Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

TSP loan

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Q. Regarding my TSP loan, I have a balance due of approximately $9,500 with a payoff date in just over two years paying $175 every two weeks. I also contribute 5 percent to my Thrift Savings Plan, which is approximately $160 per pay period. I would love to pay off my TSP loan sooner so that I could then concentrate on paying off other debt that I have (two years left on auto loan; balance of $12,000 at 2 percent). I can’t afford for my net pay to decrease anymore right now, so I am wondering if it would make sense to reduce or cancel my TSP contributions temporarily and then put that amount toward the TSP loan, which should enable me to pay it off in just over one year?

A. That’s one option, but given the attractive terms for your auto loan, you’ll probably be better off continuing to fund your TSP contributions and paying off the auto and TSP loans on schedule.

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TSP loan

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Q. The Air Force is going through a drawdown because of sequestration. If a person has a current Thrift Savings Plan loan and is involuntary retired earlier than the minimum 20 years for military service, what are their TSP loan options? Are they required to immediately pay this back, or will they still have the option to pay the loan back over time? Also, how does joining the civil service affect the TSP account?

A. You will be required to repay any outstanding loan balance within 90 days of separation, or the unpaid balance will be declared a taxable distribution.

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Early withdrawal penalty?

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Q. I retired under a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority from the Department of Agriculture in July at age 56. I chose to receive monthly payments from my Thrift Savings Plan account. I would like to pay off my mortgage and a student loan. The only thing I can come up with is to transfer my TSP funds into an IRA and withdraw from the IRA. If I roll my TSP funds into a traditional IRA and make withdrawals before 59½, will I be subject to the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty?

A. Yes, I believe you will, but you should check with your tax preparer to be sure.

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TSP loan

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Q. I’m planning on retiring this year at age 62 under FERS. I will have an outstanding Thrift Savings Plan loan balance of $16,000 and was not planning on repaying the rest of the balance and was needing to find out if the outstanding balance will be considered income and taxed with my other income for the year at the end of the year, since it will be tagged as taxable distribution?

A. Yes, any loan balance outstanding 90 days after separation will be declared a taxable distribution at that time and reported as ordinary income for that year.

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TSP loan

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Q. I am a federal employee who will be retiring Jan. 3 after 40 years of service at age 58½. I took a necessary loan on my Thrift Savings Plan and will still have a balance on my loan when I retire. I understand I have 90 days to pay back the loan or I will be taxed for the money owed.

I do not need my TSP money now. I would like to keep it there or invest somehow, not sure yet. I do not want to pay the money back, which makes no sense to me since I can take money from my TSP anytime now once I retire without a penalty. Do you think I will be better off to pay the money back to myself to avoid the taxes?

A. I generally recommend that you leave your money in the TSP and invest it there for as long as possible and practical. If you don’t repay the loan, you will not be able to return the money to the TSP later. You should repay the loan unless there is a good reason not to.

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TSP loan

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Q. I am 61 years old and have a Thrift Savings Plan loan of $24,000 and over $60,000 remaining in my TSP account. I applied for a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority/Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay at my human resources office awaiting approval. What happens to my TSP loan and to my remaining balance in my account if I request a full withdrawal when my retirement is approved? Does the remaining balance of my TSP loan gets paid up from my remaining balance and incur penalty for the full withdrawal?

A. If you don’t repay your loan within 90 days of the day your agency notifies the TSP of your separation from service, the outstanding balance due will be declared a taxable distribution. If you request a lump-sum withdrawal of your entire TSP balance at retirement, you’ll pay tax on the remaining balance and the un-repaid loan amount due.

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TSP cashout and student loan repayment

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Q. I am a civilian employee. I have FERS and the Thrift Savings Plan. Is there any provision that would allow me to cash out my TSP for it to be applied directly to my federal student loans without any type of penalty?

A. Check the list of exceptions on Page 7 of the notice at https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tsp-536.pdf. Student loan repayment is not the basis for an exception to the early withdrawal penalty.

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TSP loans and furlough

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Q. I have seen quite a few questions (and answers) about how to request that Thrift Savings Plan loan payments be suspended during the government shutdown, but no detailed information about exactly how to continue to make payments should one want to do that. When during the regular pay cycle should one send in a payment check with the appropriate form? When we go back to work, and if back pay is given, will the loan payments for the entire period of furlough, or perhaps the last pay period only, be taken out? How long of a period of nonpayment may there be before the tax penalties kick in?

A. If you are in nonpay status for reasons other than active military service:

The maximum period that the TSP can suspend loan payments is one year.

If your nonpay period exceeds one year, your loan will be automatically reamortized and you must make payments from your personal funds to avoid being in default.

Interest on your loan accrues while your payments are suspended.

If you want to continue making loan payments while in nonpay status, you can do so by sending a personal check or money order to the TSP. Use Form TSP-26, Loan Payment Coupon, when sending in your payments. Your payments will be taken into account when the loan is reamortized upon your return to pay status.

When you begin your period of nonpay status, you or your agency must submit one of the following forms of documentation to the TSP:

Form TSP-41, Notification to TSP of Nonpay Status; or

Form SF-50, Notification of Personnel Action; or

A letter on agency or service letterhead, signed by an appropriate agency official or your commander or adjutant, that contains your name, date of birth and Social Security number; the beginning date of the nonpay status; and the signature and title of the agency or service representative providing the information; or

A copy of your military orders.

When you return from nonpay status, you must notify the TSP of your date of return. You can use any type of documentation described in the above section. Once your agency notifies the TSP of your return, your loan will be reamortized to place it in good standing.

Note: If your agency reports you as separated from civilian service to perform military service, you will be required to repay your loan in full within 90 days. If you don’t, the outstanding loan balance and any unpaid interest will be reported to the Internal Revenue Service as a taxable distribution.

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TSP loan

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Q. I have a loan balance of $18,366. I’m 56 years old and plan to retire in three months. Am I subject to the 10 percent penalty if I do not repay the loan?

A. No.

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TSP loan

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Q. I’m eligible to retire CSRS Offset in a few months. I was considering a Thrift Savings Plan loan prior to retiring to pay off other bills. I understand that upon retirement/separation, I would receive a Form 1099 for taxable income. Is this something I should consider?

A. If you don’t repay your outstanding loan balance within 90 days of separation from service, the amount due will be declared a taxable distribution and will be treated as though you took the money from your account on the date of the declaration. I believe that you should always consider all reasonable options when it comes to making important financial decisions.

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