Sequestration and Your TSP Account

The TSP has provided some information to participants on how sequestration may affect their accounts.

The Thrift Savings Plan has provided the following information to participants as to how sequestration could affect TSP accounts:

How will a furlough affect my TSP contributions?

As you know, your TSP employee contributions are deducted from your pay. If you are currently making contributions based on a percentage of your basic pay, here’s what happens: If you earn $1,000 of basic pay every two-week pay period and you contribute 10% of it to the TSP, you’d have a $100 TSP contribution every pay period. If you are furloughed for 2 days per pay period, then your basic pay would decrease to $800 and as a result, your TSP contribution would decrease by

an equal percentage so that your contribution would be $80 per pay period. Simply stated, your TSP contribution decreases in direct proportion to the reduction in your basic pay. Therefore, you may find that lowering your contribution percentage is not necessary.

But if you are currently making TSP contributions based on a dollar amount of your pay, that dollar amount will not automatically decrease with your reduction in pay. You may want to revisit whether that amount is still appropriate given the expected impact of your furlough.

If you are a FERS1 participant, also keep in mind that any reduction in your basic pay will impact your agency contributions. Whether you are contributing a percentage of your pay or a specific dollar amount, your Agency Automatic (1%) and Agency Matching Contributions will decrease proportionally. If you then choose to decrease the amount of your TSP contributions, be sure you understand how it will affect your agency contributions.

Should I terminate my TSP contributions?

If you are making traditional contributions, remember that those contributions are subtracted from your pay before tax. Be aware that stopping this type of contribution could potentially increase your adjusted gross income and, as a result, your income tax liability.

Also, think carefully about terminating your contributions. One of the great things about your TSP contributions, no matter how small, is that the earnings compound over time. If you stop your contributions, even for a short time, you’ll miss this opportunity altogether. And, if you are a FERS participant, you are leaving free money on the table because if you stop your contributions, your matching contributions stop as well.

Should I consider a financial hardship withdrawal?

For some, sequestration and the resulting furloughs will cause a significant financial hardship. But before you consider a TSP hardship withdrawal, keep in mind a few things:

  • If you take a hardship withdrawal, you will not be able to make any TSP contributions for 6 months after having received your funds.
  • You may withdraw only your contributions and the earnings associated with them, and the total amount cannot exceed your financial hardship.
  • You must pay income tax on the taxable portion of any withdrawal, and you may also be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty tax.
  • If you are a FERS participant, you will not receive Agency Matching Contributions.
  • A hardship withdrawal cannot be repaid so your TSP account is permanently reduced by the amount of your withdrawal.
  • Taking a loan may be a better option (see below).

Should I take a loan?

Taking a TSP loan allows you to borrow money from your account while you are still actively employed by the Federal Government. You repay your own TSP account for the amount of the loan (plus interest) and therefore continue to accrue earnings on the money you borrowed after you pay it back. Before you request a loan, you should know the following:

  • If you expect to be furloughed on a continuous basis, you can only take a loan if your furlough is expected to last 30 days or less.
  • If you expect to be furloughed on a periodic basis (for example, one or two days per pay period), you can take a loan.
  • Loan payments are made by payroll deduction. If, because of a furlough, you don’t earn enough per pay period for your agency to deduct the required loan payment, you will be responsible for keeping your loan payments up-to-date so that you don’t risk a taxable distribution. (Properly repaid TSP loans are not subject to income taxes or penalties.)
  • You can continue to contribute to your TSP account and, if eligible, receive Agency Matching Contributions.
  • If you already have an outstanding loan when you get furloughed, you need to make sure that you stay up-to-date on your loan payments.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.