Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

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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Early withdrawal penalty

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Q. I will be 52 years old March 9. I am covered under FERS, and I have 31 years of federal service. If my base offers an early-out this year, I plan to take it.

I have a substantial balance in the Thrift Savings Plan and would like to withdraw it in its entirety when I take the early-out so I can invest it in my daughter’s business.

1. Will I be penalized for withdrawing my TSP funds early? If so, how much? I know I will be taxed, and I am OK with that. My husband plans to keep working. He is a GS-12, retired military and we have no bills, so we will be fine.

2. I know I cannot draw Social Security, and I don’t plan to do so until I reach the required age. In the meantime, will I be eligible for the special retirement supplement if I retire now? If not, at what age will I be eligible, if at all?

A. Mike: Unless you are sufficiently disabled or have massive medical bills, you will pay the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty on the lump sum.

Reg: If you accept your agency’s offer of early retirement, you’d be entitled to the special retirement supplement when you reach your minimum retirement age, which is 56. The SRS will end at age 62, whether or not you apply for a Social Security benefit.

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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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Special retirement supplement and taxes

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Q. I received a 1099R from the Internal Revenue Service. They do not differentiate the annuity income from the supplement income. I’ve read the IRS Publication 721 tax guide to U.S. Civil Service Retirement benefits. There is no mention of the special retirement supplement. I called the IRS; they said they never heard of the supplement being treated like Social Security. They also advised me to report the income on the 1099R as is (do not separate the supplement from the regular annuity). If it is indeed to be reported like Social Security, how do I go about it without raising red flags?

A. The special retirement supplement is paid out of the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and, as ordinary income, is treated no differently than an employee’s annuity.

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Special retirement supplement and TSP withdrawal

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Q. I am retiring the end of June with 30 years at my minimum retirement age (57). I will be collecting the special retirement supplement. Does any money I take out of my Thrift Savings Plan affect the SRS limit I can make that year?

A. The offset to the SRS is for earned income, not TSP withdrawals, so there will be no effect.

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When to collect TSP

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Q. I am a federal air technician with the Air National Guard. I have 34 years in the Guard and 27 years as a federal full-time technician. I am in FERS and have a minimum retirement age of 56. I will be 53 this year.

It has been communicated to me that I will probably not be retained this year, meaning that Dec. 31, 2014, I will be involuntarily retired, thus losing my full (technician) and part-time (traditional Guard) employment. When can I begin collecting my retirement pay, Social Security, Thrift Savings Plan? Are there any penalties if I was forced to retire?

A. Mike: You may begin collecting your TSP money as soon as you retire.

Reg: Because you have enough years and civilian service (50 and 20), you’d be able to retire immediately and receive a discontinued service annuity. You would also be entitled to the special retirement supplement, which approximates the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while a FERS employee. The SRS would continue to be paid until you reach age 62 and are eligible for a Social Security benefit.

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Starting TSP disbursements

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Q. I think I will be retiring Dec. 31, 2015 (under FERS) since my minimum retirement age is 56, and will reach it on Dec. 21, 2015. I will have 31½ years in federal civilian service. Can I start my Thrift Savings Plan monthly allotments right away (I have over $390,000 as a balance as of today) to supplement my 31 percent of salary from FERS retirement and special retirement supplement?

A. Yes, you will be able to begin withdrawing from your TSP account as soon as TSP receives notice from your agency.

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Are 401(k) and catch-up contributions earned income?

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Q. I plan to retire next year with 35 years of federal service (FERS) at age 56, and eligible to receive a Thrift Savings Plan supplement of about $18,000 per year.

Once I retire, I plan to work to earn approximately $38,000 per year. Of the earned income, I plan to contribute $17,500 to my 401(k) plan and an additional $5,500 toward the catch-up contribution. The remaining $15,000 will be reported as an earned income on my W-2 and Form 1040.

I plan to earn $38,000 for the year, so that my supplemental income will not be deducted $1 from my TSP supplemental benefit payments for every $2 I earned above the annual limit of 15,120.

Are the 401(k) and the catch-up contribution considered earned income that could reduce the $18,000 TSP supplement per year?

A. You’re talking about the FERS special retirement supplement, not a TSP supplement. Earnings you direct into a 401(k) plan are still considered earnings for the FERS Supplement Earnings Test.

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Use TSP funds to delay Social Security?

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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.

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Monthly TSP withdrawals and SRS earnings limit

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Q. Are monthly Thrift Savings Plan withdrawals counted against the earnings limit for the special retirement supplement?

A. No.

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