Required minimum distributions, often referred to as RMDs or minimum required distributions, are amounts that the federal government requires you to withdraw annually from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans after you reach age 70½ (or, in some cases, after you retire). You can always withdraw more than the minimum amount from your IRA or plan in any year, but if you withdraw less than the required minimum, you will be subject to a federal penalty.
The RMD rules are calculated to spread out the distribution of your entire interest in an IRA or plan account over your lifetime. The purpose of the RMD rules is to ensure that people don’t just accumulate retirement accounts, defer taxation, and leave these retirement funds as an inheritance. Instead, required minimum distributions generally have the effect of producing taxable income during your lifetime.
Which Retirement Savings Vehicles Are Subject to the RMD Rules?
In addition to traditional IRAs, simplified employee pension (SEP) IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs are subject to the RMD rules. Roth IRAs, however, are not subject to these rules while you are alive. Although you are not required to take any distributions from your Roth IRAs during your lifetime, your beneficiary will generally be required to take distributions from the Roth IRA after your death.
Employer-sponsored retirement plans that are subject to the RMD rules include qualified pension plans, qualified stock bonus plans, and qualified profit-sharing plans, including 401(k) plans. Section 457(b) plans and Section 403(b) plans are also generally subject to these rules. If you are uncertain whether the RMD rules apply to your employer-sponsored plan, you should consult your plan administrator or a tax professional.
When Must RMDs Be Taken?
Your first required distribution from an IRA or retirement plan is for the year you reach age 70½. However, you have some flexibility as to when you actually have to take this first-year distribution. You can take it during the year you reach age 70½, or you can delay it until April 1 of the following year.
Since this first distribution generally must be taken no later than April 1 following the year you reach age 70½, this April 1 date is known as your required beginning date. Required distributions for subsequent years must be taken no later than December 31 of each calendar year until you die or your balance is reduced to zero. This means that if you opt to delay your first distribution until April 1 of the following year, you will be required to take two distributions during that year–your first year’s required distribution and your second year’s required distribution.
Like other distributions from traditional IRAs and retirement plans, RMDs are generally subject to federal (and possibly state) income tax for the year in which you receive the distribution. However, a portion of the funds distributed to you may not be subject to tax if you have ever made after-tax contributions to your IRA or plan.
For example, if some of your traditional IRA contributions were not tax deductible, those contribution amounts will be income tax free when you withdraw them from the IRA. This is simply because those dollars were already taxed once. You should consult a tax professional if your IRA or plan contains any after-tax contributions.
Your distribution may also be income-tax-free if it is a qualified distribution from a Roth 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) account. Generally, an RMD is qualified if your Roth account satisfies a 5-year holding period requirement. If your RMD is not qualified, then generally only the portion of the RMD paid from your Roth account that represents earnings will be taxable to you–your own contributions to the Roth account are returned tax free.
Because RMDs are paid after you turn age 70½, or after your death, they are not subject to early distribution penalties. Income taxes on RMDs paid to your beneficiary after your death are generally calculated in the same manner as if the payments were made to you.
If you are uncertain that you are going to meet your RMD, or if it applies to your account, your financial advisor should be able to help you navigate the situation.