Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

Early withdrawal penalty?

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Q. I retired under a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority from the Department of Agriculture in July at age 56. I chose to receive monthly payments from my Thrift Savings Plan account. I would like to pay off my mortgage and a student loan. The only thing I can come up with is to transfer my TSP funds into an IRA and withdraw from the IRA. If I roll my TSP funds into a traditional IRA and make withdrawals before 59½, will I be subject to the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty?

A. Yes, I believe you will, but you should check with your tax preparer to be sure.

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TSP rollover and FEHB

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Q. I am age 59½, retired from the Postal Service through a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. I am looking at rolling over my Thrift Savings Plan to a certified financial planner. Could this affect my health benefits or my spouse’s health benefits?

A. It will not affect your Federal Employees Health Benefits eligibility, but I question the wisdom of this move. Why would anyone with your best interests in mind recommend this move? For your benefit or his/hers? The certified financial planner label does guarantee that this person is trustworthy.

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VERA and TSP

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Q. I have an opportunity to retire under a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. I have 30+ years of FERS service, non-law enforcement. My age will be 53 years and 11 months if I retire under this VERA offering.

At what age will I have full access to my Thrift Savings Plan without the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty by “taking substantially equal payments over my life expectancy.”

At what age will I have full access to my TSP without the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty by NOT “taking substantially equal payments over my life expectancy.”

If immediately upon retirement I begin collecting TSP funds “paid as substantially equal payments over my life expectancy”:

Do I avoid the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty?

Must I continue this withdrawal option for life, or only until I reach age 55?

Must I continue this withdrawal option for life, or only until I reach age 56, my minimum retirement age?

Must I continue this withdrawal option for life, or only until I reach age 59½?

A. If you retire prior to the calendar year in which you reach age 55, you will not have unrestricted access to your TSP account, without penalty, until you reach age 59½ unless you become totally disabled. This is true whether or not you initiate a Series of Substantially Equal Periodic Payments (SOSEPP) as defined in IRC section 72(t) if you retire prior to the calendar year in which you reach age 55.

If you properly initiate and maintain a SOSEPP, you will avoid the early withdrawal penalty on the SOSEPP withdrawals. The SOSEPP must continue for five years, or until you reach age 59½, whichever is longer. If you disrupt the SOSEPP or otherwise violate the rules for this, the early withdrawal penalty will be assessed on all withdrawals that were protected under the SOSEPP.

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TSP withdrawal strategy

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Q. My wife and I are FERS employees. We are both considering retiring early if offered Voluntary Early Retirement Authority at ages 50+/- (both with more than 25 years of service). With children still in the picture for some time, access and flexibility with our Thrift Savings Plan accounts are crucial to any plan. I would like to accomplish two things:

1). 72(t) withdrawals until 59½ in one account.

2). Flexibility to roll over funds currently in TSP into a Roth IRA held at another institution (from an IRA as I see no method to do that while the funds are in TSP).

My plan would be to roll over just enough to “fill up” a certain tax bracket, say 15 percent, especially while we have many deductions related to children.

So, my thinking would be to have substantially equal payments out of one account soon after early retirement but not immediately. For the other TSP account, make a one-time partial withdrawal and transfer that to an IRA currently held at another institution. I’m assuming I can make that transfer/withdrawal at age 50 with no penalties, correct? This would allow me to each year assess our taxes and determine what amount of the IRA I would like to convert to my Roth IRA. I would only do a partial withdrawal as I appreciate the low expenses of the TSP, but the inflexibility to convert to a Roth is too limiting.

Does this make sense? And is everything I’ve laid out reasonable and doable?

A. What you’ve proposed is doable, but I’m not sure I see the value in the Roth IRA conversions.

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TSP loan

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Q. I am 61 years old and have a Thrift Savings Plan loan of $24,000 and over $60,000 remaining in my TSP account. I applied for a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority/Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay at my human resources office awaiting approval. What happens to my TSP loan and to my remaining balance in my account if I request a full withdrawal when my retirement is approved? Does the remaining balance of my TSP loan gets paid up from my remaining balance and incur penalty for the full withdrawal?

A. If you don’t repay your loan within 90 days of the day your agency notifies the TSP of your separation from service, the outstanding balance due will be declared a taxable distribution. If you request a lump-sum withdrawal of your entire TSP balance at retirement, you’ll pay tax on the remaining balance and the un-repaid loan amount due.

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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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VERA/VSIP and retirement benefits

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Q. How will Voluntary Early Retirement Authority/Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay affect my retirement benefits (annuity supplement, Social Security, pension and Thrift Savings Plan withdrawals)? I am an Air Force civilian GS-13, age 52, with 26 years of service under FERS.

A. A VERA/VSIP will not affect the rules governing your TSP withdrawals. You will be subject to the early withdrawal penalty until you reach age 59½ unless you can qualify for one of the exceptions listed on the left side of Page 7 of this notice: https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tsp-536.pdf.

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VERA/VSIP and TSP

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Q. How will Voluntary Early Retirement Authority/Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay affect my retirement benefits in regard to the Thrift Savings Plan and what I do with the money in the TSP (when do I have to take withdrawals, etc.)? I am a Defense Department civilian, age 53, with 35+ years of service under CSRS.

A. Early retirement does not affect the rules governing access to your TSP account. The usual rules apply and they can be found at www.tsp.gov. In particular, you should understand the information contained in this notice: https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tsp-536.pdf. You’ll be subject to the early withdrawal penalty unless you qualify for one of the exceptions listed on the left side of Page 7.

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VERA/VSIP, annuity, TSP withdrawals and SRS

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Q. How will Voluntary Early Retirement Authority/Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay affect my retirement benefits (annuity supplement, pension and Thrift Savings Plan withdrawals)? I am a Defense Department civilian, age 58, with 21 years of service under FERS.

A. Mike: You will have access to your TSP account, under the usual rules, without penalty following your separation.

Reg: Your annuity would be computed under the standard formula: .01 x your high-3 x your years and full months of service. There wouldn’t be any age penalty because you were retiring before age 62. And, since you have already reached your minimum retirement age, you’d immediately be entitled to the special retirement supplement.

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Early retirement

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Q. If I retire early at 50 years of age with 30 years of service under FERS, I understand I’d have to wait until my minimum retirement age to receive the special retirement supplement. What reductions would I have in my retirement annuity? Would I be able to receive monthly Thrift Savings Plan annuity at age 50?

A. Mike: You may use your TSP money to buy an immediate annuity and receive monthly income payments at any age, once you are separated from service.

Reg: If your agency offers you a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority, there wouldn’t be any age-based reduction in your annuity. As noted, you wouldn’t receive the special retirement supplement until you reached your MRA.

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