What Are Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)?
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.
How Are RMDs Calculated?
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(s): You have a traditional IRA. Your 70th birthday is November 1 of year one, and you therefore reach age 70½ in year two. Because you turn 70½ 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.
Caution: When calculating the RMD amount for your second distribution year, you base the calculation on the IRA or plan balance as of December 31 of the first distribution year (the year you reached age 70½) regardless of whether or not you waited until April 1 of the following year to take your first required distribution.
For most taxpayers, calculating RMDs is straightforward. For each calendar year, simply divide your account balance as of December 31 of the prior year by your distribution period, determined under the Uniform Lifetime Table using your attained age in that calendar year. This life expectancy table is based on the assumption that you have designated a beneficiary who is exactly 10 years younger than you are. Every IRA owner’s and plan participant’s calculation is based on the same assumption.
There is one exception to the procedure described above — the younger spouse rule. If your sole designated beneficiary is your spouse, and he or she is more than 10 years younger than you, the calculation of your RMDs may be based on the longer joint and survivor life expectancy of you and your spouse. (The life expectancy factors can also be found in IRS publication 590.) Consequently, if your spouse is your designated beneficiary and is more than 10 years younger than you, you can take your RMDs over a longer payout period than under the Uniform Lifetime Table. If your beneficiary is not your spouse, or a spouse who is not more than 10 years younger than you, then you must use the shorter payout period specified in the Uniform Lifetime Table (see below).
Should You Delay 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 70½ (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 are no longer working or will have less income from other sources. However, 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.
Example(s): You are single and reached age 70½ in 2018. You had taxable income of $25,000 in 2018 and expect to have $25,000 in taxable income in 2019. You have money in a traditional IRA and determined that your RMD from the IRA for 2018 was $50,000, and that your RMD for 2019 is $50,000 as well.
You took your first RMD in 2018. The $50,000 was included in your income for 2018, which increased your taxable income to $75,000. At a marginal tax rate of 22%, federal income tax was approximately $12,439 for 2018 (assuming no other variables). In 2019, you take your second RMD. The $50,000 will be included in your income for 2019, increasing your taxable income to $75,000 and resulting in federal income tax of approximately $12,358. Total federal income tax for 2018 and 2019 will be $24,797.
Now suppose you did not take your first RMD in 2018 but waited until 2019. In 2018, your taxable income was $25,000. At a marginal tax rate of 12%, your federal income tax was $2,596 for 2018. In 2019, you take both your first RMD ($50,000) and your second RMD ($50,000). These two $50,000 distributions will increase your taxable income in 2019 to $125,000, taxable at a marginal rate of 24%, resulting in federal income tax of approximately $22,956. Total federal income tax for 2018 and 2019 will be $25,552 — $755 more than if you had taken your first RMD in 2018.
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. However, 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.
Generally, annuity contracts have fees and expenses, limitations, exclusions, holding periods, termination provisions, and terms for keeping the annuity in force. It is important to understand that purchasing an annuity in an IRA or an employer-sponsored retirement plan provides no additional tax benefits than those available through the tax-deferred retirement plan. Annuity guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the annuity issuer.
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