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Greetings, olivesforpants, and welcome. You asked:

My question concerns early Roth IRA distributions to be used for education expenses. Can only my contributions be withdrawn tax and penalty-free or can I withdraw the EARNINGS as well tax and penalty-free.

This thread seems to bounce around the correct answer, so let's see if we can't clear things up a bit.

You may take your annual contribution money from a Roth IRA at any time for any purpose without paying taxes or the 10% early withdrawal excise tax/penalty. When you have exhausted those contributions, then you may take the earnings on those contributions to fund your qualified education expenses without having to pay the 10% excise tax (penalty) for an early distribution; however, because such a withdrawal is NOT one of the Roth IRA qualified distributions that escape income taxes, you still must pay income taxes on that money. It makes no difference how long the Roth IRA has been opened because the use of IRA money to pay for qualified higher education expenses is one of the allowable early withdrawal exceptions that will escape the 10% early withdrawal penalty. Just as in a traditional IRA, though, you must pay income taxes on the withdrawal.

Hope that helps some.

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