Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

Disability and tax deduction from TSP funds

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Q. I recently retired from the federal government due to becoming permanently disabled at age 61. I received my disability approval from the Social Security Administration. I withdrew a portion of Thrift Savings Plan funds to cover expenses as a result of not being able to work. Why was 20 percent tax deducted from the distribution of funds at age 61 and with the legal purpose of being disabled?

A. Because that is the default federal income tax withholding rate for the distribution. The money has been applied toward your tax liability for the year.

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Social Security and tax deductions from annuity and TSP

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Q. When I retire, I will be 59½ and will have 30 years of service at the Postal Service. I will not have any earned income from that point on. I understand federal and state taxes will be taken out of my FERS annuity and any money I take out of my Thrift Savings Plan. Will I also have Social Security deducted from these two sources? Also, will my special retirement supplement and — when I turn 62, my SSI benefit — also be subject to federal and state taxes?

A. Mike: Your TSP withdrawals are subject to income taxation, but no employment taxes, like Social Security, Medicare or unemployment insurance.

Reg: Your special retirement supplement will be treated as ordinary income. To find out to what extent your Social Security will be taxable, see IRS Publication 721.

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Combat-zone tax-exempt contributions

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Q. I have both a civilian and military Thrift Savings Plan account because I was mobilized for part of 2011-12. Because I was in a combat zone, much of my income was tax exempt (CZTE). The military allowed me to contribute that tax-exempt income into my TSP. It is not a tax deduction because the income wasn’t taxable in the first place.

However, they also made contributions from my taxable income. I thought it was all from my CZTE. When I returned to my civilian job, I began to contribute and maxed out my contributions, not knowing about the earlier tax-deductible contributions.

Obviously, I over-contributed and just paid the income tax on the “overage.” But that overage is still in the TSP account.

Military: $7,450
CZTE: $13,464
Civilian: $17,540
Catch-up: $5,474 (Roth)

1. How is that taxable (and taxed) overpayment treated within TSP?
2. Can I combine my military and civilian accounts?
3. If combined, can I move the CZTE money into my Roth TSP?
4. Can I move the “overage” that I have now paid taxes on into the Roth, as well?

Both of the amounts I want to move into the Roth have been taxed or were tax-exempt when earned.

A. The usual limits do not apply to TSP contributions from CZTE pay; they only apply to contributions from taxable basic pay, incentive pay, special pay and bonus pay. The Annual Additions Limit under IRC 415c does apply, however, and it limits the total contributions from all sources to $51,000 for 2013. My guess is that the money was just rearranged in the TSP to fall under the applicable limits for the various types and that you do not, in fact, have excess contributions in your accounts. You may combine your military and civilian accounts as long as you are separated from service covering at least one of the accounts and there are no CTZE contributions left in the military account. Those must be withdrawn first, or they money will be distributed to you when your request to combine the accounts is processed. The CTZE money in the traditional TSP account cannot be transferred to the Roth TSP.

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VSIP and re-employment

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Q. I worked for the federal government for over 28 years. I retired last year under Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay provisions June 30, 2012.

I am considering re-employing/reinstating. Am I eligible to return to work on July 1, one year after retiring? Can I repay the VSIP in cash or in payments?

I read once that you can make payments for up to 36 months upon re-employment but am not sure whether this is correct. I understand the VSIP must be paid back before I return to work.

Upon re-employing with the government, will I be able to contribute to FERS and the Thrift Savings Plan?

I noticed on the USAJobs website that some Navy notices state you can’t contribute to the retirement or TSP if your a re-employing annuitant. Yet others I read from other government agencies remain silent on this issue.

A. Mike: From published Office of Personnel Management materials: “If a re-employed annuitant is performing service covered by FERS or CSRS (i.e., the appointment is made pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 8468 or § 8344(a), respectively), the re-employed annuitant is eligible to participate in the TSP.

Agency contributions for a FERS re-employed annuitant must begin with the effective date of the reappointment to the FERS position as discussed in Section VI (A) of this bulletin. The re-employed annuitant may make contribution elections as discussed in Section III of this bulletin.

If a re-employed annuitant is not performing covered service (e.g., a FERS annuitant who is re-employed on an intermittent basis or an annuitant authorized to receive full salary and full annuity under P.L. 101-509 or the National Defense Authorization Act of 2004), the re-employed annuitant is not eligible to participate in the TSP.

Generally, re-employed annuitants are performing covered service. In most cases, if the annuitant indicator on the Standard Form (SF)-50, Nature of Action, is coded “1,” “4,” or “5,” the re-employed annuitant is eligible to participate in the TSP. In the case of a FERS re-employed annuitant, this will be reflected in the retirement code (which indicates FERS) because the annuitant is required to have FERS deductions taken from pay.

In the case of a CSRS re-employed annuitant, however, this may not be reflected in the retirement code because the annuitant may not be required to have CSRS retirement deductions taken from pay. Consequently, the retirement code of a CSRS re-employed annuitant may be “4” (i.e., none), though the annuitant is performing service covered by CSRS and is therefore eligible to participate in the TSP.”

Reg: You can return to work for the government at any time after you accept a VSIP. However, if you accept employment for compensation with the government of the U.S. within five years of the date of the separation on which the VSIP is based, including work under a personal services contract or other direct contract, you must repay the entire amount of the VSIP to the agency that paid it before your first day of re-employment.

Both things you read about re-employment are true. As a rule, your salary would be offset by the amount of your annuity and you would be able to contribute to the retirement fund. If you worked for a full year, you’d receive a supplemental annuity; if you worked for five years, you’d receive a redetermined annuity. On the other hand, there are certain limited authorities that would allow you to return to work and receive both your full annuity and the full salary of your new position. However, you would not be permitted to contribute to the retirement fund and, when you retired again, you wouldn’t be eligible for any additional retirement benefits.

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Early retirement and IRA

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Q. I will be retiring Jan. 31 from the Postal Service. In May, I will receive $10,000 and in May 2014, I will receive $5,000. Can this compensation be used to fund an IRA in years 2013 and 2014 even though I will be retired and not working another job? Is this considered earned income? I know federal and state tax will be deducted. I don’t know yet if Social Security will be deducted, too. What are your thoughts on this?

A. I believe that these payments are considered retirement income, and, therefore are not considered the basis for IRA contributions, but you should consult a qualified tax preparer to be sure.

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Taxed twice at 59 1/2?

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Q. In January 2011, I was forced into retirement at age 62 due to a surgery that left me visually impaired. I took a partial withdrawal to pay off personal expenses. The Thrift Savings Plan deducted 20 percent for federal taxes before the distribution was made. However, when federal taxes were filed jointly, I owed $16,000 in taxes due to the TSP money. Why did I pay taxes twice when I met the 59½ age rule?

A. That’s a question that only your tax-preparer can answer, although I doubt you paid taxes twice, and there would have been no early withdrawal penalty because of your age.

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IRA deduction and IRS

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Q. I retired from the Defense Department on Dec. 31, 2009, and received my final paycheck in 2010. I purchased a traditional IRA for 2010, and claimed an income tax deduction for that IRA. I just received notice from the Internal Revenue Service that they have disallowed the deduction stating that according to my W-2 from DoD, I was covered by an employer retirement plan in 2010.

My agency payroll office tells me an amount of approximately $13 was added to my retirement account based on my final paycheck, which I received in 2010.

The IRS suggested I have my agency modify the W-2.

My agency says it does not have the authority to modify the W-2.

The reality is I was no longer a DoD employee. Do I have any options?

A. This is a question for a tax attorney or CPA — preferably one who will stand behind your tax return.

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Donating annual leave

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Q. I recently donated annual leave for a fellow postal worker who has been injured.  Is the value of this donation tax deductible?

A. This is really a question for your tax preparer or a CPA, but I doubt that it would be deductible since it has not yet been taxed as income.

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