Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

Withholding from TSP distributions

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Q. I am a 62-year-old FERS employee with 29 years of service. I took an age-based withdrawal from my TSP account at 59 from which TSP withheld 20 percent off the top and then the remainder was taxed; however, I got the taxed portion back in the next tax year. My question is: If I retire at age 66 with 33 years of service and withdraw my TSP funds at that time, will 20 percent be taken off the top by TSP again? Will I be able to leave funds in TSP and have monthly or annual withdrawals, or would my best bet be to take an annuity?

A. See page 3 of the notice at https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tsp-536.pdf for the rules about withholding from TSP distributions. You may leave money in your TSP account for life and take monthly withdrawals. The decision to buy an annuity is too important, and complex, to trust to an Q & A forum.

TSP withdrawal while working?

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Q. Can I do a withdrawal from the TSP — not a loan — at age 59 1/2 while still working full time?

A. Yes, it’s called an Age-Based In-Service Withdrawal.

Stick with C Fund or move to L2020?

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Q. I am a Foreign Service employee under the FSPS system. I am 50 and will hit 20 years of service this July with 9.5 years military buy-in. Although I am eligible to retire under the FSPS in July, I plan to stay about eight more years. I have been “all-in” with the C Fund since the beginning and have a very healthy nest egg in my TSP. Would you recommend I stick with the C fund until the very end of my career then flip it over to something much safer like the L Income or G fund, or should I put all of my eggs in the L2020 basket now and let it convert to the L Income fund on its own?

A. Your asset allocation is risk-inefficient. I can’t determine right allocation for you since I don’t know enough about you and your circumstances. If you own stocks in your portfolio, you should also own bonds.

Partial withdrawal from TSP

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Q. I retired under the CSRS at age 55 with 35 years of federal government service. I want to purchase a second home by making a one-time partial withdrawal from my Thrift Savings Plan. Is this partial withdrawal subject to the 10% IRS tax under the one-time withdrawal provision? Also, what other penalties are there?

A. Since you retired at 55, your TSP withdrawals will not be subject to the early withdrawal or any other penalty.

TSP withdrawals from traditional, Roth accounts

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Q. I have already accumulated a decent amount of money in the TSP Traditional plan. I was planning to take a break from contributing to the traditional plan and to start heavily funding the TSP Roth plan instead, with the goal of eventually withdrawing those same contributions in several years when I am looking to buy a house. I understand people can withdraw contributions from a Roth IRA as long as the Roth account has been open for five years. If I withdrew all of the Roth TSP contributions at some time (after five years), would I be required to also withdraw funds from my traditional TSP account at the same time? If so, could I avoid taxes and penalties by transferring the traditional TSP funds to another qualified plan?

A. All TSP withdrawals are taken proportionately from both the traditional and Roth accounts. You could roll over your traditional account distribution (that is not part of an RMD) to an IRA or qualified plan to further defer the tax.

Penalty-free TSP withdrawals?

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Q. I am turning 50 years old next year and want to retire as a Federal Law Enforcement Officer with 24 years of service. Can I, under the 72t rule, withdraw an equal substantial sum for 10 years and not pay an early-withdrawal penalty? For example, if I have $10,000 in TSP, can I take $1,000 each year for 10 years with no penalty to supplement my income?

A. You may avoid the early withdrawal penalty by taking as series of Substantially Equal Periodic Payments that continue until you reach age 59 1/2, but you must take exactly and only the amount calculated using one of three available calculation methods (life expectancy, annuitization or amortization). You should seek professional guidance before going down this path. The rules are complex and strict, and the penalty for violating them can be severe.

Consider options before rolling over TSP

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Q. I am a CSRS employee (34 years) anticipating retirement within the next few months. I will be receiving a healthy CSRS annuity and also have substantial funds in a TSP account. My debts are paid off, my needs are simple, and frankly I can easily meet my monthly expenses with the CSRS annuity alone. I don’t need the additional annuity from the TSP when I turn 70 and a half, but I suppose I will have to take it anyway. I would like to have the flexibility to use the my money in the TSP as an emergency fund if I should need it, and I recognize that these funds would be subject to tax if I were to make an emergency withdrawal. However, my understanding is that with the TSP, I can only make one post-retirement withdrawal. So I am considering rolling the TSP over to a private sector IRA that would allow me to make emergency withdrawals if necessary. Do you have any thoughts on my situation?

A. You may take only one lump-sum partial withdrawal, but may then take a full withdrawal as a series of monthly payments. I recommend that you exhaust your TPS withdrawal options before you resort to leaving it for an IRA. It’s probably not an all-or-nothing choice.

Calculating RMDs

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Q. I think that RMDs are calculated using the account balances as of the “end of last year.” What I am not clear on is whether the person’s age used is as of the end of last year or the end of this year, and whether the rules are different for a traditional IRA at a brokerage firm versus the TSP.

IRS Pub 590 page 36 says: “To figure the required minimum distribution for 2014, divide your account balance at the end of 2013 by the distribution period from the table. This is the distribution period listed next to your age (as of your birthday in 2014) in Table III in Appendix C, unless the sole beneficiary of your IRA is your spouse who is more than 10 years younger than you.”

So this seems to mean your age at the end of this year.

A. The IRS Pub 590 rules apply, and you are reading them correctly. Use the trailing account balance and your age at the end of the distribution year.

Taxed twice on TSP distribution?

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Q. I am a FERS retiree. I receive a small annuity and Medicare; both are taxed. This year, however, I made a partial distribution from my TSP account (federal taxes of $17,000 were withheld). As I prepared my taxes I found that the TSP withdrawal combined with my annuity and Medicare puts me in a higher tax bracket, and now I owe $10,000 more in taxes. How do I offset this obligation if the TSP taxes were already paid? Can I file the TSP distribution separately or transfer it to a Roth account?

A. The $17,000 was not tax; it was a deposit against your tax liability. When you prepare your return, you calculate the tax you owe, and then you are permitted to deduct whatever deposits you made during the year (withholding or estimated tax payments), including the $17,000. Any difference between the tax and the amount on deposit will be what you owe or receive as a refund. Either you failed to account for the $17,000 you deposited, or your tax obligation is $10,000 greater than what you deposited during the year.

TSP consolidation

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Q. I came to federal service late in my career. I am approaching my five-year anniversary and am a term employee subject to a July 1, 2015, departure. I have several small investments in IRA Variable annuities and a college annuity with TIAA-CREF. None of these other funds have much in them, but between the TSP and these other funds, there is approximately $150,000 in assets. My reading in your columns and others leads me to the conclusion that I should consolidate into my TSP to the extent possible, even though my time is short. My costs with my IRAs outside of TIAA-CREF is approximately 1.4 percent to almost 2 percent. Is there a benefit to consolidation at this late date? What are my options when I take retirement?

A. You should consolidate since you may retain your TSP account, and its advantages over other retirement accounts, for the rest of your life. The benefit, if you use the TSP to your full advantage, will be higher expected rates of return for the risk you take than you’ll find anywhere else. Total investment costs, which include sales commissions, management fees and expenses, advisory fees and trading costs, should never be more than 1 percent of your portfolio’s value.