If you withdraw assets from a fixed-term investment, such as a certificate of deposit (CD), before it matures, it is considered an early withdrawal.
Similarly, if you withdraw from a tax-deferred or tax-free retirement savings plan before you turn 59 1/2, in most cases, it's considered early.
If you withdraw early, you usually have to pay a penalty imposed by the issuer (in the case of a CD) or the government (if it's an IRA or other tax-deferred or tax-free savings plan).
However, you may be able to use the money in your account without penalty under certain circumstances. For example, if you withdraw IRA assets to pay for higher education, to buy a first home, or for other qualified reasons, the penalty is waived. But taxes will still be due on the tax-deferred portion of the withdrawal.