Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

Roll IRA to TSP?

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Q. I am a 55-year-old Postal employee planning to retire sometime in the next year under CSRS. Many years ago, I purchased a $2,000 Vanguard IRA that has grown to more than $40,000. I also have a separate similarly valued Roth IRA. I know that I can begin penalty-free withdrawals from TSP after separation, but can I roll my Vanguard IRA into TSP?  I also know that I cannot roll my Roth into TSP. My desire is to have the money accessible before 59-1/2 and to avoid having three pots to withdraw MRDs when I’m 70-1/2. Any suggestions?

A. You may transfer the IRA money into the TSP any time, as long as it contains no after-tax contributions.

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Survivor benefits

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Q. My husband and I both work for the Postal Service. He is retiring March 1 under CSRS. I have 25 years in working for the Postal Service and have at least eight years left to retire (FERS). We elected not to take the survivor benefits because I’m still working at the Postal Service and I will have him on my medical plan. We have two insurance policies on both of us in case of death. But I’m not sure if I understand the point of survivor benefits. Do you have any numbers on the pros and cons of survivor benefits, and are we wise for not taking it? We are both healthy and we have no dependents.

A. The survivor benefit will provide a survivor with a guaranteed income that is guaranteed to increase with inflation each year and guaranteed to last for life. These are guarantees that life insurance and retail annuities can’t match. Electing the CSRS or FERS survivor benefit is the safest bet for a survivor and should be considered the default choice until and unless you determine something else to be a better alternative. It is definitely not wise to make such an important decision without the proper analysis and understanding. It is also definitely not wise to trust an insurance agent to conduct this analysis.

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Roth IRA transfers and taxes

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Q. Can one transfer money from CSRS voluntary contribution (post-tax money) to a private Roth IRA without tax obligations? Can the interest be transferred to the Thrift Savings Plan? Is the amount transferred at retirement part of the maximum allowed ($23,000) for someone over 50?

A. Yes, the VC post-tax money can be moved into a Roth IRA without tax. Yes, the earnings can be moved into the TSP, tax-deferred. No, the amount transferred is not considered a contribution.

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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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Early withdrawal penalty

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Q. I retired from civil service in January 2012 with 25 years contributing to CSRS and FERS. I will be 59½ in April. I plan to make a partial withdrawal and have the balance as monthly payments when I turn 60. Will I incur an additional 10 percent early withdrawal penalty before age 59½ since I retired or do I need to wait until 59½? Do I need to wait until 60 to begin receiving monthly payments, or can that start any time?

A. Since you retired after the calendar year in which you reached age 55, your Thrift Savings Plan withdrawals will not be subject to the early withdrawal penalty. You may withdraw your money at any time.

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Follow-up on TSP withdrawal

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Q. The following question/answer was recently posted. Where can I find the full information to support the answer? Are there penalties involved?

Q. I will be 55 this month and plan to retire in November with 33 years of service under CSRS. Do I have to wait until I am 59½ to withdraw from my Thrift Savings Plan?

A. Not if you wait until you’re retired to request the withdrawal.

A. Check Page 7 of this notice: https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tsp-536.pdf.

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Using TSP to pay off home debt

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Q. I am a federal employee under CSRS and I plan to retire at age 55½. To minimize my debt, I plan to sell my current residence and relocate to a place where my income goes further. Unfortunately, my current residence is underwater by about $80,000. Would a good strategy be to withdraw the funds from TSP?

A. I can’t tell you without knowing what other alternatives are available to you. If the $80,000 is a big part of your net worth, you should do what you can to avoid it and proceed very carefully.

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TSP withdrawal

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Q. I will be 55 this month and plan to retire in November with 33 years of service under CSRS. Do I have to wait until I am 59½ to withdraw from my Thrift Savings Plan?

A. Not if you wait until you’re retired to request the withdrawal.

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TSP withdrawal

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Q. I retired from the federal government under CSRS. I turned 70½ years old in May. I have $40,000 in my Thrift Savings Plan account. I am thinking about withdrawing all of my funds in a lump sum. Is this a good idea? How will this affect my tax obligations? What do you recommend?

A. The money you withdraw from your TSP account will be counted as ordinary income for tax purposes. If you need the money, then fine. If not, you should leave it in the TSP for as long as possible.

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Tax-free TSP rollover

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Q. I understand there is a way to roll over a Thrift Savings Plan account to a Roth IRA so the funds transferred are not taxed. Can you point me to guidelines on how to do that?  I am preparing to retire as a CSRS annuitant.

A. This is only possible with a Roth TSP balance.

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