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If you can access under disability that is best because that eliminates the 10% early penalty. I have heard that the IRS is not quite as picky as SS Disability. If you have a 401K, that can be accessed without penalty as long as you leave it at the company since you are severing after age 55. The 72T from a lumpsum rollover of pension to an IRA will also work to eliminate the 10% penalty. It can be great but it MUST run for a minimum of 5 years and past the age of 59 and 1/2.
I know for a fact that you can take structured monthly distributions prior to age 59 1/2 and not trigger the early withdrawal penalty. You should be able to find something regarding this on the IRS.gov website. I think a lump sum distribution would be the only thing to set off the penalty. Check it with a tax expert.
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