Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

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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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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TSP-to-IRA rollover

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Q. During the retirement process, how do you move the Postal Service Thrift Savings Plan account to a private, individual IRA so that there are no taxes?

A. After you’ve retired, you use Form TSP-70 to request a direct rollover to an IRA.

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Canceling a TSP age-based withdrawal

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Q. We have applied for an age-based withdrawal from our Thrift Savings Plan account (husband works for the Postal Service) in the amount of $16,000. However, we found out that the tax was simply too high. We have already received the check, but we are now considering canceling it. Is this allowed?

A. You can ask the TSP to be sure, but I don’t think it can be canceled. You have constructively received the payment. You may be able to roll the money over to an IRA to further defer the tax, however. There is a window of 60 days for this. Consult your tax preparer for further guidance.

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TSP rollover and FEHB

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Q. I am age 59½, retired from the Postal Service through a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. I am looking at rolling over my Thrift Savings Plan to a certified financial planner. Could this affect my health benefits or my spouse’s health benefits?

A. It will not affect your Federal Employees Health Benefits eligibility, but I question the wisdom of this move. Why would anyone with your best interests in mind recommend this move? For your benefit or his/hers? The certified financial planner label does guarantee that this person is trustworthy.

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TSP withdrawal without penalty

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Q. I am a CSRS postal employee retiring at age 56 with 38 years of service. Can I withdraw from my Thrift Savings Plan without penalty?

A. After you retire, yes.

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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 transfer to VCP then to Roth IRA

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Q. I am 63 years old with 37 years in the Postal Service and still working. I plan to retire in two years. I have $250,000 in my Thrift Savings Plan.

I have read about contributing 10 percent of my career earnings to the Voluntary Contribution Program, and then moving the VCP money back to Roth IRA to save the taxes. For example, if my 10 percent is $150,000, can I withdraw it from TSP and move it to VCP and not pay any taxes on my TSP withdrawal?

A. No.

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TSP withdrawal

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Q. I am a CSRS Postal Service employee and plan to retire at the end of 2014, when I will be 55 years old with 38 years of service (including sick leave). After reading other answers, I understand that I can immediately withdraw funds from my Thrift Savings Plan without penalty but would like advice regarding those withdrawals. Considering that TSP withdrawals are subject to regular income taxation, is it beneficial to move the funds to an IRA? Would I avoid any tax? Other than future growth potential and smaller tax rate, is there any benefit to delaying withdrawals until later in life?

A. You may roll over your TSP withdrawals that are not required to an IRA and continue to defer the tax to a later time. I can’t tell you whether this will be beneficial since I don’t know enough about you and your circumstances to make that determination. Better investment performance and tax management are the only reasons I can think of for delaying your TSP withdrawals. What more reason do you need?

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VSIP and IRA contribution

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Q. I retired from the Postal Service on Jan. 31 with a Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay of $15,000. The VSIP was paid out as $10,000 this year and $5,000 in 2014. I know I can contribute to an IRA for 2013 since I had earned income during the month of January. Now that I’m retired, will I still be able to contribute to an IRA in 2014 because of the $5,000 in “income” that I’ll receive from the Postal Service?

A. A VSIP is not considered a basis for contribution to an IRA.

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