Getting Out of an RMD Penalty

When your brokerage firm miscalculates your required minimum distributions, you have recourse.

Question: My brokerage firm didn’t include one of my traditional IRAs when calculating my required minimum distributions over the past three years, so I took out less money than I should have. Is there a way to avoid paying the 50% penalty? -J.D., Georgetown, Maine

Answer: You can ask the IRS to waive the penalty. First, calculate the amount you should have withdrawn as your RMD for each of those years and withdraw the money right away. Then file a separate Form 5329 with the IRS immediately for each year’s RMD you missed. Complete lines 52 and 53 with the amount you should have withdrawn, then write RC, which means “reasonable cause,” and the amount of the penalty you want waived in parentheses on the dotted line next to line 54. Add a brief note saying that the RMD was omitted by the brokerage and was withdrawn immediately upon discovery, says Ed Slott, publisher of IRAHelp.com (opens in new tab). (See instructions for IRS.gov's Form 5329 (opens in new tab).)

You don’t need to send any penalty money unless you hear back from the IRS denying your request for a waiver. Slott says he’s never seen a penalty not waived for someone who withdrew the money as soon as he or she realized the mistake and filed Form 5329 with a reasonable excuse.

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Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.