First, let's clarify what a Roth IRA is and how it differs from a traditional IRA. A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account that allows you to contribute after-tax dollars, meaning you won't be taxed on the money when you withdraw it in retirement. On the other hand, a traditional IRA allows for pre-tax contributions, but you'll be taxed when you withdraw the money in retirement.
Now, the tax rule you mentioned is the IRS's exception to the early distribution penalty for Roth IRAs. Typically, if you withdraw money from a Roth IRA before the age of 59 ½, you'll be subject to a 10% penalty. However, this exception allows for penalty-free withdrawals if the money is used for qualified education expenses for an immediate family member.
This raises the question of whether it matters if you take the distribution as a check to yourself or have it sent directly to the university. The answer is, yes, it does matter. To avoid any issues with the IRS, it's best to have the distribution sent directly to the university. This ensures that the funds are used solely for qualified education expenses and not for other purposes.
It's also important to note that the amount you withdraw should not exceed the amount needed for your wife's tuition expenses. The IRS may view any excess funds as non-qualified distributions and impose the early withdrawal penalty. Therefore, it's crucial to consult with a tax advisor to determine the exact amount you can withdraw without incurring any penalties.
Additionally, it's essential to keep records of the distribution and the university's billing statements to provide proof to the IRS if needed. This will also come in handy when filing your taxes for the year.
Another factor to consider is your age. As you mentioned, you and your wife are both 41 years old. This means that you have a longer time horizon for your retirement savings to grow. Withdrawing from your Roth IRA now may impact your retirement plans, so it's vital to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.
In summary, utilizing your old Roth IRA for your wife's tuition expenses can be a smart financial move. However, it's crucial to follow the rules and regulations set by the IRS to avoid any penalties. It's also recommended to seek guidance from a tax advisor to ensure you're making the best decision for your financial situation. With proper planning and careful consideration, you can use your Roth IRA to support your wife's education without jeopardizing your retirement savings.