IRA Withdrawals that Escape the 10% Tax Penalty

The reason withdrawals from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) prior to age 59 1/2 are generally subject to a 10% tax penalty is that policymakers wanted to create a disincentive to use these savings for anything other than retirement.¹

Yet, policymakers also recognize that life can present more pressing circumstances that require access to these savings. In appreciation of this, the list of withdrawals that may be taken from an IRA without incurring a 10% early withdrawal penalty has grown over the years.

Penalty-Free Withdrawals

Outlined below are the circumstances under which individuals may withdraw from an IRA prior to age 59 1/2, without a tax penalty. Ordinary income tax, however, generally is due on such distributions.

  1. Death. If you die prior to age 59 1/2, the beneficiary or beneficiaries of your IRA may withdraw the assets without penalty. However, if your beneficiary decides to roll it over into his or her IRA, he or she will forfeit this exception.²
  2. Disability. Disability is defined as being unable to engage in any gainful employment because of a mental or physical disability, as determined by a physician.³
  3. Substantially Equal Periodic Payments. You are permitted to take a series of substantially equal periodic payments and avoid the tax penalty, provided they continue until you turn 59 1/2 or for five years, whichever is later. The calculation of such payments is complicated, and individuals should consider speaking with a qualified tax professional.⁴
  4. Home Purchase. Up to $10,000 toward the purchase of your first home (defined by the IRS as not having owned a home in the last two years). This is a lifetime limit.
  5. Unreimbursed Medical Expenses. This exception covers medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
  6. Medical Insurance. Permits the unemployed to pay for medical insurance if they meet specific criteria.
  7. Higher Education Expenses. Higher education expenses for you, your spouse, children or grandchildren. Only certain institutions and associated expenses are permitted.
  8. IRS Levy. This exception applies in the case of an IRS levy, which permits the federal government to legally seize property or assets to satisfy a tax debt.
  9. Active Duty Call-Up. Reservists called up after 9/11/01 and whose withdrawals meet the definition of qualified reservist distribution.

1. Under Secure 2.0, the required age used to determine distributions increased from age 72 to 73, starting on January 1, 2023. It will increase again to age 75 starting on January 1, 2033. (Previously, under the original Secure Act of 2019, the age rose from 70 1/2 under prior law, to 72.)

2. Your required minimum distribution (RMD) may be based on your age or the deceased's age at the time of death. Penalties may occur for missed RMDs. Most are required to begin by December 31 of the year following the date of death. Any RMDs due for the original owner must be taken by their deadlines to avoid penalties. You will pay taxes on any distributions you take. Consider speaking with a financial professional who can help you evaluate the potential impact an inheritance might have on your overall tax situation.

3. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Federal and state laws and regulations are subject to change, which may have an impact on after-tax investment returns. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.

4. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties.

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