Limiting Required Minimum Distribution Costs


The IRS requires that funds be withdrawn from nearly all retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans, and SEPs. These withdrawals are known as required minimum distributions, or simply RMDs. Once a retiree turns age 70½, the withdrawals must be made annually. (Roth IRAs are notably exempt from this rule, and a retiree has until April 1 of the year after he turns 70½ to make the first withdrawal.)

The IRS does not specify how you should free up the cash to take the withdrawal, only that you actually take the money out. This lack of specificity provides you with some flexibility to limit transaction costs. This post discusses portfolio strategies for handling required minimum distributions.

Determine Your RMD

The first step is to determine how much you are required to withdraw on an annual basis. This is essentially an annual liability for your retirement portfolio, and it will be the cash goal you need to reach each year. (Any cash balances above this amount can be reinvested back into the portfolio for future growth.)

Your required minimum distribution is determined by dividing the dollar value of your IRA or retirement plan assets as of December 31 for the prior calendar year by a life expectancy factor. For more information on calculating your required minimum distribution, visit the IRS website:

Use Income First

Once you have identified your required minimum distribution, calculate how much income your retirement account will likely generate throughout the calendar year. Factor in dividends from all of your equity holdings, including both common and preferred stock. Then determine the total sum of coupon payments from your bond holdings. Finally, factor in any fund distributions. You may not know the precise total, but you should be able to calculate a reasonable estimate.

The reason for using portfolio income first for your required distribution is that once you have purchased the retirement plan, the cash income from it is free of transaction costs. If you have previously reinvested your mutual fund distributions and enrolled in dividend reinvestment programs, consider whether you would be better served if you directly received the cash instead.

Take Advantage of Transactions

If you sell investments from your retirement account during the course of the year, consider keeping some of the cash proceeds available for the RMD. The same applies for individual bonds that mature during the calendar year. The ideas here are that you have already incurred the transaction costs for selling the equity investments and you have yet to incur any expenses for reinvesting the bond proceeds.

Since any transaction has the potential to change your portfolio’s allocation, you will need to factor in your risk tolerance and long-term goals. The sale of a stock or the maturation of a bond can free up cash, but you may need to reinvest some proceeds back into the same asset class. Similarly, a periodic review of your portfolio allocations, which you should do at least once a year, may result in the need to rebalance your portfolio. If you do need to rebalance, consider using some of the proceeds from the asset class you previously overweighted to help fund your required minimum distribution.

In both instances, your goal is to make double-duty of any retirement plan transactions.

Immediate Annuities Count Too

The lifetime payments from an immediate annuity invested in an IRA satisfy the RMD requirements for the funds invested in the annuity, according to financial planner Paula Hogan. However, a retiree still needs to fulfill the RMD requirements for retirement savings invested outside of the annuity.

This article was adapted from Charles Rotblut’s piece that appeared in the May 2011 issue of the AAII Journal. The Journal is one of the many benefits of AAII membership. Consider a risk-free AAII membership today to become a more effective manager of your own investments.


8 Replies to “Limiting Required Minimum Distribution Costs”

  1. If you don’t need cash and have sufficient sources of cash outside the IRA, you can simply move securities from the IRA to a regular brokerage account at the same institution and pay the taxes on the FMV of the securities at the time of the move. Zero transaction costs.

  2. There’s another way — making an RMD in kind. You just transfer securities from the account making the RMD into a taxable account. We do that at Fidelity, where we have multiple accounts. I give instructions by phone, Fidelity books it as a taxable distribution, reports that to us and the IRS, and nothing is bought or sold, so there are no transaction commissions.

    The RMD comes into the taxable account with a basis that’s typically stepped up. There are plusses and minuses to that, depending on future plans, so there’s a question of which securities to transfer. I’ve always opted for distributing highly appreciated securities.

  3. Pingback: AAII Blog
  4. The fundamental first question for most investors is whether you want to put your RMDs on “auto-pilot” or actively manage them. Most broker-dealer/custodians offer several automatic distribution options — take distributions proportional across investment holdings, specify the proportions or target specific investments, and how and when do you want distributions to be made (yearly, quarterly, monthly, pick a date or dates). Complying with the RMD rules does not need to be a big deal unless one wants to make it one by not choosing an automated distribution option. Of course the key points to consider are also the size of the portfolio and how one wants to achieve balance/rebalance/etc. objectives


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