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Why Tapping Your 401(k) Early Can Sting

The costs add up when you take money out of your retirement account early.

For young adults with high-interest debt and few other options, tapping into retirement funds can be tempting. However, there's one major reason why it's a bad idea: It can cost a lot more than it saves.

While the golden years can seem far off to those in Generations X and Y -- and immediate needs can seem more important -- it's wise to look for other options. Withdrawals or loans from retirement funds can come with hefty penalties, taxes and interest rates unless there is a severe medical or court-ordered hardship. Taking out cash also saps the compounding interest that is being earned.

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"Unfortunately a lot of people between 22 and 35... see the 401(k) as sort of just a regular savings account," says Vincent Barbera, director of financial planning at TGS Financial Advisors. "You say, 'I need some cash and I'll just tap into that.' That's the worst mentality to have. That's really something you shouldn't even look at -- it's really the last, last, last resort."

Putting $5,000 toward retirement at the age of 25 will earn tens of thousands in dividends and capital gains over the next 40 years, according Barbera. Putting that same $5,000 into the fund over several years will significantly lower the returns.

Taking out cash not only lowers returns but costs a great deal: A $1,000 withdrawal from a retirement fund can cost up to $400 in taxes and penalties, Barbera says.

Instead, Barbera suggests setting up a management program to restructure and pay off debt the old-fashioned way, which takes longer but is more rewarding. He also advises clients to contribute at least as much to their retirement accounts as their companies will match and to start saving as soon as possible.

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"Once you flip that tassel to the other side

at graduation, start investing," Barbera says. "Instead of asking your parents for a car, ask them to start a Roth IRA." offers several retirement calculators to structure a

retirement plan

or find out how much you can

take out

without penalties if you're at least 35 years old.