Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

TSP transfer

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Q. I have been retired from the federal government for eight years and have worked for a private firm. I have a 401k that I have been contributing to since I started working for this firm. Can I transfer my existing 401k to the TSP when I stop working.

A. Yes, as long as it doesn’t contain any after-tax money. Use Form TSP-60.

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Annual Leave payout

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Q. I am a federal employee and will retire Jan. 3. I will have about 400 hours of Annual Leave for a cash payout. Am I allowed to request that this monetary amount be directly rolled into an eligible 401K plan and not have any taxes taken out? If I take the cash payout, can I predetermine the tax percentage based on my calculations or does the government tax at the maximum rate?

A. You may not direct the payout into an IRA or 401k plan. Taxes will be withheld according to the W-4 you have on file with your payroll office.

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Transferring spouse’s 401K funds

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Q. I am a federal employee with TSP and I am still working. My wife is retired and on disability. Can she transfer/rollover her employer-sponsored 401K funds to my TSP? If so, what are the restrictions/conditions?

A. No.

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Converting traditional TSP to Roth 401(k)

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Q. I am an active-duty military officer with 17 years of service. I would like to convert my traditional Thrift Savings Plan account to a Roth 401(k) and pay taxes now. I want to see if it is possible to transfer my balance to a traditional 401(k) with my civilian investment company and then convert that account to the Roth 401(k). Additionally, I want to minimize my taxes by doing this during my deployment this year, because I will be receiving tax-free pay for most of this year. Is this allowed and/or possible? I would love to pay zero or low taxes on the deferred portion of my traditional TSP during this transfer.

A. This might be possible using an age based in-service withdrawal if you’re at least age 59½. Otherwise, it’s not.

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Adding 401(k) to TSP

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Q. I am a retired CSRS annuitant. What is the procedure to add external qualified 401(k) funds to the Thrift Savings Plan?

A. Use Form TSP-60, which includes thorough instructions.

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Military TSP vs. civil service TSP

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Q. I retired from active duty two years ago and have worked in civil service for one year.  I am contributing 10 percent of my civil service base pay and have a fairly good amount in my active-duty military Thrift Savings Plan. I am entertaining the idea of consolidating my TSP plans for a couple of reasons. First, simplicity of managing one account.  Secondly I believe, from what I have read on numerous sites, I will have greater control of current and future funds using the civil service side of TSP versus the active-duty military side. By this, I mean in-service withdrawals, loans, rolling over to another employer’s 401(k) plan (certainty of employment with civil service is at an all-time low), etc. Has my research misled me, or am I partially correct?

A. Convenience is an advantage. The basic rules for the accounts are the same, although you’re separated from military service and an active employee for the civilian account. This means that you may not take a loan from the military account but can take one from the civilian account. You could roll over the military account to an IRA or 401(k) now, but can’t roll over the civilian account. Whether the differences matter to you, or not, will depend upon your circumstances, but everything you need to know is available at www.tsp.gov.

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Is TSP considered ‘traditional IRA’ for tax purposes?

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Q. I own both a Thrift Savings Plan account and several non-TSP IRAs with other institutions and am approaching the age at which I must begin to withdraw the required minimum distribution from both the TSP and the non-TSP IRAs.

I am withdrawing enough money from the TSP to cover the required distribution from all of my accounts combined. Must I withdraw any additional monies from my non-TSP IRAs to comply with the tax laws? The answer may depend upon whether the TSP is considered a “traditional IRA” for tax purposes. I can’t find any information on this point.

A. The TSP is not considered an IRA for any purpose. From the Internal Revenue Service website:

“An IRA owner must calculate the RMD separately for each IRA that he or she owns, but can withdraw the total amount from one or more of the IRAs. Similarly, a 403(b) contract owner must calculate the RMD separately for each 403(b) contract that he or she owns, but can take the total amount from one or more of the 403(b) contracts.
However, RMDs required from other types of retirement plans, such as 401(k) and 457(b) plans have to be taken separately from each of those plan accounts.”

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72(t) distributions

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Q. I’m about to retire at age 47 after 25 years as a federal law enforcement officer. I plan to roll my 401(k) (TSP) over to a traditional IRA and begin taking substantially equal periodic payments per 72(t) from the IRA, which, as I understand, once I start, I have to continue until age 59 ½. I plan to use the annuitization method to make equal monthly withdrawals, but I would like to take the first year’s withdrawal in a lump sum to help pay off some debt. Will the IRS allow that without the 10 percent penalty, or do I have to consistently stick to either monthly or annual payments?

A. The IRS only cares about the annual requirement being met. They don’t care about how the money is distributed. Monthly payments are not required, and as long as you meet the annual 72(t) requirements, there should be no penalty.

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Transferring 401(k) post-tax funds from previous employer to Roth TSP

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Q. My previous employer allowed post-tax contributions to the 401(k) plan after the maximum allowed pretax contributions had been reached. Can I transfer the post-tax contributions of my previous employer’s 401(k) plan to the Roth TSP?

A. No.

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Are 401(k) and catch-up contributions earned income?

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Q. I plan to retire next year with 35 years of federal service (FERS) at age 56, and eligible to receive a Thrift Savings Plan supplement of about $18,000 per year.

Once I retire, I plan to work to earn approximately $38,000 per year. Of the earned income, I plan to contribute $17,500 to my 401(k) plan and an additional $5,500 toward the catch-up contribution. The remaining $15,000 will be reported as an earned income on my W-2 and Form 1040.

I plan to earn $38,000 for the year, so that my supplemental income will not be deducted $1 from my TSP supplemental benefit payments for every $2 I earned above the annual limit of 15,120.

Are the 401(k) and the catch-up contribution considered earned income that could reduce the $18,000 TSP supplement per year?

A. You’re talking about the FERS special retirement supplement, not a TSP supplement. Earnings you direct into a 401(k) plan are still considered earnings for the FERS Supplement Earnings Test.

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