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Money and Main Street
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Retirement-account withdrawls?
Retirement-account withdrawls?
Duane Huttenlocher, 31, is a semi-conductor equipment technician. He is seen here with his wife, Mirella.
Question: "During the debates for president, both McCain and Obama talked about a possible retirement plan withdrawl up to $10,000. What happened to this? We have not heard anything about this since the debates." -- Duane Huttenlocher, Maricopa County, Ariz.

Expert: Craig Copeland, senior research associate, Employee Benefit Research Institute

Answer: "President Obama said in October that people should be able to withdraw money from their retirement accounts penalty-free, but it hasn't been something he's focused on post-election.

The original proposal from Obama was scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and they said it would be a huge hit to the federal budget. So, without any offsetting cuts, it was not thought to be a good idea - especially when the government was spending so much money on TARP.

Obama did temporarily stop requiring seniors to withdraw a certain amount of money from their retirement accounts once they reach 70 1/2. He didn't want to force people to withdraw money when they had already lost so much, but that's temporary.

There's nothing in the stimulus that would allow you to take penalty-free withdrawals from your retirement plan unless you meet the current qualifications. We could do that if Congress passed a law, but unless you are 59 1/2 or older, or are going to use the money for a first-time home purchase, or a few other reasons, you must pay a 10% penalty and then pay taxes on the income you withdraw.

One reason against allowing people to withdraw is that you put the money in for retirement savings, and if you take it all out now, you lose not only the money you withdraw, but also any returns you would have gotten on that money over the next 10 to 15 years.

But in some cases, if you don't get your finances in order, the future earnings may not matter as much. It's a tough choice, and what to do depends what your choices are right now. But generally, I've never seen the government allow you to put savings in that are not taxed, and then allow you to take it back out without it being taxed. I don't see them ever taking out that penalty."

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Last updated April 14 2009: 11:56 AM ET
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