If you own an IRA or 401k and are approaching age 70, here are three letters to know: RMD.
RMD stands for "Required Minimum Distribution". It is the amount you must withdraw from your tax-deferred retirement accounts each year once you turn age 70 1/2 (don't ask why the half year applies -- the IRS is weird). The RMD rules are the government's way of saying that you have delayed paying taxes for too long and now must start recognizing your savings as taxable income.
How RMDs work: To keep it simple, you look up your age on one of two charts provided by the IRS. Your age will correlate to a "life expectancy factor" that you divide into the cumulative value of your tax-deferred 401k's and IRAs. The resulting figure is what you are required to withdraw and recognize as ordinary income in your tax return. Each year thereafter you look up your age and divide the new factor into your overall account balance. This life expectancy factor declines as you age past 70 because presumably your account balance is falling each year that you withdraw more and more funds.
The first year is unique! Take special notice when you turn 70.5 years old. Whenever that is, your first RMD must be taken by April 1st of the following year. Every year thereafter your RMD must be taken by Dec. 31st.
Why is the first RMD deadline April 1st rather than Dec. 31st? Likely because most people are unaware of the RMD laws so the IRS gives you a break in that first year. However, it gets a bit more complicated. Not only must you take that first RMD by April 1st, you must take the second RMD by Dec. 31 of that same year. Year 1 is the only year subject to taking two, separate RMD amounts.
Let's work through a quick example. Let's assume you turned age 70.5 on July 12, 2017. Here are the deadlines for taking your first few RMDs:
Year 1, taken by April 1, 2018 = (Balance on Dec. 31, 2016) / (Factor for age 70)
Year 2, taken by Dec 31, 2018 = (Balance on Dec. 31, 2017) / (Factor for age 71)
Year 3, taken by Dec 31, 2019 = (Balance on Dec. 31, 2018) / (Factor for age 72)
Year 4, taken by Dec 31, 2020 = (Balance on Dec. 31, 2019) / (Factor for age 73)
Note that this requires you to go back and look at what your account balance was at the previous year-end. If you need help calculating this, let me know.
What if I don't take my full RMD? This is where the IRS cleans up... You are penalized 50% of whatever amount you did not take but were supposed to take. So.... let's say your RMD is $10,000 and for whatever reason you only withdraw $2,000. The $8,000 missed RMD is penalized 50%, which means an additional $4,000 tax penalty! Now you see why the RMD rules are a big deal.
Can I avoid taking RMDs? The best way to avoid taking RMDs is to convert a portion (or all) of your tax-deferred funds into Roth IRA funds prior to age 70. RMD rules do not apply to Roth IRAs. Of course, whatever balance you convert to a Roth IRA must be recognized as income, so you are still paying Uncle Sam one way or another. However, by not being subject to RMDs it is less administrative hassle during retirement and it also means future tax-free growth because that is the biggest perk provided by a Roth IRA.
I often recommend doing Roth IRA conversions in chunks by doing a series of them as you near age 70. This spreads out the tax burden over multiple years. Or even better, if you anticipate a year or two where your household income will be unusually low, that would be a good time to convert to a Roth IRA because your income tax rate would be lower than normal.
Can I apply IRA withdrawals made prior to age 70 toward future RMDs? No.
Say I am 72 years old and I take MORE than my stated RMD for the year. Can I apply the excess amount toward next year's RMD? No.
What's New With Us?
Unfortunately we do not get any trick-or-treaters on our street, which I think is due to being on a steep hill. But we will be dressing up and going to a Halloween party this weekend.
Have a great weekend!