People usually know they can get dinged for taking money out of their retirement plans, yet sometimes they can’t help it if they’re forced to grab at it for emergencies, whether it’s a health scare or a broken down car. But a recent tweak in retirement legislation has created a new fund that might help savers avoid that problem.

The Employee Benefits Security Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, today issued guidance on the introduction of pension-linked emergency savings accounts—a new feature of the SECURE 2.0 Act that aims to improve retirement security.

The 2022 legislation amended the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and authorized the creation of pension-linked emergency savings accounts (also called PLESAs) as part of people’s retirement savings plans, including their 401(k)s. The accounts are meant to keep people from having to raid their own retirement funds early—risking taxation and penalties—to pay for an emergency. This is sometimes referred to as “leakage.”

“These savings accounts will enhance retirement security by reducing retirement plan leakage and, at the same time, offering additional flexibility to workers,” said Lisa M. Gomez, the assistant secretary for employee benefits security.

The new accounts are effective for the plan years beginning Dec. 31, 2023, which gives employers the authority to automatically enroll their employees into the emergency accounts, make employee contributions through payroll deductions, and make matching employer contributions to the linked retirement plans of up to $2,500 per year.

Participants can withdraw funds held in the emergency accounts at least once a month, as necessary, to cover emergencies, according to the initial guidance offered by the Internal Revenue Service, released Jan. 12.

The DOL said in its own guidance: “Employees who contribute to a PLESA may draw from the accounts as frequently as monthly without reducing their retirement savings in their accounts within the linked defined contribution plans and without incurring the tax penalties ordinarily associated with early withdrawals from a retirement account.”

Gomez added, “Far too often, unexpected expenses, like emergency dental care, a broken refrigerator or automotive repairs, force workers to tap into their retirement savings plans through loans and hardship withdrawals simply because they don’t have personal savings at the ready to absorb those unplanned expenses.” But the new accounts offered by retirement plans, are “an additional option that provides them access to needed funds when emergency situations arise.”

This guidance, which the DOL developed after speaking with the Department of Treasury, the IRS and other interested parties, consists of 20 frequently asked questions and responses.

The DOL is also considering additional guidance, the agency said.