Most financial experts would agree that it is rarely, if ever, a good idea to take an early withdrawal from a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. This is due in part to the high cost of penalties that can hit an account holder for an early withdrawal (not to mention losing out on years of potential earnings).
Early distributions from IRAs—before you reach 59½—typically are hit with a 10% tax penalty, and you may owe income tax on it. The IRS uses the penalty to discourage IRA account holders from dipping into their savings before retirement. However, the penalty only applies if you withdraw taxable funds, says Investopedia, in its new article entitled “Early Withdrawal Penalties for Traditional and Roth IRAs.”
If you withdraw funds that aren’t subject to income tax, there’s no penalty for distributions taken at any time. The issue of whether the funds are taxable depends on the type of IRA. Early distributions from traditional IRAs are the most likely to incur significant penalties. That’s because you make contributions to this type of account with pretax dollars. These are subtracted from your taxable income for the year, which will decrease the amount of income tax you'll owe. As a result, since you get an upfront tax break when you contribute to a traditional IRA, you have to pay taxes on your withdrawals in retirement.