The New CARES Act Allows Pandemic Victims to Borrow from Their 401(k)s and IRAs Without Penalty and Defer Required Minimum Distributions


By: Greg Fayard

The federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law March 27, 2020, includes retirement tax relief for victims of the pandemic—namely victims’ 401(k)s and IRAs.

Under section 2202 of the $2 Trillion law (which amends the IRS code), victims under 59 and a half may withdraw up to $100,000 (or the entire balance if less than that) from their retirement accounts (401(k)s and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)) WITHOUT paying the normal 10% penalty as long as they pay back the withdrawn amount within three years.

But who qualifies as a Coronavirus victim and can take advantage of this provision? To qualify, individuals (or their spouse or dependent) needs to be diagnosed with the COVID-19 disease, or experienced adverse financial consequences from being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having work hours reduced, or being unable to work due to lack of child care stemming from the pandemic. Any early Coronavirus-triggered withdrawals, however, would be taxed depending on the individual’s income and tax bracket, which usually falls in the 20% to 25% range. Hence, while the Coronovirus-sanctioned withdrawals avoid the normal 10% penalty, it does not permit tax-free withdrawals (unless the withdrawal is from a Roth 401(k)). 

Borrowing from your 401(k), however, regardless of the penalty, should be a last resort—especially now, considering the steep decline in retirement account balances resulting from the pandemic. With a turbulent stock market likely in the near future given the extension of the federal “slow the spread” protocols to April 30, 2020, only the most desperate should consider an early 401(k) withdrawal, even if the 10% penalty is temporarily waived for 2020.

There is also tax relief for required minimum distributions under the CARES Act. The recently enacted Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act (enacted December 20, 2019, taking effect January 1, 2020), provides retirees who turned 72 before April 1, 2020, who have traditional IRAs or a 401(k), must take minimum distributions, or RMDs, by the end of the year. If they don’t take their Required Minimum Distribution, they will be penalized 50% of the RMD amount. The RMD is subject to federal income tax. For those who turned 70 and a half in 2019, the RMDs would normally have to be taken by this April. 

Additional Information: 

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis.  On April 2, we will discuss the impact of Coronavirus on law enforcement.  Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Labor & Employment, Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at

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