We've all had, or will likely have, at least one heart-stopping money moment in our lives — a medical bill that seems insurmountable, a move that's more expensive than anticipated, a period of unemployment that we'll have to float through somehow.
The point of building up an emergency fund is to tackle unexpected costs, big and small, but with 40% of Americans unable to pay a surprise $400 expense, finding that cash can be tricky. In some cases, that's when that good-old 401(k) starts to look very tempting ... even if using that money ASAP will hurt your financial situation later on.
In the long term, you'll have spent money that will be necessary to support yourself down the line. (And as many as one-third of Americans has $0 saved for retirement.) In the short term, those who cash out before the designated age of 59 1/2 face steep costs — an immediate 10% penalty, and taxes "that can approach 50% for people in the top income bracket." Taking out a loan is a somewhat better option, but if you don't pay the money back within the designated time, you'll be hit with all the same fees and penalties.
Nonetheless, an Ameriprise study found that 23% of adults with pre-tax retirement plans have withdrawn funds or borrowed money from their accounts. We talked to four women who have done so for various reasons about why they made that decision, what they used the money for, and if they'd do it again.