IRA Distribution Definition

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An IRA distribution is an IRA withdrawal. IRS Publication 590 identifies different types of distributions, with some differences between Traditional and Roth IRAs.

Normal Distributions

You may make normal withdrawals from your Traditional IRA after age 59 ½, although these withdrawals are not mandatory until you turn 70 ½. The mandatory withdrawals are called Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) and must begin by April 1 of the year after which you turn 70 ½. The IRS charges a 50 percent excise tax on any portion of the RMD that you do not withdraw as required.

Early Distributions

Early distributions are withdrawals you make from a Traditional IRA before age 59 ½. The IRS charges a 10 percent tax penalty for them, with certain exceptions listed in Publication 590. You are also exempt from the penalty if you withdraw contributions “before the due date for filing your tax return for the year in which you made them.”

Permanent Disability Distributions

The IRS considers you disabled if you "can furnish proof that you cannot do any substantial gainful activity because of your physical or mental condition” and that “your condition can be expected to result in death or to be of long, continued, and indefinite duration.” You may withdraw from your Traditional IRA without the additional 10 percent early distribution tax penalty if you meet these requirements.

Excess Contribution Distributions

Any contribution to your Traditional IRA above the annual limit or after you turn 70 ½ is an excess contribution. You may withdraw any excess amount for the year without a penalty before your tax return due date. If you do not withdraw the excess, the IRS charges a 6 percent excise tax on that amount. With a Roth IRA, you must also withdraw all earnings on excess contributions.

Beneficiary Distributions

A beneficiary of a Traditional IRA must withdraw the entire balance within five years after the owner’s death. The additional 10 percent tax penalty only applies if you inherit your dead spouse’s Traditional IRA, choose to become its owner and then make a withdrawal from it before you turn 59 ½.

Roth IRAs

You may withdraw any contributions (and all earnings on them) from a Roth IRA in the same year that you make them, without a tax penalty, before your tax return due date. You must report the earnings as income.

A normal withdrawal from your Roth IRA is tax free if your first contribution was at least five years ago and if you’re older than 59 ½ or disabled, if the distribution goes to a beneficiary or your estate after your death or if you use the funds for a first home. Early withdrawals are subject to a 10 percent tax penalty, unless certain exceptions apply.

You only make mandatory withdrawals from a Roth IRA if the owner dies and you inherit the account. You must withdraw all earnings within five years after the owner’s death, unless you are the spouse and sole beneficiary of the deceased owner and you choose to defer withdrawals until the deceased would have turned 70 ½ or to become the owner of the Roth IRA.