March 2013

Early Withdrawals from Retirement Accounts During the Great Recession

Robert Argento, Victoria L. Bryant, and John Sabelhaus


Early withdrawals from retirement accounts are a double-edged sword, because withdrawals reduce retirement resources, but they also allow individuals to smooth consumption when they experience demographic and economic shocks. Using tax data, we show that pre-retirement withdrawals increased between 2004 and 2010, especially after 2007, but early withdrawal rates are substantial (relative to new contributions) in all of those years. Early withdrawal events are strongly correlated with shocks to income and marital status, and lower-income taxpayers are more likely to experience the types of shocks associated with early withdrawals and more likely to have a taxable withdrawal when they experience a given shock.

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Keywords: Retirement plans, withdrawals

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Last Update: June 26, 2020