Public Safety Worker
10% Penalty Early Distribution Exception

You are considered a “Public Safety Worker,” and eligible for the 10% penalty early distribution exception if you work in one of the following positions:

  • State and Local Police
  • Firemen and EMS Workers
  • Federal Public Safety Workers such as Federal Law Enforcement Officers (FDLEO) and Federal Firefighters
  • Air Traffic Controllers
  • Border Protection Officers
  • Certain Customs Officials

The Public Safety Worker 10 percent early distribution exception applies to every dollar withdrawn from your retirement plan account over and above the normal federal income taxes due to the Trade Priorities & Accountabilities Act of 2015 and the Secure Act 2.0.

Normally if you retire prior to age 59 and 1/2 the IRS imposes an early withdrawal penalty of 10% on retirement account withdrawals. Current law provides an exception to that 10% penalty for individuals who terminate service after age 50 or after 25 years of service at any age, if they meet the above job classes. 

How is that you ask?

The answer is within the “Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 and the Secure Act 2.0.  There is a retirement plan distribution provision in that legislation that creates a provision that directly affects the distribution penalty for Public Safety Workers.  It actually allows much greater flexibility with retirement planning and income distribution planning.

The exception ONLY applies to company sponsored retirement plan distributions.  If you roll your plan over to an IRA then the early distribution penalty would be negated and would be applicable since the withdrawal would no longer be distributed from the employer’s plan. 

So, just what is in this act from 2015 and how does it help “Public Safety Workers” with their retirement income planning?


The Act extends the types of plans which can be distributed from. Previously only defined benefit plan distributions were eligible. The 10% early distribution penalty waiver now applies to defined contribution plans like your 401k or 457 plan.

The Act’s retirement plan distribution allowances went into effect for distributions after calendar year 2015.  Also note that it applies to the distribution date and is not based on the actual date of separation from service, as those could be different.  The act specifically states that separation from employment must be after attaining the age of 50. The Secure Act 2.0 further goes on to specify any age after 25 years of service.

Financial advisors, CPA’s, tax attorney’s and other sources of professional financial advisory often explore another provision with the tax code known as IRC Section 72(T).  This tax code which has existed well before 2015 also allowed for penalty free avoidance of the added 10%, but requires the distributions to be taken based on a life expectancy distribution projection and had to be taken for a minimum of (5) five straight years or until the participant reached the age of 59 and 1/2; whichever is reached first.   

The good news is these two tax codes are mutually exclusive and can be used in conjunction with one another creating flexibility for the retiree in designing their income stream.


If you are considered a Public Safety Worker, you have more options than ever before in designing an early retirement income stream. Saving 10% in IRS penalties can go a long way towards lasting your nest egg. 

It’s key to make sure you understand the rules. The biggest rule you must be aware of is this 10% penalty earl distribution exception only applies to distributions from your employer sponsored retirement plan(s). Rolling your retirement over into an IRA will eliminate the flexibility to take advantage of this provision.  The other concern is, are you saving enough to early withdrawal in the first place?  That consideration has far more reaching computations and should require the eyes of a financial professional.  Things like lifestyle, health history, family genetics all present a (life expectancy) computation to be taken into consideration which is applied to a standard of living budget with inflation also taken into consideration. All of that is applied before a sequence of returns calculation is performed all in an effort to project a sustainable lifetime income stream. 

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