Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are the bane of many IRA owners. The IRS recently issued proposed regulations that reduce the pain somewhat, but not a meaningful amount for those with significant IRAs. You need to consider other actions to solve the RMD problems.

IRA owners older than age 70½ must begin taking RMDs no later than April 1 of the year after they turn age 70½. I generally advice people to take the first RMD by December 31 of the year they turn 70½ to avoid having to take two distributions in the following year.

After that first RMD, an RMD must be taken by December 31 each year.

RMDs become a tax and financial problem for IRA owners who have sufficient income and assets outside the IRA to fund most of their retirement expenses. They don’t need the full RMD to fund their living expenses each year. The RMD simply increases their income taxes and reduces the balance of IRAs they planned to leave their children.

RMDs are calculated using life expectancy as determined using tables issued by the IRS. The tables are in the back of free IRS Publication 590-B. Under the tables, the percentage of the IRS to be distributed increases each year.

For example, at age 70½, 3.65% of the IRA is distributed. At age 78, 4.9261% is distributed, and at age 85, 6.76% is distributed. If the IRA also has solid investment returns, the dollar amount distributed each year also increases.

The life expectancy tables currently in use were developed using mortality rates in 2002. In August 2018, the President signed an executive order directing the IRS to examine the life expectancy tables and determine if they should be updated.

In early November the IRS issued proposed regulations with new, updated life expectancy tables. The proposed tables recognize that life expectancies have increased since 2003 and would reduce RMDs accordingly.

Under the current tables, a 70-year-old taxpayer uses a life expectancy of 27.4 years to calculate the first RMD. Under the proposed tables, a life expectancy of 29.1 years would be used. Or a 75-year-old surviving spouse would use a life expectancy of 13.4 years to compute the RMD under the existing tables, while a 14.8 year life expectancy would be used under the proposed tables.

These new life expectancies make a small reduction in the percentage of the IRA distributed each year. At age 70½, 3.44% of the IRA is distributed. At age 78, 4.57% is distributed, and at age 85, 6.25% is distributed. If the IRA also has solid investment returns, the dollar amount distributed each year also increases.

The new life expectancy tables would apply to more than IRAs. They would apply to all accounts that have RMDs, including employer retirement plans, annuities and more.

The current tables remain in effect. The public has an opportunity to comment on the proposed regulation. The IRS then reviews the comments and makes any changes it deems appropriate.

The IRS expects that the proposed tables will be effective for distribution calendar years that begin on or after January 2, 2021.

For example, someone who turns age 70½ during 2020 would use the current tables to calculate the first RMD. The new tables would be used for subsequent RMDs.

The proposed regulations would provide some welcome relief to taxpayers taking RMDs, but it isn’t significant relief. The IRS estimates that by age 90 the new tables would cause only about a 1% increase in the IRA balance compared to the current tables.

Instead, IRA owners who have enough income and assets outside their IRAs that they don’t need the RMDs to fund living expenses should consider ways of reducing RMDs in the future. The IRS estimates that just over 20% of IRA owners age 70½ and older are in this group.

Keep in mind RMDs do more than give you extra taxable income. The RMDs increase adjusted gross income. That in turn can cause more of your Social Security benefits to be included in gross income and trigger or increase the Medicare premium surtax. Higher adjusted gross income also can cause other tax benefits to be reduced, an effect I call the Stealth Taxes.

An easy way to reduce RMDs is to distribute your IRA early and pay the income taxes. Invest the after-tax amount in a taxable account, which gives you much more control over when the income and gains are taxed. This also can provide a better benefit to your heirs. When they inherit an IRA, the distributions are taxed to them the same way they would have been taxed to you. But when they inherit a taxable account, your heirs increase the tax basis of the assets to the current fair market value. The appreciation that occurred while you held the assets in a taxable accounts avoids capital gains taxes.

Another strategy is to convert all or part of the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. There also are more sophisticated strategies. You can distribute the IRA and put the after-tax amount in a charitable remainder trust. Or you can use the after-tax distribution to buy a permanent life insurance policy payable to either your children or to a trust for their benefit.

The proposed regulations recognize the problem RMDs cause to taxpayers who own significant IRAs. But they make only a small dent in the problem. To increase your family’s after-tax wealth, you need to take more significant actions. The earlier you start working to reduce RMDs, the better off you and your family will be.

original article by Bob Carlson with