I am converting assets from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA over multiple years. I know that I cannot take any withdrawals from the Roth before 5 years from the start of the year when I first converted.

How much can I withdraw after that? Can I only withdraw the amounts that I converted each year, once they’ve been in the Roth for 5 years? Can I take out earnings / appreciation? Do I have to track the earnings created by the assets I converted each year to know how much I can withdraw?

I have not found an explanation of how this is supposed to work. Is there an IRS document (preferably with examples) I can check?

Thanks for any information.

  • Note that the penalty for withdrawing from a conversion within 5 years only applies to the part of the conversion that was taxable. If your conversion was entirely non-taxable, then there would be no penalty for withdrawing it within 5 years.
    – user102008
    Dec 3, 2020 at 18:47

2 Answers 2


IRS Publication 590b says

Order the distributions as follows.

  1. Regular contributions.

  2. Conversion and rollover contributions, on a first-in, first-out basis (generally, total conversions and rollovers from the earliest year first). See Aggregation (grouping and adding) rules, later. Take these conversion and rollover contributions into account as follows:

    a. Taxable portion (the amount required to be included in gross income because of the conversion or rollover) first, and then the

    b. Nontaxable portion.

  3. Earnings on contributions.

Disregard rollover contributions from other Roth IRAs for this purpose.

There is a lot more detail in Pub 590b about what is taxable, what is subject to penalty etc. but this is enough to start with.

As a general rule. it is not advisable to take premature distributions from a Roth IRA unless one really really needs to do so and there is no feasible alternative....

  • All contributions come out first, before getting to conversions
    – user102008
    Dec 3, 2020 at 18:46

It seems that my situation is greatly simplified by two facts — the Roth has only converted assets and no contributions, and I’m old enough (past 59 1/2) that all withdrawals after the account has been open 5 years will be “qualified” and not taxable.

It seems that even if I convert over multiple years, everything can come out tax-free after 5 years from the start of the year of the first conversion. Of course, any converted assets (upon which taxes were paid as a result of the conversion) will not have had as long to grow.

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