Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

Lump-sum and monthly TSP withdrawals

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Q. I anticipate starting monthly withdrawals from the Thrift Savings Plan in the near future. Sometime after this, I would like to make a one-time lump-sum withdrawal from TSP to pay for my daughter’s wedding. Can I do this? Can I make a lump-sum withdrawal while taking monthly payments, or am I limited to one or the other?

A. You can take the lump-sum partial withdrawal before starting the monthly payments, but not after.

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TSP withdrawal

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Q. I am 70½ and separated from federal service since 2008. I need to make a withdrawal election (my Thrift Savings Plan has $180,000). I was told I have three options: withdraw the account as a single payment, monthly payments or an annuity (or a combination). Assuming I do not need the money right now, what is the best option to maximize the interest I am getting and paying taxes on what I’ll be withdrawing?

A. If you don’t need the money, I suggest that you begin fixed monthly distributions in an amount that will satisfy or nearly satisfy your required minimum distribution for the year.

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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 monthly withdrawal, then lump sum 2 years later

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Q. Could you clarify for me the following:

I wish to withdraw funds from my Thrift Savings Plan account (by submitting Form TSP 70, as I am told). To get monthly payments, in section IV, I fill No. 23c: 100% for monthly payments, fixed amount (greater than my RMD).

Suppose two years from now, I want to withdraw the remainder of my TSP funds in one lump sum. Am I allowed to do so? How? By submitting another TSP70?

A. Yes, you may terminate the monthly payments and request a final distribution using Form TSP-79.

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Early withdrawal penalty

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Q. I retired from civil service in January 2012 with 25 years contributing to CSRS and FERS. I will be 59½ in April. I plan to make a partial withdrawal and have the balance as monthly payments when I turn 60. Will I incur an additional 10 percent early withdrawal penalty before age 59½ since I retired or do I need to wait until 59½? Do I need to wait until 60 to begin receiving monthly payments, or can that start any time?

A. Since you retired after the calendar year in which you reached age 55, your Thrift Savings Plan withdrawals will not be subject to the early withdrawal penalty. You may withdraw your money at any time.

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RMD from TSP and IRAs

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Q. My first required minimum distribution at age 70½ was made in August, when I took the total RMD required for both my IRA and Thrift Savings Plan accounts from one IRA fund. However, I have just received my notice from TSP stating I must make a withdrawal by April 1 from the TSP account to avoid dire circumstances. I am not clear on whether what I have already done meets my obligations for the first withdrawal, based on two of your answers concerning this matter.

Q: “Also, I thought if I have other IRAs, I could take the RMD from those and leave my Thrift Savings Plan unscathed. If I withdraw the entire account balance from my TSP, I will have to pay federal tax on whole amount. Can you clarify?
A: Unfortunately, the TSP does not allow you to waive the RMD for your TSP balance. It must be taken from your TSP account.”

Q: “Can I add all of my accounts together — IRA and Thrift Savings Plan — compute the required minimum distribution, and then withdraw from one account?”
A: “…but you may take your RMD from any account or accounts you wish. You should leave your TSP account untapped for as long as possible.”

If the original RMD I made in 2013 meets the requirement for the TSP account, should I notify TSP in some way that this has been done so they do not withdraw it again on April 1 and mail to me? I have made my one withdrawal allowed back in 2009 and do not wish to change to monthly withdrawals, an annuity or a total lump-sum transfer to another IRA. Are yearly RMD withdrawals allowed?

A. I’m sorry for the confusion. You must take your TSP RMD from your TSP account. You will have to begin monthly withdrawals, and I suggest that you use fixed monthly withdrawals since they may be changed in the future and the TSP will send you an extra payment, if necessary, to make sure that your RMD is taken each year. Annual withdrawals are not allowed.

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Starting TSP withdrawals now vs. at 70 1/2

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Q. I retired under FERS two years ago, and I haven’t needed to touch my Thrift Savings Plan account so far. I am receiving Office of Personnel Management, Social Security and military retirements. I am 68½ years old. I just received a 100 percent Veterans Affairs Department disability award, which will change my taxable military retirement to a nontaxable VA retirement. I don’t think this will have any effect on my long-term life expectancy. I have determined that I do not want to elect an annuity on withdrawing from my TSP. I am considering immediately starting a monthly TSP withdrawal based on life expectancy. What are the advantages and disadvantages of starting withdrawals immediately versus waiting until the 70½ mandatory withdrawals? I am a married man, and we declined a survivor benefit plan.

A. Starting withdrawals now will provide you with more income now but will produce a larger taxable income and begin to deplete your account. Waiting will reduce your current taxable income and preserve your account’s value (if you don’t lose it to the markets), but also reduce your current standard of living and increase your taxable income later in life.

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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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TSP in-service withdrawal

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Q. At age 59½, I would like to take an in-service withdrawal in June of about $100,000 from my Thrift Savings Plan. I plan to retire in December at age 60. Once I take the one-time, in-service withdrawal, can the rest be set up on monthly payments after I retire in December?

A. Yes. Monthly payments are a form of full withdrawal.

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Initiating monthly withdrawals

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 Q. In your Dec. 16 column, you suggest leaving money in the Thrift Savings Plan as long as possible. I like the suggestion to withdraw only the required minimum distribution when the time comes. I am confused how this is done since, unlike the mutual fund companies, the TSP doesn’t seem to have an option of partial withdrawals.

A. You’ll have to initiate monthly withdrawals to meet the requirement. Since you can’t go from automatic withdrawals based on your life expectancy to fixed monthly withdrawals, you’ll retain more flexibility by sticking to fixed monthly withdrawals. If your monthly withdrawals fall short of the requirement for the year, the TSP will send a check to make up the difference at the end of the year.

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