Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

Retirement options

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Q. I am 62 and a FERS employee. Can I retire with my FERS annuity and TSP and wait until my full retirement age of 66? I do not plan to work  after I leave.

A. Yes.

 

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Investment diversity

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Q. I am 67, and I plan to work two more years. I am collecting my Social Security. My TSP is invested in the G fund, and I panic every time I invest elsewhere and the market goes bust and I lose $6,000 in one day. Should I diversify or stay in the G fund so close to retirement? I have diversified in the past and lost $52,000 in 2008.

A. It sounds like you’re not qualified to manage a retirement investment account. You should either stick to the G Fund, buy a TSP annuity or find a trustworthy investment adviser to help you.

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TSP withdrawal

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Q. I am an Air Reserve Technician and 53 years old. I have lost my military requirement at no fault of my own, and now I am being made to retire from the civilian side (FERS). I have a total of 20 years. Can I withdraw all of my TSP from the civilian TSP and if so, what is the early withdrawal penalty and taxes associated with doing so? I am looking at paying off 50 percent of my debt. My TSP is around 75,000.

A. Since you are separating from TSP covered service before the calendar year in which you reach age 55, you will be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty unless you meet one of the other exceptions listed on Page 7 of the notice posted at https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tsp-536.pdf.

 

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IRS penalty on partial TSP withdrawal

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Q. I am a FERS employee (6c law enforcement coverage) planning to retire in January 2015 after 31 years in federal law enforcement. I plan to build my retirement home soon after and have need of a partial withdrawal from my Thrift Savings Plan at retirement. Is this partial withdrawal subject to the 10 percent IRS tax under the one time withdrawal provision, and if so, do I have any option to avoid that penalty while still accessing about a third of my account?

A: If you retire during or after the year in which you reach age 55, you will be exempt from the early withdrawal penalty on any kind of withdrawal. If you retire before that point, you’ll be subject to the penalty until you reach age 59 1/2 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.

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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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TSP withdrawals without penalty

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Q. I am a FERS employee with a retirement date of May 2018. I will reach my minimum retirement age of 56 at that time, with 36 years of service. Am I eligible, at that point, to receive nonpenalized withdrawals, either payments or lump sum from my Thrift Savings Plan account? Or do I have to wait until I reach age 59½ to not be penalized?

A. You will be exempt from the early withdrawal penalty under those circumstances.

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Calculating tax withholding

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Q. I recently retired from federal service. I began receiving my FERS annuity Jan. 1. My annuity is $3,190 gross, plus $1,195 special retirement supplement, minus $190.28 health insurance and $36.34 for dental/vision. I am single with no dependents. I am withholding $641 for federal tax purposes. My state has no income tax.

I want to begin monthly distributions from the Thrift Savings Plan at $4,200 per month. How much should I elect to withhold to ensure that I am not hit with a substantial tax bill for tax year 2014? Assume no itemized deductions.

A. I’m not in a position to calculate your estimated tax liability for the coming year. You can consult a qualified tax preparer for help with this, or review Internal Revenue Service Publication 505 to figure it out for yourself.

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Early withdrawal penalty

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Q. I will be 52 years old March 9. I am covered under FERS, and I have 31 years of federal service. If my base offers an early-out this year, I plan to take it.

I have a substantial balance in the Thrift Savings Plan and would like to withdraw it in its entirety when I take the early-out so I can invest it in my daughter’s business.

1. Will I be penalized for withdrawing my TSP funds early? If so, how much? I know I will be taxed, and I am OK with that. My husband plans to keep working. He is a GS-12, retired military and we have no bills, so we will be fine.

2. I know I cannot draw Social Security, and I don’t plan to do so until I reach the required age. In the meantime, will I be eligible for the special retirement supplement if I retire now? If not, at what age will I be eligible, if at all?

A. Mike: Unless you are sufficiently disabled or have massive medical bills, you will pay the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty on the lump sum.

Reg: If you accept your agency’s offer of early retirement, you’d be entitled to the special retirement supplement when you reach your minimum retirement age, which is 56. The SRS will end at age 62, whether or not you apply for a Social Security benefit.

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Avoiding early withdrawal penalty

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Q. I am under FERS and my minimum retirement age is 56. I plan to take regular retirement at age 58 with 34 years of service. I would like to take level monthly payments, rather than a Thrift Savings Plan annuity, as my TSP withdrawal choice starting immediately upon retirement. Can I do this without incurring the 10 percent penalty for being under age 59½?

A. If you retire from federal service at age 58, you will be exempt from the early withdrawal penalty for TSP withdrawals of any kind.

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TSP administrative fees

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Q. I am a federal employee under FERS. My financial adviser claims that the famously low Thrift Savings Plan administrative fees increase substantially after a federal employee separates from service. He is using this as justification to roll over my TSP into one of his firm’s IRAs. Is it true?

A. Not true. The TSP’s expenses are the same for all participants, employed or retired. In the future, you should avoid confusing a salesperson with an adviser.

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