10% Early Withdrawal Penalty for Retirement Accounts

The IRS offers some pretty awesome tax benefits for people who invest in retirement funds. To entice people to save for their own retirement, the IRS offers people the opportunity to contribute to 401k plans, IRAs, the Thrift Savings Plan, and other retirement plans and defer paying taxes on a portion of their contributions or withdrawals.

But these tax benefits come with a catch. Almost all retirement accounts have early withdrawal penalties of 10% if you take your money out before you reach the qualified retirement age of 59.5 years old.  In addition, distributions from Traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans, TSP, and most other retirement plans are considered taxable income and will be included as income the year you withdraw the money, meaning you will pay taxes on those withdrawals.

10% Early Withdrawal Penalty for Retirement Accounts

Tax Consequences of Early Withdrawals from Retirement Accounts

When you withdraw money from a retirement plan (including IRAs, 401(k) plans, Thrift Savings Plan, 403(b) plans, etc.) before you reach the age of 59.5, you’ll be hit with the early withdrawal penalty of 10%.  You may also be hit with a 10% penalty if you withdraw money from a Roth IRA within five years of opening the account.

As mentioned above, withdrawals, or distributions, from many retirement accounts are classified as taxable income. Taxes on this income will apply on top of the 10% penalty so that you are paying 10% of the total amount withdrawn on top of the income tax you pay on the total amount withdrawn.  In some situations, you may be able to avoid the 10% penalty, but you cannot avoid having to count early withdrawals from retirement accounts as taxable income.

If you have a SIMPLE IRA that you only began contributing to within two years, a 25% early withdrawal penalty may be applied instead of 10%.

Exceptions to 10% Early Withdrawal Penalties

There are a few situations with allow individuals to take early distributions from their retirement accounts without having to pay a 10% penalty. If you have an individual retirement account (either a Traditional or Roth IRA), the following are allowed exceptions for early withdrawal of your retirement account without having to pay a 10% penalty:

  • Completing a direct rollover to your new retirement account
  • You become permanently or completely disabled
  • You became unemployed and used money from a retirement account for health insurance premiums
  • You use the money for your own college expenses or the college expenses of your dependent(s)
  • You pay for medical expenses that cost more than 7.5% of adjusted gross income
  • The IRS withdrew the money as a tax levy to pay for tax debts owed
  • You use up to $10,000 of your retirement account money to purchase a home, and you have not owned a home in the last two years.

If you are withdrawing money from a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, the following situations are considered exempt from the 10% early withdrawal penalty:

  • The money was required due to a qualified domestic relations court order, in a divorce or separation agreement.
  • You left your job or retired after the age of 55.
  • Distributions were received due to the death or disability of the retirement plan participant.
  • You used the money to pay for medical expenses that were more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.
  • You received the money from your retirement account in substantially equal payments over the course of your lifetime.

How to Report Early Withdrawal Penalties

If you decide your financial emergency warrants an early withdrawal from your retirement account, you can figure out the additional tax and penalty owed on Form 1040 or Form 5329.

Keep in mind, early withdrawal penalties may apply if you fail to repay a TSP Loan or TSP Hardship Withdrawal.

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Date published: December 1, 2010.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.


  1. JOE says

    I recently retired at age 53 with 30 years service. My company provides a 30 year and out pension plan. I recieve monthy payments that are the same every month that will continue to be the same until I reach 59 1/2. I recieved a 1099r last year when I retired that had a designation code as a 2 for the 1st couple of months of retirement. This year I get it and the code is changed to a 1. Why would that change for this year?

  2. Gary McLean says

    I took out 28,000 from my roth IRA which I have had for over 5 years. On my 1099 R, box 2b Taxable amount not determined was checked. I am 50 years old and know that I will be penalized. There must be a way to determine the amount of taxes on the 28,000. As it stands I must pay taxes on all of it…This doesn’t seem right. Any help would be appreciated.

    • says

      Gary, I recommend speaking with a tax or investment professional on this topic to ensure you get the information specific to your situation. This is a case where paying for a pro can save you a lot of money!

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