Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

IRS penalty on partial TSP withdrawal

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Q. I am a FERS employee (6c law enforcement coverage) planning to retire in January 2015 after 31 years in federal law enforcement. I plan to build my retirement home soon after and have need of a partial withdrawal from my Thrift Savings Plan at retirement. Is this partial withdrawal subject to the 10 percent IRS tax under the one time withdrawal provision, and if so, do I have any option to avoid that penalty while still accessing about a third of my account?

A: If you retire during or after the year in which you reach age 55, you will be exempt from the early withdrawal penalty on any kind of withdrawal. If you retire before that point, you’ll be subject to the penalty until you reach age 59 1/2 unless you qualify for one of the exceptions listed on page 7 of the notice at:

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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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TSP stock shares

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Q. I am a Postal employee contributing to the 2030 Life Cycle Fund. I would like to know when my stock market shares are purchased. Is it before the market opens on payday Friday, during that day or after the market closes that Friday?

A. The purchased is made using the end of day valuation on the day the contribution is received by the TSP. Ask your payroll office when their TSP contributions are processed.

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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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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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Traditional TSP vs. Roth TSP

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Q. I am 24 years old and I have been contributing 15 to 20 percent of my pay to a traditional TSP for 3 years now. When I started my TSP, the option to invest in a Roth TSP was not available. I have a decent amount of money in my traditional TSP right now. I’m curious if it would be better to stop contributing to my traditional and let it grow and start contributing to a Roth TSP or continue to invest in my current plan and maintain my current compounding interest? I’m nervous that if I change my contributions I will lose out on a significant amount of money that I could have gained by maintaining my contributions in my already established traditional TSP.

A. It will only matter if the effective tax rate on your contributions is different from the rate on withdrawals, and that’s something you can’t know this far ahead of time. There’s no way to know if contributing to one or the other, or both, will work out best for you, so do it the way you like. In the end, it won’t matter nearly as much where you saved the money as it will matter that you saved it.

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Partial withdrawal, Part II

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Q. I retired from an air traffic control job at age 53. I am receiving monthly payments based on my life expectancy. I will be age 55 in April. Can I take a partial withdrawal? If not, are there any options? I need to access more funds. Will there be a tax penalty on the amount I have received? Will my partial withdrawal be penalty-free now that I am 55? Are there other options, such as increased monthly payments?

A. You may not take a partial withdrawal once monthly payments have begun. You may increase your monthly payment amount using Form TSP-73 or you may request a final withdrawal, but making any change to the series of substantially equal periodic payments before you reach age 59½ will subject all of your early distributions to the early withdrawal penalty.

The rules for all of this are complicated. You should consult a CPA before proceeding.

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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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TSP allocation

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Q. I work for the Defense Department. I have $75 biweekly going into the G Fund. I am in my early 30s and want to build my money. I don’t see it moving much in the G Fund, and I have been investing for four years. I can afford to invest $100 biweekly but don’t know what fund to put my money in for it to grow. My annual income is $38,780.

A. Given your circumstances, I suggest that you invest all of your Thrift Savings Plan money in the L 2050 Fund for the foreseeable future.

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TSP loan

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Q. Regarding my TSP loan, I have a balance due of approximately $9,500 with a payoff date in just over two years paying $175 every two weeks. I also contribute 5 percent to my Thrift Savings Plan, which is approximately $160 per pay period. I would love to pay off my TSP loan sooner so that I could then concentrate on paying off other debt that I have (two years left on auto loan; balance of $12,000 at 2 percent). I can’t afford for my net pay to decrease anymore right now, so I am wondering if it would make sense to reduce or cancel my TSP contributions temporarily and then put that amount toward the TSP loan, which should enable me to pay it off in just over one year?

A. That’s one option, but given the attractive terms for your auto loan, you’ll probably be better off continuing to fund your TSP contributions and paying off the auto and TSP loans on schedule.

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