It's no secret why the IRS wants you to start drawing down these accounts. Your money sat in the account for years, tantalizingly out of reach of the IRS as it accrued tax-deferred earnings.
The IRS has created tables to calculate these annual withdrawals, known as required minimum distributions, or RMDs. They use longevity data and are designed to ensure that most of your retirement benefits are paid to you during your lifetime.
Although RMDs are triggered once you turn 70 1/2, you get a bit of timing leeway for your first required withdrawal. You have until April 1 of the year that follows the calendar year you turn 70 1/2, which is six calendar months after your 70th birthday.
You don't care what the rules are, you don't need the money, you don't want to pay taxes on any withdrawals and you're leaving your account untouched. Not a good idea.
Failure to withdraw triggers an excess accumulation tax. This levy is 50 percent of the required distribution that you didn't take. For example, you didn't withdraw the required $1,000 from your traditional IRA. The tax charge for your defiance is $500. For a taxpayer in the 25 percent income tax bracket, that's twice what you would have paid in taxes if you'd simply followed the RMD rule.
If you can convince the IRS that your distribution shortfall was due to "reasonable error" and that you're taking steps to rectify the situation, the agency could waive the penalty. In that case, file Form 5329 (part VIII), go ahead and pay the excess accumulation tax and attach a letter of explanation. If the IRS agrees that you shouldn't be penalized, it will refund the excess tax.
Determining your distribution
OK, you've accepted that you must start siphoning off your retirement fund. Now, it's important to find out just how much money you have to withdraw.
The IRS has created three tables based on life expectancies to figure the minimum withdrawal amount, which is a percentage of your IRA based on your age, and these can be found in IRS Publication 590.
Retirement-plan beneficiaries use the first table.
Married account owners with spouses more than 10 years younger use the second table. Because its calculations incorporate the younger age of the spouse to spread withdrawals over a longer life expectancy, these account owners don't have to take out as much.