Q&A: Retirement account distribution rules

Dear Liz: My husband is 71 and retired. We have started withdrawing from one of his retirement funds but I am unsure if there is a minimum amount that needs to be withdrawn per year. We have a few retirement funds in different places. Do we have to withdraw from each or just a minimum per year no matter where?

Answer: Required minimum distributions from most retirement accounts typically must begin when someone turns 72. The withdrawals must be made by Dec. 31 each year, but your first one can be delayed until April 1. If your husband turns 72 next year, for example, then the first withdrawal wouldn’t be due until April 1, 2024. Your husband would need to take a second distribution by Dec. 31, 2024.

Required minimum distributions are calculated using the tables in IRS Publication 590-B, Distributions From Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). IRA owners have to calculate the minimum withdrawal separately for each IRA they own, but they’re allowed to draw the total amount from one or more of the IRAs. People who have 403(b) accounts are also allowed to take the total amount from one or more 403(b) contracts after calculating the amount separately for each one.

The rules are different for other types of retirement plans. People who have 401(k) and 457(b) plans must calculate and take minimum withdrawals separately from each of those plan accounts. No distributions are required for Roth IRAs during the owner’s lifetime.

Your brokerage typically can help you calculate required minimum distributions, or you can talk to a tax pro. A tax pro or fee-only financial planner also could help you decide if it makes sense to consolidate your accounts. At your stage of life, you probably could benefit from simplifying your finances and having fewer accounts to monitor.


  1. Herman cortez says

    I am 67 and have been retired for a few years now. I do not draw social security yet because I have a good pension. My wife will turn 62 in June and wants to retire from her job in the next year or two. Then possibly draw social security. When she does decide to draw social security will she be penalized because of my pension? And when I decide to draw social security will she then be penalized? I know I will.