Although funds can be distributed from an IRA at any time, there are limited circumstances when money can be distributed or withdrawn from the account without penalties. Unless an exception applies, money can typically be withdrawn penalty free as taxable income from an IRA once the owner reaches age 59. Also, non-Roth owners must begin taking distributions of at least the calculated minimum amounts by April 1 of the year after reaching age 70. If the required minimum distribution (RMD) is not taken the penalty is 50% of the amount that should have been taken. The amount that must be taken is calculated based on a factor taken from the appropriate IRS table and is based on the life expectancy of the owner and possibly his or her spouse as beneficiary if applicable. At the death of the owner, distributions must continue and if there is a designated beneficiary, distributions can be based on the life expectancy of the beneficiary.
There are several exceptions to the rule that penalties apply to distributions before age 59. Each exception has detailed rules that must be followed to be exempt from penalties. This group of penalty exemptions are popularly known as hardship withdrawals. The exceptions include:
- The portion of unreimbursed medical expenses that are more than 7.5% of adjusted gross income
- Distributions that are not more than the cost of medical insurance while unemployed
- Disability (defined as not being able to engage in any substantial gainful activity)
- Amounts distributed to beneficiaries of a deceased IRA owner
- Distributions in the form of an annuity
- Distributions that are not more than the qualified higher education expenses of the owner or their children or grandchildren
- Distributions to buy, build, or rebuild a first home ($10,000 lifetime maximum)
- Distribution due to an IRS levy of the plan
There are a number of other important details that govern different situations. For Roth IRAs with only contributed funds the basis can be withdrawn before age 59 without penalty (or tax) on a first in first out basis, and a penalty would apply only on any growth (the taxable amount) that was taken out before 59 where an exception didn’t apply. Amounts converted from a traditional to a Roth IRA must stay in the account for a minimum of 5 years to avoid having a penalty on withdrawal of basis unless one of the above exceptions applies.
If the contribution to the IRA was nondeductible or the IRA owner chose not to claim a deduction for the contribution, distributions of those nondeductible amounts are tax and penalty free.