It depends. If you are 59½ or older, you can take money from your traditional IRA without penalty. In contrast, if you withdraw from your IRA before age 59½, the taxable portion of your distribution may be subject to a 10% penalty on top of whatever income taxes you owe on the distribution. This penalty, known as the premature distribution tax, is intended to discourage people from exhausting their IRA funds before they retire.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Premature IRA withdrawals made by a disabled person may be exempt from the penalty. If an IRA owner dies before age 59½, distributions paid to a beneficiary of the account are not subject to the penalty. If you need supplementary income, you can take IRA distributions as a series of "substantially equal payments" over your life expectancy or the joint life expectancy of you and your beneficiary. These distributions will avoid the penalty as long as you don't modify the payments within certain time frames. Subject to limits and conditions, the penalty tax generally will not apply to IRA distributions taken to pay qualifying medical expenses above a certain percentage of your income, health insurance premiums while unemployed, higher education costs, costs associated with the birth or adoption of a child ($5,000 per individual account holder), and qualified first-time home-buyer expenses (up to $10,000 lifetime from all your IRAs). .
The penalty also does not apply to amounts rolled over from one IRA to another (assuming you follow the rules for rollovers), to conversions of traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs, to amounts that the IRS levies from your IRA to cover your tax bill, or to qualified reservist distributions. Other exceptions may also apply.
Qualified distributions from your Roth IRAs are federal income tax — and penalty tax — free. Distributions are qualified if you satisfy a five-year holding period, and you are (a) age 59½, (b) disabled, (c) deceased, or (d) you have qualified first time home-buyer expenses. The taxable portion of nonqualified distributions from your Roth IRAs is subject to the same 10% penalty rules that apply to traditional IRAs. (Special rules may apply if you take a nonqualified distribution from your Roth IRA within five years of a conversion.)
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Partner, Financial Advisor
Gardner Wallace Financial Solutions