The Savings Game: Timing regular and charitable IRA distributions

Q: I recently read that in order to take a qualified charitable distribution from your IRA, you had to take it first before any other withdrawals. Is that correct?

A: No. It is not necessary to take a qualified charitable distribution as your first IRA withdrawal. However, the regulations specify that your first withdrawals are applied to meeting your required minimum distribution. So you can only make a charitable contribution using the qualified charitable distribution option if you have not yet satisfied your required minimum distribution for that year.

For example, assume you have to take a $5,000 required minimum distribution for the year. If you withdraw $5,000 from your IRA without making a charitable contribution, you could not then initiate a qualified charitable distribution for that year. If you withdraw $1,000, however, you could still contribute up to $4,000 in a qualified charitable distribution later in the year.

Q: I would like to wait until 70 to initiate my Social Security benefit. My wife will be initiating her benefit before I reach 70. I am now 68. Will I be able to take a spousal benefit and still be able to initiate my benefits at age 70?

A: No. The only way you would be eligible for the spousal-only option you describe is if you were born before Jan. 2, 1954. Because you were not, you cannot file for a spousal benefit and also apply for your work benefit later at age 70. When you do apply for a spousal benefit, Social Security will assume that you