The general rule on early withdrawalsfrom retirement accounts isthat if you start taking money outbefore you reach age 59 1/2, you pay a10% penalty on the amount youwithdraw, in addition to any incometax you owe on the withdrawal. Thereare several exceptions to the rule,though, including 1 that applies onlyto 401(k) plans. If you leave youremployer during or after the calendaryear in which you turn age 55, youcan start taking distributions fromyour 401(k) plan without triggeringthe 10% penalty, although you willstill owe ordinary income taxes onthe money. Before you start makingplans to retire on that income, however,add up your expenses, includinghealth insurance. You may find thatpaying for your own health benefits isa budget buster.