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20 Questions On Required Minimum Distributions

Do you remember playing "20 Questions" as a kid? Here are the answers to 20 questions about required minimum distributions (RMDs). Most of this information comes from the frequently asked questions section of the IRS website.

Q1. What is an RMD?

A. This is the amount you're required to withdraw from your 401(k) plans, other employer-sponsored retirement plans, and IRAs.

Q2. Which plans do the RMD rules apply to?

A. The rules cover all employer-sponsored retirement plans, including pension and profit-sharing plans, 401(k)s, 403(b) plans for nonprofits, and 457(b) plans for government entities, plus traditional IRAs and IRA-based plans such as SEPs, SARSEPs, and SIMPLE-IRAs.

Q3. When do I have to begin taking RMDs?

A. The required beginning date (RBD) is April 1 of the year after the year in which you turn age 70½. For example, if your 70th birthday was January 1, 2017, you must begin taking RMDs no later than April 2, 2018. (April 1 is a Sunday.)

Q4. When do I have to take RMDs in future years?

A. The deadline is December 31 of the year for which the RMD applies. Thus, if you turn 70½ in 2017, you must take the RMD for the 2018 tax year by December 31, 2018.

Q5. How do you figure out the RMD amount?

A. Divide the balances in your plans and IRAs on December 31 of the prior year by the factor in the appropriate IRS life expectancy table.

Q6. Can I withdraw more than the required amount?

A. You can withdraw as much as you like; the RMD is the least you are allowed to take.

Q7. If I take more than the RMD this year can I withdraw less in a future year?

A. No. Each RMD is calculated based on the account balance and life expectancy factor for that particular year.

Q8. Do I have to take RMDs from all of my retirement plans?

A. Although you must calculate the RMD separately for each IRA you own, you can withdraw the total amount from just one IRA or any combination of IRAs that you choose. However, for employer-sponsored plans other than a 403(b), the RMD must be taken separately from each plan account.

Q9. What happens if I fail to take an RMD?

A. The IRS imposes a penalty equal to 50% of the amount that should have been withdrawn (reduced by any amount actually withdrawn).

Q10. How are RMDs taxed?

A. Generally, the entire amount of an RMD is taxable at ordinary income rates. The exception is for amounts attributable to non-deductible contributions to an IRA.

Q11. Are there any exceptions to the RMD penalty?

A. The penalty may be waived if you can show that the shortfall was due to reasonable error and you now have withdrawn the required amount.

Q12. Is an RMD subject to the net investment income (NII) surtax?

A. Distributions from retirement plans don't count as NII. However, RMDs will increase your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), and a higher MAGI could result in NII tax liability.

Q13. Can I still contribute to my plans if I'm taking RMDs?

A. Yes. If you're still working and participating in a plan, you may qualify to continue your contributions.

Q14. Do I have to take an RMD if I'm still working?

A. Generally, you have to take RMDs from all employer-sponsored plans and IRAs. However, you don't have to withdraw an RMD from non-IRAs if you still work full-time and don't own 5% or more of the business.

Q15. Can an RMD be rolled into an IRA or other plan?

A. Absolutely not. Rollovers are prohibited.

Q16. Can an RMD be donated to charity?

A. Yes. Under a recent tax law extension, if you're 70½ or older you can transfer an RMD of up to $100,000 directly from an IRA to a charity without paying tax on the distribution.

Q17. What happens if I die before my required beginning date?

A. No distribution is required for the year of death. For subsequent years, RMDs must be taken from inherited accounts. A spousal beneficiary has greater flexibility than non-spouses, including being able to treat the account as his or her own.

Q18. What happens if I die after my RMD?

A. The beneficiaries of the accounts must continue to take RMDs under complex rules. Again, spousal beneficiaries have greater flexibility than other heirs.

Q19. Do the RMD rules apply to Roth IRAs?

A. No. You don't have to take RMDs from a Roth IRA during your lifetime. After your death, however, your heirs must take lifetime RMDs from the Roth.

Q20. When should I arrange my RMD?

A. The sooner, the better. Don't wait to get caught in a year-end crush. We can help with the particulars.