Taking money out of an Individual Retirement Account before you retire undermines the purpose of an IRA: accumulating enough money to help cover your living expenses in retirement. But life happens. A financial reversal could land you in a situation that makes tapping your retirement account prematurely one of the few options available.

The good news is that IRA funds are available early if you need them. The bad news is that accessing them carries a price. In most circumstances, Uncle Sam will take a hefty cut — not just the regular taxes owed upon any withdrawal but also an early-withdrawal penalty.

However, as is often the case with tax matters, the law allows several approaches to an early IRA withdrawal that can help you avoid the taxman — or at least minimize his take.

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