Ideally, everyone would have a savings account or emergency fund to draw on when they face unplanned expenses. But in the real world, it’s common for cash flow to fall short of one’s needs from time-to-time. For many people, their largest financial asset is their retirement savings in a 401(k) account.

To help individuals manage the challenge of both saving enough for retirement and setting aside money for unplanned expenses, most 401(k) plans allow the business owner and employees to take loans from their 401(k) accounts. When the 401(k) loan is repaid to the plan account, with interest, an individual can stay on track with their retirement savings even while addressing short-term cash needs. But loans that are not repaid can put retirement savings at risk.

401(k) Loan Rules

Maximum 401(k) loan

The maximum amount that you may take as a 401(k) loan is generally 50% of your vested account balance, or $50,000, whichever is less. If your vested account balance is $10,000, you may borrow up to $5,000.

Loan administration

All 401(k) plan loans must meet the following requirements:

  • Each loan must be established under a written loan agreement.
  • The business owner must set a commercially reasonable interest rate for plan loans.
  • A loan cannot exceed the maximum permitted amount.
  • A loan must be repaid within a five-year term (unless used for the purchase of a principal residence).
  • Loan repayments must be made at least quarterly and in substantially equal payments that include principal and interest.

The business owner has some flexibility in designing a loan program for their 401(k). For example, they may choose to set a limit on the number of loans an employee may take at one time or within one year or set a minimum dollar amount for a loan.