Finance: IRAs require minimum distributions

Finance: IRAs require minimum distributions
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By Keith Burner

Individual retirement accounts are an important part of many investors’ nest eggs. It’s important to know the rules for how to withdraw funds from them for your retirement.

IRAs play a key role in helping Americans save for retirement. In 2018, IRAs represented one-third of total U.S. retirement assets, providing an important income source for retirees.

But, just as you formed a strategy and adhered to rules for investing in your IRA, you must also understand when and how to take your required minimum distributions (RMDs). The answers to these questions may help your distribution strategy meet legal requirements and your personal needs, too.

When do I need to start taking IRA distributions?

If you own a Traditional, SEP, SAR-SEP, or SIMPLE IRA account, you may begin taking penalty taxfree distributions from your account at age 59½. But you must begin taking RMDs from your IRA account for the year in which you attain age 70½. However, you are permitted to delay the first distribution until April 1 of the year after you turn 70½. This is called your Required Beginning Date (RBD). After the year in which you turn 70½, RMDs must be taken by Dec. 31 of each year.

Note that if you own several IRAs, the RMD must be calculated separately for each IRA, but the total of all RMDs generally may be withdrawn from one or more IRA accounts, other than Roth IRAs and inherited IRAs. Roth IRAs do not require distributions until the death of the owner.

However, failing to take RMDs as required can be expensive. If you receive less than your RMD amount for the calendar year, you are generally required to fill out IRS Form 5329 and are generally subject to a 50 percent excise penalty tax on the amount that should have been distributed but was not.

Calculating RMDs

RMDs are calculated using your life expectancy. Of course, no one knows for certain what that is, but the IRS provides two methods for lifetime RMD calculation purposes: the uniform lifetime table and the joint life expectancy table. These tables can be found at the IRS website,, along with worksheets and instructions on how to perform the calculation. In general, you’ll use the uniform lifetime table to calculate your RMD, unless you qualify to use the joint life expectancy table and choose to use it. If your spouse is your beneficiary and is more than 10 years younger than you, you can choose to use the joint life expectancy table.

May I make changes once I start receiving RMDs?

Even after you’ve begun taking RMDs, you can make a variety of changes to your account and distributions. You can always increase the amount of your distribution beyond the RMD, but keep in mind that excess amounts cannot be applied toward the RMDs of future years. Your beneficiary information may be updated at any time.

In general, you must notify the IRA custodian or trustee in writing and you may be required to submit certain forms. You may even change from the uniform table RMD calculation method to the joint life expectancy method if you name your spouse as the sole primary beneficiary for the entire calendar year and your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you. Your marital status is determined as of Jan. 1 of each distribution year.

Getting your RMDs right once you turn 70½ is an important part of your retirement income plan. A financial advisor who is familiar with your unique circumstances can help you structure a comprehensive plan to help you stay on track to meet your retirement goals.

Keith Burner is a financial advisor in Alexandria at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”). He can be reached by email at or at 703-739-3673.

The information in this article is from Keith Burner only and does not constitute advice from Morgan Stanley.