Investing

When Can You Withdraw From a Roth IRA?

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You’ve done the hard work of setting up a Roth IRA for your retirement savings. Now, there’s another question on the table:

When can you withdraw from a Roth IRA?

The answer has a few moving parts. You’ll have to take into account two different types of funds in your Roth IRA: earnings and contributions. Once you separate the two, it’s a lot easier to avoid any penalty for early withdrawal in your Roth IRA.

Here’s what you need to know about Roth IRA earnings vs. contributions and the rules that govern the different Roth IRA withdrawals.

Understanding earnings vs. contributions

One of the key things to understand about a Roth IRA is that there are two parts to the money within the account: There’s the money you put in (contributions) and the money that grows in the account via investing (earnings). Each year, the IRS revises its Roth IRA contribution limits so you have a guide to how to max out your IRA. So, if you open a Roth with $5,000 and after two years the money has grown to $6,000, you have $5,000 in contributions and $1,000 in earnings.

It’s important to understand the difference between the two because you can only avoid taxes and penalties by withdrawing your contributions — and not earnings — before the age of 59 and a half. “You can take the principal out tomorrow because it’s already been taxed,” said Nolte.

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Withdrawing from contributions

You can essentially withdraw contributions from your Roth IRA at any point without incurring taxes or a Roth IRA early distribution penalty. If you contribute $1,000 to a Roth today, you can withdraw $1,000 from the Roth tomorrow (although that’s not a sound savings strategy) because you’ve already paid taxes on that money.

Withdrawing from earnings

Earnings in a Roth IRA must be left in the account for at least five years or until the account holder reached the age of 59 and a half — whichever is longer. Roth IRA withdrawal penalties will apply if you don’t follow these rules, plus you’ll owe taxes on the money and a 10% penalty.

The five-year waiting period begins on January 1 of the year you made your first contribution. As long as your withdrawal is five years from January 1 of the first year you contributed and you’re at least 59 and a half years of age, you’re in the clear. This rule applies to each Roth you may have.

You may be able to avoid a Roth IRA withdrawal penalty and taxes if you’ve had the Roth IRA for at least five years and one of the following applies:

  • The money was used for a first-time home purchase, up to a $10,000 lifetime limit.
  • You are permanently disabled.
  • You died, and your heirs received the money after your death.

You may also be eligible to skip a Roth IRA withdrawal penalty when withdrawing earnings without incurring the 10% penalty, but you’ll still owe income taxes. Early distributions from a Roth IRA that qualify for this rule are as follows:

  • You have reached the age of 59 and a half.
  • You are permanently disabled.
  • You are the beneficiary of a deceased IRA owner.
  • You use the money to buy, build or remodel a first-time home.
  • The distributions are part of a series of substantially equal payments.
  • You have unreimbursed medical expenses that are more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income for the year.
  • You’re paying medical insurance premiums while unemployed.
  • The distributions aren’t more than your qualified higher education expenses.
  • The distribution is due to an IRS levy of the qualified plan.
  • It’s a qualified reservist distribution.

There’s one other exception to this rule: If you withdraw your contributions and earnings from a Roth IRA by the tax deadline for the year in which you made that contribution, the IRS treats your contribution as though it had never happened. However, you must claim any earnings as income for that year on your tax return.

Withdrawing from a Roth conversion

The rules are slightly different if you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth: you must wait at least five years before you withdraw from that IRA. The five-year clock starts on January 1 of the year you made the conversion. You’ll pay a 10% Roth IRA early distribution penalty and owe income taxes if you don’t stick to these Roth conversion rules.

Reporting Roth IRA withdrawals

You’ll need to file a Form 8606 when it’s time to file your taxes in the year that you take withdrawals from your Roth IRA. Be sure to inform your tax professional or advisor so they can help you stay on top of your finances.

Bottom line

A Roth IRA is a great way to diversify your retirement savings, particularly if you think you’ll be in a lower tax bracket in retirement. However, there are rules that say when you can take money out of your Roth IRA. By knowing the rules around contributions and earnings, you can avoid a 10% Roth IRA early distribution penalty and the income taxes owed.

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