Q&A: Here’s a big mistake to avoid when planning your wedding

Dear Liz: Would you advise taking money out of your 401(k) for your wedding if you’re getting a lump sum of money within the same year and can pay the full amount back?

Answer: How about postponing the wedding until you can pay for it in cash?

That would be so much better than starting your life together “betting on the come” — in gambling parlance, counting on cards that haven’t yet been dealt into your hand. There are so many ways that can go wrong and only a few where it can go right.

The most obvious risk in borrowing from your 401(k) is that you will lose your job and won’t be able to pay back the money before the balance is deemed a withdrawal, incurring taxes and penalties. Plus, you can’t put the money back, so you’ve lost all the future tax-deferred compounding those savings could have earned.

You’re also setting a seriously bad precedent for your marriage when you borrow money for a luxury, which is what a wedding is. (You also might want to read the Emory University study that found the duration of a marriage was inversely proportional to how much was spent on the engagement ring and wedding. The more spent, in other words, the shorter the marriage.)

It’s easy to get in the habit of borrowing rather than making hard choices or having hard discussions. But a good marriage, and sound finances, requires plenty of both. Give yourselves the gift of a wedding you can afford, when you can afford it.

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