The 5-Year Rules for Roth IRA’s

In case the rules surrounding Roth IRAs weren’t confusing enough so far, there are actually TWO different 5-year rules that can apply to your Roth IRA account.

5-Year Rule #1: The Account’s Age
In general, the first 5-year period begins on January 1 of the tax year when you established and first funded the account. This 5-year rule is important in determining if any distributions you receive from the account are qualified. In order to be qualified, a withdrawal must occur at least 5 years after that account establishment date (January 1 of the year you first funded the account). In addition to the 5-year rule, one of the following conditions must also apply in order for your distribution to be considered qualified:

■You are over age 59½
■You are disabled
■You (the account owner) are deceased
■The distribution is for a qualified first home
See the IRS’ flowchart at this link in order to determine if your distribution is qualified.

5-Year Rule #2: Age of a Conversion
This 5-year period generally begins on January 1 of the year of a conversion to a Roth IRA from a traditional IRA or from a qualified retirement plan such as a 401(k). Any amount that is attributable to such a conversion that was subject to taxation upon the conversion that is distributed before the 5-year period is complete would be subject to an additional 10% penalty tax applied to the distribution. This would also include post-conversion earnings on those amounts that had been converted within the previous 5 years. Possible exceptions to this rule are as follows:

■ You have reached age 59½.
■ You are disabled.
■ You are the beneficiary of a deceased IRA owner.
■ You use the distribution to pay certain qualified first-time homebuyer amounts.
■ The distributions are part of a series of substantially equal payments.
■ You have significant unreimbursed medical expenses.
■ You are paying medical insurance premiums after losing your job.
■ The distributions are not more than your qualified higher education expenses.
■ The distribution is due to an IRS levy of the qualified plan.
■ The distribution is a qualified reservist distribution.
■ The distribution is a qualified disaster recovery assistance distribution.
■ The distribution is a qualified recovery assistance distribution.
Why These Rules Are Important: Distribution Ordering Rules:
These two rules come into play when considering the order in which distributions are attributed. The IRS has specific rules determining just which money is coming out of your account and how it is to be treated, depending on if it’s qualified or not.

The order of distribution is as follows:

1.Regular contributions

2.Conversion and rollover contributions, on a first-in, first-out basis, meaning that the total of conversions and rollovers from the earliest year come out first. These conversions and rollovers are further sorted as follows:
A.Taxable portion (that portion that was taxed during the conversion or rollover)
B.Non-taxable portion
3.Earnings on all contributions
It should be noted that, in determining the amounts for #2 (conversion and rollover contributions) that certain aggregation rules apply:

■ Add all distributions from all your Roth IRAs during the year together.
■ Add all regular contributions made for the year (including contributions made after the close of the year, but before the due date of your return) together. Add this total to the total undistributed regular contributions made in prior years.
■ Add all conversion and rollover contributions made during the year together. For purposes of the ordering rules, in the case of any conversion or rollover in which the conversion or rollover distribution is made in 2008 and the conversion or rollover contribution is made in 2009, treat the conversion or rollover contribution as contributed before any other conversion or rollover contributions made in 2009.
Of course, the regular contributions can always be taken out of the account tax free (no 5-year rule applies). After that, your two 5-year rules kick in on the rest of the types of funds in your account.

About the author

Jim Blankenship, CFP®, EA

Jim Blankenship is the founder and principal of Blankenship Financial Planning, Ltd., a financial planning firm providing hourly, as-needed financial planning and advice. A financial services professional for over 25 years, Jim is a CFP professional and has earned the Enrolled Agent designation, a designation that qualifies him as enrolled to practice before the IRS. Jim is also a NAPFA-registered financial advisor, which designates him as a Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

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