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Do Required Minimum Distribution Rules Matter? The Effect of the 2009 Holiday on Retirement Plan Distributions


  • Brown, Jeffrey R.
  • Poterba, James
  • Richardson, David P.


This paper investigates how the one-year suspension in 2009 of the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) rules associated with qualified retirement plans affected the distribution elections of participants at a large retirement services provider. Roughly one third of those who were affected by the RMD rules in 2008 discontinued their distributions in 2009. The suspension probabilities of those for whom 2008 distributions equaled the RMD amount, a plausible indication that the RMD rules were a binding constraint, were not very different from the corresponding probabilities of those for whom 2008 distributions exceeded the RMD amount. Participants who died within six years of the distribution holiday were less likely to suspend than those who were still alive in late 2015, suggesting that RMD rules are more likely to bind for those with longer retirement horizons. The probability of suspension declined substantially with age and rose modestly with financial resources. Individuals taking monthly distributions were less likely to suspend distributions than those taking annual distributions, particularly at higher wealth levels, perhaps because they use their distributions to finance monthly consumption. The findings offer insights on the relationship between participant attributes and distribution behavior, bear on the choice between competing models of saver behavior, and provide some evidence on the revenue consequences of changing RMD rules.

Suggested Citation

  • Brown, Jeffrey R. & Poterba, James & Richardson, David P., 2017. "Do Required Minimum Distribution Rules Matter? The Effect of the 2009 Holiday on Retirement Plan Distributions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 151(C), pages 96-109.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:151:y:2017:i:c:p:96-109
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2016.08.010

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Victor R. Fuchs, 2018. "“Though Much Is Taken”: Reflections on Aging, Health, and Medical Care," World Scientific Book Chapters, in: Health Economics and Policy Selected Writings by Victor Fuchs, chapter 33, pages 403-424, World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
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    3. Sabelhaus, John, 2000. "Modeling IRA Accumulation and Withdrawals," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 53(n. 4), pages 865-76, December.
    4. Wade D. Pfau, 2010. "An International Perspective on Safe Withdrawal Rates from Retirement Savings: The Demise of the 4 Percent Rule?," GRIPS Discussion Papers 10-12, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, revised Oct 2010.
    5. Sabelhaus, John, 2000. "Modeling IRA Accumulation and Withdrawals," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 53(4), pages 865-876, December.
    6. Wei Sun & Anthony Webb, 2012. "Should Households Base Asset Decumulation Strategies on Required Minimum Distribution Tables?," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2012-10, Center for Retirement Research, revised Apr 2012.
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    Cited by:

    1. Lucas Goodman & Anita Mukherjee & Shanthi Ramnath, 2022. "Set it and Forget it? Financing Retirement in an Age of Defaults," Working Paper Series WP 2022-50, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    2. Horneff, Vanya & Maurer, Raimond & Mitchell, Olivia S., 2023. "Do required minimum distribution 401(k) rules matter, and for whom? Insights from a lifecycle model," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 154(C).
    3. Mahmoudi, Samir Elsadek, 2023. "Late-career unemployment shocks, pension outcomes and unemployment insurance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 218(C).
    4. Goda, Gopi Shah & Jones, Damon & Ramnath, Shanthi, 2022. "Temporary and permanent effects of withdrawal penalties on retirement savings accounts✩," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 215(C).
    5. Goodman, Lucas & Mukherjee, Anita & Ramnath, Shanthi, 2023. "Set it and forget it? Financing retirement in an age of defaults," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 148(1), pages 47-68.
    6. Jeffrey R. Brown & James M. Poterba & David P. Richardson, 2022. "Trends in Retirement and Retirement Income Choices by TIAA Participants: 2000–2018," NBER Working Papers 29946, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item


    Retirement; Required minimum distributions; Qualified plans; Pension; 401(k);
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies


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