Ask The Experts: Money Matters

By Mike Miles

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, Roth and IRA transfers

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Q. I understand that you can transfer funds into and out of your Thrift Savings Plan from either eligible pretax plans and/or after-tax plans. However, withdrawals (loans, withdrawals and interfund transfers) are made proportionately from both the traditional and Roth. Thus, you cannot specify withdrawals from only the traditional or the Roth. This is seen as a major drawback for some who would like to participate in the Roth option only or make withdrawals from only the traditional or the Roth option.

Would it be possible, at or near retirement, to transfer a major amount of your TSP balance — for example, 90 percent of your TSP (which would take 90 percent of both the Roth and traditional balances on the day of the transfer — leaving 10 percent in each) to a traditional IRA and Roth IRA outside of the TSP, then later transfer from the traditional IRA back into the traditional TSP? This would result in a small Roth TSP balance and restore the traditional TSP balance.

Doing that would provide greater flexibility for accessing the tax-free funds in the Roth (with the possibility of leaving those tax-free funds to your heirs) and still taking advantage of the lower management costs associated with the TSP for the traditional balance.

A. It seems to me that this will work as long as the traditional IRA does not contain any after-tax money when it’s time to move it back into the TSP.

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Lump-sum and monthly TSP withdrawals

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Q. I anticipate starting monthly withdrawals from the Thrift Savings Plan in the near future. Sometime after this, I would like to make a one-time lump-sum withdrawal from TSP to pay for my daughter’s wedding. Can I do this? Can I make a lump-sum withdrawal while taking monthly payments, or am I limited to one or the other?

A. You can take the lump-sum partial withdrawal before starting the monthly payments, but not after.

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Full TSP withdrawal

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Q. I am 67 and retired. I made a partial withdrawal a few years ago. I need some cash for a family matter, so I want to make a full withdrawal now. I don’t want an annuity, but I’ll invest half in a commercial IRA or retirement instrument in hope of reducing the immediate tax impact of this full withdrawal. Can I do so? — that is, invest half of this full withdrawal in another commercial instrument, thus avoiding for now the tax on this “re-invested” amount?

A. Yes.

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TSP withdrawal strategy

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Q. I have heard that some people are taking a monthly Thrift Savings Plan withdrawal that will have all funds sent to them over a period of 119 months (less than 10 years). Looking through TSP manuals, I haven’t figured out why yet. What are the advantages/disadvantages for this strategy?

A. Check Page 3 of the notice at https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tsp-536.pdf. Payments expected to last less than 10 years are eligible for rollover but subject to 20 percent mandatory withholding. I’m not sure that the advantage is.

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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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TSP withdrawal

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Q. I am 70½ and separated from federal service since 2008. I need to make a withdrawal election (my Thrift Savings Plan has $180,000). I was told I have three options: withdraw the account as a single payment, monthly payments or an annuity (or a combination). Assuming I do not need the money right now, what is the best option to maximize the interest I am getting and paying taxes on what I’ll be withdrawing?

A. If you don’t need the money, I suggest that you begin fixed monthly distributions in an amount that will satisfy or nearly satisfy your required minimum distribution for the year.

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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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Combining TSP accounts

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Q. I was enlisted in the Marine Corps from 2004 to 2008 and have been a full-time employee at the Social Security Administration since March 2012.

So, I have a uniformed services Thrift Savings Plan account and a civilian TSP account (using pretax and Roth contributions).

Nothing has been contributed to the uniformed services account since I left the Marines in 2008, so I asked someone in human resources here if I could combine the accounts. I was initially told this wasn’t possible, but after my own research, I found Form TSP-65 – Request To Combine Civilian and Uniformed Services TSP Accounts.

After I showed this to the HR office, I was told it wouldn’t be beneficial to combine the accounts because I would take a tax hit on the tax-free money that I made overseas while deployed to combat areas. This explanation doesn’t make too much sense to me because my TSP contributions were pretax contributions anyway (there was no Roth option at the time). Also, I don’t trust the info from my HR office after they were wrong about the ability to combine accounts.

Should I combine the accounts or leave them separate?

A. If you contributed tax-free combat pay to the TSP, you should keep the military account to preserve your ability to withdraw that money later without having to pay tax on it. Combat pay contributions are not the same as Roth contributions, and the two are not interchangeable.

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