investing

Penalty-free IRA withdrawals

In general, to withdraw funds penalty-free from an IRA you must be at least 59½ years of age and the account must have been open for at least five years. But there are several exceptions to the age 59½ rule that let you escape paying the 10-percent Internal Revenue Service penalty, should you find yourself in dire need of money. You will, of course, have to pay ordinary income tax on the earnings withdrawn.

Those exceptions include:

Unreimbursed medical expenses -- To pay unreimbursed medical expenses that are more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Medical insurance -- To pay medical insurance for yourself, your spouse and your dependents if you lose your job.

Disabled -- If you become disabled before age 59½, any distributions that you take because of your disability are not subject to the penalty tax.

Beneficiary -- You are the beneficiary of a deceased IRA owner.

Annuity -- You can receive distributions from an IRA that are part of a series of substantially equal payments over your life.

Higher education expenses -- If you paid expenses for higher education during the year, part or all of any distribution may not be subject to penalty.

First home -- You will not be penalized on a distribution used to buy, build or rebuild a first home. The distribution can't be more than $10,000.

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