Where Do I Take Cash From Next? The 72(t) Option

 A longtime client, we will call her “Joan”, called last month needing to set aside money for her 2014 income needs. She had nothing left in the bank.  She had been through a life transition recently, out of work for over a year, and helping family with some health concerns.  Nearing retirement but not quite at the point at which she could access her retirement moneys without penalty (she was in her late 50’s, but not quite 59 1/2), she was concerned because her only choices were a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA.  So her normal reaction was to go for the Roth because it had fewer penalties or tax (she had established the Roth over 5 years ago and could access her contributed portion without penalty; she would likely experience a penalty if drawing on earnings portion). 

Penalty-free IRA Withdrawals

I offered a rarely used suggestion to establish a section 72(t) distribution (as authorized under the IRS tax code). This rule allows for penalty-free withdrawals from an IRA account. The rule requires that, in order for the IRA owner to take penalty-free early withdrawals, he or she must take at least five "substantially equal periodic payments" (SEPPs). The amount depends on the IRA owner's life expectancy calculated with various IRS-approved methods.

Rule 72(t) allows you to take advantage of your retirement savings before the age of 59 1/2, when there is otherwise a 10% penalty on early withdrawal. The withdrawals, however, are still taxed at your income rate.

How to Use Rule 72(t)

The substantially equal period payments must generally continue for at least five full years, or if later, until age 59 ½. For example, if you began taking payments at age 56 on December 1, 2006, you may not take a different distribution or alter the amount of the payment until December 1, 2011, even though your fifth payment was taken on December 1, 2010.

If you begin taking substantially equal periodic payments on December 1, 2005, and you turn 59 ½ on July 1, 2011, you may not take a different distribution or alter the amount of the payment until July 1, 2011.

This works well for Joan because she did not have any earned income in 2013 so we actually started her distribution in December for the 1st of 5 distributions.  We plan to take the next one immediately in January of 2014 and this should fulfill her income requirements needed for 2014.  She also does not plan on finding work in 2014 so the taxes on these dollars will be small since she had no other income.   The Roth arguably would also have fewer tax implications, but we suggested taking from the Roth IRA after this if additional income was needed in the year as she climbs the tax bracket wall.

Matthew E. Chope, CFP ® is a Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Matt has been quoted in various investment professional newspapers and magazines. He is active in the community and his profession and helps local corporations and nonprofits in the areas of strategic planning and money and business management decisions. In 2012 and 2013, Matt was named to the Five Star Wealth Managers list in Detroit Hour magazine.


Five Star Award is based on advisor being credentialed as an investment advisory representative (IAR), a FINRA registered representative, a CPA or a licensed attorney, including education and professional designations, actively employed in the industry for five years, favorable regulatory and complaint history review, fulfillment of firm review based on internal firm standards, accepting new clients, one- and five-year client retention rates, non-institutional discretionary and/or non-discretionary client assets administered, number of client households served.

Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. A 72(t) distribution may not be right for everyone. Investors should take into consideration the possibility of depleting their retirement account before the end of their life expectancy. In addition, any withdraws are taxed at the investor’s income rate and may raise their tax bracket. Please discuss any tax or financial matters with the appropriate professional before making a decision. #C14-001634