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Roth IRA Withdrawals: What You Need to Know

You can withdraw contributions any time, but you can't withdraw earnings without penalty for five years — unless you have a qualified exception, such as a first-time home purchase.
Investing, Retirement Income, Roth IRA

For the most part, Roth IRA withdrawal rules are more flexible than those for a 401(k) or even a traditional IRA. But it’s important that you stick by them, because not doing so could cancel out some of the Roth’s supercharged tax perks.

Because you already paid taxes on the money you’ve contributed to a Roth IRA, you can withdraw your contributions at any time.

The key word there is contributions — the money you put into the account. A different standard applies to your investment earnings.

To withdraw investment earnings without owing income taxes and a 10% penalty, you’ll have to meet specific criteria, based on your age and how long you’ve owned the account.

If you’re younger than 59½

And you’ve owned a Roth IRA for less than five years …

Generally you’ll owe income taxes and a 10% penalty if you withdraw earnings from your account. You can avoid the penalty, but not the income taxes, if you meet one of the following exceptions.

  • You’re withdrawing up to $10,000 to buy your first home.
  • The withdrawal is for qualified education expenses.
  • The withdrawal is for unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of your adjusted gross income for the year. (After 2018, that percentage is slated to rise to 10%.)
  • The withdrawal is for health insurance premiums while you’re unemployed.
  • The withdrawal is due to disability.
  • The withdrawal is made to a beneficiary or your estate after your death.
  • You decide to take substantially equal payments, which basically locks you into taking at least one distribution per year for at least five years or until you turn 59½, whichever comes last.
  • The withdrawal is due to an IRS levy.
  • You made the withdrawal when you were a reservist, as defined by the IRS.

» Need more on Roths? See our Roth IRA rules page.

If you’re younger than 59½

And you’ve owned a Roth IRA for five years or more …

You can avoid taxes and penalties on earnings you withdraw from your account if you meet one of the following exceptions.

  • You’re withdrawing up to $10,000 to buy your first home.
  • The withdrawal is due to disability.
  • The withdrawal is made to a beneficiary or your estate after your death.

If you’re 59½ or older

And you’ve owned a Roth IRA for less than five years …

You’ll owe income tax but no penalty on earnings that you withdraw.

If you’re 59½ or older

And you’ve owned a Roth IRA for five years or more …

You can withdraw earnings with no tax or penalty.

Updated April 18, 2018.