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What Are Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)?

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 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 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, qualified profit-sharing plans, including 401(k) plans. Section 457(b) plans and Section 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?

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.

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. 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. (These life expectancy factors can 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 a nonspouse or a spouse who is not more than 10 years younger than you, you are subject to the shorter payout period under the simplified general rule.

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 percent excise tax on the amount by which the RMD exceeds the distributions actually made to you during the taxable year.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2018

All information herein has been prepared solely for informational purposes only and opinions are subject to change. Past performance is not indicative of future results and all investments involve the risk of loss of principle. For information on how these general principles apply to your situation, consult an investment professional.

Article Topic Expert: Dan Gibson

Dan is a Principal for SVA Plumb Wealth Management, LLC. He has provided comprehensive financial planning and asset management services for SVA clients since 1998.

In his role, he consults with a broad range of clients on their investments and stays closely involved in ongoing investment research, analysis and financial plan development. He has also served on the firm's Investment Advisory Committee (IAC).

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