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1. I understand that if you retire you can have access to 401K funds w/o penalty starting at age 55 (don't have to wait until age 59.5 to get penalty-free distributions due to retirement at 55).

True; if you have a cooperative plan administrator for your 401(k) plan who will support periodic payments to you.

BUT, if you retire PIOR to 55 - say at age 54 -, can you start collecting at 55 or do you have to wait until 59.5?

You must then wait or pay the penalty.

2. I understand that you can take IRA distributions penalty free prior to 59.5 if you fall under the substantially identical disbursements rule.

Actually they are called "substantially equal periodic payments" or SEPP's.

How early (what age) can this start at?

Any age.

Does it apply to Roth IRAs too?

It could but why would you? With a ROTH you are much better off waiting to age 59 1/2 at which time the contents of a ROTH come out tax free.

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