Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

TSP early withdrawal penalties

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Q. I just turned 57 in January and am planning on retiring on June 1, 2014. I am CSRS and currently working with the U.S. Postal Service. I was hired by the Postal Service in March 1982 and have met my minimum retirement age and time in service. I also have 4 years prior military service in the Navy from 1976 to 1980 on active duty. Will I be penalized if I make a TSP withdrawal prior to turning age 59 1/2 years of age?

A. No. You will have retired after the calendar year in which you reached age 55 and, therefore, qualify for one of the exceptions to the early withdrawal penalty.

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Time restrictions for voluntary contributions to private Roth

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Q. I understand that it is possible to transfer Voluntary Contribution account deposits to a private Roth IRA (with any pre-tax interest earned going to TSP), but I’ve also been told there’s a five year ‘holding’ requirement for the Roth. I currently have a private Roth account that is more than five years old. Does the five year requirement mentioned in conjunction with the VC mean that the money should be placed into a new and distinct Roth account, so that an additional five years holding can be tracked, or can the VC contributions (without interest) be added to the existing account?

I was hoping to consolidate several small taxable IRAs into my non-Roth TSP, and all my non-taxable Roth accounts into one private account to consolidate and simplify matters when I retire — but I’m still confused as to whether the newest funds (VC transfer to Roth) would have to be put into yet a third account to isolate them and leave them untouched for five additional years — or if that five year time requirement is referring to the establishment of Roth accounts in general, not the specific date various funds are deposited in it. The account is over five years old. The money is ‘new’. Is there still an additional five year holding requirement for the new funds? Is there a requirement to isolate funds in a Roth based on the date of deposit?

A. There is no requirement to isolate Roth IRA funds based on the date of retirement, but the five year rule can be tricky to navigate, and it might be a good idea to keep the converted money separate. I suggest that you review the rules in IRS Publication 590 and consult a CPA for specific advice for your situation. Someone needs to come up with a workable plan. If you’re not up to it, find someone who is and who will take responsibility for the outcomes.

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Partial TSP withdrawal

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Q. I am 60 and had to retire early due to disability. I am receiving Social Security disability and a small annuity. Can I take a small amount — say, $10,000 — from my account but then start monthly draws when/if it becomes necessary? Should I leave all of my money in this account or do a rollover into a regular or Roth IRA?

A. Yes, as long as you have not previously used your single partial withdrawal. I think you should retain your Thrift Savings Plan account for as long as possible.

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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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Calculating tax withholding

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Q. I recently retired from federal service. I began receiving my FERS annuity Jan. 1. My annuity is $3,190 gross, plus $1,195 special retirement supplement, minus $190.28 health insurance and $36.34 for dental/vision. I am single with no dependents. I am withholding $641 for federal tax purposes. My state has no income tax.

I want to begin monthly distributions from the Thrift Savings Plan at $4,200 per month. How much should I elect to withhold to ensure that I am not hit with a substantial tax bill for tax year 2014? Assume no itemized deductions.

A. I’m not in a position to calculate your estimated tax liability for the coming year. You can consult a qualified tax preparer for help with this, or review Internal Revenue Service Publication 505 to figure it out for yourself.

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Tax implications for TSP withdrawal

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Q. Whether I retire sooner or later than the year I turn 55, what kind of tax implications will I have in taking a partial lump sum or the whole balance lump sum for something like a vacation home?

A. If you retire from Thrift Savings Plan-covered employment during or after the calendar year in which you reach age 55, you will be exempt from the Internal Revenue Service 10 percent early withdrawal penalty for any withdrawals you take.

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Special retirement supplement and TSP

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Q. I am looking at retiring in January 2015. I will be 56 years old Oct. 15. I will have 30 years in as of Dec. 24. Waiting until the end of leave year to cash in all available annual leave. I am looking at cashing out my Thrift Savings Plan in a lump sum to pay off all debts. Will that income be considered part of earned income so that the special retirement supplement is reduced?

If so, would it be in my interest to retire at the end of 2014 so that my annual leave hits that year instead of 2015? I will have more than 1,800 hours of sick leave accrued by the end of 2014. Can that be used to offset the age so that I could perhaps retire earlier so that the TSP lump sum is counted in 2014?

A. Mike: No, the TSP distribution will not be considered earned income. It is considered ordinary income.

Reg: Unused sick leave is only added after you have met the age and service requirements to retire. Therefore, to avoid the 5 percent-per-year age penalty imposed on those retiring under the MRA+10 provision, you’ll have to wait until you reach your MRA and have 30 years of actual service. Regardless of whether you retire at the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015, you wouldn’t receive a lump-sum payment for your unused annual leave until 2015. It will be considered to earned income, so the annual Social Security earnings limit would apply. Depending on how much annual leave you’ll be cashing in, it could reduce or eliminate the special retirement supplement for 2015.

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Adding 401(k) to TSP

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Q. I am a retired CSRS annuitant. What is the procedure to add external qualified 401(k) funds to the Thrift Savings Plan?

A. Use Form TSP-60, which includes thorough instructions.

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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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Using TSP withdrawal to pay off debt

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Q. I am soon to be 65 and plan to retire within the year and have debt in the amount of $67,000. This is not including my home, car, etc. I have been considering withdrawing a large amount from my Thrift Savings Plan to pay this debt. With my pension and Social Security benefits, if I figured correctly, I would be bringing home about what I do now after taxes. I know it’s personal preference, but is it a wise decision?

A. I can’t say if it’s the best course of action, but the debt needs to be paid. The issue is whether it’s better to take the tax hit for a lump-sum withdrawal to avoid the interest on the debt or to take monthly withdrawals to reduce the taxable income in any one year and pay the debt down over time. The correct answer will depend upon the cost of the debt and your tax returns. If you won’t significantly increase the amount of tax you’ll pay on the withdrawn TSP money by taking it all at once, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and retire the debt.

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