAs).

Some bullet points:

*"If you have any alternatives (borrowing from your parents, for example), you'll be better off keeping the retirement accounts intact so you can take full advantage of long- term tax-deferred growth (for IRAs) and tax-free growth (for Roth IRAs)."
*If you must tap an IRA, "use the Roth IRA first. Since Roth IRA contributions were made with after-tax dollars, you won't face any kind of taxation or penalty for withdrawing up to $10,000 (each), in most cases, as long as you've had the Roth IRA account for at least 5 years."
*Be sure to read the fine print about early IRA distribution requirements on the Internal Revenue Service Web site, and always check with your tax advisor before taking any action. Remember that you need to act quickly when you receive the funds: You'll lose your penalty-free status if you don't use the funds within 120 days of withdrawal."
*If you clean out your IRA cupboard, "Be aware that you'll need to start saving even more for your golden years as soon as you possibly can--possibly as much as 20 percent of your income if you have to start saving from scratch now, and as much as 40 percent if you wait another 10 years to start saving."

Reader Comments

Marlow Harris

July 13, 2006 1:53 PM

Funny, she didn't mention the use of a self-directed IRA account that allows you to select your own investments, including buying real estate. Investors can sell real estate, buy stocks, sell stocks, buy real estate, back and forth, all within one IRA retirement plan.

The same tax benefits remain regardless of whether you're buying stocks or real estate.

Jamie Samans

February 11, 2008 3:07 PM

Why is that "funny"? A self-directed IRA specifically can't be used to buy property where you'd live, and you need to have the money available to start with. That isn't likely to apply to people who are looking to take out $10,000 for a first-time downpayment on a home.

madguru

May 26, 2008 7:25 PM

Not funny at all if you know how a self-directed IRA works. Did you want to explain how this type of account would apply to the situation described??

Dan Ari

July 21, 2009 8:54 PM

Self-dealing rules forbid using a self-directed IRA to invest in a house you or your relatives will occupy.

On the bright side, the jail cell will be cheap.

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BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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