You may have to take money out of your traditional IRA earlier than you'd planned. This type of withdrawal will be taxed. It can also be subject to an early withdrawal penalty. There are some early withdrawal exceptions. Certain situations might qualify you for an exception to the IRA penalty tax on withdrawals taken before you reach age 59 1/2.
How to Avoid the Early Withdrawal Penalty
Certain uses exempt you from an IRA early withdrawal penalty. There are no exceptions, however, to paying income tax on the amounts withdrawn under any of these conditions. They are:
Paying for Medical Costs
You might qualify for an exemption from the IRA penalty tax if you use your IRA early withdrawal to pay for medical costs that are more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
Paying for Health Insurance
You might be exempt from an early withdrawal penalty if you're unemployed, you used the IRA early withdrawal to pay your medical insurance premiums, and you meet three additional requirements:
- You received unemployment compensation paid under federal or state law for 12 straight weeks because you lost your job.
- You took the IRA withdrawal in the year you received unemployment or the next year.
- You took your IRA withdrawal within 60 days of your new employment starting—if you've since been re-employed.
Get a doctor's statement to qualify for an exception to the penalty tax if you're disabled. The IRS considers you to be disabled if you can't perform any substantial gainful activity due to a mental or physical condition. A physician must attest that your condition is likely to be prolonged, or even result in death.
Inheriting an IRA
You can inherit an IRA in a few ways, and the tax penalty depends on how the transaction occurred.
You won't have to pay the penalty on amounts withdrawn if you inherit from a non-spouse, even if the IRA owner was under age 59 1/2. You must, however, include any IRA withdrawals in your adjusted gross income (AGI).
Any IRA early withdrawal you take will be subject to the 10% penalty tax if you inherit from a spouse and you choose to treat it as your own IRA.
You would be eligible to receive IRA early withdrawals without paying the 10% penalty tax if you inherit an IRA from a spouse but you choose to title the IRA as an "inherited IRA."
Internal Revenue Code Section 72(t), the Substantially Equal Periodic Payment (SEPP) rule, lets you withdraw money from your retirement account at any age without penalty. You can withdraw a set amount of 72(t) payments each year based on your life expectancy. You must follow certain rules and use one of three approved methods to calculate an ongoing withdrawal amount.
You must stick with your withdrawal schedule for a minimum of five years or until you reach age 59½, whichever event occurs later. If you don't, all amounts withdrawn can be subject to the penalty tax.
Qualified Higher Education Expenses
IRA early withdrawals used to pay for qualified higher education expenses on behalf of you, your spouse, or the children or grandchildren of you or your spouse are exempt from the 10% tax penalty. The funds can be used for room and board if the student is enrolled at least half time, as well as tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment, and special needs services.
First-Time Home Purchase
Up to $10,000 of an IRA early withdrawal that's used to buy, build, or rebuild a first home for a parent, grandparent, yourself, a spouse, or you or your spouse's child or grandchild can be exempt from the 10% penalty. You must meet the IRS definition of a first-time homebuyer.
A first-time homebuyer is someone who hasn't had an ownership interest in a home in the last two years before buying a new home.
You and your spouse can each withdraw $10,000 from your IRAs without paying the 10% penalty if you both qualify as first-time homebuyers. The distribution must be used to pay for qualified purchase and closing costs within 120 days after you receive the money.
Qualified Reservist Distributions
A qualified reservist distribution isn't subject to the penalty tax on IRA early withdrawals. According to the IRS, a qualified reservist distribution must meet the following requirements:
- You were ordered or called to active duty after September 11, 2001.
- You were ordered or called to active duty for a period of more than 179 days or for an indefinite period because you're a reserve member.
- The distribution is taken from an IRA or from amounts attributable to elective deferrals under a section 401(k) or 403(b) plan or a similar arrangement.
- The distribution was made no earlier than the date of the order or call to active duty and no later than the close of the active-duty period.