You can’t hold onto to your tax deferred retirement savings forever.

There comes a time when you have to start taking mandatory distributions from certain retirement accounts even if you don’t need the money.

While many people can’t afford to wait to tap their retirement accounts, there are some seniors who have enough income from other sources that they don’t need to touch the money they’ve saved in a traditional IRA or 401(k).

People reaching 70½ must begin what’s called a required minimum distribution or RMD from their Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and workplace retirement plans. However, there’s a special rule for folks just reaching this age milestone.

The year in which you turn 70½ you have until April 1 of the following year to begin taking your distributions. But the April 1 RMD deadline only applies to the required distribution for the first year, the IRS says. Thereafter you have to take your distributions by Dec. 31.

Even though it’s allowed, it may be wise not to defer the first RMD until the following year, says Eric Bronnenkant, head of tax at Betterment, an online financial advising company

“It effectively forces two years worth of RMDs into one year which could push the income into a higher tax bracket,” Bronnenkant said.

The IRS gives this example. Let’s say a taxpayer turned 70½ in 2018 (born July 1, 1947, to June 30, 1948) but decides to wait until this coming April 1 to receive his or her first required minimum distribution. The person would still be required to take a second RMD by Dec. 31, 2019.

Please note you are responsible for making sure you take the correct RMD amount from your retirement account.

“Although the IRA custodian or retirement plan administrator may calculate the RMD, the IRA or retirement plan account owner is ultimately responsible for calculating the amount of the RMD,” the IRS says.

You can find an IRS “IRA Required Minimum Distribution Worksheets” here.

The penalty for failing to properly take your RMD is substantial.

“If you do not take any distributions, or if the distributions are not large enough, you may have to pay a 50 percent excise tax on the amount not distributed as required,” according to the IRS.

You reach age 70½ on the date that is six calendar months after your 70th birthday. Of course, you aren’t limited to the required distribution. You can withdraw more than the minimum.

“Many taxpayers do not mind taking their RMD as they may need the cash flow for current living expenses,” Bronnenkant said.

But if you do mind, you may want to talk to tax professional to explore what options you may have to reduce the tax impact of the distribution.

Here are the tax advantaged retirement accounts that falls under the RMD rules:

— Employer sponsored retirement plans, including profit-sharing plans, 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans.

— Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), the federal government’s version of a 401(k).

— Roth 401(k). Even though you don’t have to pay income tax on the withdrawal, you still have to take a RMD. A Roth IRA does not require withdrawals until after the death of the owner.

— Traditional IRA

— Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLE)

As with a lot in tax law there are always exceptions and caveats. Some savers with workplace plans can wait longer to take their RMDs.

“Employees who are still working usually can, if their plan allows, wait until April 1 of the year after they retire to start receiving these distributions,” the IRS says.

The IRS has a frequently asked question (FAQ) guide about RMDs at

Here are four key questions that you may have if this is the first year you have to take a RMD.

Q: Can the penalty for not taking the full RMD be waived?

IRS: Yes, the penalty may be waived if the account owner establishes that the shortfall in distributions was due to reasonable error and that reasonable steps are being taken to remedy the shortfall. To qualify for this relief, you must file Form 5329 and attach a letter of explanation.

Q: Can a distribution in excess of the RMD for one year be applied to the RMD for a future year?

IRS: No.

Q: How are RMDs taxed?

IRS: The account owner is taxed at his or her income tax rate on the amount of the withdrawn RMD. However, to the extent the RMD is a return of basis or is a qualified distribution from a Roth IRA, it is tax free.

Q: Can RMD amounts be rolled over into another tax-deferred account?

IRS: No.

Read more:

Here’s what not to do if you can’t pay your tax bill

Why you should love that tax refund less

Red flags that your tax preparer is a fraud

Retirement Rants and Raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?

You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

Last week I talked about seniors who are so frustrated by repeated calls from scammers they’ve stop answering their phones.

Robo-calls have these retirees afraid to answer their phones

It seems a lot of people are fed up with these robo-calls.

Kelli Denard of Chicago wrote, “My mom got sick of the IRS scammers calling her repeatedly so she called the number they left on her answering machine and gave them quite a few “choice” words. Then she called back again. And, again. And, again. Eventually they stopped calling her.”

While this strategy can be satisfying just be careful of angering the scammers.

Read: Just hang up on phone scammers

“Like so many others, I do not pick up calls I don’t recognize,” one reader wrote. “If it’s that important, they can leave me a message and perhaps I’ll call back. Better to be safe than sorry.”

Missy from Houston wrote, “My mother was almost a victim of this recently, except it was a girl pretending to be her granddaughter (my niece). She told my mom that she was in the hospital from a car accident where she was a drunk driver the night before. She wanted my mother to send her $5,000 for bail money. My mother doesn’t drive so she hung up to call me to take her to the hospital. It just so happens that my niece was on her way to visit me, and I had her call my mother to reassure her that it was a fake call. It was a very scary few minutes for all of us though!”

“My parents are still quite alert mentally, but my father has a believing heart,” wrote Susan West from Friday Harbor, Wash. “I have trained my parents to contact me if they get any phone call or email they aren’t expecting, and I teach them the signs to look out for — the silence before the connection, grammatical errors, vague threats, the fact that the government always does everything by snail mail, etc. Each new scam is a learning opportunity for them, and they’re now seeing it as a bit of a game. Lately they’ve been calling me to point out how they cottoned on to the scam, proud of their sleuthing skills. I’m delighted with them.”

Subscribe and stay informed

If you’re viewing this post online sign up to automatically receive Michelle Singletary’s newsletters right into your email box: “Your Retirement” on Mondays and “Personal Finance” on Thursdays

Read and share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column on Wednesdays and Sundays in The Washington Post. You may also see the column in your local newspaper.

Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter @SingletaryM and Facebook.