Risk Management is rarely provided for free

As I teased in an earlier post about the costs of the TSP Mutual Fund Window, there may be a scenario where it makes sense to participate in the TSP  Mutual Fund Window and pay-up.  Here it is:
CONDITION #1: You desire to invest in assets outside of the G/F/C/S/I Fund classes and do not have a low-cost option to do this within another current or former employer’s 401k plan;
CONDITION #2: You live in a state like California that does not protect IRAs from lawsuits.
The lawsuits issue is a biggie. 

TSP Hardship Withdrawal Costs

The TSP Mutual Fund Window is going to cost you if you choose to participate.

So the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB), also known as the board who runs the Thrift Savings Plan, is about to complete the implementation of the TSP Modernization Act.

The final piece of the TSP Modernization Act is to provide the much-anticipated ‘Mutual Fund Window’, which will let TSP Participants invest in funds outside of the 5-letter funds (G, F, C, S, I) and the age-based Lifecycle fund blends of these 5-letter funds.

The ‘Mutual Fund Window’ was a solution to placate congresspeople who wanted to allow TSP participants to have ESG (Environmental Special Goodness) fund options, or to choose based on their conscience if they invest in China and/or Russia.

The Grand Compromise FRTIB/TSP came up with is that TSP participants will soon (Summer 2022) be able to use the TSP Mutual Fund Window, but there will be administrative costs and certain guidelines to follow. The admin costs were put in place so that participants who choose to stay with the original low-cost vanilla 5-letter TSP fund options do not have to pay additional expenses.

In general, the Mutual Fund Window guidelines are:

  • Participant must have minimum total TSP balance of $40k
  • Minimum transfer to the Mutual Fund Window is $10k
  • Maximum balance in MF Window cannot exceed 25% of TSP balance
  • an annual maintenance fee of $95.00
  • another annual fee of $55.00 to defray administrative expenses
  • a cost for each trade of $28.75
  • potential additional fees and expenses for some of the mutual funds

So let’s apply this to the ‘average Joe’ TSP participant. According to TSP, the average account value for a FERS participant is roughly $174k. Let’s say that Average Joe wants to fill in a TSP product offering gap by investing in a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) index fund.

Joe chooses the lowest cost option (which I can only assume will be available) which is the Vanguard Real Estate Index- Admiral shares (VGSLX). VGSLX Expense ratios are a low 0.12 percent per year.

Joe invests the maximum allowable 25% of his $174K, or $43,500 in VGSLX. Joe pays a total of $230.95 in fees and trading costs during his first year of using the Mutual Fund Window, or just over 0.5 percent of his MF Window balance:

TSP Mutual Fund Window Costs

At a minumum, typical TSP Participants will pay 0.5 Percent per year in Mutual Fund Window Fees (spreadsheet)

Note that Joe pays roughly $178, or 0.41 percent of Fund Window value in admin fees alone, before paying loads/expenses from the actual VGSLX fund. Note that if Joe invests the MINIMUM amount ($10,000) in the Mutual Fund Window, the admin expenses will be a HIGHER percentage of assets because the $178 fees are fixed. In this case the all-in fees to buy VGSLX will be 1.91 percent.

Are fees between 0.53 and 1.91 percent worth it for additional retirement savings diversification?

I’d say ‘no’, unless Joe has no other employer 401k plans available AND lives in the Democratic People’s Republic of California (this will be a follow-on Gubmints post).

Mutual Fund admin fees from 0.5 percent to 1.91 percent per year are not cost-effective unless there is a special provision or feature provided by the retirement account. Most retirement plan savers who want to choose options outside of G/C/F/S/I funds will be better off diversifying their retirement savings through an IRA at Schwab/Fidelity/Vanguard rather than paying TSP an additional 0.5 percent or more per year in admin fees.

ACTION PLAN for TSP Participants:

(Outside of California) If you want more Qualified Retirement Plan diversification than G/F/C/S/I funds, consider using another employer’s low-cost 401k account (if you have it) or a Schwab/Fidelity/Vanguard Rollover IRA account. You’re likely to do better without paying 0.5 percent to 1.91 percent in annual fees to the TSP Mutual Fund Window.

(California Residents) If you desire more diversification within your Retirement Savings and you do not have low-cost options in a current- or former-employer’s 401k plan, consider eating the fees within the TSP Mutual Fund Window as an exchange for the liability protection that TSP provides.


Opposite George Costanza

Opposite George Costanza

“If everything I’ve done is Wrong… then the Opposite must be Right”.

This is the time of year when people make (or break) New Years’ Resolutions.   For those who follow Tim Ferriss, there is an alternate implementation of the Resolution where you instead do a year-end review, tabulate what was Positive and Negative in the past year, then resolve to avoid the biggest Negatives in the coming year.

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Here’s an interesting retirement case study for you.

Let’s take a former active duty veteran who resigns after 7 years of service and  enters the civilian workforce in the year 2000.  This purely hypothetical employee in turn contributes to a Defined Contribution plan (401k or TSP)  during his years as a working stiff.  He or she contributes to the maximum ‘match’ amount of the employer’s plan-  That is, when the employer matches up to 50% of contributions on up to 10% of salary, he contributes 10%.  When he is a Federal Employee, he contributes 5% to get the most of the TSP automatic and matching contributions (5% of salary).  (Stop me if you’ve figured out who the hypothetical employee is by now).

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