Devil's Advocate 

Borrowing From Your 401(k)

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This is a Devil's Advocate post.

One of the oft-discussed cardinal sins in personal finance is to borrow from your 401(k), 403(b), or other eligible retirement accounts. The reasons against borrowing are obvious – those assets are for you to consume in retirement, not right now. By borrowing those funds, they can’t grow with the market tax free and you lose one of the great vehicles for retirement planning.

Not everyone can borrow from their 401(k) or 403(b), the plan administrator has to permit it, but this Devil’s Advocate post will discuss reasons why this may make sense for the limited number of employees who can borrow from their 401(k) plan.

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The Smartest 401(k) Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel Solin

The Smartest 401(k) Book You'll Ever Read by Daniel SolinThe main point of Daniel Solin’s The Smartest 401(k) Book You’ll Ever Read is that your 401(k), or 403(b) or 457(b), and it’s employer match may not be a no-brainer investment because it could be filled with funds that fat on fees and poor on investment selections. His answer? It’s to model the Thrift Savings Plan, the retirement plan available to government employees that consists entirely of low-cost index funds (the expense ratio is around 0.03%), and use low cost index funds for your retirement options. Look inside your mutual fund options to find the ones that most closely model index funds and go with them.

I think The Smartest 401(k) Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel Solin does a very good job of opening your eyes to the fee-ladened landscape of retirement investing. He takes specific aim at 401(k) because those “captive audience” type programs are more deceitful than you can imagine. Many companies use plan administrators that offer 401(k) plans for free because they know they can make a killing on the back end with expensive fund choices. If they really had the employee’s interests in mind, then they’d simply offer cheap index funds. In fact, some companies actually pay kickbacks to company HR departments to use them. The plan administrators pay companies for the opportunity to offer their fee fattened funds! It’s pretty ridiculous.

Unfortunately, this means that if you mainly invest in low cost index funds, you won’t get much value out of the first few sections of the book (it could spur you to rollover your 401(k) when the time comes!). The book continues to talk about other retirement investments such as IRAs, both Traditional and Roth, and annuities.

One characteristic I like about the book is that the chapters are short. Many are under three or four pages long, which is exactly how long it should take to explain many of the fundamentals about investing. For example, Chapter 14 is called Simple Investing Is Smart Investing is about three pages long and explains why a simple allocation of basic mutual and index funds will be sufficient for most. Chapter 22 is called “Why Fifteen Is Your Magic Number” and uses three pages to explain why you need to save 15% of your income if you want to expect to have a successful retirement. That, coupled with a applicable quote (usually from some important successful investor such as John Bogle), makes this book an easy read. There aren’t large chapters to digest, there aren’t huge concepts to wrap your head around, this book makes everything nice and simple.

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