Question: What is the difference if I take a substantially equal periodic payment versus my wife taking one? The balances in our IRA are similar, about $200,000. I was born in 1961 and my wife was born in 1965.

Also, given our respective ages, do we have to take the 72(t) payment for the entire time or can we stop at age 59½ or after five years, whichever comes first? If stopping is an option, does that change the amount of the distributions?

Answer: "If someone starts a 'series of substantially equal periodic payments' prior to age 59½, they must continue taking the payments until age 59½, or for at least five years," says Natalie Choate, who practices law with Nutter McClennen & Fish and is author of Life and Death Planning for Retirement Benefits. "In other words, whichever comes later not earlier."

Thus, the husband, who was born in 1961, turns 59½ in approximately 2020 and would have to continue the series for five years, to 2023. The wife, born 1965, would have to continue until age 59½, or about 2024.

As for the payments, Choate says an accountant or financial planner can help compute the required payments. But know this: "The payments are always computed based on a lifetime payout - even though you can actually stop taking them once you reach 59½, or at least five years," says Choate. "Thus the male -- being older -- would get larger payments because his life expectancy is about four years shorter. And stopping them doesn't affect the size of the payments. The payments are computed based on the fiction that it's a lifetime payout."

Read more about retirement plans and substantially equal periodic payments, from the Internal Revenue Service.

Got questions about the new tax law, Social Security, Medicare, retirement, investments, or money in general? Want to be considered for a Money Makeover? Email Robert.Powell@TheStreet.com.

Question: What is the difference if I take a substantially equal periodic payment versus my wife taking one? The balances in our IRA are similar, about $200,000. I was born in 1961 and my wife was born in 1965.

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