Required minimum distributions
Employer-provided qualified retirement plans and individual retirement accounts and annuities (IRAs) are subject to required minimum distribution rules. A qualified retirement plan for this purpose means a tax-qualified plan described in section 401(a) (such as a defined benefit pension plan or a section 401(k) plan), employee retirement annuities described in section 403(a), tax-sheltered annuities described in section 403(b), and a plan described in section 457(b) that is maintained by a governmental employer.18 An employer-provided qualified retirement plan that is a defined contribution plan is a plan which provides (1) an individual account for each participant and (2) for benefits based on the amount contributed to the participant's account, and any income, expenses, gains, losses, and forfeitures of accounts of other participants which may be allocated to such participant's account.19
Required minimum distributions generally must begin by April 1 of the calendar year following the later of the calendar year in which the individual (employee or IRA owner) reaches age 70 1/2. However, in the case of an employer-provided qualified retirement plan, the required minimum distribution date for an individual who is not a 5-percent owner of the employer maintaining the plan is delayed to April 1 of the year following the year in which the individual retires.
For IRAs and defined contributions plans, the required minimum distribution for each year generally is determined by dividing the account balance as of the end of the prior year by a distribution period,20 generally a number in the uniform lifetime table.21 This table is based on joint life expectancies of the individual and a hypothetical beneficiary 10 years younger than the individual. For an individual with a spouse as designated beneficiary who is more than 10 years younger (and thus the number of years in the couple's joint life expectancy is greater than the uniform life time table), the joint life expectancy of the couple is used. There are special rules in the case of annuity payments from an insurance contract.
If an individual dies on or after the individual's required beginning date, the required minimum distribution is also determined by dividing the account balance as of the end of the prior year by a distribution period. The distribution period is equal to the remaining years of the beneficiary's life expectancy or, if there is no designated beneficiary, a distribution period equal to the remaining years of the deceased individual's single life expectancy, using the age of the deceased individual in the year of death.22
In the case of an individual who dies before the individual's required beginning date, there are two methods for satisfying the after death required minimum distribution rules, the life expectancy rule or the five year rule. Under the life expectancy rule, annual required minimum distributions must begin no later than December 31 of the calendar year immediately following the calendar year in which the individual died. This rule is only available if the designated beneficiary is an individual (e.g., not the individual's estate or a charity). If the designated beneficiary is the individual's spouse, commencement of distributions can be delayed until December 31 of the calendar year in which the deceased individual would have attained age 70 1/2. The required minimum distribution for each year is also determined by dividing the account balance as of the end of the prior year by a distribution period, which is determined by reference to the beneficiary's life expectancy.23 Under the five-year rule, the individual's entire account must be distributed no later than December 31 of the calendar year containing the fifth anniversary of the individual's death.24
A special after-death rule applies for an IRA if the beneficiary of the IRA is the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse is permitted to choose to calculate required minimum distributions while the spouse is alive, and after the spouse's death, as though the spouse is the IRA owner, rather than a beneficiary.
Roth IRAs are not subject to the minimum distribution rules during the IRA owner's lifetime. However, Roth IRAs are subject to the post-death minimum distribution rules that apply to traditional IRAs. For Roth IRAs, the IRA owner is treated as having died before the individual's required beginning date. Thus only the life expectancy rule and the five year rule apply.
Failure to make a required minimum distribution triggers a 50-percent excise tax, payable by the individual or the individual's beneficiary. The tax is imposed during the taxable year that begins with or within the calendar year during which the distribution was required.25 The tax may be waived if the distribution did not occur because of reasonable error and reasonable steps are taken to remedy the violation.26
Eligible rollover distributions
With certain exceptions, distributions from an employer-provided qualified retirement plan are eligible to be rolled over tax free into another employer-provided qualified retirement plan or an IRA. This can be achieved by contributing the amount of the distribution to the other plan or IRA within 60 days of the distribution, or by a direct payment by the plan to the other plan or IRA (referred to as a "direct rollover"). Distributions that are not eligible for rollover include (i) any distribution that is one of a series of periodic payments generally for a period of 10 years or more (or, if a shorter period, certain life expectancies) and (ii) any distribution to the extent that the distribution is a required minimum distribution.27
For any distribution that is eligible for rollover, an employer-provided tax-qualified retirement plan must offer the distributee the right to have the distribution made in a direct rollover28 and, before making the distribution, the plan administrator must provide the distributee with a written explanation of the direct rollover right and related tax consequences.29 If a distributee does not choose to have the distribution made in a direct rollover, the distribution is generally subject to mandatory 20-percent income tax withholding.30
Under the provision, no minimum distribution is required for calendar year 2009 from individual retirement plans and employer-provided qualified retirement plans that are defined contribution plans (within the meaning of section 414(i)). Thus any annual minimum distribution for 2009 from these plans required under current law, otherwise determined by dividing the account balance by a distribution period, is not required to be made. The next required minimum distribution would be for calendar year 2010. This relief applies to life-time distributions to employees and IRA owners and after-death distributions to beneficiaries.
In the case of an individual whose required beginning date is April 1, 2010 (e.g., the individual attained age 70 1/2 in 2009), the first year for which a minimum distribution is required under current law is 2009. Under the provision, no distribution is required for 2009 and, thus, no distribution will be required to be made by April 1, 2010. However, the provision does not change the individual's required beginning date for purposes of determining the required minimum distribution for calendar years after 2009. Thus, for an individual whose required beginning date is April 1, 2010, the required minimum distribution for 2010 will be required to be made no later than the last day of calendar year 2010. If the individual dies on or after April 1, 2010, the required minimum distribution for the individual's beneficiary will be determined using the rule for death on or after the individual's required beginning date.
If the five year rule applies to an account with respect to any decedent, under the provision, the five year period is determined without regard to calendar year 2009. Thus, for example, for an account with respect to an individual who died in 2007, under the provision, the five year period ends in 2013 instead of 2012.
If all or a portion of a distribution during 2009 is an eligible rollover distribution because it is no longer a required minimum distribution under this provision, the distribution shall not be treated as an eligible rollover distribution for purposes of the direct rollover requirement and notice and written explanation of the direct rollover requirement, as well as the mandatory 20percent income tax withholding for eligible rollover distributions, to the extent the distribution would have been a required minimum distribution for 2009 absent this provision. Thus, for example, if an employer-provided qualified retirement plan distributes an amount to an individual during 2009 that is an eligible rollover distribution but would have been a required minimum distribution for 2009, the plan is permitted but not required to offer the employee a direct rollover of that amount and provide the employee with a written explanation of the requirement. If the employee receives the distribution, the distribution is not subject to mandatory 20-percent income tax withholding, and the employee can roll over the distribution by contributing it to an eligible retirement plan within 60 days of the distribution.
The provision is effective for calendar years beginning after December 31,
2008. However, the provision does not apply to any required minimum distribution
for 2008 that is permitted to be made in 2009 by reason of an individual's
required beginning date being April 1, 2009.
18 The required minimum distribution rules also apply to section 457(b) plans maintained by tax-exempt employers other than governmental employers.
19 Sec. 414(i).
20 Treas. Reg. sec. 1.401(a)(9)-5.
21 Treas. Reg. sec. 1.401(a)(9)-9.
22 Treas. Reg. sec. 1.401(a)(9)-5, A-5(a).
23 Treas. Reg. sec. 1.401(a)(9)-5, A-5(b).
24 Treas. Reg. sec. 1.401(a)(9)-3, Q&As 1, 2.
25 Sec. 4974(a).
26 Sec. 4974(d).
27 Sec. 402(c)(4). Distributions that are not eligible rollover distributions also include distributions made upon hardship of the employee and any qualified disaster relief distribution (within the meaning of section 72(t)(2)(G)).
28 Sec. 401(a)(31).
29 Sec. 402(f).
30 Sec. 3405(c). This mandatory withholding does not apply to a distributee that is a beneficiary other than a surviving spouse of an employee.
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