Roth IRA Distributions Before Age 59 ½

Every Roth IRA account owner knows that the main benefit of the Roth IRA is that there are no taxes due on withdrawals taken after the account owner is 59 ½. However, what taxes or penalties apply to distributions taken before the Roth IRA owner reaches 59 ½?

Roth IRA distributions before age 59 ½ are broken into two categories, contributions and earnings. 

Contributions Can Be Withdrawn Before 59 ½ Without Tax or Penalty

The first first category is Roth IRA contributions. This category is distinct because these amounts have been subject to tax before the funds were included in the Roth IRA. The amounts withdrawn from a Roth IRA that do not exceed the amounts of Roth IRA contributions are not subject to taxes or penalties upon early distribution from the Roth IRA. However, any amounts distributed in excess of the Roth IRA contributions, which would typically be the investment returns, are subject to taxes and the early withdrawal penalty of 10%. 

This is an excellent perk as it allows Roth IRA owners to take money back that they contributed to the Roth IRA without worrying about penalties or taxes. 

Earnings Are Subject to Tax the 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty

Amounts withdrawn before 59 ½ that comprise the Roth IRA’s earnings are subject to tax and a 10% early withdrawal penalty. IRC § 408A(d)(2)(A) & Treasury Reg. §1.408A-6, Q&A-1(b). “Earnings” is the amount over the sums you have contributed to the Roth IRA, and is essentially your investment returns and gains. 

Since there are taxes AND penalties on the earnings, you should only take distributions when absolutely necessary. 

Example of Roth IRA Distribution Before 59 ½

For example, let’s say a Roth IRA owner is 45 and has a Roth IRA with $65,000. This balance consists of $35,000 in Roth IRA contributions and $30,000 in earnings or investment returns. If the Roth IRA owner took a distribution of the entire account then $35,000 would NOT be subject to early withdrawal penalties as this amount comprised Roth IRA contributions where taxes have been paid already. However, the remaining $30,000 distributed represents investment returns/gains made in the Roth IRA and would be subject to early withdrawal penalties of 10% and must be also be included in the taxable income of the Roth IRA owner. As a result, Roth IRA owners under age 59 ½ should avoid distributions of their Roth IRA in excess of their contributions. 

Self-Directed IRA Versus Solo 401(k)

Photo of a crossroad in a forest with the text "Self-Directed IRA Versus Solo 401(k)."Many self-directed investors have the option of choosing between a self-directed IRA or a self-directed solo 401k. Both accounts can be self-directed so that you can invest into any investment allowed by law such as real estate, LLCs, precious metals, or private company stock. However, depending on your situation, you may choose one account type over the other. What are the differences? When should you choose one over the other?

 IRASolo 401K
QualificationMust be an individual with earned income or funds in a retirement account to rollover.Must be self-employed with no other employees besides the business owner and family/partners.
Contribution Max$5,500 max annual contribution. Additional $1,000 if over 50.$53,000 max annual contribution (it takes $140K of wage/se income to max out). Contributions are employee and employer.
Traditional & RothYou can have a Roth IRA and/or a Traditional IRA. The amount you contribute to each is added together in determining total contributions.A solo 401(k) can have a traditional account and a roth account within the same plan. You can convert traditional sums over to Roth as well.
Cost and Set-UpYou will work with a self-directed IRA custodian who will receive the IRA contributions in a SDIRA account. Most of the custodians we work with have an annual fee of $300-$350 a year for a self-directed IRA.You must use an IRS preapproved document when establishing a solo 401k. This adds additional cost over an IRA. Our fee for a self-directed and self-trusteed solo 401(k) is $1,200.
Custodian RequirementAn IRA must have a third party custodian involved on the account (e.g. bank. Credit union, trust company) who is the trustee of the IRA.A 401(k) can be self trustee’d, meaning the business owner can be the trustee of the 401(k). This provides for greater control but also greater responsibility.
Investment DetailsA self-directed IRA is invested through the self directed IRA custodian. A self-directed IRA can be subject to a tax called UDFI/UBIT on income from debt leveraged real estate.A Solo 401(k) is invested by the trustee of the 401(k) which could be the business owner. A solo 401(k) is exempt from UDFI/UBIT on income from debt leveraged real estate.

Keep in mind that the solo 401(k) is only available to self-employed persons while the self-directed IRA is available to everyone who has earned income or who has funds in an existing retirement account that can be rolled over to an IRA.

Conclusion

Based on the differences outlined above, a solo 401(k) is generally a better option for someone who is self-employed and still trying to maximize contributions as the solo 401(k) has much higher contribution amounts. On the other hand, a self-directed IRA is a better option for someone who has already saved for retirement and who has enough funds in their retirement accounts that can be rolled over and invested via a self-directed IRA as the self-directed IRA is easier to and cheaper to establish.

Another major consideration in deciding between a solo 401(k) and self-directed IRA is whether there will be debt on real estate investments. If there is debt and if the account owner is self-employed, they are much better off choosing a solo 401(k) over an IRA as solo 401(k)s are exempt from UDFI tax on leveraged real estate.

Choosing between a self-directed IRA and a solo 401(k) is a critical decision when you start self-directing your retirement. Make sure you consider all of the differences before you establish your new account.