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Things You Need to Know - The Ins and Outs of Required Minimum Distributions

Things You Need to Know - The Ins and Outs of Required Minimum Distributions | Read as PDF

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It has been said “When Spring is in the air, a young man’s thoughts turn to baseball!” It could also be said then when Autumn is in the air, an older man’s (and woman’s) thoughts turn to ….. Required Minimum Distributions! Or at least they should, as October is upon us, December 31st isn’t that far off, and thus it’s a perfect time to talk about IRA accounts, and what must be done before year-end in order to make the necessary distributions, and avoid a very large excise tax.

What is a Required Minimum Distribution?

The IRS doesn’t let you keep all of your money in your retirement accounts forever. Except in the case of a Roth IRA (see more below) and a few other minor exceptions, you received the benefit of an income tax deduction each year that you made a retirement plan contribution, and you’ve gotten the benefit of tax deferral and presumably greater growth in the account value over possibly many years. But eventually, the IRS forces you to start withdrawing money from your IRA accounts, so they can finally tax it.
If you own a traditional IRA (this includes SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, and SARSEP IRAs), or an employer sponsored retirement plan such as a profit-sharing plan, a 401k account, or a 403b account (Note that unless I state otherwise, the rules for a 401k, 403b or other employer sponsored plan are the same as those for an IRA), then beginning with the calendar year in which you turn age 70½, you are required to take a minimum distribution from these accounts, each and every year. This is called a Required Minimum Distribution, or RMD for short. I explain below how each year’s RMD amount is calculated. As you read the balance of this article, note that to “take an RMD” means the same thing as to “withdraw from an IRA account”.

A couple of things to know; the RMD is exactly that, the required minimum distribution for that year; you are always free to take more than the RMD in a given year, even to the point of emptying your account. However, if you do take more than your RMD in one year, you’re not allowed to deduct the excess from your RMD in the following year; you must still take the following year’s full RMD. Note also that if you own a 401k or 403b account at your employer, there is a “still working exception” that may allow you to delay RMDs from these accounts beyond your age 70½, provided that (1) you are still working for the company, and (2) you don’t own more than 5% of the company.

There are no required minimum distributions from a Roth IRA that you own, during your life. However, when you die and pass your Roth IRA to your heirs, they will be required to start taking RMDs. (How does a Roth IRA differ from a traditional IRA? You get no income tax deduction for your contributions to a Roth IRA, your account has tax-deferred growth potential, and subject to certain rules, when you withdraw money from the Roth IRA, it comes out income-tax-free!)

How Do You Calculate Your RMD?

Each year’s RMD is calculated by taking the balance in your IRA as of December 31st of the prior year, and then dividing it by a life expectancy factor found in a table provided by the IRS, called the Uniform Lifetime Table. You can find this table on the IRS website, or in IRS Publication 590-B. (Note that if the IRA owner’s spouse is the sole beneficiary of the IRA, and he/she is more than 10 years younger than the owner, a different table is used to calculate the RMD, called the Joint Life and Last Survivor Expectancy Table.)

Here is an example: If you are age 73 in 2016, and are required to use the Uniform Lifetime Table, your life expectancy factor is 24.7. If the 12/31/15 balance in your IRA was $600,000, you would divide $600,000 by 24.7, to arrive at your 2016 RMD amount of $24,292.

What’s the deadline for taking your RMD?

Except for your very first RMD, discussed just below, all RMDs must be withdrawn from your IRA no later than December 31st of the current year. Thus, in our example just above, the 2016 RMD of $24,292 must be withdrawn from your IRA no later than December 31, 2016. You can withdraw your entire RMD in a lump sum at any time during 2016, or you can withdraw it in portions over the course of the year.

Note that the first year that you are required to take an RMD, which is the calendar year in which you turn age 70½, you have the option to delay taking that year’s RMD until April 1st of the following year. Thus, if you turn 70½ in 2016, you can take your 2016 RMD by December 31, 2016, or if you wish, you can delay taking it until April 1, 2017. However, if you choose to delay the 2016 RMD until April 1, 2017, you will still have to take the 2017 RMD by December 31, 2017, and thus you will end up taking two RMDs in 2017.

What happens if you miss the December 31st deadline?

Nothing good; the IRS may assess you an excise tax equal to a full 50% of the RMD that you should have withdrawn by December 31st, but didn’t. Again, in our example, if you failed to withdraw the full RMD of $24,292 by December 31, 2016, you would owe an excise tax of $12,146.

The good news is that if you miss the deadline, the IRS might be persuaded to waive the excise tax for good cause. In that circumstance, you should immediately withdraw the RMD from your account, report your failure to meet the December 31st deadline on IRS Form 5329, and include a letter to the IRS explaining that you missed the deadline, why you missed it, that you have since taken the RMD, and that you have taken steps to be sure that your future RMDs will be taken on time.

If you have more than one IRA, do you have to take an RMD from each separate IRA? What about 401k and 403b accounts?

This is somewhat complicated, and if you have any questions about this, we strongly recommend that you consult with your financial advisor by early December.

That said, with respect to IRA accounts (but not 401k, 403b, or profit sharing plans, which are discussed below), you can calculate the RMD for each separate IRA, and then add up all of the separate RMDs to arrive at your total RMD (called your “aggregate” RMD). You are then free to withdraw your aggregate RMD from just one of your IRAs, or you can withdraw it from multiple IRAs in any amounts you wish, as long as the total withdrawals from your IRA accounts equal your aggregate RMD. Note that this aggregation rule applies to IRAs that you own, it does not apply to IRAs that you have inherited. In other words, you can’t satisfy an RMD for an IRA you own, by taking a distribution from an IRA that you have inherited.

Different rules apply to employer retirement plans such as 401k accounts, 403b accounts, and profit sharing plans. You must take a separate RMD from each employer plan. For example, if you have two 401k accounts and one 403b account, you must take three separate RMDs, one RMD from each plan.

You can’t take a 401k or 403b RMD from an IRA, or an IRA RMD from a 401k or 403b account. This is a common mistake. If you catch the mistake before December 31st, you can fix it by taking the proper RMD from the proper accounts before year end. There is no harm here, except that you will have withdrawn more than you were required to, and created additional taxable income for that year that you would otherwise have avoided. If you don’t catch the mistake until after December 31st, you will be subject to the 50% excise tax.

Finally, as noted above, there are no required minimum distributions from a Roth IRA that you own, but if you do take a distribution from your Roth IRA in a given year, it can’t be used to satisfy your RMD from any other IRA.

As always, we hope you find this information of value. Please don’t hesitate to call us with any questions.

Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. and its representatives do not provide legal or tax advice. You may want to consult a legal or tax advisor regarding any legal or tax information as it relates to your personal circumstances.

  1. Licensed, not practicing

About the Author

Loic LeMener is founder and President of Opus Wealth Management in Dallas, Texas, a boutique wealth management firm that specializes in personalized client solutions. Loic and his team provide their clients with a targeted needs evaluation to answer important questions that provide a better, more personalized experience. The team focuses on integrity and believes in the following “golden rule” – they won’t do anything for you that they would not do for themselves or their loved ones.

Loic received his Masters in Business Administration from Southern Methodist University, studying Finance, Accounting and Portfolio Management. He also earned the Certified Financial Planner™ certification and the prestigious Chartered Financial Analyst® designations. In addition, he has been quoted in national publications such as Barron’s.

In his free time, Loic is a devout reader, with his favorite topic being “value investing.” His favorite investors are Warren Buffett, Ben Graham, Charlie Munger, Seth Klarman, Howard Marks, and Jeremy Grantham.

Loic LeMener, CFA®, MBA, CFP® is a registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp.

Securities and investment advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., a broker-dealer and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln affiliates and other fine companies CRN-1091847-010715.

Opus Wealth Management is not an affiliate of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp.