There are a number of good reasons that you might be eying your IRA as it sits there with years to go before you turn age 59-1/2. You could see it as potential, as rescue capital, or if you’re in a really good place you could see it as the start of an early retirement. Of course, there are a few good reasons for leaving it alone – heavy tax hits and penalties – and for that Forbes has recently offered some uncommon advice for withdrawing from your IRA early and penalty free. The general wisdom is to leave your IRA alone until age 59-1/2 or else pay a 10 percent penalty on withdrawals. But there are allowances for penalty-free distribution in the case of serious financial hardship, higher educational expenses, or the cost of a first home. What is far less known is the 72(t) exception for Substantially Equal Periodic Payments (SEPP). Essentially, the IRS regulations allow annuitization of your IRA, so you can receive distributions straight from your IRA by taking them as a series of “substantially equal periodic payments.” The payments, once initiated, act much like required minimum distributions in that you must take out an amount determined by your life expectancy (or the joint life expectancy of you and your beneficiary) and at regular intervals, at least annually. Once initiated, you must take these distributions for 5 years or until age 59-1/2. You can then reorganize your distribution pattern or hold off entirely until the actual required minimum distributions set in at age 70-1/2. The process, as you would imagine, is fairly complicated and that probably accounts for its relative under-use. To see it in action you can consult the original Forbes article, but even they found it simpler to reiterate the examples and information from the IRS’s FAQ. It is tricky, and perhaps a little risky, but it is at least an interesting tactic to bring to light, and may be a practical solution to your early-retirement plans.
From Forbes.com (April 14, 2011) “How to take money from your IRA early – without a penalty”