By Mike Miles
October 15th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I recently retired but will not be withdrawing any of my Thrift Savings Plan for a few years. I’ve considered rolling over my balance to USAA because of the possibility of a government default. Is that advisable? In the case of a government default, will my TSP balance be safe?
A. I wouldn’t do it if I were in your shoes. I’m not sure how the debt ceiling uniquely threatens your TSP account.
October 7th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I took the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority on Jan. 31 at my minimum retirement age. I had 26 years at the Postal Service under FERS. After 16 years of marriage, I became a widow. The only income I have is my annuity and the special retirement supplement from the Office of Personnel Management. Will I be eligible to receive Social Security benefits from husband at 60, and will they end at 62? When I turn 62, my supplement will end. I have $190,000 in the L2020 fund. Would it be beneficial to me to start receiving money from my Thrift Savings Plan at 62 and delay Social Security until full retirement at 66 years and four months. A financial adviser told me to roll over my money into an IRA when I turn 59½. Is that a good idea, or should I keep it in the TSP? Would you recommend the G Fund, since I don’t have money to lose?
A. Mike: It’s impossible to give you specific personal financial advice with this tiny amount of information. In general, however, you should invest your money in a way that gives you a high probability of achieving your financial goals with a minimum of risk. There is no one-size-fits-all investment strategy, even for someone your sex and your age. Investment management is an ongoing and complex process. The advice you’re being given about rolling over you TSP to an IRA sounds like a sales pitch to me. You should preserve your TSP assets as long as possible unless a trustworthy analysis indicates that it would be in your best interest to do otherwise. Your question about using TSP funds to delay claiming Social Security is worth considering, but, again, finding the right answer will require some analytic work.
Reg: To find out how your own Social Security benefit would interact with your Social Security survivor benefit, go to http://ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10084.pdf.
October 3rd, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I was first employed by the Defense Department in October 1982 and placed in CSRS. During a reduction in force, I lost my position in July 1994. In 1996, I withdrew my CSRS contributions and had them rolled into an annuity with American Express (now Ameriprise).
In November 1998, I was rehired by DoD and became a FERS employee. When I was rehired by DoD, I took the funds I had earned at my previous (1994-1998) job’s 401(k) and rolled them into the same annuity with Ameriprise.
I am now nearing retirement age and plan to buy back the CSRS time I lost by withdrawing my funds.
Can any of the annuity I have with Ameriprise be rolled into repaying my CSRS without any penalty or tax burden? I would think that, at the least, the amount that I withdrew in 1996 and rolled into the annuity could be rolled back into the CSRS. I am not trying to increase the amount of the CSRS, only to repay what I withdrew, plus interest due.
A. You made your original CSRS contributions with after-tax dollars and the money was not taxed when it was withdrawn. Your redeposit must again be made with after-tax dollars, so you can’t do what you’re asking about.
September 30th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I am a federal law enforcement officer. I recently read an article that discussed the downside of the Roth TSP for federal law enforcement officers and firefighters. Is this true?
Many of you are probably unaware of the serious pitfalls you will encounter if you opt to contribute to the Roth TSP. For a federal law enforcement officer or firefighter, the Roth TSP is a poor choice. It wasn’t until this week that a reader posed a question to me that caused me to realize what a bad idea the Roth TSP is for many of us.
The idea behind the Roth TSP is that you contribute after-tax monies and when you withdraw funds from the account in retirement, the earnings are tax-free. The trick here is that the withdrawal must be a “qualified withdrawal” for the earnings to be tax-free. In order for the withdrawal to be considered a “qualified withdrawal” by the IRS, “five years must have passed since January 1 of the calendar year when you made your first Roth TSP contribution AND you are at least 59½, permanently disabled (or deceased).”
Here’s the problem: As a law enforcement officer or firefighter, you can retire as early as 50 years of age and are mandatorily retired at age 57. If you decide to take post-retirement withdrawals from the TSP (under the life expectancy option or the age 55 exemption), you will not meet the age test for the Roth TSP withdrawal to be considered “qualified.” (You may also not meet the five-year rule as the Roth TSP has only been an option since May 2012.) Since your withdrawal is not “qualified,” you will be taxed on the portion of your withdrawal that represents the attributable earnings. This eliminates the tax-advantaged nature of the Roth TSP. You’d be just as well off having a regular post-tax investment account outside of the TSP. You’re contributing after-tax dollars and paying taxes on the earnings generated by the post-tax investment.
The TSP will not allow you to specify that your post-retirement withdrawals come only from your traditional TSP balance, nor will the TSP allow you to roll over/transfer out only the Roth TSP portion of your account. When you make any withdrawal from the TSP, the withdrawn amount will be taken ratably from both your traditional and Roth balances under TSP rules.
If you roll over/transfer both your traditional TSP and Roth TSP to another custodian, then you lose your eligibility under the age 55 exemption, as that requires the funds to be left in your employer-sponsored account. If you retire between age 50 and 59½, at retirement, you could roll over/transfer your traditional TSP and Roth TSP to another custodian and withdraw only the funds that came from the Traditional TSP account using an IRS Section 72(t) withdrawal plan and wait until age 59½ to start to withdraw the portion that came from the Roth TSP funds.
Please consider these facts when deciding if the Roth TSP is right for you. If you already jumped into the Roth TSP, you can always stop and change your contributions to be 100 percent traditional TSP and limit the tax damage.
Even folks who aren’t covered under the special provisions get affected by these rules if they retire at their MRA.
A. The issue you raise is valid. You can get around it by transferring the Roth portion of a distribution to a Roth IRA. I realize this isn’t ideal, but it is an option to avoid the penalty.
September 23rd, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. After entering retirement from CSRS, are Thrift Savings Plan funds withdrawn classified as income in addition to the 20 percent accessed at the time of withdrawal from the TSP account. Are there ways to avoid double taxation if they are taxed twice other than rolling over into an IRA or Roth IRA?
A. The traditional TSP funds you withdraw are classified as ordinary income on your tax return. They are not subject to double taxation. The 20 percent withheld from your payment(s) is a deposit against your tax liability. If the distribution is not a required minimum distribution and you meet the timing limits, you may roll your distribution over to an IRA to avoid current taxation.
September 18th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I am almost 47 years old and have applied for disability retirement from my federal job. I have 27 years of federal service and am covered under FERS. It was my understanding that upon disability retirement, I will not be able to contribute to my Thrift Savings Plan account any longer and the funds would basically sit in TSP until I’m 59½ years old. For that reason, I’m considering rolling over my TSP to a traditional IRA, in which I can then make contributions to until I reach 59½. I’d like to know why leaving the funds with TSP would be better than rolling over to an outside IRA, upon which I can then continue to make contributions? I have six figures in my TSP and have no other retirement accounts. My objective obviously is to continue growing the funds.
A. The TSP has lower expenses and access to the G Fund – two advantages you won’t find anywhere else. The benefit of these advantages is the ability to create a portfolio with better risk-adjusted returns than you’ll find in an IRA.
You don’t need to roll your TSP over to an IRA to contribute to an IRA, however. Open an IRA at a discount broker and make your contributions to it. You can invest in low-cost index funds in the IRA and then, when you’re done contributing, you can transfer your IRA balance into your TSP account. That would be the smarter move.
September 18th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I’m 68 years old (under FERS) and have a Roth IRA that’s external to the Thrift Savings Plan and has been open and funded for more than 10 years. I started contributing to my TSP Roth IRA this year. When I retire in 2015, I want to be able to roll over my TSP Roth IRA into my external Roth IRA without any tax consequences. I understand that I’ve clearly met the age requirement (older than 59½), but I want to make sure I also meet the five-year rule.
Does the five-year rule apply to the time that funds were first contributed to the TSP Roth IRA or to the time that I first starting contributing to my external Roth IRA? In other words, I will only have contributed to my TSP Roth IRA for two years (not five) but will be transferring the funds into an external Roth IRA that’s been open for 10 years. Would that create any type of problem?
A. The five-year clock started running on Jan. 1 of the year in which you made your first Roth IRA contribution, so there should be no penalty on withdrawals from either the original IRA or the rolled-over money. The rules are complex, however, and your tax preparer should oversee any moves you make.
September 10th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. I have not worked since fall 2011. I’m on leave without pay with the Postal Service. Currently on disability retirement approved by Social Security and the Postal Service. The Office of Personnel Management has until November to finalize the disability retirement. On Sept. 23, I default on my Thrift Savings Plan personal loan ($5,300).
I am entitled to agency retirement pay of $1,645 per month but cannot be paid until OPM acts. Social Security is roughly ¼ pay, and I cannot realistically pay the catch-up amount and the two monthly loan payments for at least two months. At that time, I should be in a position to repay the entire loan (due to the situation explained below).
If I default on the outstanding balance BUT in November, OPM approves my lump-sum payment due for the time not worked and entitled to pay (which depending on what they say will either be September 2011, when I last worked, or March 2012, when I exhausted my annual time and sick days) and I then repay the outstanding balance in its entirety prior to year end, thereby negating the loan default, would the default status then be changed to paid and the taxable distribution then be nullified?
In my mind, if I repay the loan after default but before year end, I should prevent any Internal Revenue Service action regarding the early withdrawal penalty. I have no issues with extra interest or costs associated with my problem but don’t wish to throw away $500 if I can avoid it.
I have an appointment with a tax attorney to try to sort this out, but if you have had any experience in this, I would appreciate a response so I know what to prepare for.
A. I can’t advise you on your specific situation, and what an attorney may or may not be able to accomplish for you. But in general, once the loan is declared a taxable distribution, it cannot be repaid. You may be able to roll the declared distribution amount over to an IRA to defer the tax and avoid any early withdrawal penalty, however.
August 9th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. 1. I am retired at 52. If I take a life expectancy withdrawal through the Thrift Savings Plan from now until I reach 59½, can I then roll over the balance of my account to a privately held traditional TSP such as Vanguard? Or does taking the life expectancy withdrawal through the TSP commit me to them for life?
2. If I receive life expectancy withdrawals now through the TSP, can I still take a partial withdrawal (amount of my choosing) when I am 59½ without the 10 percent penalty?
3. If I roll over my entire TSP account now to a privately held traditional TSP such as Vanguard and establish a 72(t) withdrawal arrangement using 120 percent of the applicable federal rate, does the yearly/monthly amount change each year if the AFR changes or will I receive the exact amount every year/month until I reach age 59½ (at which time I can change to equal monthly payments)?
A. If you want to avoid the early withdrawal penalty using the 72(t) rules, you’ll need to continue the calculated distributions for 10 years, or until you reach age 59½, whichever is longer. Moving the money from one custodian to another has no effect on the distribution requirement. During the required distribution period under 72(t), you may not take any more or less than the calculated annual distribution without violating the rules and invoking the penalty. Once you have committed to a fixed distribution scheme under 72(t), it must continue, unchanged for the entire distribution period, which in your case will be 10 years.
August 6th, 2013 | Uncategorized
Q. When does a nonfederal retirement fund (401(k), IRA, Substantially Equal Periodic Payment, etc.) qualify to be rolled over to the Thrift Savings Plan? Is there a time limit that such funds need to remain before transferring to a TSP account?
A. Basically, the funds need to come from a tax-deferred retirement account and consist of only yet-to-be-taxed money.