At age 70 and a half, the IRS requires IRA owners to begin taking regular distributions called the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD).

You can always take more, but if you take less than the minimum the penalties are steep.

Some IRA owners need to tap their IRAs for living expenses, but many don’t.

The good news is that the required distribution begins small. The first year the RMD amounts to about 3.6 percent. As you age, the RMD increases.

Don’t just take a percentage. The amount IRA owners are required to take is based on tables that can vary depending on multiple factors. Work with a tax professional to make sure you use the correct table and distribute the right amount.

Required Minimum Distributions are risky. The failure to take the correct amount results in a 50 percent penalty. If an IRA owner fails to take a $10,000, RMD the penalty would be $5,000.

If you fail to take an RMD, hope is not lost. The IRS is allowed some freedom to reduce or forgive the penalty for cause.

If you fail to take an RMD and would like the penalty waived, here are a few things you should do.

The IRS requires you to file form 5329. This form has multiple uses concerning IRAs and other qualified accounts so don’t be intimidated when you discover the form is titled “Additional Tax on Qualified Plans.” Required Minimum Distribution failures need to focus on part IX.

Part IX only has four simple lines to calculate the penalty. Fill out these four lines then write “RC” and the amount of the penalty you want to be waived in parenthesis on the dotted line next to the box on line 54.

After completing form 5329 write a letter explaining why you failed to take the RMD.

Paint a good picture of your predicament, but don’t lie. You will be surprised at some of the excuses the IRS has accepted.

Be sure to read the IRS instructions to form 5329 before you file this form. Also, read other financial articles that offer advice on this process.

If you discover that you have failed to take the RMD or failed to take the full amount, the worst thing you can do is nothing.

If the IRS realizes this mistake before you have a chance to self-report, your chances of having a penalty forgiven are reduced.

Most retirement accounts have the same or similar rules for RMDs. Some retirement account owners can delay the RMD if they continue to work past age 70 and a half. Be sure you need to take an RMD before you do.

The stakes are too high to risk a mistake taking an RMD. If you manage your own retirement account make sure you study the rules well and use the correct table.

If you work with an adviser, make sure you ask questions to ensure that they are on top of it.

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Tom and John Mills are registered investment advisers and certified financial planners. Reach them at 254-0155. MillsWealth.com. Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Strategic Wealth Advisors Group (SWAG), a registered investment adviser.