If I asked, “How old do you have to be to retire?” many people would say 65. Maybe 66. Maybe 62, the age when you can first begin getting Social Security. Those answers are what I would call traditional retirement ages.

But when you finally hang up your working hat and decide to go play golf for a while (or not!) has nothing to do with your retirement accounts. The magic numbers for withdrawing money from retirement accounts are two other ages—one much younger, one much older. Here are the rules that cover your retirement accounts, in terms of when you can withdraw money and how much you must (yes, must, in some cases) withdraw.

Retirement Account Withdrawal Age Limits

Digging into the specifics of retirement accounts, I really began to understand why folks get stuck in analysis paralysis when making large financial decisions. There are so many rules and little asterisks in the IRS code that it can make your head spin!

Below I’ve broken out the three major retirement accounts with the age you have to be to begin taking qualified distributions (this means you won’t pay an early withdrawal penalty) and the age at which you must begin taking distributions. That “must” is what are called required minimum distributions or RMDs. If you don’t know about them yet, you will.

Traditional IRA
  • Minimum age to begin taking qualified distributions: 59½
  • Maximum age when you must begin to take required minimum distributions: 70½
Our favorite, the Roth IRA
  • Minimum age to begin taking qualified distributions: 59½
  • Maximum age when you must begin to take required minimum distributions: Never! You can keep the money in your Roth IRA as long as you want.

Note: Technically for the 401(k) and Traditional IRA you can wait until April 1st of the year after you turn 70½ to begin taking distributions, but 70½ is always quoted as the age you must be because saying “April 1st of the year following the year you turn 70½” is really complicated!

As you can see the Roth IRA wins this category hands down. Yes, you must be at least 59½ just like the two other accounts. But you never have to take a distribution—you can actually leave your Roth IRA to your heirs, and they won’t have to pay taxes on the money, either!

Do I Ever Have to Withdraw from My Roth IRA?

The quick answer is, no, you never have to withdraw funds from your Roth IRA (see more Roth IRA Rules here). There is no age rule that kicks in that forces you to start taking funds out. If you have enough other money to cover your retirement needs, there is nothing to force you to tap your Roth IRA. You can take it to the grave!

The long answer is, of course, yes. Eventually, funds must be removed from your Roth IRA, but it doesn’t have to be by you. If you never used the assets inside the Roth, they will be given to your heirs. That’s one factor that makes Roth IRAs so good for estate planning.

Spouses who inherit a Roth can treat it as their own, never pay taxes on any distributions, etc. If someone other than your spouse inherits your Roth, some special rules kick in that may require him or her to start withdrawing money from the account. Bottom line is someone eventually will start to withdraw the money from the investments inside the account. But you don’t have to touch it unless you want to.

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