When Distributions from Retirement Accounts Are Required

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Deductible contributions to IRAs and qualified plans are beneficial because they allow taxpayers to reduce their taxable income by the amount of the contributions.  The earnings within the retirement accounts are not subject to tax as long as the earnings remain in the retirement account.  However, the IRS doesn’t allow the party to last forever.  Eventually, taxpayers are subject to the minimum distribution rules that require taxpayers to withdraw funds from retirement plans and pay tax on the distributed amounts.  The rules discussed in this post apply to traditional IRAs and qualified plans.  These rules apply to Roth IRAs only after the owner’s death (i.e., the rules require beneficiaries of inherited Roth IRAs to receive minimum distributions; the original owners of Roth IRAs have no such requirement).

What Do the Minimum Required Distributions Rules Require?

Basically, these rules require the retirement account owner to distribute the balances in retirement accounts over her remaining life expectancy.  These rules require a minimum amount that must be distributed and taxed; the account owner is free to withdraw additional amounts from the retirement accounts.  Each year’s distribution is calculated independently.  No credit may be taken in the current year for prior year distributions that exceeded the required amount.

If an account owner withdraws less than the minimum required distribution, he is subject to a 50% penalty for the shortfall.

Example:  Terry’s minimum required distribution is $10,000.  She only withdraws $6,000.  She is subject to a 50% penalty on the $4,000 shortfall, which amounts to a $2,000 penalty.  Not good.

When Do Minimum Required Distributions Take Effect?

Minimum required distributions for IRAs are required starting April 1 of the year after the taxpayer reaches age 70½.  Generally, for participants of qualified plans, the minimum distribution rules take effect April 1 of the year following the year that the participant retires.  However, when the qualified plan participant owns more than 5% of the employer, the minimum required distributions are required in the year after the participant reaches age 70½ even if the participant isn’t retired.

An account owner reaches age 70½ six months after her 70th birthday.

Example:  John owns an IRA and turns 70 on January 16, 2012.  John therefore turns 70½ on July 16, 2012.  Minimum required distributions are required to be taken by April 1, 2013 (the year after he reaches age 70½).

The distribution required to be taken by April 1, 2013 is for 2012.  The distribution required for 2013 must be taken by December 31, 2013.  Therefore, if John waits until April 1, 2013 to take his first distribution, he will have to take two distributions during 2013 (one for 2012 and one for 2013).  The two distributions can bump John into a higher tax bracket, affect deductions and credits that are sensitive to income, and cause more of his Social Security income to be subject to tax.  John may be better off taking his 2012 distribution during 2012 rather than waiting until April 1, 2013.

How Is the Amount of the Minimum Required Distribution Calculated?

The simple answer is that the IRA trustee is required to report the minimum required distribution to IRA owners, or calculate it for them, by January 31 of the year the distribution is required.  However, it is the account owner’s responsibility to ensure that the calculated amount is correct.

The not so simple answer is that the minimum required distribution is calculated based on the account owner’s age at the end of the distribution year and based on the account balance at the end of the prior year.  Distributions are based on prior year balances because they are more readily determined than current year balances.

Example:  Jean turns 81 in 2012.  Her life expectancy is based on her age during 2012 (age 81).  Her life expectancy is 17.9 years.  She has two IRAs.  At December 31, 2011, IRA-1 has a balance of $100,000 and IRA-2 has a balance of $80,000.  Her minimum required distribution for 2012 for IRA-1 is $5,587 ($100,000 divided by 17.9) and her minimum required distribution for IRA-2 is $4,469 ($80,000 divided by 17.9).  The total required distributions of $10,056 can be withdrawn from one or both accounts.  

Only amounts that an individual owns as the IRA owner may be aggregated.  Amounts in IRAs that an individual holds as a beneficiary of the same decedent may be aggregated, but such amounts may not be aggregated with amounts held in IRAs that the individual holds as the IRA owner or as the beneficiary of another decedent.

For qualified plans, minimum required distributions must be calculated and distributed for each account–aggregation is not allowed for qualified plan accounts.

Buzzkill Disclaimer: This post contains general tax information that may or may not apply in your specific tax situation. Please consult a tax professional before relying on any information contained in this post.

Any tax advice contained in the body of this post was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions. Any information contained in this post does not fall under the guidelines of IRS Circular 230.

Employers Will Have to Hang Posters Advising Employees of Union Rights

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The National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) issued a rule requiring employers to hang posters in their businesses advising employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.  Basically, as a business owner you’ll have to hang a poster in your business advising employees of their rights to unionize.  A copy of the poster can be found here.  The NRLB originally required employers to hang these posters on January 31, 2012, but there are court challenges to this requirement.  The NRLB has postponed the poster requirement until April 30, 2012.

The NRLB believes it has established standards for asserting jurisdiction over the great majority of non-government employers with a workplace in the United States.  Some examples of when a business is subject to this NRLB poster requirement include:

  • Retailers if they have a gross annual volume of business of $500,000 or more.  Retailers include apartment buildings, home builders, restaurants, tax services.
  • Shopping centers and office buildings have a lower threshold of $100,000
  • For non-retailers, jurisdiction is based on the amount of goods and services provided by the employer out of state (outflow) or purchased by the employer from out of state (inflow).  The NRLB has jurisdiction if the annual amount of inflow OR outflow is at least $50,000.
  • Medical and dental offices, child care services, residential care centers with a gross annual volume of at least $250,000 are under NRLB jurisdiction
  • Nursing homes have a threshold of $100,000
  • Law firms have a threshold of $250,000.
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