Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

Annuity with qualified funds

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Q. So I’m retiring early, age 55, on the early out offer effective on July 31, 2014. I will begin monthly withdrawals from the Thrift plan at the rate of 20K per year as soon as I can, hopefully beginning in September 2014. I will receive my pension payment of 25K, and beginning in November 2014, I qualify to begin receiving the supplemental payment of slightly over 10K because I turn 56 on October 30, 2014.

I like the idea of eventually converting to an immediate fixed annuity at some point after I’ve managed my own distributions for a lengthy period of more than 10 years, maybe 15 years. I’m giving my background to ask a specific technical age requirement question about converting all my remaining funds to an annuity from qualified Thrift Account funds.

I’m being told by the guys at Vanguard that I can’t buy an immediate annuity or even a deferred longevity type annuity unless it starts at age 70 1/2, because these are “qualified funds.” That does not sound right to me. If I’m distributing my Thrift plan and meeting the required minimum distribution after age 70 1/2, why does it matter when I use qualified funds to buy an annuity? It shouldn’t matter if I’ve complied with RMD on the qualified funds prior to purchasing an immediate annuity even if I were 75 years old. Is the advice I’m getting from Vanguard correct? Do I have to convert thrift funds on or before age 70 1/2 or can I do it as late as 75 or 80?

A. I can’t speak for Vanguard, but generally you may use qualified plan money to buy an immediate annuity any time you like.

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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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Paying taxes at retirement on TSP balance

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Q. Is it possible to pay all taxes on the Thrift Savings Plan at retirement and then still keep money in a Roth TSP? If not, is there any way to convert money in TSP before I turn 70 to avoid having to take minimum distribution? I do not want to pay taxes again on money that I may not need if it is paid out as a minimum distribution.

A. You may not convert a traditional TSP balance to a Roth TSP balance. You should also reconsider the logic of what you’re trying to do, which is electing to pay tax on a large sum now rather than pay tax on a series of much smaller sums later. There is no risk of double taxation, and you’re likely to wind up paying a higher rate using your proposed strategy.

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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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Avoiding a penalty at age 70 1/2

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Q. I will turn 70½ after Feb. 19, and will retire from my full-time position at the end of the month. I have notified Social Security, the state retirement funds in two states where I worked, and my fund in a private approved pension fund with accounts from two other universities of my intention to retire at the end of February and to start receiving distributions in March 2014. Is there anything else that I need to do to avoid being hit with that horrid 50 percent penalty?

I received an unsavory email from the Wisconsin Employee Trust Fund scolding me for not filing at age 69½ and hinting that I would owe a 50 percent penalty for distributions not taken in 2013. I see no federal information that indicates that I needed to act at age 69½, or that I needed to begin withdrawals before age 70½. I have relied on the information posted at the Internal Revenue Service website to guide my action, but it seems to contradict the information now being sent to us prospective retirees. I hope that I have done nothing wrong to merit any penalty.

A. Your first required minimum distribution is due by April 1 of the year following the year in which you reach age 70½. Subsequent RMDs are due by the end of the calendar year. You are not required to take a distribution from an employer-sponsored retirement plan while you are still working, however.

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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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TSP and age 70 1/2

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Q. I know that after reaching age of 70½, I have to withdraw a minimum requirement from my Thrift Savings Plan account. Will I be able to keep the rest of my TSP money in that account?

A. Yes.

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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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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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Rolling a TSP distribution over into a Roth IRA

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Q. Can I roll over a Thrift Savings Plan distribution that I received last week to a Roth IRA?

A. Yes, as long as it’s not a required minimum distribution. Your tax preparer is responsible for making sure that you obey the applicable rules, however. Self-preparation of all but the simplest tax return can be hazardous to your financial health.

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