Post Update 2/26/2013: TSP Funds made Whole by the Treasury Dept- ‘G’ Fund ‘raid’ is over (for now).
Recently the TSP Director issued a statement reassuring TSP members that their investments in the G Fund are safe, and that any short term borrowing performed by the Treasury as a part of its ‘extraordinary measures‘ in dealing with the debt ceiling will not affect TSP participants.
For those who do not wish to read all 39 pages of the GAO report, the key findings are:
G Fund investors during the previous ‘raid’ were made whole, and that the Treasury Department borrowing against the G Fund is legal as “required by subsection 8438(g) of title 5, United States Code” (page 19).
Treasury Yield spreads drop during the ‘raid’ periods (page 22).
When yield spreads drop, it gets more expensive for the Treasury to borrow. So while the effect on the TSP G Fund investor is negligible, the overall effect on the U.S. Taxpayer is increased cost.
Two riders in The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the Fiscal Cliff Deal) apply directly to Federal Employee Benefits. They are:
1) Increasing the Transportation Incentive Program (TIP), a program to incentivize federal employees to use mass transport or vanpools, to a monthly stipend of $240. The language in the bill restores parity between commuter expenses for parking (currently $240/month) vs. mass transport (was $125). They are now both set at $240, retroactive to 01 January 2013.
2) Ability to convert money in your employer-sponsored 401k account to the employer-sponsored Roth 401k account (if offered by the employer).
Just like the creation of the Roth TSP, It will probably take the TSP 12-18 months to catch up with this provision, but my prediction is that it will happen. This provision in the Fiscal Cliff Deal was put there as revenue grab to get income taxes now (immediately upon 401k conversion to Roth 401k) vs in the future (eventual withdrawals from 401k). My take on the conversion is that it is probably a bad idea to convert a Traditional IRA/401k to a Roth IRA/401k right now unless you are absolutely certain you will be in a higher marginal bracket when you retire.
As an aside, “The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012”? If my recollection is correct, this was created and passed by both houses of congress on January 02, 2013…
On December 26th, while we were all busy recovering from the Holiday and headed out for year-end clearance sales, the Treasury Secretary dropped a surprise on us. He announced that the federal government will once again hit its ‘debt ceiling’ on Dec 31st, and that the Treasury will take ‘extraordinary measures’ to stretch out its checkbook.
Interestingly, the most comprehensive breakdown I’ve found of the ‘extraordinary measures‘ is from the UK’s Guardian, not from a US-based news organization. The four measures, listed in order of magnitude, are:
Stop investments in to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF)- the CSRS annuity for retired and disabled CSRS participants (note: I am clueless on the CSRS retirement system as I am not a participant. The link is informative, but an opinion piece).
Suspending investments in to the TSP G Fund.
Halt issuance of State and Local government securities (SLGS)
Cease contributing to the Exchange Stabilization Fund (used to purchase foreign currency).
What #2 means to you and me is that, among other things, the Treasury Department will take out a 401k loan against your TSP balance. Specifically, the Treasury will borrow from the G Fund and issue IOU’s to pay them back at a later date.
If this all sounds familiar, it is. This is one of many extraordinary measures the Treasury took last time the nation neared its debt ceiling in May of 2011. After the debt deal was reached in August of 2011 (which set up Sequestration, aka the ‘fiscal cliff’), the TSP G Fund balances were made whole.
What’s it mean to you and me? Probably not much, as long as:
You don’t take personal offense at the Treasury Secretary raiding your individual retirement funds (Your TSP balance).
All past and present government employees and military participants in the TSP do not all sell-off their G Fund holdings at once.
Institutional Investors and sovereign nations continue to purchase US Government-issued debt.
The mechanics of how the G Fund is raided are described pretty well in this 2002 GovExec article, when the G Fund was about to be raided in order to avoid a what-seems-paltry-now debt ceiling limit of $6 Trillion.
There are some items about the TSP I do not like (limited investment choices), but the pluses of the TSP far outweigh the minuses. In fact, as long as I live, I swear I will NEVER pull 100% of my funds out of the TSP.
Why? Even if you leave Federal Service before your minimum retirement age (i.e. you resign or quit), you are still eligible for LIFE to retain the benefit of your TSP account (as long as you keep a minimum account balance of $200 in the TSP).
Here’s why you should NEVER completely exit your TSP:
At retirement, the TSP can be easily be converted to an annuity, with industry-leading low expenses.
If you are no longer working for Uncle Sam, you may roll money OUT out of the TSP at any time to an IRA or your current employer’s 401k (in tax jargon this is a “Trustee-to-Trustee transfer”, a non-taxable event). If this is your case, roll some money out of the TSP if you would like more flexibility in investment choices (IRA) or if you like the investment options and expenses of your current employer’s Qualified Plan (i.e. 401k).
The TSP will permit you to roll retirement funds back IN to the TSP at any time from an IRA or Qualified Plan.
TSP has the G fund, which is the best vehicle anywhere to park your short-term money. The G-fund gives you guaranteed returns equivalent to a 3-year CD combined with the liquidity of a money market fund. There’s no other financial product like it available.
Bottom line: even if you leave the employment of Uncle Sam, don’t leave the TSP.