Those who own a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) or another type of retirement account—such as SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, and 401(k) or 403(b) accountsmust withdraw a minimum amount from that account before turning age 72 (or 70½ if you reach 70½ before Jan. 1, 2020). If the account holder fails to take an amount called the required minimum distribution (RMD) on time, and to take the right amount, then there can be a penalty. For every dollar not withdrawn, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will charge a 50% penalty, known as the excise tax.

However, the IRS won’t charge you in 2020. On March 26, 2020, the Senate unanimously approved a $2 trillion coronavirus emergency stimulus package. This suspended RMDs from retirement accounts in 2020. This gives those accounts more time to recover from the stock market downturns. Retirees who can afford to leave them alone will get the tax break of not being taxed on mandatory withdrawals.

If, for any reason, you miss your deadline in a normal year, then there are some steps you must take.

Key Takeaways

  • Owners of a tax-deferred individual retirement account (IRA) or another type of retirement account must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from that account beginning at age 72 to avoid a penalty tax.
  • If a withdrawal is missed, then the account owner must pay the penalty or submit a waiver request.
  • In some cases, those who inherited a retirement account from an owner who died before beginning RMDs can avoid the penalty by withdrawing the full balance of the account by Dec. 31 of the fifth year following the year of the owner’s death.
  • The $2 trillion coronavirus emergency stimulus package suspended RMDs from retirement accounts in 2020.

Step 1: Pay the Excise Tax

The excise tax owed must be reported on IRS Form 5329 and IRS Form 1040 (your income tax return).The IRS website offers instructions for calculating the excise tax owed.

However, by meeting certain exceptions, you are not required to file a tax return. As explained in the instructions for filing Form 1040, 1040-SR, or 1040-NR, you must file Form 5329 by itself and pay the excise tax owed. Complete the form with the requested information, and enclose your check or money order made payable to the United States Treasury. On the check or money order, write your Social Security number, the current tax year, and “Form 5329.”

Step 2: Request a Waiver

If you feel that you missed the deadline due to a reasonable cause, then you may ask the IRS to waive the 50% excise tax. The request for a waiver may be included in a letter of explanation, which you attach to your tax return (Form 1040) along with your Form 5329. When requesting a waiver, do not pay the excess accumulation penalty up front. Instead, follow the instructions for requesting a waiver in the Instructions for Form 5329. If the IRS does not honor your waiver request, then you will be notified.

Step 3: Withdraw the Full Balance

In some cases, if you are a beneficiary who inherited a retirement account from an owner who died before their required beginning date (RBD), then you must begin withdrawing RMD amounts by a certain time. That deadline is Dec. 31 of the year following the year when the owner of the retirement account died. You must also withdraw an RMD amount by Dec. 31 of each subsequent year. (Under the new provisions of the SECURE Act of 2019, this scenario has gotten much less common; however, it may still apply to spousal beneficiaries, beneficiaries less than 10 years younger than the deceased, or those who inherited an account prior to Dec. 31, 2010.)

While the excise penalty will generally apply if you did not withdraw the RMD amount on time, the penalty may be waived if you switch to the five-year rule and withdraw the full balance of the account by Dec. 31 of the fifth year following the year when the retirement account owner died. Let’s look at the following example:

In 2018, John, age 63, inherited an IRA from his brother Ron, who died at age 65. Since Ron died before his RBD, John has two options for distributing the IRA balance:

  1. John can distribute the assets over his single life expectancy. For most IRA plan documents, this is the default option and is consistent with the provisions of RMD regulations.
  2. John can distribute the assets by Dec. 31 of the fifth year following the year when Ron died.

John chooses the life-expectancy option. The RMD for 2019 is $10,000, but John fails to withdraw any amount by Dec. 31, 2019. If John wants to continue using the life-expectancy method, then he will have to pay the IRS an excise tax of $5,000 and must file Form 5329. He may request a waiver if he feels the failure is due to a reasonable cause. However, John will receive an automatic waiver of the penalty if he withdraws the account balance by Dec. 31, 2023, the fifth RMD-year following the year when Ron died.

It may not be practical to switch to the five-year rule solely because you missed the RMD deadline. A competent financial professional can help you determine the best course of action—for example, whether it is more financially sound for you to pay the excise tax so that you continue enjoying tax-deferred growth (or tax-free growth in the case of a Roth IRA) or makes more sense for you to accept the waiver and distribute the assets within the five-year period.

The Bottom Line

Missing your RMD deadline can be frustrating as well as costly. To ensure it does not happen, take the necessary steps to make sure your distribution occurs by the applicable deadline. This includes making arrangements with your custodian for systematic or automatic withdrawals to occur on a predetermined date. Submit your withdrawal requests at least two months before the deadline, and check your statements to ensure that the correct amount was distributed from your account.

Submitting your requests early allows sufficient time for any necessary adjustments. Talk to your financial institution about other ways that it can help you to satisfy your RMD requirements.