IRA Withdrawals: Should you withdraw from your Roth or traditional IRA first?

IRA Withdrawal
Those of you who have attended my workshops or read the previous editions of my book may remember a rule of thumb I used to use that said, “Spend your after-tax dollars first, use traditional IRA withdrawals second, and then withdraw your Roth”. Well, guess what? The changes in the tax laws now mean that there are no more rules of thumb! My new advice is, “Spend your after-tax dollars first, and then withdraw traditional and Roth IRA dollars strategically to optimize tax results”.

Changes in the tax law that affect capital gains and individual tax brackets, as well as new taxes that are aimed specifically at high income taxpayers mean that the advice I used to give in the past is now far too simplistic. Chapter 4 presents detailed information on how capital gains and other taxes should affect your decision to withdraw money from a traditional versus a Roth account. Would you have thought that your marital status could affect your decision too? Is it possible to minimize the tax on your IRA withdrawals? (Hint: oh, yes.) If you have IRA and Roth money left over when you die, is it better to leave one type of account over another to a child at your death?

Chapter 4 covers many new rules that you did not have to worry about in the past, which should certainly affect these decisions. I’d like to give you one word of caution, though. Each of the scenarios presented in this chapter is based on a specific set of variables. In one scenario, I changed only the account from which the taxpayer made the withdrawal, and the outcome is significantly different. Please don’t assume that your personal circumstances will result in the same outcome shown in these scenarios, but ask us to run the numbers for you!

Be sure to stop back for my next post, which will cover some ideas for managing your Required Minimum Distributions!