The TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) is the tax advantaged retirement account offered to members of the uniformed services, postal and federal employees. The TSP offers investment options that are similar to private market 401(k) plans and provides participants the opportunity to save money in both a pre and post-tax manner, while enjoying a low cost investments.
Some of the Advantages available to Thrift Savings Plan participants;
- Employer matching contributions
- Automatic payroll deductions;
- Low Cost TSP Funds, including lifecycle funds which are geared around a specific retirement date;
- Traditional (pre-tax) contributions and tax-deferred investment earnings, and TSP Roth (after-tax) contributions that can provide tax-free earnings at retirement if you satisfy the IRS requirements.
FEATURES OF THE THRIFT SAVINGS PLAN
- Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) eligible employees receive Agency employer contributions and also TSP matching contributions up to certain IRS contribution limits,
- Under certain circumstances, you can access to your TSP savings while you are still employed.
- A beneficiary participant account is established for your spouse in the event of your death; and
- You have access to a variety of TSPwithdrawal options.
If you are covered by FERS, the Thrift Savings Plan is one part of a three-part retirement package that also includes your FERS basic annuity and Social Security.
If you are covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or are a member of the uniformed services, the Thrift Savings Plan is a supplement to your CSRS annuity or military retired pay.
Regardless of the federal retirement system you are eligible for, making contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan is almost always a good idea. Because of the impact that compound growth rates will have on your TSP the earlier you can begin making contributions the better. Regardless of your tenure or when you plan on retiring, however, committing to steady and consistent contributions will almost always reap rewards.
ESTABLISHING YOUR TSP ACCOUNT
Since July 31st, 2010 all new Federal Employees automatically had their TSP accounts established and were also automatically enrolled with a 3% payroll deduction unless you elected to stop or change your contributions.
If you were hired before July 31st. 2010 and have not yet established your TSP account, you will need to establish the account on your own. For all FERS employees, the potential matching is the same, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the Government automatically established accounts on the employee’s behalf.
If you’re a CSRS employee or a member of the uniformed services, to establish a TSP account you must elect to contribute through your agency or service. CSRS employees and members of the uniformed services do not receive agency contributions.
FERS EMPLOYEES AND MATCHING CONTRIBUTIONS.
If you are a FERS employee, you also receive matching contributions from your agency employer in the following manner;
1% Automatic contribution – regardless of Employees contribution.
Dollar for dollar on the first 3% of Employee TSP Contributions
Example: If you contribute 4% of your salary.
Your Agency Employer contributes 1% to you automatically.
The first 3% of your contribution is matched by your Agency Employer dollar for dollar.
The next 1% you contribute your Agency only matches 50% of that amount, or .5%.
The way this math works out is as follows (Example: we used a $50,000 salary);
1% of your $50,000 salary = $ 500
This 1% is contributed by your Employer regardless of you contributing or not.
3% (3/4th of) Employee Contribution = $1,500
3% Agency match = $1,500
The first 3% of Employee contributions are matched dollar for dollar
(bold represents Employee Contribution) 1% (1/4th of) Employee Contribution = $ 500
.5% Agency match on final 1% = $ 250
This portion is matched at 50 cents per dollar
Total Contribution + Employer Match $4,250
Meaning if you contribute 4% of your salary your Agency Employer would have contributed an additional 4.5% on your behalf (the initial 1% plus the next 3% match, then plus the .5% match on the final contribution).
To achieve the maximum possible government match, however, an employee is encouraged to contribute 5% of their salary at least. This way – their Agency employer will also match the Employee’s final 1% contribution with an additional .5%.
Confusing? Don’t let it get you down. Just remember that if you want your Agency employer to give you the highest possible benefits – you should contribute at least 5% of your salary to the TSP.
STARTING THE TSP PROCESS
Thrift Savings Plan contributions are payroll deductions, which means every dollar you contribute to the Traditional TSP is a dollar that you will not pay taxes on right away. Instead, your contributions are placed into your Thrift Savings Plan account and will grow tax-deferred until you take them out in the future.
If you have not already done so, you will need to make a “contribution election” through your agency to;
- Start your contributions if you were not automatically enrolled; or
- Increase or decrease your contributions if you were automatically enrolled; change the amount of your employee contributions or tax treatment (i.e., traditional vs. Roth); or stop your contributions.
HERE’S HOW THE TSP PROCESS WORKS:
- First, find out if you have access to Employee Express, EBIS, myPay, LiteBlue, or the NFC PPS – you will likely want toask your personnel or benefits office whether your agency or service handles enrollments,
- Next, determine the amount you want to contribute and the tax treatment you wish to use (Roth or Traditional TSP) You can inform your personnel or benefits office of your Thrift Savings Plan election decisions or you can get a copy of the TSP-1 form from theTSP website.
- Last – Return the completed forms to your Agency employer to have your payroll deductions set up. Your election should be effective no later than the first full pay period after your agency or service receives it.
WITHDRAWING YOUR TSP SAVINGS
You have several options when it comes to making a Thrift Savings Plan withdrawal.
- Partial withdrawals are allowed in a single payment.
- You can also make a full TSP withdrawal by any one or any combination of the following methods:
- A single (lump sum) payment
- A series of monthly payments
- A life annuity (TSP Lifetime payment options).
A combination of any of these three full withdrawal options is called a “mixed withdrawal.” You can have the TSP transfer all or part of any single payment or, in some cases, a series of monthly payments, to a traditional IRA or to an eligible employer plan by completing theTSP-70 form. Payments to you can be deposited directly into your checking or savings account by means of electronic funds transfer (EFT).
If you are a married Thrift Savings Plan participant (even if you are separated from your spouse), spouses’ rights apply to annuity purchases. If you are a married FERS or uniformed services participant with a total TSP account balance of more than $3,500 and you are making a full withdrawal of your account, your spouse is entitled by law to an annuity with a 50% survivor benefit, level payments, and no cash refund. If you choose any other withdrawal option or combination of options by which your entire account balance is not used to purchase this particular type of annuity, your spouse must sign the statement on your withdrawal form that waives his or her right to that annuity.