Bob Scharin– Bob D. Scharin is a senior tax analyst for the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters. The views expressed are his own. —

With jobs and home loans hard to find, many individuals are making ends meet by tapping into their IRAs and 401(k) accounts long before reaching retirement age. Besides leaving less money for the retirement years, those withdrawals can produce a hefty tax bill. In general, distributions made before age 59½ are subject to regular income tax rates plus a 10% additional tax.

The tax law contains exceptions to the 10% additional tax, but the exceptions can be complicated and the rules can differ between IRAs and 401(k)s. With a bit of planning, however, you may be able to wipe out owing the additional tax. Here’s a look at some tax-saving exceptions:

1. Distributions from an IRA or former employer’s 401(k) plan that are part of a series of “substantially equal periodic payments” made for your expected life (or the joint lives of you and a beneficiary).

Basically, this lets you start making withdrawals at any age, provided the payments are figured as though you were turning your account into a lifetime annuity.