How to Calculate Life Expectancy for IRA Distribution

If you own a traditional IRA, when you reach age 70 1/2, you must start taking required minimum distributions from the account. While retirement age likely seems a long way off, you might need to calculate an RMD sooner. If your spouse -- or anyone else -- names you as a beneficiary of his IRA and then passes away, RMDs could become part of your reality. Although the IRA trustee often figures the amount, it's a good idea to know how to work it out for yourself. The calculation involves figures from an Internal Revenue Service life expectancy table.

Check out which IRS life-expectancy table you should use. The Uniform Lifetime Table is the choice for most. If you are a beneficiary, look up the single life expectancy table. If you own the IRA, your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you and you leave the IRA to her alone, use figures from the Joint Life and Last Survivor Expectancy table.

Look for your age on the appropriate table. Find the life-expectancy figure that corresponds to your age. For example, on the single life expectancy table, the number that corresponds to age 32 is 51.4.

Find the IRA balance as of the last day of the previous year. Look for the figure on your December statement, in print or online. If you can't find your paper statement and cannot access your account online, phone the IRA trustee for the amount. To continue with the example, assume a balance of $500,000.

Divide the IRA balance by the IRS life-expectancy number. In the example, $500,000 divided by 51.4 equals $9,727, your RMD for that year.

Tip

  • Your IRA balance is different every year. In addition, life-expectancy table numbers decline as you age. Consequently, you must calculate the RMD each year.
 

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D. Laverne O'Neal, an Ivy League graduate, published her first article in 1997. A former theater, dance and music critic for such publications as the "Oakland Tribune" and Gannett Newspapers, she started her Web-writing career during the dot-com heyday. O'Neal also translates and edits French and Spanish. Her strongest interests are the performing arts, design, food, health, personal finance and personal growth.