You can take withdrawals from your IRA before age 59 1/2, penalty-free, via a series of substantially equal payments. The IRS approves three distribution methods:

* One method allows you to take minimum distributions, leaving more in your IRA for tax-deferred growth.

* The other two methods allow you to withdraw more spending money without owing a penalty.

The financial institution holding your IRA can do the math and let you choose among these methods. If you have multiple IRAs, you can take these substantially equal periodic payments from one of your accounts while leaving the others alone.

After you begin to take these distributions, you must keep taking them for at least five years. They must continue, at least once a year, until age 59 1/2. If you stop these payments too early or you take out more or less than the permitted amount, you