Don't Let the RMD Holiday Trip You Up

These three potential problems can be avoided.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the May 2009 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Congress did retirees a favor by declaring that minimum distributions from IRAs and other retirement plans are not required for 2009. If you don't need the money, you don't have to dip into a nest egg that may have been devastated by the market meltdown.

The RMD holiday applies both to those account owners age 70 1/2 and older and to younger plan owners who are tapping inherited accounts. Although the flexibility provided by Congress is great, watch out for three potential problems:

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Overpaying estimated tax. A longtime reader reports that when his accountant presented his estimated tax forms last month, the quarterly payment amount was the same as he paid in 2008. "Wait," the reader challenged, "shouldn't the payments be lower, since I'm not taking the RMD this year?"

The embarrassed accountant admitted she had failed to make the necessary adjustment. If you or your tax preparer made the same error, you can fix things by trimming back the second quarterly payment, which is due June 15. If you'll skip all or part of your 2009 RMD, scale back your estimated tax payments.

Underpaying estimated tax. Many retirees cover their estimated tax payments for the year -- on their RMD and all other income -- by having a big chunk of tax withheld from an RMD in December. If you are planning to skip a distribution this year, remember that you will lose this option for skipping estimated payments. You may need to withdraw at least enough to cover your estimated tax bill or start making quarterly payments.

Inadvertent withdrawals. If your RMD is on autopilot -- with regular monthly or quarterly payments being made by your plan sponsor -- you may be getting money you would rather leave in the tax shelter. Although the law forbids rolling an RMD into an IRA to continue tax-sheltered growth, that prohibition doesn't apply here. Because no RMDs are required for 2009, the IRS says these payouts can be rolled back into the account. To avoid paying tax on the payments, redeposit the money within 60 days. And, ask the sponsor to suspend automatic payments until 2010.

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Kevin McCormally
Chief Content Officer, Kiplinger Washington Editors
McCormally retired in 2018 after more than 40 years at Kiplinger. He joined Kiplinger in 1977 as a reporter specializing in taxes, retirement, credit and other personal finance issues. He is the author and editor of many books, helped develop and improve popular tax-preparation software programs, and has written and appeared in several educational videos. In 2005, he was named Editorial Director of The Kiplinger Washington Editors, responsible for overseeing all of our publications and Web site. At the time, Editor in Chief Knight Kiplinger called McCormally "the watchdog of editorial quality, integrity and fairness in all that we do." In 2015, Kevin was named Chief Content Officer and Senior Vice President.