For many Americans, their IRA is their biggest, or maybe only, savings available. It may be tempting to consider tapping into it in these challenging times. Distributions taken before age 59 ½ are subject to a 10% early distribution penalty. However, there is an exception for a series of substantially equal periodic payments (often called “72(t) payments”). While this may seem like a good opportunity to access IRA savings penalty-free, here are 3 reasons why you may want to think twice before you start a 72(t) payment plan from your IRA.

  1. There is not a lot of flexibility: Many times, those who are interested in 72(t) believe they can simply choose the amount they would like to take from their IRA each year. It’s not that easy. There are specific formulas that must be used to calculate 72(t) payments. If your IRA balance is small, the amount you can take may be disappointing and not enough to meet your needs.
  2. It is a long-term commitment: A 72(t) plan should not be entered into lightly because it is a long-term commitment. When you start 72(t) payments, you must continue them until you reach age 59 ½ and five years have passed. Both requirements must be met.
  3. It is easy to make mistakes and penalties are harsh: Because the calculations for 72(t) payments are so precise and because they must go on for such a long time, it’s easy for mistakes to happen. When the payment stream is modified (with limited exceptions), the 10% penalty will apply to all the distributions taken before age 59 1/2.

Be sure to read this article if you are contemplating a 72(t) payment plan.