During your working career, you spend years setting money aside in your 401(k) and IRAs so you can have some degree of financial comfort during the years when you are no longer able or interested in working a traditional job.
Many people enjoy years and often decades of Uncle Sam letting you deduct your contributions from your income taxes and defer taxes from investment income such as capital gains, interest and dividends. But once you reach age 70.5, the music stops and the party is over as Mr. Tax Man comes knocking at your door.
That is because once you turn 70.5 years old, you must begin taking Required Minimum Distributions every year from your retirement accounts like your 401k, 403b, and Traditional IRA. Failing to do so results in a 50 percent penalty on the amount that you did not withdraw on time.
In order to avoid this penalty, determine when you must take your first distribution. The rules differ for IRAs and 401ks for people still employed, but the general rule is this: Take your first distribution by April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70.5 years old. For example, suppose John’s birthday is Jan. 5, 2012, and he turns 70 years old on that day. Six months later on July 5, he will be 70.5 years old. Therefore, John can wait until April 1, 2013, to take his first distribution without penalty.
Now, suppose his spouse, Rose, turns 70 on Sept. 5, 2012. She will not turn 70.5 years old until March 5, 2013. Therefore, she has the option to wait until April 1, 2014, to take her first distribution.
While the first year affords the taxpayer the option to delay withdrawal until April 1 of the following year, subsequent years are different. After year one, the taxpayer must complete their distribution by Dec. 31 each year. Therefore, taxpayers who opt to postpone their first distribution until the following year must also take out their distribution for the current year, as well.
In the prior example, let’s assume John postponed his required 2012 distribution until April 1, 2013. He must also make sure to take his 2013 distribution by December 31, 2013. Consequently, during the 2013 calendar year, he must satisfy two required distributions – one for 2012 and the other for 2013.
Account holders should also be diligent and withdraw the correct amount each year. You should expect your distribution to vary each year as the calculation is based on the market value of your retirement accounts on Dec. 31 of the prior year and the uniform lifetime table. While your financial adviser or CPA can help you determine this amount each year, make sure that they are aware of all of your retirement accounts and if there have been any material changes in your life, especially if you decided to marry someone more than 10 years younger than you. While you may find these facts irrelevant, these variables can impact how much you need to withdraw in any given year.
Life is a journey, plan for it.
Ashleigh Brooker, CFP, is the principal of A.J. Brooker Financial Associates in Columbia. Reach her at info@AJBrooker.com or (803) 724-1235.