If you do not make a required minimum distribution (RMD) from your own or an inherited IRA by the specified deadline, the IRS could hit you with a big penalty - 50%! For example, if you were required to withdraw a minimum of $4,000 and you did not, you would be obliged to pay $2,000.
Like the majority of investors, you're most likely working on a retirement portfolio that will provide a large enough nest egg to give you a comfortable retirement. Retirement financial planners refer to this as the "accumulation phase." Your goal in this phase is to choose investments with long-term growth potential - for example, a current top ranked dividend stock like AES (AES).
There is also a second phase of retirement planning that gets less focus - despite the fact that it's the more interesting part. It's the "distribution phase," which essentially means spending the wealth you've worked hard to amass.
Planning for the distribution phase is the time where you may make decisions about where you'll want to live in retirement, whether you'll want to travel, hobbies you may pursue, and other decisions that will affect your retirement spending.
Along with those choices, you need to be mindful of the required minimum distribution (RMD), because it applies to the majority of retirement accounts. This IRS rule requires you to withdraw a specific minimum amount from any qualified accounts you have when you reach age 70 1/2.
What is the point of this mandatory withdrawal by the IRS? Not surprisingly, it's to be sure that the government gets their tax money. Without the RMD requirement, individuals could live off other income and never pay tax on retirement account gains. That cash could be left to family or friends as an inheritance and the IRS would not receive taxes from it.
Key Facts to Know About RMDs
Which types of retirement accounts have RMDs? Qualified retirement accounts like IRA accounts, 401(k)s, 457 plans and other tax-deferred retirement savings plans like a TSP, 403(b), TSA, SEP, or SIMPLE IRA plan require withdrawals in retirement.
When do I have to start taking distributions? For most accounts, you must take your first distribution by April 1 of the year following the calendar year in which you reach age 70 1/2. If you retire after 70 1/2, you must take your first RMD from your 401(k), profit-sharing, 403(b), or other defined contribution plan by April 1 of the year following the calendar year in which you retire.
For each year after your required starting date, you must take your RMD by December 31. Note that you don't need to take an RMD on a Roth IRA since you covered taxes before contributing. Other varieties of Roth accounts require RMDs. But, there are approaches to avoid them - for instance, you can roll your Roth 401(k) into your Roth IRA.
What happens if don't take my RMD? The penalty for not taking a required minimum distribution, or if the distribution is not large enough, is a 50% tax on the amount not withdrawn in time.
How much money do I have to withdraw? To calculate a specific RMD, you must divide your prior year's December 31st retirement account balance by a "distribution period" factor based on your age.
Example: Ann is 70 and must take her first RMD in the year she reaches age 70 1/2. Her year-end IRA balance the prior year was $100,000. Her "distribution period" factor is 27.4. The result of dividing $100,000 by 27.4 is $3,649.63 - the amount of the RMD that Ann must withdraw for the calendar year in which she turns 70 1/2.
Learning about the "distribution phase" is just one aspect of preparing for your nest egg years.
To learn more about the tax implications of retirement spending - and much more about retirement planning - download our free guide: Retirement Made Easy.
(We are reissuing this article to correct a mistake. The original article, issued on December 12, 2019, should no longer be relied upon.)
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