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 72 (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 designed to spread out the distribution of your entire interest in an IRA or plan account over your lifetime. The purpose of the RMD rules are 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, which include 401(k) plans. Section 457(b) plans and 403(b) plans are also 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?
The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act is bipartisan legislation that became effective December 31, 2019. This legislation is designed to encourage greater savings and access to retirement plans for employers and individuals.
Included in the passage of this legislation are changes to the rules that govern the date that RMDs must commence, from the year a client turns age 70 ½ to age 72. This change only applies to account holders who attain age 70 ½ after December 31, 2019. For those individuals, they will now have until age 72 before they must begin taking an RMD.
For account holders who attain age 70 ½ after December 31, 2019, the normal RMD requirements of when they must take their first and subsequent RMDs applies once they reach age 72.
- You must take your first RMD no later than April 1 the year following the year in which you attain age 72.
- You must take the next annual RMD no later than December 31 of the year following the year you attain age 72.
- All future RMDs must be taken by December 31 of each subsequent year.
For individuals that attained age 70 ½ on or before December 31, 2019, the SECURE Act does not change or modify their RMD requirements. Anyone turning 70 ½ in 2019 will still be required to continue to take their RMD in 2020.
RMDs are calculated by dividing your traditional IRA or retirement plan account balance by a life expectancy factor specified in IRS tables. Your account balance is usually calculated as of December 31 of the year preceding the calendar year for which the distribution is required to be made.
Example: You have a traditional IRA. Your 71st birthday is November 1 of year one, and you therefore reach age 72 in year two. Because you turn 72 in year two, you must take an RMD for year two from your IRA. This distribution (your first RMD) must be taken no later than April 1 of year three. In calculating this RMD, you must use the total value of your IRA as of December 31 of year one.
If you have multiple IRAs, an RMD is calculated separately for each IRA. However, you can withdraw the required amount from any one or more IRAs. Inherited IRAs are not included with your own for this purpose. (Similar rules apply to Section 403(b) accounts.) If you participate in more than one employer retirement plan, your RMD is calculated separately for each plan and must be paid from that plan.
Should you delay your first RMD?
Your first decision is when to take your first RMD. Remember, you have the option of delaying your first distribution until April 1 following the calendar year in which you reach age 72 (or April 1 following the calendar year in which you retire, in some cases).
You might delay taking your first distribution if you expect to be in a lower income tax bracket in the following year, perhaps because you're no longer working or will have less income from other sources. And, if you wait until the following year to take your first distribution, your second distribution must be made on or by December 31 of that same year.
Receiving your first and second RMDs in the same year may not be in your best interest. Since this "double" distribution will increase your taxable income for the year, it will probably cause you to pay more in federal and state income taxes. It could even push you into a higher federal income tax bracket for the year. In addition, the increased income may cause you to lose the benefit of certain tax exemptions and deductions that might otherwise be available to you. So the decision of whether to delay your first required distribution can be important, and should be based on your personal tax situation.
What if you fail to take RMDs as required?
You can always withdraw more than you are required to from your IRAs and retirement plans. But, if you fail to take at least the RMD for any year (or if you take it too late), you will be subject to a federal penalty. The penalty is a 50% excise tax on the amount by which the RMD exceeds the distributions actually made to you during the taxable year.
Example: You own one traditional IRA and compute your RMD for year one to be $7,000. You take only $2,000 as a year-one distribution from the IRA by the date required. Since you are required to take at least $7,000 as a distribution but have only taken $2,000, your RMD exceeds the amount of your actual distribution by $5,000 ($7,000 minus $2,000). You are therefore subject to an excise tax of $2,500 (50% of $5,000).
Technical Note: You report and pay the 50% tax on your federal income tax return for the calendar year in which the distribution shortfall occurs. You should complete and attach IRS Form 5329, "Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts." The tax can be waived if you can demonstrate that your failure to take adequate distributions was due to "reasonable error" and that steps have been taken to correct the insufficient distribution. You must file Form 5329 with your individual income tax return, and attach a letter of explanation. The IRS will review the information you provide and decide whether to grant your request for a waiver.
Can you satisfy the RMD rules with the purchase of an annuity contract?
Your purchase of an annuity contract with the funds in your IRA or retirement plan satisfies the RMD rules if all of the following are true:
- Payments are made at least yearly
- The annuity is purchased on or before the date that distributions are required to begin
- The annuity is calculated and paid over a time period that does not exceed those permitted under the RMD rules
- Payments, with certain exceptions, are non-increasing
You may also be able to use up to 25% of your non-Roth IRA and retirement plan account balances (up to a maximum of $125,000 from all accounts, indexed for inflation) to purchase a qualifying longevity annuity contract (or QLAC). The value of the QLAC is disregarded when you calculate the amount of RMDs you are otherwise required to take from your account each year. Payments from the QLAC can be delayed up to age 85, and are treated as satisfying the RMD rules when paid. The rules can be complicated, and QLACs are not right for everyone, so be sure to consult a qualified professional for further information. (Note: Any annuity guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the annuity issuer.)
Like all distributions from IRAs and retirement plans, RMDs are generally subject to federal (and possibly state) income tax for the year in which you receive the distribution. Although 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 because those dollars were already taxed once. You should consult a tax professional if your IRA or plan contain any after-tax contributions. (Special tax rules apply to Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)/403(b) contributions.)
Caution: Taxable income from an IRA or retirement plan is taxed at ordinary income tax rates even if the funds represent long-term capital gain or qualifying dividends from stock held within the plan. There are special rules for capital gain treatment, and in some cases on distributions from retirement plans.
Gift and estate tax
You first need to determine whether or not the federal gift and estate tax will apply to you. If you do not expect the value of your taxable estate to exceed the applicable exclusion amount, then federal gift and estate tax may not be an issue for you. However, state death (or inheritance) tax may be a concern. In some cases, your assets may be subject to more than one type of transfer tax — for example, the generation-skipping transfer tax may also apply. Consider getting professional advice to establish appropriate strategies to minimize your future gift and estate tax liability.
Example: You might reduce the value of your estate by gifting all or part of your required distribution to your spouse or others. Making gifts to your spouse can sometimes work well if your estate is larger than your spouse's, and one or both of you will leave an estate larger than the applicable exclusion amount. This strategy can provide your spouse with additional assets to better utilize his or her applicable exclusion amount, thereby minimizing the combined gift and estate tax liabilities of you and your spouse. Be sure to consult an estate planning attorney about this and other possible strategies.
Caution: In addition to federal gift and estate tax, your state may impose its own estate or death tax (or other transfer taxes). Consult an estate planning attorney for details.