What you need to know.
When you reach age 70½, the Internal Revenue Service instructs you to start making withdrawals from your traditional IRA(s). These withdrawals are also called Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). You will make them, annually, from now on.
If you fail to take your annual RMD or take out less than the required amount, the I.R.S. will notice. You will not only owe income taxes on the amount not withdrawn, you will owe 50% more. (The 50% penalty can be waived if you can show the I.R.S. that the shortfall resulted from a “reasonable error” instead of negligence.)
Many IRA owners have questions about the rules related to their initial RMDs, so let’s answer a few.
How does the I.R.S. define age 70½? Its definition is pretty straightforward. If your 70th birthday occurs in the first half of a year, you turn 70½ within that calendar year. If your 70th birthday occurs in the second half of a year, you turn 70½ during the subsequent calendar year.
Your initial RMD has to be taken by April 1 of the year after you turn 70½. All the RMDs you take in subsequent years must be taken by December 31 of each year.
So, if you turned 70 during the first six months of 2020, then you will be 70½ by the end of 2020, and you must take your first RMD by April 1, 2021. If you turn 70 in the second half of 2020, then you will be 70½ in 2021, and you won’t need to take that initial RMD until April 1, 2022.
Is waiting until April 1 of the following year to take my first RMD a bad idea? The I.R.S. allows you three extra months to take your first RMD, but it isn’t necessarily doing you a favor. Your initial RMD is taxable in the year that it is taken. If you postpone it into the following year, then the taxable portions of both your first RMD and your second RMD must be reported as income on your federal tax return for that following year.
An example: James and his wife Stephanie file jointly, and they earn $78,950 in 2019 (the upper limit of the 22% federal tax bracket). James turns 70½ in 2019, but he decides to put off his first RMD until April 1, 2020. Bad idea: this means that he will have to take two RMDs before 2020 ends. So, his taxable income jumps in 2020 as a result of the dual RMDs, and it pushes the pair into a higher tax bracket for 2020 as well. The lesson: if you will be 70½ by the time 2019 ends, take your initial RMD by the end of 2019 – it might save you thousands in taxes to do so.
How do I calculate my first RMD? I.R.S. Publication 590 is your resource. You calculate it using I.R.S. life expectancy tables and your IRA balance on December 31 of the previous year. For that matter, if you Google “how to calculate your RMD,” you will see links to RMD worksheets at irs.gov and a host of other free online RMD calculators.
If your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you and happens to be designated as the sole beneficiary for one or more of the traditional IRAs that you own, you should use the I.R.S. IRA Minimum Distribution Worksheet (downloadable as a PDF online) to help calculate your RMD.
If your IRA is held at one of the big investment firms, that firm may calculate your RMD for you and offer to route the amount into another account of your choice. It will give you and the I.R.S. a 1099-R form recording the income distribution and the amount of the distribution that is taxable.
When I take my RMD, do I have to withdraw the whole amount? No. You can also take it in smaller, successive withdrawals. Your IRA custodian may be able to schedule them for you.
What if I have more than one traditional IRA? You then figure out your total RMD by calculating the RMD for each traditional IRA you own, using the IRA balances on the prior December 31. This total is the basis for the RMD calculation. You can take your RMD from a single traditional IRA or multiple traditional IRAs.
What if I have a Roth IRA? If you are the original owner of that Roth IRA, you don’t have to take any RMDs. Only inherited Roth IRAs require RMDs.
Be proactive when it comes to your first RMD. Putting off the initial RMD until the first quarter of next year could mean higher-than-normal income taxes for the year ahead.
Is it appropriate for your estate?
When an individual dies, the executor is faced with an important decision that has the potential to impact the taxes owed by the estate and its heirs. The executor will have the option of valuing the estate on the date of death, or on the six-month anniversary of death – the “Alternate Valuation Date.”
This situation assumes the deceased has a valid will and has named an executor, who is responsible for carrying out the directions of the will. If a person dies intestate, it means that a valid will has not been executed. Without a valid will, a person’s property will be distributed to the heirs as defined by the state law.
Pick a Date. It may seem like an obvious decision and simple choice, but it’s not. Here’s why.
For estates with substantial holdings in stocks, the use of the Alternate Valuation Date may be an appropriate approach if the executor believes stock prices will be lower than they were on the date of death.
When heirs inherit assets, such as stocks, they may receive a step-up in the cost basis if the value of the asset is higher than it was when the original owner acquired it. The heir’s valuation is reset to either the value on the date of the owner's death – or the value on the Alternate Valuation Date – whichever is chosen by the executor.
Market Moves. Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example. Say Dad bought Out-of-Date Technologies at $10 per share several years ago. At his death, the stock was worth $35. The executor used the Alternate Valuation Date and six months later, due to market movements, the stock was worth $28.
His heir, Julie, will inherit this asset and receive a step-up in the cost basis to $28, the value declared by the estate. Let’s now assume that Julie sells the stock a short-time later at $35.
If the estate had used the value on the date of death – $35 – she might not have owed capital gains tax, since she would have been selling the stock at the same price as her cost basis. But since she received the stock with the lower cost basis – $28 – because the executor chose the Alternate Valuation Date, capital gains tax on the $7 per share gain may be due.
This is a hypothetical example used for illustrative purposes only. It is not representative of any specific investment or combination of investments.
In this example, the estate saved money by electing the Alternate Valuation Date, but the heir was exposed to a lower cost basis and the prospect of paying higher capital gains tax in the future.
Consider & Balance. As the executor thinks through this balancing act, they should consider the relative prevailing tax rates for the estate and for the heirs to ascertain what approach may result in the most efficient transfer, net of taxes, to the heirs.
Keep in mind the information in this article is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.