Learn How to Leverage Your 401(k) For Business Acquisitions

Team Acquira
-  April 9, 2024
What You’ll Learn:
  • How the benefits of using 401(k) funds include debt-free financing and easy qualification.
  • Why potential drawbacks include putting retirement savings at risk and lacking diversification.
  • A thorough checklist ensures success, such as assessment and vigilance regarding compliance.
  • Why investing in your own business through ROBS can be a self-motivating strategy.
  • How ROBS can also be used as a down payment for additional financing options.

Acquisition entrepreneurs and individuals seeking to purchase a business often explore various financial avenues.

A unique funding strategy involves leveraging a 401(k) retirement plan for business acquisition. By bypassing traditional loans and retaining complete ownership, this method presents distinct advantages.

This guide outlines the potential benefits and considerations associated with such a strategy.

Rollover for Business Startups (ROBS)

Rollover for Business Startups (ROBS) is a financial strategy that allows entrepreneurs to use their retirement savings to fund a new business or purchase an existing one without incurring early withdrawal penalties or taxes.

It involves three key parties:

  • Entrepreneur – the individual seeking to invest in a business opportunity.
  • Retirement Plan: The existing 401(k) or other eligible retirement plan holding the funds.
  • New Corporation: The corporation that will be created to facilitate this transaction.

Rollover for Business Startups (ROBS) is a financial strategy that allows entrepreneurs to use their retirement savings to fund a new business or purchase an existing one without incurring early withdrawal penalties or taxes.

Here's how the process generally works:

ROBS for Startups
  1. Form a New C Corporation: The individual sets up a new C corporation, which will eventually own and operate the business.
  2. Create a 401(k) Plan for the New Corporation: The new corporation sponsors a 401(k) plan that explicitly permits participants to invest in the corporation's stock.
  3. Rollover Funds from Existing Retirement Account: The individual rolls over funds from an existing qualified retirement account (like a 401(k) or IRA) into the new 401(k) plan.
  4. Purchase stock in the New Corporation: The new 401(k) plan purchases stock in the new corporation, giving the corporation the capital it needs to start or purchase the business.
  5. Operate the Business: The new corporation operates the business, and the retirement plan (now a shareholder) benefits from any growth in the value of the business.

ROBS arrangements are legal and governed by complex IRS and Department of Labor regulations. The involved parties may incur significant penalties and tax consequences if improperly handled.

For this reason, individuals considering this financing strategy are strongly advised to consult with financial professionals experienced in ROBS transactions.

The primary benefit of a ROBS is that it allows entrepreneurs to access their retirement savings without the typical taxes or penalties associated with early withdrawals.

Also Read: Understanding the Importance of Financing in Small Business Acquisition

It can be an attractive option for those who need substantial capital for a new business venture and prefer not to take on debt or seek external investors.

However, the complexity and potential risks associated with the ROBS process mean that it is not suitable for everyone, and thorough due diligence and professional guidance are essential.

Checklist for Success:

can i use my 401k to start a business
  • Assessment of Retirement Plan.
  • Engagement with Professional Counsel.
  • Drafting of Business Plan.
  • Formation of New Corporation.
  • Establishment of a New Retirement Plan.
  • Execution of the Funds Transfer.
  • Acquisition of Stock at Fair Market Value.
  • Allocation of Funds for Business Operations.
  • Vigilance Regarding Compliance.
  • Ongoing Monitoring and Adjustments.

Benefits of Using 401(k) Funds

Using 401k to buy a business can be an appealing option for entrepreneurs for several reasons:

  1. Debt-Free Financing:
    You are using your own money by leveraging your 401(k) to invest in a business. This means you're not borrowing and hence not incurring debt. Without interest payments and loan obligations, your business can potentially grow more rapidly.
  2. Rich in Cash:
    This strategy can provide immediate liquidity, giving your business a healthy cash flow. Having substantial cash on hand can be crucial for new businesses, offering the flexibility to weather unexpected challenges or capitalize on emerging opportunities.
  3. No Collateral Necessary:
    To secure the loan, traditional loans often require collateral, such as real estate or other valuable assets. With 401(k) funding, collateral is unnecessary since you use your funds.
  4. Invest in Yourself:
    You're essentially betting on yourself using your retirement savings to invest in your business. If you have confidence in your business plan and your ability to execute it, this can be a powerful and motivating way to invest your money.
  5. Easy Qualification:
    Unlike traditional loans that require thorough credit checks and financial scrutiny, using your 401(k) does not have the same hurdles. Your retirement savings are already your money, so you don't have to prove your worthiness to a lender.
  6. Can Be Used as Down Payment for Other Financing Options:
    If you need more capital than what's available in your 401(k), you can use those funds as a down payment for additional financing. This might make qualifying for other loans easier or attract investment partners.

Drawbacks of Using 401(k) Funds:

While the benefits are appealing, there are significant risks and challenges to consider:

  1. Retirement Savings is at Risk:
    Your 401(k) is intended to support you in retirement. Using these funds for a business puts that money at risk. If the business fails, you might lose a significant portion of your retirement savings.
  2. Complicated Process & Legal Intricacies:
    Using a 401(k) to fund a business is complex, especially through a ROBS arrangement. It must comply with numerous IRS and Department of Labor regulations. Missteps can lead to hefty penalties and tax consequences, so professional guidance is usually necessary.
  3. Lacks Diversification:
    Investing a substantial part of your retirement savings in your business puts many of your financial eggs in one basket. Diversification is a fundamental principle of investment strategy to minimize risk. Concentrating your savings on one venture might expose you to higher financial vulnerability.
can i cash out my 401k to start a business

Other Possible Options for Business Acquisition

When acquiring a business, using your 401(k) is just one option – but it's not the only one.

Here are some alternative funding strategies that prospective business owners might consider, including utilizing your 401(k) and other financing methods.

Rather than fully leveraging your 401(k) for a business purchase, you might choose to take out a loan against it. This allows you to borrow a percentage of your account balance, typically up to $50,000 or 50% of the vested account balance. This option may preserve some retirement safety net while still accessing capital.

Depending on your age and the specifics of your 401(k) plan, you can withdraw early to fund your business. However, this method often comes with penalties and tax implications, so it's advisable to consult with a financial advisor before proceeding.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers various loan programs to help entrepreneurs and small business owners. These can provide favorable terms and might fit your acquisition well.

Traditional bank loans, while requiring a more stringent approval process, can also be a funding source. The terms and interest rates will depend on various factors, including your creditworthiness and the financial health of the business you're buying.

Using personal savings is another option. Though it doesn't involve borrowing, it means putting your assets at risk, so careful consideration and planning are required.

A wise strategy could be combining several of the above methods to minimize risk and tailor the financing to your needs and comfort level. A blend of 401(k) funds, loans, and personal savings might create a balanced approach.

Essential Factors to Consider Before Buying a Business

Acquiring a business is a significant undertaking that requires careful thought and planning. Here are some critical factors to keep in mind:

Assessing the Feasibility of the Chosen Business Acquisition:

Understanding the market, the competition, and the industry's unique challenges is vital. Conducting a thorough feasibility study will inform whether the business opportunity aligns with your skills, experience, and financial resources.

Understanding the Valuation of the Business:

Conducting due diligence is crucial to understanding the true value of the business. This includes reviewing financial statements, contracts, assets, liabilities, and other relevant information.

Developing a Clear Business Plan:

Before buying a business, having a clear, detailed business plan is vital. This plan should outline your goals, strategies, and the necessary resources for success.


Leveraging a 401(k) for business acquisition presents both an exciting and complex opportunity.

For the right individual, with the proper guidance, it can be a powerful tool to launch or acquire a business without incurring traditional debt. Yet this approach's complexity and potential risks necessitate thorough understanding, careful planning, and professional assistance.

The success of this venture will largely depend on conducting proper due diligence, understanding the legal intricacies, and developing a robust business plan.

As with any significant financial decision, engaging with experienced financial professionals, considering alternative financing options, and assessing the overall feasibility of the business acquisition are crucial steps toward a successful entrepreneurial journey.

Are you considering using your 401(k) – or a portion of it – to finance a small business acquisition? Consider contacting our experts at Acquira for personalized guidance on how best to use your retirement savings.

Our Accelerator+ Program can give you the knowledge and skills to close a small business successfully. To see if you're eligible, fill out the form below. But space is limited!

Key Takeaways:

  • ROBS allows using retirement savings to fund a business without penalties.
  • Three key parties are involved: Entrepreneur, Retirement Plan, and New Corporation.
  • The process includes forming a corporation, creating a 401(k), and buying stock.
  • Intricate IRS and Department of Labor regulations govern ROBS.
  • Professional guidance is essential due to the complexity and potential risks.
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