What Exactly is an IRA “RMD”?

The IRS wants what’s coming to them…

IRA RMDMany people who have been contributing to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) for years have watched their account balances grow through tax-deferred accumulation. However, did you know the Tax Code mandates that contributions to traditional IRAs are no longer permitted after reaching age 70½ and required minimum distributions (RMDs) must commence no later than April 1 of the year after the year in which you reach age 70½?

Let’s take a look at the following example. Suppose Bob’s 70th birthday was July 15, 2015 and he attained age 70½ on January 15, 2016. Bob will have until April 1, 2017 (the year after reaching age 70½) to begin taking distributions.

It is important to note: The first RMD is actually for the year in which you attain age 70½; however, you are allowed to postpone it until April 1 of the following year. For every year after the first distribution, the RMD must be taken by December 31.

At first glance, postponing the first RMD may seem like a good idea because you can gain additional tax deferral. However, a second RMD would be due by December 31 of the same year (i.e., that year’s required distribution). Not only would this substantially increase your taxable income, but it could also limit some deductions based on adjusted gross income (AGI) and possibly subject your Social Security benefits to taxation.

Consequently, some people find that it makes sense to take the first RMD in the year when age 70½ is reached, rather than to postpone and “double up” the following year.

Calculating the Distribution

Each year, the RMD amount is be calculated by dividing the IRA balance (as of December 31 of the previous year) by the applicable life expectancy factor from the appropriate IRS table. If an individual has more than one IRA account, the RMD amount must be calculated according to the total balance in all accounts. However, the amount can be taken out of any one (or more) IRA account. For each subsequent year, the RMD amount must be recalculated.

If you fail to withdraw the RMD amount for each year, you may be subject to a penalty tax. This tax is 50% of the difference between the amount actually withdrawn and the amount required to be withdrawn (i.e., the minimum distribution shortfall).

IRAs continue to be valuable vehicles for retirement planning. However, the time of reckoning (i.e., mandatory withdrawals) may be approaching for many IRA owners. Knowledge of the rules may help avoid potential tax problems. Be sure to consult a qualified tax professional for advice specific to your unique circumstances.