What is rule 72(t)?
Rule 72(t) refers to a section of the Internal Revenue Code that gives parameters to follow to make early withdrawals from retirement accounts without penalties. The eligible retirement accounts include traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, 457(b) plans, 403(b) plans, and 401(k) plans. However, Roth IRAs are subject to different rules, meaning you may not need to execute a 72(t) to get funds penalty-free.
The exception for an early withdrawal penalty can only be utilized if the taxpayer follows the 72(t) requirement of substantially equal periodic payments (SEPPs). The number of payments needed to fulfill this requirement varies with age. SEPPs refer to making equal periodic withdrawals from your retirement account. These funds must be withdrawn according to a specific IRS schedule, and the IRS has three different methods for calculating how much your withdrawal amount should be. The 72(t)-payment schedule must be five years or until you reach age 59 ½ (whichever comes later), which means your payment schedule will be at least five years.
Example: If you are age 50 ½, you would have to make substantial equal payments for nine years until you reach age 59 ½.
Rule 72(t) payment calculation
Fixed annuitization method
This is the most complex method for calculating SEPP. The annual payment is calculated by factoring your total account balance, an annuity factor provided by the IRS, the federal midterm interest rate, and the account owner's life expectancy. This method differs from the other two as the account owner cannot choose between the different life expectancy tables. This causes the fixed annuitization method to only be affected by interest rate because it is restricted to a specific life expectancy table.
Fixed amortization method
This method calculates the amount to be distributed annually by amortizing the account balance over the single life expectancy, the uniform life expectancy, or the joint life expectancy with the oldest listed beneficiary. The payments remain the same over the withdrawal period, and recalculating is unnecessary. The fixed amortization method is unique because it is affected by both life expectancy and interest rates.
Minimum distribution method
This method takes a dividing factor from the IRS’s single or joint life expectancy table and divides the retirement account’s balance. This varies significantly from the amortization method as the annual withdrawal payments are likely to vary yearly. The payments from this method are the lowest possible amounts that can be withdrawn.
Here is a brief overview of the different life expectancy table options:
The Uniform Table
Applies to unmarried account holders, married account holders whose spouses are not more than 10 years younger, and married account holders whose spouses aren’t the sole beneficiaries of their accounts
The Joint and Last Survivor Expectancy Table
Applies to account holders whose spouses are more than 10 years younger and are also the sole beneficiaries of the account.
The Single Expectancy Table
Applies to beneficiaries
Executing a 72(t) should be a last resort when there are no longer other options to exercise. Something to keep in mind is that you MUST be very diligent with monitoring your withdrawals. If you miss a withdrawal or don’t take the proper amount, you will be assessed all your penalties.
This should not be used as an emergency fund as it can significantly impact your future financial situation in retirement. If you need money from retirement accounts and want to avoid the 10% penalty on early withdraws, a 72(t) might be something to investigate. Remember that withdrawals that follow the 72(t) criteria are still subject to the account holder’s normal income tax rate.
Most 72(t) options are executed for someone retiring from their employer earlier than 59 ½ and looking to replace their income with interest, growth, and principal from their 401(k), IRA, or retirement asset in a consistent and repeatable manner. Just like you would expect a paycheck each month from your employer, a 72(t) option can create that paycheck from your hard-earned savings while avoiding the dreaded 10% penalty that comes with a withdrawal from a retirement account before 59 ½. In our opinion, the IRS is giving the person who has done a tremendous job of saving the option to retire before the standard 59 ½ retirement date. This should not and cannot be used for someone looking for a one-time access to their funds.
If you have questions or want to see what a 72(t) looks like for you, contact your financial advisor. They would be able to show more in-depth what the substantially equal periodic payments would look like for your situation and how long you would need to take those. If you don’t have a financial advisor, we have a team ready to help answer questions at Whitaker-Myers Wealth Managers.