Understanding the 5-Year Withdraw Rule for IRAs

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  • Understanding the 5-Year Withdraw Rule for IRAs
Author: dhughes

As an expert with two decades of experience managing over $2.6 billion in assets and debt, I’ve guided thousands of new grads through the process of making major financial decisions as well as navigating the IRS tax code. One common area of confusion is the 5-Year Withdraw Rule for IRAs.

This rule is crucial for individuals to understand who wish to avoid penalties when doing a Roth IRA Conversion, withdrawing gains from a Roth IRA, and if you inherit a Roth IRA. I provide an expert explanation of this rule below.

Check out the video version of this article below.

Understanding Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are tax-advantaged accounts that individuals use for retirement savings. These accounts come in several types. Each type have their own tax implications and rules. The money you place into these accounts is often invested in a variety of assets to grow over time.

However, understanding the withdrawal rules is essential so you don’t cost yourself a lot of money.

What is the 5-Year Withdraw Rule?

The 5-Year Withdraw Rule is different based on one of three scenarios.

Withdrawing Gains

Gains and contributions are 100% tax free and penalty free if you are over 59.5 years old.  However, in order to take out the gains tax free, you have to wait at least five years from the date the account was opened.

The 5-Year Withdraw Rule starts from the tax year you make your first contribution to any Roth IRA, not necessarily the one you’re withdrawing from. This rule applies regardless of your age or the reason for the withdrawal. Even if you’re over the age of 59.5 and have met the criteria for a qualified distribution, you’ll still need to wait five tax years after your first Roth IRA contribution before you can take out earnings without penalties.


Suppose you open your first Roth IRA in 2022, you make your first contribution the same year, and you are 60 years old. The 5-Year Withdraw Rule kicks in from this tax year. This means you will not be able to withdraw your earnings without penalties until 2027 when you are 65 years old.

Roth IRA Conversions

When you convert assets from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, convert a 401(k), or do a back door Roth IRA, each conversion has its own 5-year period.  . This means you must wait five years after each conversion before you can withdraw those converted assets penalty-free. This rule applies regardless of age.  Even if you have been contributing to a Roth IRA for more than five years.  This is especially important to understand if you are doing a Roth conversion ladder.


Samantha is a FitBUX Member who is a diligent saver.  She has been contributing to a Traditional IRA for the past ten years. In the year 2022, she decides to strategically convert her Traditional IRA into a Roth IRA because she’ll be in a low tax bracket that year..

Samantha will be able to withdraw all of the converted amount because it is considered a contribution. However, she must wait five years regardless of her age.

Roth IRA Inheritance

If you inherit a Roth IRA, you also need to be aware of the 5-Year Rule. Even if the original owner had the account for more than five years your withdrawals may be subject to taxes unless the account has been open for at least five tax years.

Starting the 5-Year Clock

The 5-year clock for the 5-Year Withdraw Rule begins from the tax year you make your first contribution to any Roth IRA or from the year you convert assets from a Traditional IRA or a 401(k) to a Roth IRA. It’s crucial to note that contributions and conversions are treated differently in this context.

With contributions to Roth IRAs, the clock starts with your first Roth IRA contribution. For example, if you open and contribute to a Roth IRA in 2022, you’ll need to wait until 2027, five tax years later, to withdraw your earnings without penalties.

Each conversion has its own 5-year clock. For instance, if you convert assets from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2022 you’ll have to wait until 2027 to withdraw those converted assets penalty-free. Similarly, if you make another conversion in 2023, you won’t be able to withdraw those converted assets without penalties until 2028, even if you’re withdrawing from the same Roth IRA.

These rules highlight the importance of crafting a good retirement savings strategy.  As always, consulting with a FitBUX Coach can provide valuable insights tailored to your specific situation.

Exceptions to the 5-Year Rule

The 5-Year Withdraw Rule for Roth IRAs is very stringent.  However, there are several exceptions under IRS guidelines where penalties may be waived. These exceptions offer flexibility and can be extremely beneficial in certain circumstances.

  1. ol]:!pt-0 [&>ol]:!pb-0 [&>ul]:!pt-0 [&>ul]:!pb-0″ value=”2″>Higher Education Expenses: The IRS allows penalty-free withdrawals for higher education expenses. For instance, if Susan, who opened her Roth IRA in 2018, wants to pursue a Master’s degree in 2022, she can withdraw her earnings without penalties to cover her tuition and related costs.
  2. ol]:!pt-0 [&>ol]:!pb-0 [&>ul]:!pt-0 [&>ul]:!pb-0″ value=”4″>Inheritance: In case of the account owner’s death, the heir can make withdrawals without penalties, even if the 5-Year Rule hasn’t been met. So, if Emma inherits her father’s Roth IRA in 2021 and her father had only started the Roth IRA in 2019, Emma can still withdraw the funds without penalties.

Tax Implications and Penalties

Failure to comply with the 5-Year Withdraw Rule for Roth IRAs can have substantial tax implications. The money you withdraw prematurely from your Roth IRA may be subject to income tax, in addition to a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

For instance, if you withdraw $10,000 from your Roth IRA before meeting the 5-year rule, you could end up losing $1,000 as a penalty, not to mention the income tax you’ll owe on the withdrawal amount. The exact tax amount will depend on your income tax bracket, but it can be significant. It’s also worth noting that there are state tax implications to consider, which vary by state.

In some cases, you may need to withdraw funds before the five-year period is up. In such scenarios, consider taking advantage of the exceptions to the 5-Year Withdraw Rule outlined in the previous section. Be it for a first home purchase, higher education expenses, disability, or inheritance, these exceptions could help you avoid the penalties associated with early withdrawals.

As always, I strongly recommend consulting with a financial advisor or tax professional to navigate these complexities. With over 20 years of experience and having helped thousands of new grads manage over $2.6 billion in assets and debt, I can assure you that careful planning and informed decision-making are keys to optimizing your retirement savings strategy.

Helpful Case Studies

Case Study 1: Sarah, the Prepared Physical Therapist

Sarah, a 30-year-old physical therapist, opened a Roth IRA when she was 25. She understood the 5-Year Withdraw Rule well and planned her finances accordingly. Five years later, when she decided to buy her first house, she was able to withdraw $10,000 from her Roth IRA earnings without any penalties or taxes as well her contributions. This helped her make a significant down payment, securing a better mortgage rate and eventually saving her thousands in interest.

Case Study 2: Mike, the Unforeseen Circumstances

Mike, started his Roth IRA at the age of 35. Unfortunately, a year later, he had to stop working due to a disability. Despite not having met the 5-Year Withdraw Rule, Mike was able to withdraw his Roth IRA funds without any penalties because of the disability exception. This helped him manage his medical bills and maintain his quality of life during a difficult time.

Case Study 3: Emma, the Inheriting Daughter

Emma, a new graduate,  is the heir of her father’s Roth IRA. Though her father had started the Roth IRA only 3 years before, Emma could withdraw the funds without penalties due to the inheritance exception. This helped her pay off her student loans, providing her a strong financial start as she embarked on her physical therapy career.


It’s important for IRA holders to understand that the 5-Year Withdraw Rule is not as straightforward as it seems. Misunderstanding this rule could lead to unexpected taxes and penalties, derailing your financial planning. Consider your future needs and anticipate possible life events that might necessitate early withdrawals. Remember, the 5-Year Withdraw Rule is separate for each IRA account and each conversion, so keep track of your timelines diligently. It’s also worth noting that while there are exceptions, it’s generally advisable to let your money grow, untouched, for as long as possible for maximum benefits.

If you want to explore more about financial planning or need assistance with understanding your IRA options, we at FitBUX offer a wealth of resources and expert guidance. Should you have any further questions or require personalized advice, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help you navigate your financial journey with confidence.


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