retirement

Taking Your First Required Retirement Distribution

The rules for the required minimum distributions you must take from your retirement accounts starting the year you turn 70½ can be tricky.

I turn 70½ this year and am calculating the required minimum distributions I need to take. I plan to take withdrawals from my 401(k) account and my IRA in the next few months. Will those automatically be counted as RMDs, or do I have to let the companies know specifically that they are for my 2016 RMD?

Because the required amount is based on your life expectancy and the 2015 balance in your accounts, you can make your withdrawals anytime during the year. Ask your IRA and 401(k) administrators about their rules, but you generally don’t need to do anything special to let them know that the withdrawals should count as your RMD. "From an IRS perspective, the first money out of the IRA and 401(k) during the year is supposed to be for their minimum required distributions," says Maura Cassidy, director of retirement products for Fidelity. Keep in mind that you can delay taking your first RMD until April 1 of the year after the year you turn 70½, but you’ll also have to take your second RMD by December 31 of that same year.

You must calculate the RMD and withdraw the required amount separately from each 401(k). Required minimum distributions from traditional IRAs must be calculated separately for each account, but the total can be withdrawn from any one or more of the accounts. See The Basic Rules of Calculating, Withdrawing RMDs from Retirement Plans for more information about each type of account. Also see our What Is My IRA Required Minimum Distribution? calculator to figure out how much you need to withdraw from your traditional IRAs.

Your IRA and 401(k) administrators should also be able to help you calculate your RMDs from each account and let you know how much you've withdrawn so far. In January 2017, you'll receive tax Form 1099-R from your IRA and 401(k) administrators reporting the total distribution for 2016, which you’ll need to refer to when filing your tax return, says Cassidy.

You can withdraw the money when you want, or you may be able to sign up to have the required amount withdrawn automatically. Fidelity, for example, offers an automatic withdrawal plan for IRAs, which lets you sign up to have the money sent to you monthly, quarterly or annually. You can have the money moved to a non-retirement account at Fidelity or by electronic funds transfer to a bank account, or you can have a check sent through the mail. You can also ask the administrator to withhold federal and state income taxes from the payouts.

Another option is to give your IRA RMD to charity. People who are 70½ and older can now give up to $100,000 from their IRAs to charity each year. The amount counts for your RMD but isn’t included in your adjusted gross income. This was an option for the past several years, but Congress usually waited until December to approve the law for the year. Last month, Congress approved it permanently.

To exclude the money from your adjusted gross income, it must be transferred directly from the IRA to the charity; the check can't be made out to you. Fidelity customers who elect to have check-writing established on their IRA, for example, will receive a checkbook and may write a check to the charity that way. Or they can submit a one-time withdrawal request form to have the distribution sent to the charity or have a check made out to the charity sent to their own address, then forward it to the charity.

The rules for 401(k)s are different. The charitable transfer option applies only to IRAs, not to 401(k)s. Also, your 401(k) administrator may have different payout options. Some Fidelity-sponsored 401(k) plans let participants sign up for automatic withdrawals, while others do not, says Cassidy.

For more information, see 10 Things Boomers Must Know About RMDs from IRAs.

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