Storm victims can use retirement funds for emergency loans

With clean-up efforts still underway and billions of dollars in damage, the IRS has offered victims of Superstorm Sandy an opportunity to use their retirement accounts for emergency money to help.

According to Reuters, workers with employer-provided plans, such as 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans and 457(b) deferred compensation plans, may be able to use streamlined loan procedures, the IRS said.

Those with individual retirement accounts may not take loans, but they may be able to take hardship withdrawals.

The new announcement, made Friday, comes after other relief measures from the IRS, including deferring deadlines for employees and employers in storm-damaged areas of the Eastern Seaboard.

The IRS said it would trim red tape involved when account-holders try to tap retirement plans, in order to help those needing cash quickly for home repairs or temporary housing.

Hardship withdrawals are typically narrowly defined, and aimed at items like funeral costs or medical expenses. But the IRS guidance says that in the case of Sandy withdrawals, they could be used for items like food and shelter as well.

The agency also said parents and other relatives who live outside the disaster area could tap retirement accounts for loans or withdrawals to help family members hurt by the storm.

People who wanted to take advantage of these fast track rules would have to make their withdrawals by Feb. 1, 2013, the agency said.

Hardship distributions from tax-deferred accounts typically are subject to income taxes and a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. In contrast, loans are tax free if repaid in five years or less.

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