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IRAs made easy: How to understand withdrawal rules

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Traditional and Roth IRAs are two of the most popular retirement savings vehicles—and for good reason. They each offer powerful ways to plan for your future income while reaping some tax incentives along the way. You can withdraw money from an IRA at any time, but you may have to pay taxes and additional penalties if you don't meet certain conditions.

Understanding the IRA withdrawal rules can help you avoid costly mistakes, get the most value out of your money and live out the secure retirement you envisioned.

We'll cover:

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Traditional IRA withdrawal rules

Withdrawals from a traditional IRA before age 59½

If you withdraw from a traditional IRA before you reach 59½, you typically owe income tax on the withdrawn amount, plus an additional 10% early withdrawal penalty, unless you meet an early withdrawal exception.

Withdrawals from a traditional IRA after turning age 59½

Withdrawals after you turn 59½ aren't subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty. Traditional IRA withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income in the year you take them.

Roth IRA withdrawal rules

Withdrawals from a Roth IRA before age 59½

Withdrawal rules before you reach 59½ are a little different with a Roth IRA. Your own contributions are withdrawn first and at any time without owing taxes or penalties. The earnings portion of your withdrawal are withdrawn last and are still subject to taxes and potentially early withdrawal penalties, unless you meet an early withdrawal exception.

Withdrawals from a Roth IRA after turning age 59½

Distribution of earnings from Roth IRAs are tax-free as long as you made your first contribution to a Roth IRA five years ago or longer.1 Learn more about the Roth IRA five-year rule.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) for IRAs

Once you reach a certain age, called your required beginning date, you must withdraw at least a minimum amount from your traditional IRA each year. These required minimum distributions (RMDs) are based on your remaining life expectancy. Roth IRAs aren't subject to RMDs for the original account owner.

Your required beginning date depends on your birth year:

  • If you were born between 1951 and 1959, you start RMDs the year you turn 73.
  • If you were born in 1960 or later, your RMD age is 75.

You may delay your first RMD until April 1 after the year you reach your required beginning date, but you must do it by Dec. 31 each year after that. If you don't take your RMD, you'll face a 25% penalty on the amount you should have taken (which was reduced from a previous 50% penalty by the Secure Act 2.0). If you correct your mistake within two years, the penalty falls to 10%.

When's the best time to take IRA withdrawals?

You could view IRS penalties for withdrawing money before 59½ as a silver lining. These penalties encourage you to keep your contributions in your account so they can keep growing and you can save more for retirement.

When deciding when to take withdrawals from your IRA in retirement, the main factors to consider are your income needs and taxes. Reviewing your retirement budget can help you determine how much you may need to withdraw. And understanding the current and future tax rate environment can help you see how your withdrawals may be taxed and allow you to plan more efficiently. Include all your income sources, such as Social Security and pensions, when evaluating your decision.

Inherited IRA withdrawal rules

The rules are a little different when you inherit an IRA. The main difference lies in whether you inherited the IRA from your spouse or someone else, such as a parent.

In each case, you must include traditional IRA withdrawals in your income for tax purposes, but Roth withdrawals of earnings are tax-free as long as it’s been at least 5 years since the IRA owner opened the Roth IRA.

Inheriting an IRA from someone other than a spouse

Once you open your Inherited IRA, for most beneficiaries you're required to withdraw all of the money from the inherited IRA no later than Dec. 31 of the 10th year after the original owner died. You can take a lump-sum distribution or spread it out over those 10 years. However, if the person you inherited the IRA from already was required to take RMDs, you must take RMDs annually with a lump sum of any remaining amount in year 10.

Beneficiaries who are either minor children of the IRA owner, people with permanent disabilities or chronic illnesses, or those more than 10 years younger than the former account owner may start annual distributions based on their life expectancy or withdraw all of the money from the inherited IRA no later than Dec 31 of the 10th year after the original owner died. However, if the person you inherited the IRA from already was required to take RMDs, you must take the RMD annually, but no lump sum of any remaining amount is required in year 10, with one exception. In the case of a beneficiary who is a minor of the account owner, a lump sum of any remaining amount is required at age 21.

Inheriting an IRA from a spouse

If you inherit an IRA from your spouse, you have another withdrawal option in addition to the ones available to all beneficiaries. You can treat the IRA as your own, and the regular withdrawal rules apply.

Early IRA withdrawal exceptions

You usually aren't subject to penalties if you withdraw before 59½ in these cases:

  • You inherit the IRA.
  • You develop a permanent disability and no longer can work.
  • You use the IRA to pay for qualified higher education expenses.
  • You set up a substantially equal periodic payment plan for your IRA.
  • You use up to $10,000 from your IRA to buy your first home.
  • Your IRA becomes subject to an IRS levy, meaning the IRS can use the funds to cover your unpaid federal taxes.
  • You use the IRA to cover certain unreimbursed medical expenses.
  • You use the IRA to pay for health insurance premiums while you're unemployed.
  • You're a qualified military reservist and make IRA withdrawals when called to active duty.

The Secure Act 2.0 also added more early penalty exceptions that will continue to roll out until 2026. Read the full list.

Get professional guidance

Your withdrawal decisions may depend on whether you expect to use your invested sum and potential earnings relatively soon—or well into the future. A Thrivent financial advisor can help you put it all together to land on the best withdrawal strategy for you.

1Distributions of earnings are tax-free as long as your Roth IRA is at least five years old and one of the following requirements is met: (1) you are at least age 59½; (2) you are disabled; (3) you are purchasing your first home ($10,000 lifetime maximum); or (4) the money is being paid to a beneficiary.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.