For people with substantial amounts of expensive debt — such as large balances on high-interest credit cards — that pile of IRA cash might look like an attractive way to quickly pay off debt. But if you are younger than 59 ½, personal finance experts say don't do it because of those serious downsides we just discussed.
Of course, there are significant costs to carrying a large amount of credit card debt. In January 2013, the average interest rate on all credit cards was 14.96 percent [source: Dilworth]. Will your IRA grow faster than 14.96 percent this year? Probably not, but remember the penalties. Between taxes and early withdrawal penalties, you could lose 33 percent or more from your IRA just from cashing in early [source: Updegrave].
A more measured approach is to cut back on your IRA contributions and use that money to pay down credit card debt [source: Orman]. That way you can get rid of your debt sooner without cracking open that precious retirement nest egg.