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Navigating the Tax Implications of IRA Withdrawals and Distributions

Unexpected financial events and significant expenses can occur at any time, potentially impacting your retirement savings. If you need to withdraw funds from a retirement account to cover such expenses, it’s essential to understand the tax consequences of your actions.

Financial challenges such as natural disasters, illnesses, or funding a child’s wedding or college education can affect your financial security. However, normal distributions from your individual retirement account (IRA) do not require proof of financial hardship. The manner in which you withdraw money from your retirement account can have significant tax implications.

In this article, we will discuss the tax treatments of withdrawals and distributions from your IRA. To differentiate the terms, a withdrawal refers to money taken from your retirement account before age 59-½, while a required minimum distribution (RMD) is a mandatory annual distribution from your IRA once you reach age 72.

Tax Implications of IRA Withdrawals

The tax treatment of withdrawals depends on the type of IRA you have.

With a Roth IRA, withdrawals during retirement are tax-free since contributions are made with post-tax dollars. On the other hand, traditional IRAs use pre-tax dollars, and withdrawals generate a tax liability.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows you to withdraw funds from your traditional IRA as needed, such as for unexpected expenses. These funds are considered regular income for the year and are subject to your nominal tax rate. If you are under 59-½, withdrawals may incur an additional 10-percent tax penalty.

The tax impact of early withdrawals can be substantial. For example, an early withdrawal of $10,000 with a 10-percent tax penalty in the 24-percent tax bracket results in a $3,400 tax liability.

Tax Implications of Required IRA Distributions

Roth IRAs do not have required minimum distributions. However, traditional IRAs mandate annual distributions beginning at age 72, which increased to age 73 starting in 2023. Failing to start RMDs by this age results in a penalty. You can take multiple distributions in a calendar year without penalty.

Traditional IRAs use pre-tax dollars and grow tax-free. When taking distributions, deferred income taxes on the distributed funds must be paid. These funds are considered ordinary income and are taxed at your nominal tax rate. Retirees may have a lower tax rate than when working full time, making distributions after retirement potentially more advantageous.

It’s important to note that traditional IRA distributions can start at age 59-½ without incurring early withdrawal penalties.


Both early withdrawals and regular distributions from a traditional IRA are taxed as ordinary income since they use pre-tax dollars and deferred income taxes. Most early withdrawals also incur a 10-percent tax penalty.

Regular IRA distributions can start at age 59-½, and required minimum distributions must begin by age 73. Roth IRA distributions or qualified withdrawals, however, do not face additional taxation since they are funded with post-tax dollars.