Accessing Retirement Savings While in Service

Retirement Savings

The federal government encourages working Americans to save more for retirement by providing both protections and restrictions for retirement plan savings. Under the rules in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), both employee and employer contributions and earnings grow tax-deferred meaning you get relief from paying federal income taxes until you begin withdrawing from your plan. By deferring taxes, you can save more and maximize your retirement savings.

Retirement savings are also protected from bankruptcy proceedings and most other legal actions. In exchange for these protections, the IRC limits access to these accounts while you are still employed, and in most cases applies a penalty to retirement plan withdrawals prior to age 59-½.

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Access to Basic Retirement Plans

No in-service withdrawals or loans are available from either the WWU Retirement Plan (URP) or the state of Washington retirement plans (e.g., PERS, TRS, and LEOFF). These accounts can only be accessed after all WWU employment is terminated and you are separated from the plan. For more information about WWURP, contact Fidelity Investments, the master administrator. For information about the PERS, TRS, LEOFF and other state retirement plans, check the state Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) website.

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Access to Optional Retirement Savings Plans

The primary purpose of 403(b) plans, such as the WWU Voluntary Investment Program (VIP), is to help provide you with long-term financial security through a tax-favored savings plan. In exchange for the tax-favored status of this plan, the federal government limits access to these funds while you are still employed. WWU has elected to allow limited access for those participants under the age of 59-½ to their existing VIP account balances for loans or "hardships" as defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS rules are strict around both loans and hardships, and you will be asked to provide the master administrator (Fidelity) with appropriate documentation to demonstrate that you are eligible to access the funds. For more information, contact Fidelity at 1-800-642-7131.

To comply with IRS Regulations, VIP participants under the age of 59-½ must first borrow against their VIP account prior to requesting a "hardship withdrawal," as described in Section 6.3 of the VIP plan document. In other words, you must initiate a loan.

The Washington State Deferred Compensation Program (WSDCP), a 457(b) optional retirement savings program, is managed by the DRS. Contact DRS directly for information about accessing contributions prior to your retirement.

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VIP Hardship Withdrawal Prior to Age 59-1/2

The VIP limits in-service withdrawals to individuals under the age of 59 ½ and their dependents who meet the financial burden of a qualifying hardship as defined by the IRS. If you do not qualify for a loan, you may apply for a hardship withdrawal based on the following reasons:

  • Payment of unreimbursed medical expenses
  • Purchase of a principal residence
  • Payment for the next 12 months of post-secondary education for yourself, your spouse, or your IRS dependents
  • Payment that prevents the eviction or foreclosure of your principal residence
  • Burial or funeral expenses for your deceased parent, spouse, children or dependents
  • Expenses for repairing damage to your principal residence, as described in IRC section 165, "casualty losses."

Requests for hardship withdrawals require completion of hardship verification forms. There must be verifiable, immediate, and heavy financial need, and there must not be any other resources reasonably available to you (including loans) to handle that financial need. Your withdrawal will be subject to Federal income taxes, and a 10% penalty may apply. Under IRS rules, employee contributions will be suspended for six months following the distribution.

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How to Withdraw

Prior to age 59 ½, loans or hardship withdrawals can be complex and have long-lasting consequences to both your current and financial situation. Review your retirement plan rules and determine what employment restrictions apply and what taxes and penalties may apply if you withdraw your retirement funds.

To set up a VIP loan or withdrawal transaction, contact Fidelity at 1-800-642-7131 to discuss eligibility for accessing the funds, forms needed to complete the transaction, and other important details.

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Additional Information

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Page Updated 11.19.2013