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What are the Rules for a 403b Withdrawal?

Elva K.
Elva K.

Navigating the complexities of retirement savings, investors often ask, "What are the rules for 403(b) withdrawals?" According to the IRS, while you can start accessing funds from your 403(b) at age 59½ without penalty, early withdrawals may trigger taxes and a 10% additional tax unless specific conditions are met. The IRS also outlines exceptions for hardships, such as medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Understanding these rules is crucial for making informed decisions about your retirement savings.

403b withdrawal can be made before the age of 59 and a half due to death, disability or financial hardship. In cases of financial hardship, an investor must prove that other financial options were exhausted. Financial hardship is defined as one of the following situations: an investor needs to pay for college tuition for himself or his dependents within 12 months of the withdrawal; he needs to make a down payment pertaining to his primary home; he has medical expenses to pay for himself or his dependents; or he has to pay a sum of money to stop a foreclosure or eviction from his home.

Investors can typically withdraw from a 403b when they are 59 and a half years old.
Investors can typically withdraw from a 403b when they are 59 and a half years old.

Of course, if an investor does make an early 403b withdrawal, he might still be required to pay the tax penalty of 10 percent to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The tax penalty would apply unless he can show that the money was withdrawn because of death, disability, or an unreimbursed medical expense which exceeds 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI). Another scenario where the investor would not need to pay the 10 percent tax penalty would be if he was required via court order to send money to his ex-spouse or dependents. In addition, if an investor is separated from her service via termination, permanent layoff, taking an early retirement, or quitting, if she is 55 years of age or older at the time of termination, and if she is able to establish a schedule of equal payments over her life expectancy, these scenarios might enable the investor to avoid the tax penalty.

If someone makes an early 403b withdrawal, he or she may be required to pay the tax penalty of 10 percent to the IRS.
If someone makes an early 403b withdrawal, he or she may be required to pay the tax penalty of 10 percent to the IRS.

If an investor did not want to take a 403b withdrawal at age 59 and a half, he could wait as late as age 75 for money that was already earned and contributed to the 403b as of 31 December 1986. For money that was contributed to the 403b after that date, he is to take a required minimum distribution (RMD) by the first day of April of the year after the year he reaches age 70 and a half. It is really important to remember this because if an investor does not take the RMD in a timely manner or if he fails to withdraw enough money, there will be a penalty for 50 percent share of the money that was supposed to have been taken out.

In scenarios where a beneficiary inherits the 403b and subsequently takes a 403b withdrawal, the beneficiary has to pay taxes on the income. Also, the money in the 403b is included as part of the deceased person's estate, which means that estate tax must be paid. These taxes can take a sizable amount of money out of the 403b account.

Of note, an investor should always check her custodial account agreements or the particular contract she signed for the information and rules that specifically apply to a 403b plan. Granted, the above mentioned information is typically how 403b withdrawals work. Local, state, and federal taxes are usually paid at the time of withdrawal.

Keep in mind that even if an investor leaves his job, it is possible to keep the 403b. The reason for this is that, for investment purposes, the relationship is with the 403b vendor, not with the employer. If an investor has further 403b-related questions, he should consult a certified public accountant, a tax lawyer, or investment professional.

FAQ on 403b Withdrawal

What are the eligibility requirements for a 403b withdrawal?

Eligibility for a 403b withdrawal typically requires the account holder to be at least 59½ years old, or to have left their employer at or after age 55. Withdrawals may also be permitted due to financial hardship, but these are subject to strict IRS rules and may incur penalties. Additionally, some plans allow for loans or early withdrawals under specific circumstances, such as medical expenses, educational costs, or home purchases.

Are there penalties for early withdrawal from a 403b plan?

Yes, withdrawing funds from a 403b plan before age 59½ usually results in a 10% early withdrawal penalty. However, there are exceptions, such as if you separate from service in or after the year you turn 55, become disabled, or if the withdrawals are part of substantially equal periodic payments (SEPPs). It's important to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional to understand the implications of an early withdrawal.

How are 403b withdrawals taxed?

403b withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income at your current tax rate. Since contributions to a 403b are often made pre-tax, the full amount of the withdrawal is subject to income tax. If you made any after-tax contributions, a portion of the withdrawal may be tax-free. It's crucial to keep accurate records to determine the taxable amount and to consult with a tax professional for guidance.

Can I roll over my 403b to an IRA or another retirement plan?

Yes, you can roll over your 403b to an IRA or another employer's retirement plan without incurring taxes, provided the rollover is done correctly. Direct rollovers are typically the safest way to move funds without triggering taxes or penalties. Indirect rollovers are also possible but must be completed within 60 days to avoid taxation and potential penalties. Always consult with a financial advisor to ensure a smooth transition.

What are Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) for a 403b, and when do they start?

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) are the minimum amounts that a 403b plan participant must withdraw annually starting at age 72 (or 70½ if you reached 70½ before January 1, 2020). The amount is calculated based on the account balance and life expectancy factors provided by the IRS. Failing to take RMDs can result in a 50% excise tax on the amount not distributed as required.

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Discussion Comments

@certrelant - Hiring an accountant to help understand complicated employer contribution-based plans is a good idea. However, a financial planner is also a good option.

In addition to deciphering rules and restrictions of existing plans, a financial planner can provide other investment options, of which there are many.

Many people do not realize that reverse mortgages and even life insurance policies are investment products that not only provide money for beneficiaries when the policy holder dies, but also can be structured pay them throughout their retirement while still alive.

In short, a financial planner can give advice on how to make money off of the funds received from retirement and pension plans and maximize a person's life savings.


Hiring an accountant could be the key to getting the most out of any retirement plan at as little cost to the participant as possible.

Retirement plans are becoming more and more rare, partially because many employers simply cannot afford to continue matching contributions and partially because people change jobs on a regular basis.

Rules for transferring retirement plans that include employer contributions to a new job are complicated and restrictive.

Because of these complexities, many people assume whatever relatively small amount is in the account at the time they changes jobs is not worth the hassle of transferring.

Those who do maintain their accounts until retirement or the eligible cash-out age may find the potential penalties and withdrawal restrictions even more daunting.

Paying a fee to a licensed accounting professional could pay for itself in peace of mind.

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    • Investors can typically withdraw from a 403b when they are 59 and a half years old.
      By: Ljupco Smokovski
      Investors can typically withdraw from a 403b when they are 59 and a half years old.
    • If someone makes an early 403b withdrawal, he or she may be required to pay the tax penalty of 10 percent to the IRS.
      By: Mila Supynska
      If someone makes an early 403b withdrawal, he or she may be required to pay the tax penalty of 10 percent to the IRS.