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Understanding Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): A Comprehensive Guide

August 27, 2018

Click on the link to watch the attached video to learn more about: What are RMD's and How are they Determined?

When it comes to retirement planning, understanding Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) is crucial. Essentially, RMDs are the minimum amounts that a retirement plan account owner must withdraw annually, starting with the year they reach 70.5 years of age or, if later, the year they retire.

What Are Required Minimum Distributions?

RMDs apply to tax-deferred retirement accounts. These accounts include IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and other defined contribution plans. The rationale behind RMDs is straightforward: since contributions to these accounts are often tax-deductible, and the growth in the accounts is tax-deferred, RMDs ensure that this untaxed money is eventually subject to taxation.

How Are RMDs Calculated?

The amount of an RMD is determined by dividing the account balance as of December 31 of the preceding year by a life expectancy factor set by the IRS. For example, at age 70, the life expectancy factor is 27.4 years. This means if a retiree has a retirement account balance of $100,000 at the end of the year, their RMD would be approximately $3,649 (100,000 divided by 27.4).

Important Timelines

  • Starting Age: RMDs must begin by April 1 of the year following the year in which the account holder turns 70.5 years old.
  • Annual Requirement: After the first RMD, each subsequent withdrawal must occur by December 31 each year.
  • Incremental Increases: The RMD amount will generally increase each year, reflecting changes in life expectancy and account balance.

Impact on Retirement Planning

Understanding and planning for RMDs is a critical component of retirement planning. Failure to take an RMD, or withdrawing too little, can result in significant penalties – typically 50% of the amount that should have been withdrawn. Hence, it's essential for retirees to:

  • Calculate RMDs Accurately: Use IRS life expectancy tables and year-end account balances to determine the correct amount.
  • Strategize Withdrawals: Consider the timing and amount of withdrawals to minimize the tax impact.
  • Consult Financial Advisors: Professional advice can be invaluable in developing a strategy that considers RMDs in the context of broader retirement planning.

Recent Changes and Considerations

As of my last update in April 2023, there have been changes to the rules governing RMDs:

  • The SECURE Act: This act, passed in December 2019, raised the starting age for RMDs from 70.5 to 72 for individuals who turned 70.5 after December 31, 2019.
  • Life Expectancy Tables Update: The IRS updated its life expectancy tables in 2022 to reflect longer average lifespans. This change generally reduces the annual RMD amount.

Special Cases and Exceptions

  • Still Working Exception: Individuals who are still working and do not own more than 5% of the business they work for can delay RMDs from their current employer's plan until retirement.
  • Roth IRAs: These accounts do not require RMDs during the owner's lifetime, making them a strategic tool for retirement planning.

Tax Implications

RMDs are taxable as ordinary income in the year they are withdrawn. Tax planning strategies, such as spreading out large expenses or deductions over several years, can help manage the tax burden associated with RMDs.


Required Minimum Distributions are a key aspect of retirement planning, especially for those with tax-deferred retirement accounts. Understanding how they are calculated, the timelines involved, and the strategies for managing them can have a significant impact on retirement income and taxation. With careful planning and, if necessary, professional advice, retirees can navigate RMDs effectively to optimize their retirement finances.

For a more personalized approach to RMDs and retirement strategy, consulting with a financial advisor is recommended. They can provide tailored advice and calculations based on individual circumstances, ensuring a comfortable and financially secure retirement.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult with your financial advisor.
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