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In order to encourage saving for retirement, Congress has created several different types of retirement accounts that enable individuals to deposit money before it is taxed. Income taxes are not paid until the money is withdrawn.
The special tax treatment comes with a number of rules. For example, with few exceptions, the money can’t be withdrawn from one of these retirement savings account without incurring a penalty until the account holder is at least 59 ½ years old.
The money can’t be left in the accounts forever. Depending upon the year in which you turned 70 ½ years old, you must withdraw specific minimum amounts every year beginning either at age 70 ½ or at age 72.
If you turned 70 ½ in 2019, you must take your first distribution when you turn 70 ½. For those who turned 70 ½ in 2020 or later, your first distribution must occur on April 1 of the year after you turn 72.
These IRS-mandated withdrawals, known as required minimum distributions, or RMDs, are taxed.
There are some strategies for postponing RMDs, including at least one strategy that involves an annuity. But overall, the IRS is pretty strict about adhering to the RMD rules.
If an account holder fails to take a RMD, then he or she is penalized by the IRS.
Retirement Plans That Require Minimum Distributions
All employer-sponsored retirement plans are subject to the RMD rules. And so are traditional IRAs and IRA-based plans.
The rules do not apply to Roth IRAs, which are funded with money on which taxes have previously been paid. Withdrawals from Roth IRAs are not required until the owner dies. Roth 401(k) accounts, however, are subject to the RMD rules, unless you rollover the money to a Roth IRA.
Why Some People Don’t Like RMDs: Taxes and Medicare Premiums
For many people, having to take money out of an account might seem like a good thing. But some retirees may find the RMD rules onerous, especially if they don’t need the money when the withdrawals are required.
They likely don’t want to have to pay taxes on the withdrawals because it could place them in higher tax brackets. The withdrawals can also lead to Medicare premium surcharges because they count as income in calculating those premiums.
In general, wealthier individuals would benefit more than others if they didn’t have to take RMDs. That’s because people who have less wealth are more likely to need to withdraw a certain amount from their retirement funds to pay their costs. The amounts they must withdraw are less likely to have a substantial impact on their overall tax bracket or their Medicare premiums.
On the other hand, wealthier individuals are more likely to face significantly higher Medicare premiums. In 2017, for example, the standard Medicare Part B premium for most new enrollees was $134 a month. However, a married couple with income more than $428,000 in 2015, would have paid $10,000 for Medicare Part B premiums in 2017.
In fact, some wealthy people avoid the higher premiums by putting money into IRAs, but RMDs can nullify that strategy.
How to Calculate Required Minimum Distributions
The amount of the RMD can be calculated using worksheets created by the IRS. After the first year, you’re required to take your distribution by the end of each calendar year.
To estimate the amount of the required minimum distribution for your account in a given year, take the balance of your account on Dec. 31 of the previous year and divide it by the distribution period, or life expectancy, corresponding with your age on the IRS table.
If you have several accounts with RMDs, you must calculate the RMD for each account. You may add up the RMD amounts and withdraw all the money from one account or any combination of relevant accounts.
This method of calculation applies in all cases, except when the spouse is the sole beneficiary of an IRA and is more than 10 years younger than the account holder. The IRS provides a different IRS worksheet for you to use if your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you and is the sole beneficiary.
Correcting RMD Mistakes
The responsibility of calculating RMDs and making the actual withdrawals falls entirely on the account holder. If you fail to take an RMD when required, or if you withdraw less than required, you will have to pay a 50 percent penalty on the amount you failed to withdraw.
A 72-year-old who turned 70 ½ in 2019 would be required to withdraw $11,718.75 from an IRA with an account balance of $300,000. The penalty for not withdrawing the required amount would be $5,859.37, or 50 percent of the RMD for that year.
However, if your failure to withdraw the required amount is due to a mistake, the IRS may waive the penalty if you satisfactorily explain and correct the error.
Depending on the circumstances and type of account, the agency has programs and forms created to address these mistakes. One is known as the Voluntary Correction Program (VCP) and another is called the Self Correction Program (SCP).
Strategies for Postponing or Minimizing RMDs
There are some things you can do to mitigate RMDs. But let’s start with what you can’t do.
You may not put the money you withdraw into another IRA or Roth IRA. After paying taxes, you may invest the money in a non-retirement account.
While you may withdraw more than the minimum amount required, you can’t apply the excess withdrawal to your RMD in a subsequent year.
On the other hand, to lessen the tax impact, you can take your first RMD in two different calendar years. However, that means the second RMD will be added for tax purposes to the amount of the first RMD you took that year.
If you’re still employed when you turn 72 (70 ½ if you reach 70 ½ before Jan. 1, 2020) and are participating in an employer-sponsored 401(k), you don’t have to take RMDs from that account as long as you continue to work for that employer and you don’t own more than 5 percent of the company you are employed with.
For those who are self-employed and have a SEP-IRA, you still must take an annual RMD from that account once you reach 72 (70 ½ if you reach 70 ½ before January 1, 2020), but you can offset the RMD by making contributions to the account.
You can also roll over the amount withdrawn directly into a charitable donation, with no taxes required on the donated amount up to $100,000 a year.
You can purchase a qualified longevity annuity contract, or QLAC, which is a deferred annuity funded with assets from a qualified retirement plan. Federal rules allow you to spend the lesser of 25 percent of your retirement savings or $125,000 to purchase a QLAC.
The amount invested in a QLAC is exempted from RMD calculations until you turn 85 years old.
COVID-19 and Skipping Your 2020 RMD
Per the 2020 CARES Act, you may skip your 2020 RMD. This could be beneficial if you don’t need the money.
The RMD amount is based on 2019 end of year value, when the market was at a peak. Since then, the market has been volatile, which means you could be taking out a larger percentage of your retirement account.
If you took your 2020 RMD at the beginning of the year, you might be out of luck. However, if you made the withdraw within 60 days, you may have the option to roll it back into the retirement plan.
Legislation Would Raise Age of First Required Minimum Distribution to 75
The proposal to raise the age at which RMDs start to age 75 is still being considered by Congress.
The legislation also has provisions aimed at increasing savings in IRAs and 401(k)s, and helping employers provide retirement savings plans. It might also affect annuities.
31 Cited Research Articles
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