Don't spring this early IRA distribution trap

March 21, 2008

I want to transfer IRA funds into a new IRA at another firm that offers more investment options. Does it matter that I'm only 54 and already withdrawing some money from the account?

I want to transfer IRA funds into a new IRA at another firm that offers more investment options. Does it matter that I'm only 54 and already withdrawing some money from the account?

Yes. If you're taking penalty-free equal periodic distributions before 59½, you must continue them without making changes until you reach that age or for at least five years from the date of your first periodic payment, if that's longer. If you modify the payments during that minimum distribution period, you'll owe a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty plus interest on all the periodic payments you've received. Making certain alterations to the existing IRA-such as transferring some of the funds from it directly to another retirement plan, rolling over a distribution from it to another plan, or adding funds to it-also are prohibited moves. So unless you've been taking those equal periodic IRA distributions for at least five years already, you'd be wise to postpone your transfer plans.