Retirement savings accounts exist to help people not only to put money aside, but to leave it there to grow.
To encourage you to keep your hands off those funds, most traditional IRA withdrawals made before age 59 1/2 incur taxes, as well as a 10% penalty.
However, there are exceptions to the rule. We’re not saying you should make early withdrawals from your retirement funds, but if you need to, it may be possible.
You’ll usually have to pay the income tax on your withdrawals, but here are seven times you may be able to take back your money without paying the penalty fee:
1. When you reach age 59 1/2
This is the cutoff for “early distributions” — that is, any withdrawals that will cost you extra. Once you celebrate your half-birthday, you can start taking distributions without paying income taxes or penalties.
You don’t have to start taking them when the clock strikes midnight, but by age 70 1/2, you must start taking required minimum distributions or pay a considerable fee.
2. To finance your first home
As the IRS puts it, you don’t have to pay the penalty if you’re using the funds to “buy, build, or rebuild a first home” for yourself, your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, or your parents. That first home probably won’t be a multimillion dollar mansion on the coast, however: There is a lifetime limit on this distribution of $10,000.
3. As an inheritance
You may not have opened this account, but its contents are yours now. If you’re the beneficiary for a loved one’s IRA, you will inherit the funds without needing to pay any penalties. Note that if you choose to keep the funds in a retirement account, however, the usual early withdrawal consequences may apply.
4. To cover major medical expenses or disability
If you have unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income, you can take an early withdrawal without paying the penalty fee. If you or your spouse was born before Jan. 2, 1949, however, medical expenses need only to exceed 7.5% of your income.
You may also withdraw without paying the fee if you’re disabled, which, according to the IRS, means that your doctor has verified that you “cannot do any substantial gainful activity because of your physical or mental condition.”
5. To pay for college
Distributions used to pay “qualified education expenses” aren’t penalized when used for yourself, your spouse, your children, or your grandchildren. These expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies, and any required equipment, as well as any costs for special needs services.
6. To pay for medical insurance when you’re unemployed
If you lost your job, received unemployment for 12 consecutive weeks, and got the distributions either that same year or the next, you won’t be penalized for withdrawing the funds to pay your medical insurance premiums. You may receive the distributions up to 60 days after finding a new job.
7. You’re in the military
If you were ordered or called to active duty after September 11, 2011 for more than 179 days, or indefinitely, you can take a what’s called a “qualified reservist distribution” without penalty.
Are You Withdrawing From A Roth IRA?
If so, the penalty exceptions above apply, with a caveat: You need only be concerned about paying extra on withdrawals of your earnings. Unlike with a traditional IRA, you can withdraw your original contributions from a Roth IRA, tax and penalty-free, any time — you just have to withdraw contributions before you can tap (taxable) earnings.
For more information on early distributions from your IRA or Roth IRA, refer to IRS Publication 590.