A regular reader of my blog kindly pointed me to an article in Smart Money titled “401(k) Debit Cards Can Put Retirement at Risk” in which we are introduced to a debit-card like product which taps your 401(k) instead of your checking account. Although I wrote back in May’s “401(k) Loan bad for your (financial) health?” that loans were not absolutely bad, it depended on many factors, I think that such easy access is the flip side of the coin, almost certainly a bad thing. There are times I walk the fine line between wanting ‘big brother’ to establish just enough regulations to protect people from their own irresponsibility and wanting no such laws at all, caveat emptor still applying. Here, I’ll make the distinction between a one-time 401(k) loan used to help with the purchase of a first home, bridge the gap of income for an unemployed spouse, or a refinance of credit card debt combined with a change in lifestyle. Of course, paying off the cards with the loan, then charging up the cards again is no better than using a 401(k) debit card in the first place.
As the post title suggests, my feeling on this product is that it gives the consumer just enough rope to hang themselves.