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Greetings, Sarice, and welcome.

<Hi- I am 51 years old. I have about $600,000 in 401K savings and about another $600,000 in Retirement that I can get in a lumpsum now if i decide to retire. If I rollover my lumpsum retirement into an IRA, can I get the interest earned off of the total $1.2 million in IRA savings to finance my retirement. I am aware of the 10% penalty for early withdrawal which ofcourse I want to avoid, but I love the idea of retiring early. Does the IRS limit how much I can get monthly from my $1.2 milllion IRA to avoid the 10% penalty?? I have read some IRS publications and i have a severe headache.>>

Should I clean off my golf clubs?>>

There are two ways you can access the money if you roll it to an IRA. The first is to take what you want between now and age 59 1/2. You'll pay ordinary income taxes and the 10% penalty for each year between now and then. The second way is to use 72t distributions. These avoid the 10% penalty and are based on payments over your life expectancy.

Section 72(t)(2)(iv) of the Infernal (sic) Revenue Code stipulates that funds may be withdrawn from an IRA or qualified retirement plan at any age prior to 59 1/2 without incurring the 10% excise tax (penalty) on those withdrawals provided they are part of a series of substantially equal periodic payments made over the participant's life expectancy or the joint life expectancy of the participant and a designated beneficiary. There are three approved and acceptable methods for receiving these payments, all of which result in a different sum paid to the recipient.

Minimum distribution method. In this method, the number of years of life expectancy for the participant or the joint life expectancies of the participant and a benefirciary is determined using the IRS life expectancy tables found in IRS Pub 590. The account balance as of the beginning of the year is divided by the number found in the applicable table, and the result becomes the amount that must be withdrawn in the first year. In the second and succeeding years, the required withdrawal amount is recalculated based on the new beginning balance in that year in one of two ways: reduce the life expectancy used in the first year by one and use that as the new divisor; or, find the new life expectancy based on age in year two and use that. For every successive year, you must continue using the recalculation method used in year two of the withdrawal. This method results in the smallest withdrawal amount of the three methods permitted by the IRS to avoid the excise tax.

Amortization method. In this method, life expectancy is determined using the tables in IRS Pub 590. Additionally, an assumed earnings rate may be used to determine the annual withdrawal required to expend the entire account over that life expectancy. This must be a "reasonable interest rate" decided on at the beginning of the withdrawals, and generally must be one which falls within 80% to 120% of the federal mid-term rate. There is no precise definition of this rate that has been established by the IRS, so it must be selected with care. Once determined, the withdrawal remains fixed from year to year; however, the amount will be larger than that determined using the minimum distribution method.

Annuity method. This method results in a fixed withdrawal amount like the amortization method, and it is computed similarly. The difference lies soley in the fact that IRS life expectancy are not used. Instead, those in general use by the life insurance industry are acceptable. An annuity factor derived by using the UP-1984 Mortality Table is the standard for this method. The resulting calculation results in the highest withdrawal amount of the three methods.

I see a number of drawbacks to using the 72t method of withdrawals. First, regardless of method used, the process must continue for a minimum of five years or until age 59 1/2, whichever occurs later in time. Start at age 58, and you must continue until age 63. Start at age 50, and you must continue until age 59 1/2.

Second, make a simple math error in computing the EXACT amount of the withdrawal, stop the withdrawals too early, or change the calculation method and all withdrawals up to that point are subject to the 10% excise tax AND a penalty for failure to pay that amount in prior tax years.

Third, the minimum distribution method too often fails to provide the needed income to the recipient. To increase the amount, the person must use one of the other two methods. The "reasonable interest rate" that must be used in these methods, while resulting in a higher withdrawal amount, can be too easily challenged by the IRS. Thus, it is not a rate for someone to choose on their own. Additionally, the calculations involved are beyond the capability of most folks. In short, there's too much potential for error and subsequent IRS penalties.

IMHO, those who wish to use Sec 72t should engage a professional skilled in the computations of all three methods. In addition, that pro should provide the account owner a letter specifying the method used in detail and expressing an opinion that the calculations comply with the requirements specified in the IRC and by the IRS. That way if something goes wrong, there's someone besides yourself to hold accountable. Things are just much safer that way.

Should you clean off your golf clubs? Maybe. But if I were in your fortunate situation, I'd part with some of my money first and seek some professional number crunching. That way I would be much more sure about what I was doing.

Regards.....Pixy

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