Man loses unemployment benefits after dipping into 401k

8:23 PM, Jun 21, 2010   |    comments
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"I never dreamed I'd have to have unemployment some day," he said.

Jackson has been looking everywhere, including retail and home improvement stores, for more than a year. He hasn't gotten anywhere.

"We're lucky to get half way through the month before we're completely out of money. It's been rough," Jackson said. "It's a hard market right now to find a job, especially at my age."

In November, Jackson filed for unemployment and received two checks.
As part of the rules for receiving benefits, every two weeks, Jackson had to call into what is called a CUBLine (The Colorado Unemployment Benefits Line.) The automated line goes through a series of questions unemployment benefit recipients answer. During one of the calls, Jackson was asked if he'd taken out a distribution from his 401k. He said he did, $10,000 to pay for his son's college.

"We had a commitment with the college my son goes to be able to pay the family portion and when I got laid off that had been a major concern for us," he said.

Jackson said after being laid off and before applying for unemployment, he took more than $230,000 of his 401k he's earned over the years at IBM and reinvested it.
Most of the money was put into an indexed annuity, which he can't touch for ten years. About $51,000 went into a liquid IRA. Jackson said he put it there so he could pay for his son's school.

After signing up for unemployment benefits, Jackson took out $10,000 to pay for college tuition. He said other than paying taxes, he was not penalized for taking the money out of his fund because it was for higher education.

But when he admitted to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment he'd taken the money out, his unemployment benefits were cut off.

Jackson later learned it's against the law in Colorado to take any money out of your 401k for one whole year if you're receiving unemployment benefits.
The language is on the front page of an application Jackson signed in order to start receiving his benefits.

The documents partially state: "I will reinvest the money into a KEOGH or Individual Retirement Account, (IRA) for a duration of at least one year. I also understand that if I choose not to reinvest my lump-sum pension or retirement, UI benefits will be postponed from the date of receipt of the payment for the number of weeks equal to the total amount of the pension divided by the full-time weekly wage received from the employer."

Jackson said he had a long conversation about his 401k with a representative of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. So he admits he did not read the entire application when he signed it and missed the part about losing benefits if the money is not fully reinvested.

"I know better," Jackson said. "Many times in life if we sit down and read the fine print, we're going to be there for a while. I have no excuse for that. I should've read it."

"Under our unemployment insurance program we're following state law, which is if you touch even $5 dollars for your 401k it will impact your benefits," said Cher Haavind, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. "It's an employer-funded program, whether it's severance, pension or distribution of 401k, all those things, any other money you have received from the employer will play into your benefit amount."

Haavind added, "The program is there to meet one's needs again when they're transitioning from job to job. Perhaps the perception is if you have other resources available to you that you should look at those first before receiving unemployment insurance benefits."

Jackson went through all three levels of the appellate process and lost. Because of the state's complicated formula, Jackson won't get any more unemployment benefits until September of 2015.
He says he knows the mistake is his, he says he was just trying to put his son through college.

"If education means that much to this country and to the President then it should mean something to everybody under him," he said. "In the Federal government and State government. We should all be working together for the same goal."

Haavind stressed the importance of people reading the documents in their entirety before signing them.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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