Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

VCP Roth conversion follow-up

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Q. This is a follow-up to a prior question. I had asked whether converting my Voluntary Contributions Program account to an existing contributory Roth IRA would be taxable in light of the fact that I had pretax money in the Thrift Savings Plan. You had advised that it appeared to be a nontaxable event but that I should check with my CPA. I do not have a traditional pretax IRA.

My CPA didn’t know anything about it, so I asked an expert in the field. The expert cautioned me not to roll over my pretax TSP into a traditional pretax IRA prior to the Roth conversion. This would make a portion of the conversion taxable.

This is an important point, as many financial planners will recommend to federal employees that they transfer their pretax TSP to a traditional IRA to provide greater control over investments and tax planning.

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Converting TSP to Roth TSP

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Q. As a retiree, can I convert my Thrift Savings Plan account to a Roth TSP, or is this only available to active employees?

A. You may not convert traditional TSP balance to the Roth TSP, regardless of your employment status.

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Refinancing and VCP

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Q. I am a 59-year-old federal employee with 34 years of service under CSRS. I am retiring soon and heard about the Voluntary Contributions Program. I don’t have a wad of cash except accessing some of the equity in my home (I have about $200,000 of equity, and I could pull up to $100,000 out).  Is it worth refinancing (at a low 3.5 percent) to access the money and use the VCP to convert it into a Roth IRA?

A. Probably not, unless you need the cash for expenses.

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Roll over TSP to Roth TSP?

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Q. Can I roll over the funds in my traditional Thrift Savings Plan to the Roth TSP? I thought I had read that you couldn’t, but I see where you can roll over from a 401 plan, so it would make sense and just pay the taxes this year on the whole amount.

A. You may not convert traditional TSP to Roth TSP money.

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Converting TSP to annuity

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Q. I am a U.S. Capitol Police officer. I plan to retire in 2014 at age 55, although I can stay until 57. If I convert my TSP funds to an annuity, will I be able to draw on it right away? If not, when? Will I be penalized prior to age 62?

A. If you retire during or after the calendar year in which you reach age 55, you will be exempt from the early withdrawal penalty for all of your TSP assets as you withdraw them and may take them within the usual TSP limits, including using some or all of the money to buy an immediate annuity.

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Avoiding the Roth IRA aggregation rule

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Q: I am a federal employee with $60,000 in my nondeductible individual retirement account. I plan to convert it to a Roth IRA this year. I also have $120,000 in my traditional IRA which I do not plan to convert to Roth this year.

To avoid the Roth conversion aggregation rule, my plan is to roll the $120,000 into my Thrift Savings Plan account before converting my nondeductible account to a Roth IRA. This way, the $120,000 will not be subject to the Roth conversion aggregation rule this year. Is this a valid way to avoid the rule?

A: I believe that this will work, but I’m concerned about the timing, with both actions taking place in the same tax year. You should consult a certified public accountant for specific advice before proceeding.

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