Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

MetLife

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Q. My mother’s plan was purchased by MetLife. She wants to make a withdrawal but is told she can’t, or she needs a higher monthly payment. It’s only $300 due to a paperwork mistake, but she was told she could only submit this one time this year. Is there anything to do?

A. If she bought an annuity, her monthly payments from that annuity are fixed for life. If she has a balance left in her Thrift Savings Plan account, she has the option of terminating her monthly payments with a final, lump-sum distribution of the remaining balance in her account, which she can roll over to an IRA, which will allow her to withdraw money as she likes.

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Military TSP vs. civil service TSP

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Q. I retired from active duty two years ago and have worked in civil service for one year.  I am contributing 10 percent of my civil service base pay and have a fairly good amount in my active-duty military Thrift Savings Plan. I am entertaining the idea of consolidating my TSP plans for a couple of reasons. First, simplicity of managing one account.  Secondly I believe, from what I have read on numerous sites, I will have greater control of current and future funds using the civil service side of TSP versus the active-duty military side. By this, I mean in-service withdrawals, loans, rolling over to another employer’s 401(k) plan (certainty of employment with civil service is at an all-time low), etc. Has my research misled me, or am I partially correct?

A. Convenience is an advantage. The basic rules for the accounts are the same, although you’re separated from military service and an active employee for the civilian account. This means that you may not take a loan from the military account but can take one from the civilian account. You could roll over the military account to an IRA or 401(k) now, but can’t roll over the civilian account. Whether the differences matter to you, or not, will depend upon your circumstances, but everything you need to know is available at www.tsp.gov.

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Is TSP considered ‘traditional IRA’ for tax purposes?

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Q. I own both a Thrift Savings Plan account and several non-TSP IRAs with other institutions and am approaching the age at which I must begin to withdraw the required minimum distribution from both the TSP and the non-TSP IRAs.

I am withdrawing enough money from the TSP to cover the required distribution from all of my accounts combined. Must I withdraw any additional monies from my non-TSP IRAs to comply with the tax laws? The answer may depend upon whether the TSP is considered a “traditional IRA” for tax purposes. I can’t find any information on this point.

A. The TSP is not considered an IRA for any purpose. From the Internal Revenue Service website:

“An IRA owner must calculate the RMD separately for each IRA that he or she owns, but can withdraw the total amount from one or more of the IRAs. Similarly, a 403(b) contract owner must calculate the RMD separately for each 403(b) contract that he or she owns, but can take the total amount from one or more of the 403(b) contracts.
However, RMDs required from other types of retirement plans, such as 401(k) and 457(b) plans have to be taken separately from each of those plan accounts.”

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72(t) distributions

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Q. I’m about to retire at age 47 after 25 years as a federal law enforcement officer. I plan to roll my 401(k) (TSP) over to a traditional IRA and begin taking substantially equal periodic payments per 72(t) from the IRA, which, as I understand, once I start, I have to continue until age 59 ½. I plan to use the annuitization method to make equal monthly withdrawals, but I would like to take the first year’s withdrawal in a lump sum to help pay off some debt. Will the IRS allow that without the 10 percent penalty, or do I have to consistently stick to either monthly or annual payments?

A. The IRS only cares about the annual requirement being met. They don’t care about how the money is distributed. Monthly payments are not required, and as long as you meet the annual 72(t) requirements, there should be no penalty.

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TSP-to-IRA withdrawal

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Q. I retired early with more than 20 years of service due to work-related injuries. I am 50. I have more than $314,000 in my Thrift Savings Plan. I want to withdraw either a partial or full amount but also want to avoid the 10 percent penalty tax. If I transfer my money to an IRA, then make a withdrawal, will I be able to avoid the penalty? What are my options?

A. You should consult IRS Publication 590 for the exceptions to the early withdrawal penalty that apply to IRAs. See Page 7 of the notice at https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tsp-536.pdf for exceptions that apply to withdrawals from the TSP. And consider engaging a CPA for guidance to make sure that you don’t make a costly mistake in getting to your money.

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Reversal of TSP action

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Q. I sent TSP Form 77 to the Thrift Savings Plan requesting that funds be withdrawn from my account and sent to a non-TSP IRA. When I returned from overseas, I discovered that a mistake had been made on the forms and instead of all of the requested funds going to the IRA, TSP sent 50 percent of the funds to the IRA and 50 percent to me less a hefty amount to the Internal Revenue Service. I asked for a reversal of the action, but the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board turned me down, saying that TSP had not made a mistake. How can I get them to reverse the action and send 100 percent to the IRA?

A. I can’t tell you how you can force the TSP to correct your mistake. If you can manage it, you may want to make up the tax withholding with other funds and roll over the gross distribution to the IRA within the 60-day time limit to do so. You’ll recover the tax withholding when you file your 2013 tax return. It would be smart to seek the help of a CPA to make sure don’t make any costly mistakes.

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Simple IRA and rollover

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Q. I am retired at age 63 from the Postal Service. Can I roll over my Thrift Savings Plan funds to a simple IRA without any penalties before I reach 70½?

A. Only simple IRA money can be rolled into a simple IRA.

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TSP

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Q. I’m planning to retire Jan. 2 and would like your suggestions as to what to do with the $165,000 in my Thrift Savings Plan account. I thought about transferring the money from the TSP, buying an IRA and letting it remain there for a couple of years since do not think I will need the money at the present time. I am 63 years old and covered under CSRS. Any suggestions as to what to do with the money and the best company or companies to purchase an IRA would be greatly appreciated.

A. The TSP is the best retirement savings and investment account you’ll find. Leave your money there and manage it for as long as possible. You’ve proposed no good reason to move it away.

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IRAs for retired military

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Q. My IRA was started when active-duty personnel were permitted to contribute to an IRA with after-tax dollars. I am 66 and want to begin planning for the required minimum distribution with a little long-term projecting.

Here is the dilemma. In trying to compute the cost basis and taxable amount, I have to distinguish between the military years “after-tax dollars invested” and the “before-tax dollars investments” contributed during my post-active-duty working years.

I found out that for some of the active years, no IRS Form 8506 was filed (showing the contributions for some years). How can I substantiate for the IRS that contributions for those years were “after-tax dollars”?

A. This question is beyond the scope of this forum. You should consult a CPA to help you with this.

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CSRS redeposits and taxes

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 Q. If I take money out of an IRA to make a redeposit into CSRS, do I have to pay taxes on the money taken out of the IRA?

A. Yes.

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