Why I Will Be Borrowing From My 401K to Pay For My First Home

It wasn’t easy deciding to go against popular advice of not borrowing from my 401K now that I’m condo hunting. When it came to saving for the down payment and closing costs I weighed three saving strategies:

  1. Saving aggressively in liquid savings accounts, only contributing the minimum to my 401K to receive my employer match.
  2. Continuing to max out my 401K and then borrow from it
  3. Saving the notoriously recommended 15% of my income in my 401K and the rest in liquid savings.

I did a comparison of the three strategies and quickly realized borrowing from my 401K is most advantageous.
Strategy 2

Strategy 1 Strategy 2
(1) Time to save 1.5 years 0 years
(2) Amount to Save* $27,500 $25,000
(3) Time to repay self 0 years 5-10 years**
(4) Foregone 401K contributions $21,000 $0
(5) Lost interest income× $140,000 $30,000××
* – Strategy 1 requires more savings due to anticipated increases in housing prices
 ** – 10 years is the worst case scenario. I actually anticipate less than 5 years due to salary increases
 ×- this is an extremely crude estimate that assumes a 7% market return and no market fluctuations over 30 years
 ××- For every additional $1,000 saved towards a condo outside of my (maxed out) 401k, I’ll save ~$2,200 in potential interest

The main risk associated with Strategy 2 would be the need to repay the 401K loan if I were to lose or change jobs else I’ll have considerable taxes and fines. I do not anticipate either but I have emergency funds in place otherwise.

Strategy 3 would obviously have pros and cons that fall somewhere between the first two strategies.

After being on the housing market for about a month I’ve learned it’s brutal out there! I may not find a place for a while since those with cash or sizable down payments scoop up places 1-2 days after listing. I’ve placed one offer on a condo and bid equally to an all cash offer so mine was not accepted.


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