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What is a required minimum distribution (RMD)?
A required minimum distribution (RMD) is money the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires you to withdraw each year from your tax-deferred retirement accounts, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or 401(k)s, once you reach age 72 (73 if you turn 72 in or after 2023).
Required minimum distributions exist to prevent taxpayers from indefinitely deferring taxes on the pre-tax income that funded the accounts; they allow the IRS to begin to collect those taxes. Unless the money you withdraw was already taxed, RMDs are thus taxable income in the year you take them.
How RMDs are calculated
To calculate your required minimum distribution for the current year, you divide your account balance at the end of the last year by a distribution period that is based on your age. (Scroll down to see our calculator.)
RMD = Account balance at end of last year/Age-based distribution period from IRS table
You can find those distribution periods in three tables:
If you’re married, the sole beneficiary of your account is your spouse, and if he or she is more than 10 years younger than you, you use the IRS’s Joint and Last Survivor Table.
All other original IRA owners use the IRS’s Uniform Lifetime Table.
If you inherited an IRA, use the Single Life Expectancy Table.
For example, the balance on your traditional IRA was $200,000 at the end of last year. You are married and your spouse, who is the sole beneficiary of your IRA, is five years younger than you. You turn 74 in 2023. Using the correlating IRS table, your distribution period is 25.5 and your required minimum distribution for 2023 would be $7,843 ($200,000 ÷ 25.5).
You can always withdraw more than the minimum — the RMD is a floor, not a ceiling.
The penalty for failing to take an RMD is 50% of the RMD amount. In 2023, the penalty decreases to 25% of the RMD amount.
If you correct your error within two years, the IRS may reduce the penalty to 10% for IRAs .
The IRS enforces RMD deadlines for traditional IRAs, SEP IRAs (which are essentially IRAs for business owners), SIMPLE IRAs (which are retirement plans for small companies), and employer-sponsored retirement plan accounts, though in most cases you can actually delay withdrawals from your 401(k) plan until the year you retire.
» Retirement planning? Here’s a 5-step guide
Other notable required minimum distribution (RMD) rules
RMDs apply to tax-deferred accounts related to workplace retirement plans such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s, as well as traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and self-employed retirement plans.
You can delay taking your first RMD until April 1 of the year after you turn the RMD age. For example, if you turn 73 in 2024, you’ll have to take the first required minimum distribution from your account by April 1, 2025.
Roth IRAs don't require RMDs while the account holder is alive. But if you’ve inherited a Roth IRA, you might be required to take distributions .
The RMD age increased from 72 to 73 in 2023 and will increase to 75 starting in 2033 due to SECURE Act 2.0, legislation signed into law in December 2022.
If you turned 73 in 2023, you still have to follow the 2022 RMD rules, which means you have to take your first RMD by April 1, 2023, and your second by December 31, 2023.
RMDs for non-IRA Roth accounts will be eliminated starting in 2024 due to Sec. 325 of SECURE Act 2.0. This includes Roth 401(k) plans, Roth 403(b) plans and government Roth 457(b) plans.
» Learn more: A guide to retirement investment accounts
Calculating RMDs when you have multiple accounts
If you have more than one retirement account that's subject to RMDs, you’ll have to calculate the distribution for each account separately.
If you have more than one IRA or 403(b) plan, the IRS allows you to take your total IRA RMD from just one of them.
If you have multiple 401(k)s or 457(b)s, you must pull an RMD from each account separately.
If you need help staying on top of accounts and maximizing your retirement plan, consult an advisor.
» Need help? Find a personal financial advisor