To cash in or not to cash in

Well, we all know (maybe) that selling off your 401k under normal circumstances is probably a less than intelligent thing to do. My parents berated me early on in my “professional” career about getting my retirement fund off the ground. And in 2005, that was a great idea. Times were good. I put away a sliver of my earnings (7%) and saw my company matching 100% of my first 5% (sounds more confusing than it actually is). Ah, yes. Those were the days.

Have you looked at your 401k lately? I have and it’s enough to consider therapy.

Maybe you’re smart enough to have kept your money out of the stock market. But for those of us in it, a lot of experts (read: people who have no clue) may tell you to weather the storm. Alright, I see the appeal and it sort of makes sense. Sort of. I have a chunk of change sitting there and it’s buying stuff up. Now that some stocks are so cheap, I’m buying up shares in a massive quantity while I sleep. So, of course the optimist’s view is one that espouses to wait it out–markets will return to a healthy state, and I’ll have a portfolio that’s thick and rich (literally). No need to get nervous nelly and sell it off. But as every annoying, yelling guy and gal on MSNBC will yell at you: “WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW LONG THIS IS GOING TO LAST!” Is it time?

Well, there’s the obvious hitch (of course)–we’re traveling the world for at least a year and this is a good chunk of money that could help us out. During this time, no money will be getting saved and more money will need to be spent. Where is all that money coming from? See my previous posts. But so, so much more could come from my juicy, tempting and fatally failing 401k fund, right?

I’ve actually stopped my contributions this year. That 7% I was throwing in? Yeah, well it’s going directly to my ING account instead. They seem to be able to hold onto it. I’ve lost more than 60% of my total portfolio value in the past 14 months. I just don’t care to throw more money away right now when the primary goal is, duh, saving.

So, I ask, what would you do in this situation? I’m still young (sort of, right?) and have plenty of time to start a fund back up if I indoctrinate myself back into corporate America (not likely). Is there harm? Well, I consider the government taking a third of it as harmful, but that’s just me. Apart from the inevitable tax nightmare, what else is at stake?

Weigh in, why don’t ya:

-Adam

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3 responses to “To cash in or not to cash in

  1. Here’s a thought: Do you think you will go back to live in the United States after your experience? Or do you think you would rather open yourself up to living in other countries?

    I’ve been told by the Library’s financial manager that if someone plans on permanently leaving the United States, it’s best to keep money in money market accounts to keep it fluid and easy to get to.

    Not a 401K, not an IRA.

    I say cash it.

  2. ourexcellentadventure

    Who knows? The money market is probably the best safety net I can get right now. It sure won’t have me LOSING money, much like my 401k….

  3. Jason and Alexa

    I would not do it. We met our goals of $25k per person without looting our 401(k)s, which of course are only worth 1/2 of what we contributed right now anyway.

    The tax and penalty consequenses will rob you of another 20% or so, and will make your taxes complex (i.e. you will have a large tax bill for taking out this pre-tax money) We had to do our taxes on the the road this year, it was hard enough without dealing with 401(k) withdrawals. We’ll use our to travel more when we’re old people.

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