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$5,000 Penalty Free Distribution From An IRA or 401(k) After The Birth Of A Child or Adoption


New parents have even more to be excited about in 2020.  On December 19, 2019, Congress passed the SECURE Act, which now allows parents to withdraw up to $5,000 out of their IRA’s or 401(k) plans following the birth of their child without having to pay the 10% early withdrawal penalty.  To take advantage of this new distribution option, parents will need to know:


  • Effective date of the change
  • Taxes on the distribution
  • Deadline to make the withdrawal
  • Is it $5,000 for each parent or a total per couple?
  • Do all 401(k) plans allow these types of distributions?
  • Is it a per child or is it a one-time event?
  • Can you repay the money to your retirement account at a future date?
  • How does it apply to adoptions?


This article will provide you with answers to these questions and also provide families with advanced tax strategies to reduce the tax impact of these distributions.




The SECURE Act was passed in December 2019 and Section 113 of the Act added a new exception to the 10% early withdrawal penalty for taking distributions from retirement accounts called the “Qualified Birth or Adoption Distribution.”


Prior to the SECURE Act, if you were under the age of 59½ and you distributed pre-tax money from an IRA or 401(k) plan, in addition to having to pay ordinary income tax on the amount distributed, you were also hit with a 10% early withdrawal penalty from the IRS.   The IRS prior to the SECURE Act did have a list of exceptions to the 10% penalty but having a child or adopting a child was not on that list.  Now it is.


How It Works


After the birth of a child, a parent is allowed to distribute up to $5,000 out of either an IRA or a 401(k) plan.  Notice the word “after”.  You are not allowed to withdraw the money prior to the child being born.  New parents have up to 12 months following the date of birth to process the distribution from their retirement accounts and avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Example: Jim and Sarah have their first child on May 5, 2020.  To help with some of the additional costs of a larger family, Jim decides to withdraw $5,000 out of his rollover IRA.  Jim’s window to process that distribution is between May 5, 2020 – May 4, 2021.


The Tax Hit


Assuming Jim is 30 years old, he would avoid having to pay the 10% early withdrawal penalty on the $5,000 but that $5,000 still represents taxable income to him in the year that the distribution takes place.  If Jim and Sarah live in New York and make a combined income of $100,000, in 2020, that $5,000 would be subject to federal income tax of 22% and state income tax of 6.45%, resulting in a tax liability of $1,423.


Luckily under the current tax laws, there is a $2,000 federal tax credit for dependent children under the age of 17, which would more than offset the total 22% in fed tax liability ($1,100) created by the $5,000 distribution from the IRA.  Essentially reducing the tax bill to $323 which is just the state tax portion.


TAX NOTE: While the $2,000 fed tax credit can be used to offset the federal tax liability in this example, if the IRA distribution was not taken, that $2,000 would have reduced Jim & Sarah’s existing tax liability dollar for dollar.


For more info on the “The Child Tax Credit” see our article:  More Taxpayers Will Qualify For The Child Tax Credit


$5,000 Per Parent


But it gets better. The $5,000 limit is available to EACH parent meaning if both parents have a pre-tax IRA or 401(k) plan, they can each distribute up to $5,000 from their retirement accounts within 12 months following the birth of their child and avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty.


ADVANCED TAX STRATEGY:  If both parents are planning to distribute the full $5,000 out of their retirement accounts and they are in a medium to high tax bracket, it may make sense to split the two distributions between separate tax years.


Example:  Scott and Linda have a child on October 3, 2020 and they both plan to take the full $5,000 out of their IRA accounts.  If they are in a 24% federal tax bracket and they process both distributions prior to December 31, 2020, the full $10,000 would be taxable to them in 2020.  This would create a $2,400 federal tax liability.  Since this amount is over the $2,000 child tax credit, they will have to be prepared to pay the additional $400 federal income tax when they file their taxes since it was not fully offset by the $2,000 tax credit.


In addition, by taking the full $10,000 in the same tax year, Scott and Linda also run the risk of making that income subject to a higher tax rate.  If instead, Linda processes her distribution in November 2020 and Scott waits until January 2021 to process his $5,000 IRA distribution, it could result in a lower tax liability and less out of pocket expense come tax time.


Remember, you have 12 months following the date of birth to process the distribution and qualify for the 10% early withdrawal exemption.


$5,000 For Each Child


This 10% early withdrawal exemption is available for each child that is born.  It does not have a lifetime limit.


Example: Building on the Scott and Linda example above, they have their first child October 2020, and both of them process a $5,000 distribution from their IRA’s avoiding the 10% penalty.  They then have their second child in November 2021.  Both Scott and Linda would be eligible to withdraw another $5,000 each out of their IRA or 401(k) within 12 months after the birth of their second child and again avoid having to pay the 10% early withdrawal penalty.


IRS Audit


One question that we have received is “Do I need to keep track of what I spend the money on in case I’m ever audited by the IRS?” The short answer is “No”. The new law does not require you to keep track of what the money was spent on.  The birth of your child is the “qualifying event” which makes you eligible to distribute the $5,000 penalty free.


Not All 401(k) Plans Will Allow These Distributions


Starting in 2020, this 10% early withdrawal exception will apply to all pre-tax IRA accounts but it does not automatically apply to all 401(k), 403(b), or other types of qualified employer sponsored retirement plans.


While the SECURE Act “allows” these penalty free distributions to be made, companies can decide whether or not they want to provide this special distribution option to their employees.  For employers that have existing 401(k) or 403(b) plans, if they want to allow these penalty free distributions to employees after the birth of a child, they will need to contact their third-party administrator and request that the plan be amended.


For companies that intend to add this distribution option to their plan, they may need to be patient with the timeline for the change. 401(k) providers will most likely need to update their distribution forms, tax codes on their 1099R forms, and update their recordkeeping system to accommodate this new type of distribution.


Ability To Repay The Distribution


The new law also offers parents the option to repay the amounts to their retirement account that were distributed due to a qualified birth or adoption.   The repayment of the amounts previously distributed from the IRA or 401(k) would be in addition to the annual contribution limits.  There is not a lot of clarity at this point as to how these “repayments” will work so we will have to wait for future guidance from the IRS on this feature.




The 10% early withdrawal exception also applies to adoptions. An individual is allowed to take a distribution from their retirement account up to $5,000 for any children under the age of 18 that is adopted.  Similar to the timing rules of the birth of a child, the distribution must take place AFTER the adoption is finalized, but within 12 months following that date.  Any money distributed from retirement accounts prior to the adoption date will be subject to the 10% penalty for individuals under the age of 59½.


Michael Ruger

About Michael………

Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.

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