The rules around required minimum distributions from retirement accounts are confusing, and it’s easy to slip up. Fortunately, if you do make a mistake, there are steps you can take to fix the error and possibly avoid a very stiff penalty.
If you have a tax-deferred retirement plan such as a traditional IRA or 401(k), you are required to begin taking distributions once you reach a certain age, with the withdrawn money taxed at your then-current tax rate. If you were age 70 1/2 before the end of 2019, you had to begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) in April of the year after you turned 70. But if you were not yet 70 1/2 by the end of 2019, you can wait to take RMDs until age 72. If you miss a withdrawal or take less than you were required to, you must pay a 50 percent additional tax on the amount that should have been distributed but was not.
It can be easy to miss a distribution or not withdraw the correct amount. If you make a mistake, the first step is to quickly correct the mistake and take the correct distribution. If you missed more than one distribution – either from multiple years or because you withdrew from several different accounts in the same year — it is better to take each distribution separately and for exactly the amount of the shortfall.
The next step is to file IRS form 5329. If you have more than one missed distribution, you can include them on one form as long as they all occurred in the same year. If you missed distributions in multiple years, you need to file a separate form for each year. And married couples who both miss a distribution need to each file their own forms. The form can be tricky. Even if you follow the instructions closely, you could make a mistake jeopardizing a penalty waiver. It is critical to secure competent advice to preserve the waiver of the penalty tax.
In addition to completing form 5329, you should submit a letter, preferably written or reviewed by an experienced tax practitioner, explaining why you missed the distribution and informing the IRS that you have now made the correct distributions. Professional advice is particularly useful because there is no clear definition of what the IRS will consider a “reasonable explanation” for missing a distribution.
For more detailed information on how to correct an RMD mistake, click here.
*This article is provided for persons interested in elder law issues in Virginia and across the United States. This article has been written by a practitioner in the field of elder law, but unless otherwise noted, the writer is not affiliated with ThompsonMcMullan, P.C. Nothing in the newsletter or the articles is, or is intended to be, legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. If you need legal advice of any kind, please consult an attorney with experience in that area of the law, whether in our firm, or otherwise.