Updated Life Expectancy and Distribution Period Tables Used for Determining RMDs

06 November 2020

The IRS has issued final regulations to update the life expectancy and distribution period tables under the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules. The tables reflect the general increase in life expectancy. The tables would apply for distribution calendar years beginning on or after January 1, 2022, with transition relief.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

RMDs ensure that the favorable tax treatment for a retirement plan is used primarily to provide retirement income rather than to increase the participant’s estate. RMDs apply to qualified plans, including 401(k) plans and profit sharing plans. They also apply to IRAs (including SEP and SIMPLE IRAs), inherited Roth IRAs, Tax Sheltered Annuity plans, and eligible deferred compensation plans.

In general, RMDs must begin for the year the individual reaches age 72. An RMD for a calendar year is determined by dividing the participant’s account balance by the applicable distribution period. Distribution periods are based on life expectancies. They are found in one of three tables, depending on the circumstances.

RMD Tables for Lifetimes and Distribution Periods

During the employee’s lifetime (including year of death), the applicable distribution period is determined by the Uniform Lifetime Table. The figures in that table are the joint and last survivor life expectancy for the employee and a hypothetical beneficiary 10 years younger.
If an employee’s sole beneficiary is the employee’s surviving spouse and the spouse is more than 10 years younger than the employee, then the applicable distribution period is the joint and last survivor life expectancy of the employee and spouse under the Joint and Last Survivor Table.

After the employee’s death, the distribution period is generally based on the designated beneficiary’s age using the Single Life Expectancy Table.

Effect of Updated Tables

Distribution periods under the new rules would generally increase between one and two years. For example, a 72-year-old IRA owner who applied the prior Uniform Lifetime Table to calculate required minimum distributions used a life expectancy of 25.6 years. Applying the new Uniform Lifetime Table, a 72-year-old IRA owner will use a life expectancy of 27.4 years to calculate required minimum distributions. As another example, a 75-year-old surviving spouse who is the employee’s sole beneficiary and applied the prior Single Life Table to compute required minimum distributions used a life expectancy of 13.4 years. Under these regulations, a 75-year-old surviving spouse will use a life expectancy of 14.8 years.

Retirees and beneficiaries would be able to withdraw slightly smaller amounts from their plans each year. They could leave amounts in tax-favored retirement accounts for a slightly longer period of time, to account for the possibility that they may live longer.

Applicability Date

The life expectancy tables and Uniform Lifetime Table under these regulations apply for distribution calendar years beginning on or after January 1, 2022. Thus, for example, for an IRA owner who attained age 70.5 in February of 2020 (so that the individual attains age 72 in August of 2021 and the individual’s required beginning date is April 1, 2022), these regulations do not apply to the minimum required distribution for the individual’s 2021 distribution calendar year (which is due April 1, 2022) but will apply to the minimum required distribution for the individual’s 2022 distribution calendar year (which is due December 31, 2022).

These regulations include a transition rule that applies if an employee died before January 1, 2022, and, under the rules of Reg. §1.401(a)(9)-5, the distribution period that applies for calendar years following the calendar year of the employee’s death is equal to a single life expectancy calculated as of the calendar year of the employee’s death (or if applicable, the year after the employee’s death), reduced by one for each subsequent year.