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What's an RMD and how is it calculated?

If you’re confused about RMDs, we can help. Here are some FAQs to help you in 2022.
11 minute read
March 16, 2023
Living in retirement
Tax tips for retirees

Whether you’re preparing for retirement or already enjoying it, one thing remains true: You want to make the most of your income and protect it from unnecessary penalties. Sounds easier said than done, especially when required minimum distribution (RMD) rules change from time to time, and both RMDs and withdrawal strategies have tax consequences. We're here to help you:

  • Understand how RMDs work.
  • Avoid tax penalties.
  • Plan ahead for RMDs in your pre-RMD years.
  • Understand inherited IRAs and their tax implications.

What's an RMD?

RMDs are required minimum distributions investors must take every year from their retirement savings accounts, including traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored plans such as 401(k)s and Roth 401(k)s, when you reach RMD age (generally 73).

If you’re turning 73* this year and taking your first RMD, you have until April 1, 2024, to do so. For each subsequent year, you must take your RMD by December 31. Keep in mind, if you delay your initial RMD until April 1, you’ll be responsible for 2 withdrawals that year (one by April 1 and one by December 31), which could result in a larger tax liability.

If you’re older than 73*, you must take your RMD by December 31 each year.

Note: Roth IRAs aren't currently subject to RMDs during the original owner's lifetime.

Taxes matter, so work with a tax and financial professional. This is key because withdrawal strategies, including Social Security timing decisions, have tax consequences beyond RMDs.

—Maria Bruno, head of Vanguard U.S. Wealth Planning Research

Set a reminder to avoid the penalty

It's very important to withdraw your RMD on an annual basis. If you forget, you'll face a penalty tax on any amount not withdrawn.

What if I don’t need the RMD assets?

RMDs are designed to spread your retirement savings and related taxes over your lifetime. If you don’t depend on the money to satisfy your spending needs, you may want to consider:

  • Reinvesting your distributions in a taxable account to take advantage of continued growth. You can then add beneficiaries to that account without passing along future RMDs to them.
  • Gifting up to $100,000 annually to a qualified charity. Generally, qualified charitable distributions, or QCDs, aren’t subject to ordinary federal income taxes. As a result, they’re excluded from your taxable income.  
  • Beginning in 2023, a QCD may be taken to fund a Charitable Remainder UniTrust, Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust, or Charitable Gift Annuity up to a maximum one-time amount of $50,000.

How can I be sure to avoid penalty tax?

Depending on the amount you’re required to take, the cost of missing an RMD can be significant. To avoid a penalty, take the full amount each year. For RMD amounts that were required to be withdrawn for the 2022 tax year, you may be subject to a 50% tax penalty. For RMD amounts required to be taken for tax years starting in 2023 forward, that tax penalty will be reduced to 25% with an opportunity to further reduce the penalty to 10% if the failure is corrected in a timely fashion.  Speak to your tax adviser for more information.

Does Vanguard offer a service that can help with my RMD calculations and distributions?

Once you reach RMD age, we’ll automatically calculate your annual RMD amount for any eligible IRAs** and Individual 401(k)s held at Vanguard. You’ll receive an annual statement in late January and can also find your calculation here. For eligibile IRAs, you can also enroll in our free and convenient RMD Service, which allows you to set up your RMDs to be automatically distributed each year. It’s a great way to make sure you never miss a distribution or find yourself subject to the penalty.

It's easy to enroll in automatic distributions

Simply set up 1 annual lump-sum distribution or spread your RMD throughout the year.

Sign up today

How are RMDs calculated?

Calculating RMD amounts can get a bit complicated, which is why we recommend leaving it to the experts. But here’s a high-level overview of how it works.

RMD amounts are determined by looking at the following factors:

  • Your age as of December 31 of the current year and your corresponding life expectancy factor according to the IRS Uniform Lifetime Table or Joint Life and Last Survivor Table if your spouse is your sole beneficiary and more than 10 years younger than you.
  • Your retirement account balance as of December 31 of the previous year, which should be adjusted to include any outstanding rollovers or asset transfers that weren’t in the account at year-end. Note: In this situation, you’ll need to call Vanguard to confirm the value of the outstanding rollover assets that need to be included in your December 31 balance.

For example, if the life expectancy factor for your age is 22.9, and the value of your IRA is $800,000, your RMD would be $34,934.50 ($800,000/22.9).

New life expectancy calculations are here

A new IRS table will be used for 2023 RMDs. The table (keep an eye out for the updated table in February/March of 2023) provides a larger life expectancy factor per age, which will result in smaller RMD amounts. This is good news because you’ll still have the flexibility to withdraw more if you need to, but you can also reap the benefit of having a larger account balance with the potential for continued growth. 

What are the RMD rules for inherited IRAs?

If you inherited an IRA, including a Roth IRA, you must take RMDs from the account. You won’t owe taxes on withdrawals from an inherited Roth IRA as long as the original owner held the account for at least 5 years. But you’ll owe taxes on withdrawals from an inherited traditional IRA.

The rules for how IRA beneficiaries must take RMDs depend on when the original account owner passed away and the type of beneficiary. For example:

  • Generally, nonspouse beneficiaries that inherit an IRA from someone that passed away in 2020 or later may be required to withdraw the entire account balance within 10 years.
  • Spousal beneficiaries and certain eligible nonspouse beneficiaries may be permitted to take RMDs over their life expectancy.

Check out our inherited RMD calculation methods for more information.

What are some tax tips pre-RMD retirees should consider?

When you’re over 59½ and in your pre-RMD years, you have the flexibility to annually revisit how to minimize your taxes―both now and in the future. For example, if you have a large balance in a tax-deferred account, like a traditional IRA or 401(k), and could face high RMDs in the future, you may benefit from:

  • Withdrawing those assets in the years leading up to RMD age. While you’ll be accelerating some tax liability up front, you’ll be lowering future RMDs through a smaller account balance.
  • Converting some of your traditional IRA assets to a Roth IRA, which isn’t currently subject to RMDs or taxes when you withdraw your assets in retirement (provided you’ve held the account for at least 5 years). Learn more about the benefits of a Roth conversion to see if it might be a smart move for you. 

Get help from a trusted partner

Vanguard advisors can help you feel confident about your financial future―creating a spending strategy to help maximize your retirement income in a tax-efficient way.

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*Due to changes to federal law that took effect on January 1, 2023, the age at which you must begin taking RMDs differs depending on when you were born. If you reached age 72 on or before December 31, 2022, you were already required to take your RMD and must continue satisfying that requirement.  However, if you had not yet reached age 72 by December 31, 2022, you must take your first RMD from your traditional IRA by April 1 of the year after you reached age 73.

**IRAs eligible for automatic calculation are Traditional, Rollover, SEP and Simple IRAs

All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.

We recommend that you consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual situation.

Vanguard's advice services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc. ("VAI"), a registered investment advisor, or by Vanguard National Trust Company ("VNTC"), a federally chartered, limited-purpose trust company.

The services provided to clients will vary based upon the service selected, including management, fees, eligibility, and access to an advisor. Find VAI's Form CRS and each program's advisory brochure here for an overview.

VAI and VNTC are subsidiaries of The Vanguard Group, Inc., and affiliates of Vanguard Marketing Corporation. Neither VAI, VNTC, nor its affiliates guarantee profits or protection from losses.

The services provided to clients who elect to receive ongoing advice will vary based upon the amount of assets in a portfolio. Please review Form CRS and the  Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Brochure for important details about the service, including its asset-based service levels and fee breakpoints.