By Mike Miles
September 10th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I have not worked since fall 2011. I’m on leave without pay with the Postal Service. Currently on disability retirement approved by Social Security and the Postal Service. The Office of Personnel Management has until November to finalize the disability retirement. On Sept. 23, I default on my Thrift Savings Plan personal loan ($5,300).
I am entitled to agency retirement pay of $1,645 per month but cannot be paid until OPM acts. Social Security is roughly ¼ pay, and I cannot realistically pay the catch-up amount and the two monthly loan payments for at least two months. At that time, I should be in a position to repay the entire loan (due to the situation explained below).
If I default on the outstanding balance BUT in November, OPM approves my lump-sum payment due for the time not worked and entitled to pay (which depending on what they say will either be September 2011, when I last worked, or March 2012, when I exhausted my annual time and sick days) and I then repay the outstanding balance in its entirety prior to year end, thereby negating the loan default, would the default status then be changed to paid and the taxable distribution then be nullified?
In my mind, if I repay the loan after default but before year end, I should prevent any Internal Revenue Service action regarding the early withdrawal penalty. I have no issues with extra interest or costs associated with my problem but don’t wish to throw away $500 if I can avoid it.
I have an appointment with a tax attorney to try to sort this out, but if you have had any experience in this, I would appreciate a response so I know what to prepare for.
A. I can’t advise you on your specific situation, and what an attorney may or may not be able to accomplish for you. But in general, once the loan is declared a taxable distribution, it cannot be repaid. You may be able to roll the declared distribution amount over to an IRA to defer the tax and avoid any early withdrawal penalty, however.
July 24th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. My husband was forced to retire early when the Army depot closed here in Sacramento, Calif. Several years later, he was forced to stop working due to a stroke and applied for Social Security disability.
He was told that his Social Security allotment was greatly reduced because of his Thrift Savings Plan retirement account.
He never thought this was fair because he has worked and paid Social Security all his life, but instead of receiving about $1,500 a month on Social Security, he receives a reduced $450. By comparison, I retired on a state pension and am fully qualified for all of my Social Security benefits. But they are also slightly reduced because of his TSP.
Is this correct?
A. This doesn’t sound right. I know of no offset to Social Security benefits based on a TSP account balance. There are offsets for other sources of income, however, and you should visit www.ssa.gov to review the rules and see if you have a basis for appeal.
May 6th, 2013 | Uncategorized
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.
April 24th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. My age is 52. I worked 22 years in the Postal Service. I have a Thrift Savings Plan account and am now retired due to a disability. If I make a full withdrawal, will I be penalized?
A. Yes, unless you qualify for one of the exceptions listed on Page 7 of the notice at https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tsp-536.pdf.
April 3rd, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I am being considered for disability retirement in the coming months. My application is pending consideration from the Office of Personnel Management. I am a GS-14 FERS employee, 54 years old, with about 32 years of service. I have approximately $250,000 in the Thrift Savings Plan, and my allocations are as follows: 15 percent C, 15 percent S and 70 percent I. I realize that is somewhat aggressive, but it has been like that for about seven years or so, and I have been hopeful of the international home run. Regrettably, this hasn’t necessarily come to fruition. I will likely shelter some of my remaining funds in G or F when I find out if my retirement is approved.
If I should retire, I plan to withdraw approximately $150,000 to pay off my mortgage. Therefore, should something happen to me or if the market fails, at least my home is paid for. I will have a reasonable annuity, and my wife draws $1,800 monthly as a service-connected disabled veteran. Combined, I feel we will have adequate income, especially when our mortgage of $1,000 per month is satisfied. Not rich, but with no real debt ($15,000 vehicle loan) consistent income and no mortgage. Sounds OK to me. Or am I off-base?
A. I think that what’s off-base is that, like too many investors, you are willing to gamble — without knowing the odds — with your life savings. If you’re not willing or able to prudently manage the money, then it’s probably your safest bet to use it to pay off your mortgage. At least you won’t lose it overnight. This might mean that later on, however, if you need the money to pay your bills, it won’t be available. There is no easy answer. That’s why I’m in business. If you’d like to discuss your options, you can contact me through www.variplan.com.
March 19th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I am below the age for Thrift Savings Plan withdrawal without penalty (soon to be 50), but it looks like I will be out on workers’ compensation under permanent disability shortly. Due to the impact on my income and an ongoing issue, I need to make a withdrawal or close my TSP to continue meeting my obligations. I have thoroughly researched the issue of using a TSP but have little choice. A loan is not an option (I’m paying one off and, if I’m on disability, I can’t take one out). And I’ve looked into other avenues, to include financial planners, with no success. Without focusing on the 10 percent penalty, how can I submit for my account funds? Although I am vested with more than 22 years, do the age criteria prohibit access to any funds that are not your own contributions? Due to the previous loan, is it impossible to access these funds to avoid a more onerous financial situation? I have an amount that would make us able to live on the disability funds. Is this a simple matter of age and letter of the law?
A. As soon as you are separated from federal service, you may request a distribution of some or all of your TSP funds. Before you separate, you may request a hardship withdrawal if you can qualify, or you could take a loan and then fail to pay it back, which will result in a distribution.
February 11th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I am working, waiting for approval of disability retirement under FERS. Will I be penalized 20 percent if I withdraw my Thrift Savings Plan in lump sum when I am approved for disability? I was diagnosed with Stage II multiple myeloma in May.
A. The exemption from the early withdrawal penalty to which you are referring is for a distribution taken as a result of a total and permanent disability. The TSP cannot certify that you qualify for this exemption and it is up you, or your tax preparer, to demonstrate that you meet this exemption.
February 4th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. What is the definition for the Thrift Savings Plan early distribution exclusion “made as a result of total and permanent disability”? Does this mean that a retired military member with a Veterans Affairs Department-certified disability who is under age 55 is excluded from the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty? Specifically, I would like to withdraw my TSP in full upon military retirement at age 42 and will most likely have a portion of VA-certified disability based on injuries sustained on active duty. What justification is needed to report to the Internal Revenue Service when you file your taxes?
A. I can’t speak for the IRS, but here’s what I understand about it: A disability qualifies an account holder for an early withdrawal without penalty if it meets the definition in Section 72(m)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code. According to this stipulation, a disabled person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity, namely employment. The disability must be a medical condition, either physical or mental, that most likely will either result in death or continue to affect the individual over the long term. Regardless of the nature of the disability, a person seeking to claim the disability exception for an early IRA withdrawal must provide proof of the condition. According to Section 72(m)(7), a disabled person must supply evidence as dictated by the secretary of the treasury. The Internal Revenue Code does not specify what form of evidence satisfies the requirement, but the general rule is to undergo an examination and receive a diagnosis in writing from at least one physician.
January 23rd, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I am 55 years old and in the process of obtaining Postal Service disability. I want to know the tax ramifications if I withdraw my Thrift Savings Plan at 55 after separating from service. I will have 24+ years in. I have $200,000 and want to make monthly payments, not based on life expectancy. I want to withdraw $1,000 a month at 55 for 25 years or so until it is depleted. Am I subject to any additional penalty taxes? I called TSP and the Internal Revenue Service and was told that because I am spreading the monthly payments over 10 years, they would be considered periodic payments and not subject to the 20 percent penalty tax. Is this accurate? Everyone at work thinks I have to be 59½ to avoid the penalties.
A. Your TSP distributions will be included in your tax return and taxed as ordinary income. Since you are separating from service during or after the calendar year in which you reach age 55, no early withdrawal penalty will apply.
January 14th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I turned 62 in December. I am 100 percent disabled from combat wounds. I worked federally for a while and saved $102,000 in a G Fund under FERS. I’m about to start losing my home as my wife will have to retire this year. Without her income, we won’t be able to afford the mortgage (but no credit card or other debt on the house.)
What percentage at age 62 does a 100 percent disabled vet have to pay when withdrawing savings in full? I think it’s stating 20 percent, but that doesn’t seem reasonable. Am I reading it wrong? I want to pay down my home and refinance to lower the payment to keep from going into default and losing it. It’s all we have, and with the market crash, we lost what equity we had in it. We both have AAA credit scores (low 800s) and have held on as long as we can, but the recession and times have finally caught up to us.
Can you explain what would be the best way to pull the money out in full so I can pay off my mortgage and keep my home?
A. While you may wind up owing less when you file your tax return, there will be 20 percent withheld from your distribution against your federal tax liability.