It looks as though many Americans are cashing in their 401(k)s prematurely. So says Take Charge America, one of the nation’s largest non-profit financial education, credit counseling, and debt management companies-- based upon a recent survey.   According to Take Charge America, more than one-third of the individuals polled said they would consider meeting current financial obligations through their 401(k) and retirement savings. Of course, add to this that pursuant to a recent AARP study, more than 10 percent of people 50-70 years of age had already retired and are going back to work because of the economy.   “The age at which Americans can retire will continue to increase as many individuals look for quick fix solutions for current financial woes,” says Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America. The company offers certified credit counselors to provide financial advice for those dealing with the financial crisis and Sullivan has some good advice to navigate retirement planning:   1) Don’t Consider Cashing Out a 401(k) Early. He says this is almost always a bad idea because the individual is slapped with large penalties and taxes. He notes that if the person is under 59 ½, there is likely to be a 10 percent penalty plus taxes owed on the funds. “The government requires that 20 percent of the amount payable is automatically withheld on the taxable portion of the withdrawal and that could mean a total of 30 percent of the investment paid in taxes and penalties.”   2) Don’t Retire, Hold onto the Paycheck. Sullivan adds that postponing retirement can provide larger benefits. In fact, he notes that the government is now looking at age 67 as the new retirement age although many people are targeting 69 or 70.   3) Take Care of Health. Sullivan points out that staying healthy helps avoid medical costs and though its sounds simple, he says that keeping weight in check by eating less and avoiding fats and sweets can pay dividends in the future. Plus, exercise regularly and vigorously, and avoid alcohol and tobacco.   4) Change the Lifestyle. Although he admits it may seem drastic, Sullivan says that the best response to credit issues is to stop charging, put away credit cards, and get on a budget.   He concludes that it is tempting to look at the 401(k) as a resource to alleviate current financial burdens but that changes in lifestyle, including spending habits, taking care of health, and eliminating excess expenditures can help secure financial independence “without jeopardizing” the future.   Take Charge America can be reached at (888) 822-9193. Their Web site is www.takechargeamerica.org.

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