In a significant move towards empowering the financial resilience of victims of domestic abuse, President Biden signed the SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 into law on December 29, 2022. This comprehensive piece of legislation brings much-needed relief and financial security to those facing the harrowing ordeal of domestic violence. One of the key provisions of this Act, Section 314, paves the way for victims to access funds from their retirement accounts, including 401(k), 403(b), and 457(b) plans, without incurring the usual early distribution penalties.
Domestic abuse is an alarming issue that affects countless individuals across the United States. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence each year. Victims of abuse often find themselves trapped in a cycle of violence due to financial dependence on their abusers. The SECURE 2.0 Act acknowledges this dire need and takes a significant step towards addressing it.
Section 314 of the SECURE 2.0 Act is designed to provide immediate financial support to victims of domestic abuse, enabling them to escape abusive situations. Starting in 2024, a domestic abuse victim may take a distribution in an amount equal to the lesser of $10,000 (adjusted for inflation) or half of their vested account balance from their retirement savings. This withdrawal is exempt from the customary 10% early distribution fees that typically apply to withdrawals made before reaching retirement age. However, the distribution is subject to income tax. The inflation adjustment is set to begin in 2025.
To be eligible for this penalty-free distribution, a plan participant must be the victim of domestic abuse. Individuals can self-certify their eligibility, which is a vital aspect of this provision, as it ensures that the process is accessible and does not require the involvement of the abuser.
The distribution must be taken within 12 months of the incident. Importantly, if the individual repays the amount withdrawn within the following three years, they can receive a refund for income taxes paid on the withdrawn amount, under certain circumstances. This feature encourages victims to regain their financial footing after escaping an abusive situation.
The Act defines domestic abuse in a comprehensive manner. It includes physical, psychological, sexual, emotional, and economic abuse. Furthermore, it encompasses any efforts aimed at controlling, isolating, humiliating, or intimidating the victim or undermining their ability to reason independently. The penalty-free withdrawal also applies to abuse of the employee’s children or another family member living in the household.
It is important to note that this provision is not available to plans subject to joint survivors (QJSA) spousal consent requirements, including money purchase pension plans. This limitation arises because it would necessitate the abusive spouse or domestic partner’s consent, which is clearly not feasible or appropriate in such situations.
The inclusion of Section 314 in the SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 is a significant step towards providing financial relief and empowerment to victims of domestic abuse. By allowing them to access their retirement savings without penalties, it enables victims to break free from abusive situations and build a more secure future for themselves and their families. The Act recognizes the need for flexibility and compassion when it comes to domestic abuse, offering victims a lifeline to regain control of their lives. This legislative change is not just a financial measure; it is a gesture of support and empowerment for those who have suffered in silence for far too long.
To continue learning about Secure 2.0 and other sections, click here to read our previous articles.