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Should I tap my retirement savings?

November 26, 2012: 6:31 AM ET

I have a $325,000 home, a $250,000 mortgage and a student loan. I have been taking money out of my IRA since getting laid off, and paying a 10% penalty with each withdrawal. It could be several months before I land a full-time job. Am I better off continuing to tap my IRA, or should I take out an equity loan on my house, rent out my home and move in with family, or sell my home? — Cheri S.

Your retirement accounts should be your option of last resort. "The first thing to do is to use your liquid savings, if you haven't already," says Brent Lince of Hillsboro, Ore.-based Lince Financial Planning. This could mean using cash savings, CDs and money market accounts before tapping into an IRA.

If you've used up your liquid savings, however, your best choice may be to sell your home. Not only would it free up the equity you have in the house, but it would mean saving on the costs of property ownership, such as insurance, maintenance, and property taxes. By comparison, a home equity loan would mean taking on more debt. And Lince says that may not be a wise move when you're looking for a source of income.

In the meantime, look for other ways to reduce your cost of living. For example, contact your lender and see if you qualify for a student loan deferral. If you have a federal loan, you can find out if you qualify for deferral at the U.S. Department of education site (studentaid.ed.gov). That would allow you to focus your limited funds on covering your other costs.

— Austin Kilham

Got a question for the Help Desk? Send it to helpdesk@cnnmoney.com.

Posted in: Family Money, Retirement
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