Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

TSP, Roth and IRA transfers

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Q. I understand that you can transfer funds into and out of your Thrift Savings Plan from either eligible pretax plans and/or after-tax plans. However, withdrawals (loans, withdrawals and interfund transfers) are made proportionately from both the traditional and Roth. Thus, you cannot specify withdrawals from only the traditional or the Roth. This is seen as a major drawback for some who would like to participate in the Roth option only or make withdrawals from only the traditional or the Roth option.

Would it be possible, at or near retirement, to transfer a major amount of your TSP balance — for example, 90 percent of your TSP (which would take 90 percent of both the Roth and traditional balances on the day of the transfer — leaving 10 percent in each) to a traditional IRA and Roth IRA outside of the TSP, then later transfer from the traditional IRA back into the traditional TSP? This would result in a small Roth TSP balance and restore the traditional TSP balance.

Doing that would provide greater flexibility for accessing the tax-free funds in the Roth (with the possibility of leaving those tax-free funds to your heirs) and still taking advantage of the lower management costs associated with the TSP for the traditional balance.

A. It seems to me that this will work as long as the traditional IRA does not contain any after-tax money when it’s time to move it back into the TSP.

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Lessening the blow of taxes

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Q. I retired early from the post office last year. At the time, I had a two loans out on my Thrift Savings Plan account. Now the time has come to pay the piper and the tax bill is enormous. I just turned 56 in January. Is there any way to lessen the blow or offset any of the taxes and penalties from the unpaid loans I took out before retirement? Or at least something I can do, other than pay the full amount of early withdrawal and regular taxes?

A. Assuming that it’s been more than 60 days since the taxable distribution was declared, I don’t know of anything. Maybe a payment plan? I suggest that you consult a CPA.

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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

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Retirement date, taxable distribution and IRS penalties

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Q. I am an FERS employee and, for various reasons, have selected Nov. 28, 2015, as my retirement date, age 60+ with 21 years civil service and four years military, for which a deposit has been made. One of the many reasons that I selected this date was so that I could have a Thrift Savings Plan residential loan balance declared as a taxable distribution during the 2015 tax year, because I will have substantial withholdings by that time, and given my tax return history, would have a significant tax overpayment that would be useful in paying a portion of the tax bill rather than receiving it as a refund. It was my intention to pay the remaining tax liability (however much it is) with a smaller withdrawal of TSP funds, and take that as a taxable distribution during the following tax year (2016), which could be manageable through withholdings from my pension and life annuity payments.

Subsequently, however, my research has uncovered that the Internal Revenue Service levies a substantial (but unspecified) penalty against any retiree if “90 percent of a payers’ tax liability is not withheld from salary, pension and annuity or made via quarterly payments” during the tax year.

Does this IRS rule apply to my situation? If so, regardless which date I choose in FY2015, I will surely fall short and be subject to that penalty, as I will no doubt be owing greater than 10 percent of my total tax bill, and officially be a “retiree” by the end of tax year 2015, even though I will not have even received any retirement pay from either pension or annuity by years end, due to high processing times.

How much is the penalty that the IRS assesses against retirees who have had insufficient withholdings during a tax year?

If this rule applies to me, I will have to postpone my retirement date until year’s end so that the distribution is declared in 2016, and then make quarterly tax payments to cover the total outstanding amount due, which would greatly complicate my cash flow situation during my first year of retirement, and possibly make it unfeasible.

A. Sorry, but these are questions for the CPA who will prepare your tax returns for the year(s) in question. There are some exceptions to the 90 percent rule and, in my experience, the penalty for under-withholding is not severe.

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Taxable distribution vs. one-time partial withdrawal

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Q. I’m nearing retirement and have a Thrift Savings Plan loan. If I decide not to pay off the loan but to pay the taxes on the taxable distribution, am I still eligible for the one-time partial withdrawal after I retire?

A. A declared taxable distribution does not violate the TSP’s eligibility requirements for taking a partial withdrawal after separating from service.

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Residential loan

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Q. I’m planning to take out a residential loan to make a down payment on a house. Am I able to take out an amount but not use all of it toward the actual down payment? Would I be able to use a portion toward home improvement?

A. Purchase or new construction only. Residential loan proceeds may not be used for renovation or repairs, which I assume includes improvements. You may want to contact the Thrift Line with your particulars to be sure, but I don’t think it will be allowed.


TSP loan

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Q. Which account does my Thrift Savings Plan loan come out of? If I have enough in the G Fund, will TSP take the loan directly from the G Fund, or will it take the money out proportionally? For instance, I want to take a $35,000 loan, and I have enough in the G Fund to cover that loan, and I would prefer that the entire loan come out of the G Fund. But if the loan is taken out proportionally, does that mean 80 percent of the loan comes out of my stock funds, 5 percent out of the F Fund and 5 percent out of the G Fund if that is how my account is proportionally separated? If done proportionally, then am I better off shifting my entire account into the G Fund, taking the loan, and then buying back into the stock funds?

A. A loan reduces your invested balance without changing the existing asset allocation.

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Disability retirement

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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

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TSP partial withdrawal

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Q. I am retiring from the Postal Service in 10 days. I have an outstanding loan for $6,500. I do not have the funds to pay off the loan now, and I need an immediate partial withdrawal for $30,000 when I retire. How do I get this done ASAP?

A. Use Form TSP-77 to request a partial withdrawal following separation from service.

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Deadline for TSP loan payback

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Q. I have a Thrift Savings Plan loan and I am retiring. I’m reading everywhere and understand that I must pay back the loan to avoid a taxable distribution. What is the time frame for that? Your reply to someone last year was, “Your loan balance will be automatically declared a taxable distribution if you fail to repay it after you retire.”  But is there is time frame after I retire? Does it have to be paid by the day I separate, or can it be paid a few weeks after my official date of retirement?

A. You will have 90 days from the date that the TSP receives the separation code from your agency. You will receive a letter from the TSP advising you of the deadline.

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