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Should You Use Your Roth IRA to Buy Your First Home?

January 28, 2020 · 8 minute read

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Should You Use Your Roth IRA to Buy Your First Home?

If you are a young professional, you most likely have multiple savings goals, including retirement and buying your first home. Saving for both can be challenging while also covering your monthly expenses.

When you factor in things like student loan payments and any other debt, not to mention a bit of wiggle room to actually live your life, you might find yourself struggling to balance it all.

On one hand, if you start saving early for retirement, your money has more time to grow with compound interest. On the other hand, saving for a down payment on a home in today’s market can take years depending upon the purchase price and loan program you choose. According to research by Zillow, it takes about seven years for home buyers to save a 20% down payment for the median value of a home in the U.S.

While 20% down is often thought of as the golden rule for mortgage down payments, these days it’s not required. In 2018, the median down payment on a home was around 5%, according to HousingWire.

There’s one tool of many that can help you reach both your home and retirement goals without requiring you to plan your entire life out before you turn 30: A Roth IRA.

While you’ve probably been told that you should never tap into your retirement money, using cash from a Roth IRA to fast-track your dream of home ownership can be a worthy exception.

Here are a few reasons you may consider leveraging a Roth IRA to become a first-time homeowner without having to delay your retirement goals, and some tips on how to go about it.

The Low-Down on a Roth IRA

IRAs are designed to help you save for retirement. However, a Roth IRA is different from other retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s and traditional IRAs. The main distinction is that you contribute after-tax dollars to a Roth IRA because contributions are not tax deductible.

Since you already paid taxes on the money before putting it into the account, the distributions you take when you retire can be withdrawn tax-free.

Compare that to traditional IRAs where you reap the tax benefits at the time of contribution (they’re deducted from your income on your tax return). The money is taxed when it is withdrawn in retirement, which according to IRS rules is after age age 59 ½.

Under certain circumstances, distributions can also be withdrawn tax free before retirement from a Roth IRA. So long as the account has been open for at least five years distributions can be withdrawn tax free; in the case of disability, if the distribution is made to a beneficiary after the account holder’s death, or in the case that the withdrawal fulfills the requirements for the first time home buyer exception.

But here’s the real game-changer: Unlike a traditional IRA, you can withdraw the money you contributed to a Roth IRA at any time without penalty.Things get a little more complicated when it comes to your investment earnings.

In very specific instances—buying your first home, for one—you are allowed to withdraw up to $10,000 of investment earnings from a Roth IRA with no tax or penalty. The only stipulations are that you must have had the account open for five years, and that the withdrawal is for your very first home.

Traditional IRAs also qualify for the first time home buyer exception. While this exception allows first time home buyers to avoid the 10% penalty, the withdrawal would still be charged income tax. By comparison, if you wanted to withdraw money from your 401(k), you would likely pay taxes and a penalty.

Crunching the Numbers

The best way to explain how this all works is by running the numbers. Let’s say you open a Roth IRA in 2019, contribute $6,000 per year (the current maximum contribution allowed) for five years, and hypothetically earn 7% per year on that money.

By 2022, you would have made $30,000 in contributions and earned about $4,500 on your investment. If you continue to save $6,000 for two more years, your contributions would climb to $42,000 and the investment earnings would be around $9,900.

After five years, you can withdraw all of your contributions and up to $10,000 of your investment earnings—but you might not have earned that much yet.

Because this withdrawal benefit is available only once in a lifetime, ideally, you might want to time it so that you only tap into your Roth after you’ve earned the full amount allowable.

One other important thing to keep in mind: Roth IRAs have contribution limits based on your income. For example, if you are single and make less than $122,000 in 2019 , the maximum Roth IRA contribution is $6,000 , even if you participate in a retirement plan through your employer.

If you make more than that, the benefit begins to phase out. If you make more than $137,000 as a someone who is filing single, you’re not able to contribute to a Roth IRA.For more information about IRA accounts and contribution, check out SoFi’s IRA calculator.

To recap, you can withdraw from the investment earnings in your Roth IRA to buy a house if:

•   You are a first time home buyer.

•   It has been at least five years since you first contributed to your Roth IRA (the five year mark starts on January 1st of the year you made your first contribution.)

•   You only withdraw up to $10,000 within your lifetime (pre-retirement).

•   You use the funds to purchase, build, or rebuild a home.

•   You can also use the money to help fund the purchase of a home for your child, grandchild, or parent who qualifies as a first time home buyer.

•   The funds must be used within 120 days of withdrawal.

You can withdraw from the contributions you have made into your Roth IRA at any time, for any reason. There is no tax or penalty, and you can use the money however you like.

Qualifying as a First Time Home Buyer

Even if you have owned a home in the past, you may still be able to qualify as a first time home buyer and withdraw money from your Roth IRA.

According to the IRS, you qualify as a first time home buyer if “you had no present interest in a main home during the 2-year period ending on the date of acquisition of the home which the distribution is being used to buy, build, or rebuild. If you are married, your spouse must also meet this no-ownership requirement.”

So if the acquisition date (the date you enter into a contract to purchase a home or start building a home) is at least two years later than the last date you had any ownership interest in a primary residence home, you can qualify as a first time home buyer under this program.

Things to Consider Before Withdrawing from Your Roth IRA

Although using money from your Roth IRA may seem like an easy source to fund a down payment to purchase your first home, it might not be the right decision for everyone. Before you cash out your Roth IRA, think about how it might broadly impact your financial future.

Where Will Your Money Work the Hardest?

Figure out where your money will be working harder for you. Keep market conditions in mind and compare your mortgage interest rate to the expected long term return you would earn by keeping your money in your Roth IRA.

It can be difficult to predict the stock market, but in the past 90 years, the average rate of return for the S & P 500 has hovered around 7%, and that’s adjusted for inflation. When money is withdrawn from the Roth IRA, the potential for additional growth is eliminated, as is the opportunity to benefit from compounding interest.

The housing market is also subject to fluctuation. Consider things like the location and housing market where you plan to buy. In addition, it’s worth factoring in things like current mortgage rates. Another factor that could influence your decision—mortgage interest is generally tax deductible up to $750,000.

There are a lot of moving pieces to consider when determining whether or not to use your Roth IRA to fund a down payment on a house. Consulting with a financial advisor or other qualified professional could be helpful as you weigh your options.

What Mortgage Options Are Available?

Conventional wisdom suggests a 20% down payment when buying a house. And generally, a larger down payment can mean improved loan terms and lower monthly payments.

But if it requires tapping into your retirement fund you may want to think twice. Before committing to a mortgage, explore your options—some mortgages, such as Fannie Mae’s 97% program, offer as little as 3% for a down payment.

How Will Your Retirement Goals Be Impacted?

Everyone’s financial journey is different. Financial and retirement goals are deeply personal, as are the amount of money an individual is able to save each month. For most people, taking money out of a retirement account early will hinder their progress.

Plus withdrawing the money early means you’ll miss out on the tax free growth offered by a Roth IRA. These negative impacts would need to be weighed against any market appreciation you may gain through homeownership.

How Will Your Retirement Goals Be Impacted?

Everyone’s financial journey is different. Financial and retirement goals are deeply personal, as are the amount of money an individual is able to save each month. For most people, taking money out of a retirement account early will hinder their progress.

Plus withdrawing the money early means you’ll miss out on the tax free growth offered by a Roth IRA. These negative impacts would need to be weighed against any market appreciation you may gain through homeownership.

Making This Strategy Work for You

In a perfect scenario, you wouldn’t choose to become a homeowner at the expense of draining your retirement nest egg. Instead, explore other options such as opening a Roth IRA and treat it almost like a savings account, with the intention of using it for your first home purchase five years (or more) from now.

Unlike other investment accounts, your investment returns are tax free, and—contrary to other retirement products—you wouldn’t even be taxed when it comes time to withdraw, as long as all Roth IRA requirements are met.

Ideally, at the same time, you would continue to fund other retirement accounts, such as the one offered through your employer. Even though home ownership is your immediate goal, you’d likely be working toward other longer-term financial goals (like retirement) as well.

And what if you don’t end up buying a home, or you come up with another source of down payment? A Roth IRA is still a win, since you can leave that money be and let it continue to grow for your retirement.

There are a few other circumstances in which you can likely avoid penalties on a withdrawal. These include qualified higher education expenses, some medical costs, and other hardships. Be sure to consult with your tax professional to clarify any of these exceptions before you move forward.

It’s also worth noting that traditional IRAs also qualify for a first time home buyer exception. This exception allows for up to $10,000 to be withdrawn from the IRA before the age of 59 ½, to purchase a house as a first time home buyer and avoid penalties.

In this case, income tax will likely need to be paid but qualifying withdrawals won’t be subject to the additional 10% early withdrawal penalty.

For most young adults with other financial obligations and an early career-level salary, using a Roth IRA to help save for a down payment will require an examination of personal priorities.

Getting Professional Advice

Only you can determine if using money from your Roth IRA to purchase your first home is a trade-off you are willing to make. As you’re starting to make these large life decisions, it can be very useful to seek out tools and resources to help you through the process.

SoFi offers an integrated platform where you can invest toward your financial goals and get personalized advice from qualified professionals.

With SoFi Invest®, you can set up an IRA or another investment vehicle and choose between active or automated investing, depending on your personal preference and financial goals.

Schedule a complimentary consultation with a SoFi Financial Planner to discuss your goals and develop a plan to help you reach them.

Learn more about SoFi Invest now, and start online investing smartly.


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