What are required minimum distributions (RMDs), and how do you take them?

1 min readLast updated January 4, 2024by Rachel Carey

Unfortunately, you cannot keep your retirement savings in your account forever. Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are the minimum amounts you must withdraw annually and apply to most of your retirement savings.

What is RMD?  

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are the minimum amounts you must withdraw from your retirement account each year.  

RMD rules apply to original account holders and their beneficiaries of: 

  • Traditional IRAs 

  • SEP IRAs 


  • 401(k) plans 

  • 403(b) plans 

  • Other defined contribution plans 

  • Roth IRA beneficiaries 

There are some exemptions to RMDs.  

  • Roth IRAs do not require withdrawals until after the owner's death.   

  • Designated Roth accounts in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan are subject to the RMD rules for 2022 and 2023. However, from 2024, RMDs are no longer required from designated Roth accounts. 2023 RMDs due by April 1, 2024, are still required.   

If you fail to take the correct distributions, you will be subject to an additional tax equal to 50 percent of the undistributed RMD.  

When do you have to take RMDs? 

Retirement is full of firsts – your first Social Security check, your first holiday in retirement, maybe even your first Sunday evening without feeling that anxiety about going back to work.  

While it may not be the most exciting, your first RMD is something you also need to complete.  

So, when do you have to take your first RMD? 

IRAs - You must take your first RMD by April 1 of the year following the year you turn 72 (70 ½ if you reach this age before January 1, 2020). This is regardless of whether you are still employed or not. 

Defined benefit plans - You must take your first RMD by April 1 of the year either after you turn 72 (70 ½ if you reach this age before January 1, 2020) or the year you retire (if allowed by your plan). 

5 percent owners - If you are a 5 percent owner of your employer company, you must start RMDs by April 1 of the year following the year you turn 72 (70 ½ if you reach 70 ½ before January 1, 2020). 

For each year after your required beginning date, you must withdraw your RMD by December 31.  

For those with multiple plans, you must consider all accounts when making your RMD. If you have several defined contribution plans, you must calculate your RMDs for each and withdraw that amount from every account. 

If you have multiple IRAs, you must calculate each RMD. However, you can aggregate this and withdraw the total from one IRA or a portion from each.  

How do you calculate your RMD? 

When calculating your RMD, you are ultimately responsible. However, your financial advisor or plan administrator can also calculate it for you.  

If you decide to do your own calculations, thankfully, the IRS has several worksheets to help you calculate the required amount. It’s wise to double-check these each time you calculate your RMD to ensure you’re working with the most up-to-date information.  

Simply put, you can calculate your RMD by dividing your account balance as of the end of the preceding calendar year by a distribution period from the IRS’s “Uniform Lifetime Table.” 

These tables differ depending on if you are single, married, or if you’re married, and your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you.  

Let's look at a traditional IRA as an example. To work out your RMD, you need to: 

  1. Determine your IRA value at the close of business on December 31 of the previous year.  

  2. Find your life expectancy evaluation corresponding to your age on your current year's birthday from the IRS tables.  

  3. Divide your account balance by the evaluation number to find your RMD. 

At what age do RMDs stop? 

As mentioned, RMDs begin at 72, or 70 ½ if you reach 70 ½ before January 1, 2020. Once they start, they don’t stop.  

RMDs continue indefinitely, meaning you must calculate your RMD at the beginning of each calendar year and take it by the end of that year if you don’t want to incur a tax penalty.  

RMDs continue until your death. After which, your beneficiaries must take RMDs from your accounts.  

How to reduce taxes on RMDs 

Everyone has their own retirement plan and how they envision using their money in retirement. Your budget will tell you how much you need each year to make this a reality. RMDs can often throw this off track, leaving you with an unwanted tax bill or maybe even money you set aside for something else.  

To reduce the impact of RMDs, it’s vital to start planning early: 

  1. Convert to a Roth account – Roth IRAs are not subject to RMDs. However, there are some caveats. If converting from a 401(k) or traditional IRA, you must pay taxes when you transition. Experts usually advise you only do a Roth IRA conversion if you expect to pay higher income taxes in retirement than now. You will also need to own the Roth account for five years before you can start making tax-free withdrawals.  

  2. Start taking withdrawals aged 59½ – at this age, you will not incur any early withdrawal tax penalty. Starting withdrawals early will reduce the amount in your accounts, thus reducing your RMD amount. This strategy may also allow you to postpone taking your Social Security, allowing it to grow each year you wait to collect it until you reach 70.  

  3. Move money to a Qualified Longevity Annuity Contract (QLAC) – this is a deferred-income annuity that provides a guaranteed income when you reach a certain age. They offer higher payouts than other products and provide a guaranteed income for the rest of your life. The amount you can invest in a QLAC is limited and changes yearly. This amount is excluded from RMDs. You can also delay payouts until you turn 85.  

  4. Make a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) – you can transfer money directly from your IRA to a qualified charity organization. QCDs are not taxable. An individual can donate up to $100,000 per year from their IRA.  

If you’re wondering how to plan and manage your RMDs, seeking expert advice is wise. A good place to start is Unbiased. Here you can get matched with an independent SEC-regulated financial advisor who can ensure you’re getting the most out of your current plan and are on course to achieving your retirement goals.   

Find your perfect financial professional today.

Senior Content Writer

Rachel Carey

Rachel is a Senior Content Writer at Unbiased. She has nearly a decade of experience writing and producing content across a range of different sectors.