Traditional IRAs: Distributions

  1. Traditional IRAs: Introduction
  2. Traditional IRAs: Eligibility Requirements
  3. Traditional IRAs: Contributions
  4. Traditional IRAs: Distributions
  5. Traditional IRAs: Conclusion

Distributions from traditional IRAs are optional until the owner reaches his or her required beginning date (RBD), when required minimum distributions (RMD)s must begin.

Distributions are generally treated as ordinary income. Start taking them too young and you'll be hit with a penalty.

Distributions That Occur Before Age 59½

Distributions that occur before the IRA owner reaches the age of 59½ are subject to a 10% early-distribution penalty, in addition to any income tax owed. (For background reading, see 9 Penalty-Free Withdrawals.) The IRS will waive this early-distribution penalty when distributions are used for reasons that include the following:

For Unreimbursed Medical Expenses

If the distribution is used to pay unreimbursed medical expenses, the amount that exceeds 10% of the individual's adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year of the distribution will not be subject to the early-distribution penalty. In other words, the amount paid for the unreimbursed medical expenses minus 10% of the individual's adjusted gross income for the year of the distribution can be distributed penalty free.

To Pay Medical Insurance

Individuals can make a penalty-free distribution to pay for medical insurance for themselves, their spouses and their dependents, provided the distribution occurs under the following four conditions:

  • The individual has lost his or her job.
  • The individual has received unemployment compensation paid under any federal or state law for 12 consecutive weeks.
  • The individual receives the distributions during either the year he or she receives the unemployment compensation or the following year.
  • The individual receives the distributions no later than 60 days after he or she has been re-employed.

While Disabled  

If an individual makes a distribution from his or her traditional IRA while disabled, the distributions are not subjected to the early-distribution penalty. Individuals who are considered disabled may need to furnish proof that a physical or mental condition keeps them from engaging in substantial gainful activities. A physician must determine that this condition can be expected to result in death or to continue for an indefinite duration.

As Distributions to the IRA Beneficiary
Amounts distributed from an inherited IRA are not subject to penalty.

As Part of a SEPP Program
For penalty-free distributions that are part of a series of substantially equal periodic payments (SEPP) over the life of the IRA holder and or his or her beneficiary, the payments must last five years or until the IRA owner reaches age 59½ – whichever is longer – and the calculation of the payment amounts must be done under certain IRS-approved methods.

For Qualified Higher Education Expenses
Amounts are penalty free if they are used to cover qualified higher education expenses for the IRA owner and/or his or her dependents. These qualified education expenses are tuition, fees, books, supplies and equipment required for the enrollment to or attendance at an eligible educational institution. An eligible educational institution is any college, university, vocational school or other post-secondary educational institution eligible to participate in the student aid programs administered by the Department of Education. These eligible educational institutions include virtually all accredited post-secondary institutions, whether public, nonprofit or proprietary (privately owned and profit making). The educational institution should be able to indicate whether it is an eligible educational institution or click here to check.

To Purchase a First Home
The IRA owner can make penalty-free distributions to purchase, build or rebuild a first home:

  • for the IRA owner
  • for the IRA owner's spouse
  • for a child of the IRA owner or of the IRA owner's spouse
  • for a grandchild of the IRA owner or of the IRA owner's spouse
  • for a parent or other ancestor of the IRA owner or of the IRA owner's spouse

The first-time homebuyer distribution must be used to pay qualified acquisition costs before the end of the 120th day after the IRA owner receives the distributed assets.

The total distribution the IRA owner uses for first-time home purchases cannot exceed $10,000 during the IRA owner's lifetime. For married individuals, the $10,000 applies separately to each spouse, which means that the total for both is $20,000.

For payment of an IRS levy
The IRS may levy against an IRA, resulting in a distribution. The distributed amount is subject to income tax, but the early-distribution penalty is waived.

Additional Information

The 10% early-distribution penalty does not apply to amounts that are not subject to income tax. These amounts include the following:

  • distributions of nondeductible IRA contributions
  • amounts that are in excess of the contribution limit and are then removed from the IRA before the IRA owner's tax-filing deadline (plus tax-filing extensions)
  • distributions that are deposited to a retirement plan as a rollover contributions within 60 days of receipt, provided the amount is rollover eligible

Distributions That Occur on or After Age 59½

Distributions that occur on or after the IRA owner reaches age 59½ may be subject to income tax but will not be subjected to the early-distribution penalty.

Required Minimum Distributions (Age 70½)

Traditional IRA distributions cannot be deferred indefinitely. An IRA owner must begin required minimum distributions (RMDs) the year he or she reaches age 70½, at which time the IRA owner may distribute the full balance of the IRA or distribute a minimum amount each year.

The first RMD must be distributed by Apr 1 of the year after the year in which the IRA owner reaches age 70½. This is referred to as the required beginning date or RBD.

For example, an IRA owner who reaches age 70½ in June of 2018 must take his or her first RMD by April 1, 2019. IRA owners must distribute RMDs for subsequent years by December 31 of each year for which they are due. This means that if the IRA owner defers the first RMD until April 1 of the year after he or she turns 70½, he/she will be required to take a second RMD amount in that same year, which counts as the second year’s RMD.

For example, an IRA owner who reaches age 70½ in June of 2018 must take his or her first RMD by April 1, 2019. IRA owners must distribute RMDs for subsequent years by December 31 of each year for which they are due. This means that if the IRA owner defers the first RMD until April 1 of the year after he or she turns 70½, he/she will be required to take a second RMD amount in that same year, which counts as the second year’s RMD.

 

Example: Taking RMDs

Jill turns 70½ in June of 2018, and she decides to defer her first RMD until April 1, 2019.
Jill is required to take a second RMD (for 2019) by December 31, 2019. For subsequent years, Jill must distribute her RMD amounts by December 31 of each year.

 

Generally, the IRA custodian/trustee will calculate the RMD amount and send the notification to the IRA holder. Alternatively, the IRA custodian/trustee may send an RMD reminder to the IRA owner with an offer to calculate the RMD amount upon request.

RMD amounts not distributed from the IRA by the due date are subject to a 50% excess-accumulation penalty.

 

Example: Excess Accumulation Penalty

John is 75 years old, and his RMD for 2018 is $5,000. By December 31, 2018, John has distributed only $4,000 from his IRA. Because John's RMD was short by $1,000, he must pay the IRS a 50% excess-accumulation penalty ($1,000 x 50% = $500).

 

The excess accumulation penalty must be paid when the individual files his or her federal tax return. If the individual feels that the failure was due to reasonable circumstance, he or she may write to the IRS and request that the penalty be waived. If a waiver is requested, the penalty should be paid only if the IRS denies the request.

Traditional IRAs: Conclusion