2020 Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits & Rules – Deployed Contributions, Agency Match, & More

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Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Guide
TSP participants can contribute up to $19,500 of their paycheck to the TSP each year, plus another $6,000 in catch up contributions if they are age 50 or older.
Table of Contents
  1. 2020 Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits
    1. Elective Deferral Limit: $19,500
    2. Annual Addition Limit: $57,000
    3. Catch-up Contribution Limit: $6,500
  2. Explanation of Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits
  3. Current & Historic Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits
  4. Types of Thrift Savings Plan Contributions
    1. Regular Contributions (Elective Deferral Contributions)
    2. Catch-up Contributions
    3. Annual Addition Limit Contributions
  5. Two Thrift Savings Plans – Uniformed Services & Federal Service
    1. Uniformed Services TSP Contributions
    2. TSP Federal Agency Contributions
  6. Matching TSP Contributions Chart
  7. How Contribution Limits Are Impacted With Multiple Retirement Accounts
  8. Other Notes about TSP Contributions

Thrift Savings Plan officials recently released the 2020 Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits. Thrift Savings Plan contribution limits are calculated on an annual basis based on the cost of living indexes and can increase based on rules set by the IRS.

This marks the second year in a row that members are able to contribute more than the previous year. The 2020 TSP contribution limit for employee deferrals is now $19,500, up from $19,000 in 2019 (and $18,500 in 2018).

The catch-up contributions also receive an increase to $6,500 per year. (Catch-up contributions are only available to persons aged 50 and up). This is the first increase for the catchup contribution limit since 2014.

There is also a $1,000 increase in the Max Annual Addition Limit, which increases from $56,000 to $57,000.

Let’s do a deep dive into this topic. While contribution limits seem straightforward on the surface, this is actually a very interesting topic. Certain members may have complicated situations that deserve special attention (multiple TSP accounts, multiple retirement accounts, contributions while deployed, participating in both the Roth and Traditional TSP, etc.).

2020 Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits

The 2020 Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits are as follows:

Elective Deferral Limit: $19,500

This is the limit employees can defer from their paychecks. It applies to Traditional and Roth TSP accounts (they share the same limit, so you can’t contribute $19,000 to each). This includes your base pay, special pay, and bonuses. To max out your TSP, you would need to contribute $1,625.00 per month from your paychecks. That is very aggressive, but it can be possible for some, depending on your rank / pay grade, and living expenses.

Annual Addition Limit: $57,000

This is the maximum amount you can put into your Thrift Savings Plan from all sources (except catch up contributions – see the section below, this is the $6,500 you can contribute if you are age 50 or over). Deployed military members can exceed the $19,500 annual Elective Deferral Limit through payroll deductions while deployed.

Excess contributions made while deployed count toward the Annual Addition Limit (contributions above $19,500 automatically go into the Traditional TSP). This limit also includes Agency contributions (matching contributions made by the Civil Service, or matching contributions from the military, as part of the Blended Retirement System, starting in 2018).

Catch-up Contribution Limit: $6,500

Members age 50 and over can contribute an additional $6,500 per year to their elective deferral limit (total of $26,000) and Annual Addition Limit ($63,000).

Explanation of Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits

Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits

The following chart displays the 2020 Thrift Savings Plan contribution limits, with notes about each type of contribution. The combined maximum one can contribute, including all agency matching contributions, contributions from special pay and bonuses, and contributions while deployed, is $57,000 ($63,000 for those who are eligible for catch-up contributions).

2020 Thrift Savings Plan Limits
Max ContributionInternal Revenue CodeNotes
Elective Deferral Limit*$19,500IRC §402(g)Applies to combined total of traditional and Roth contributions. For members of the uniformed services, it includes all traditional and Roth contributions from taxable basic pay, incentive pay, special pay, and bonus pay, but does not apply to traditional contributions made from tax-exempt pay earned in a combat zone.
Max Annual Addition Limit$57,000IRC §415(c)An additional limit imposed on the total amount of all contributions made on behalf of an employee in a calendar year. This limit is per employer and includes employee contributions (tax-deferred, after-tax, and tax-exempt), Agency/Service Automatic (1%) Contributions, and Matching Contributions. For 415(c) purposes, working for multiple Federal agencies or services in the same year is considered having one employer.
Catch-up Contribution Limit$6,500IRC §414(v)The maximum amount of catch-up contributions that can be contributed in a given year by participants age 50 and older. It is separate from the elective deferral and annual addition limit imposed on regular employee contributions.

Current & Historic Thrift Savings Plan Contribution Limits

YearAnnual Contribution LimitMax Catch-Up Contribution LimitAnnual Addition LimitAnnual Addition Limit w/ Catch-Up
2007$15,500$5,000$46,000$51,000
2008$15,500$5,000$46,000$51,000
2009$16,500$5,500$49,000$54,500
2010$16,500$5,500$49,000$54,500
2011$16,500$5,500$49,000$54,500
2012$17,000$5,500$50,000$55,500
2013$17,500$5,500$51,000$56,500
2014$17,500$5,500$52,000$57,500
2015$18,000$6,000$53,000$59,000
2016$18,000$6,000$53,000$59,000
2017$18,000$6,000$54,000$60,000
2018$18,500$6,000$55,000$61,000
2019$19,000$6,000$56,000$62,000
2020$19,500$6,500$57,000$63,500

Types of Thrift Savings Plan Contributions

There are three types of TSP contributions:

  • Regular Employee Contributions (including automatic enrollment contributions)
  • Catch-up Contributions (for participants age 50 or older)
  • Annual Addition Limit Contributions

Regular Contributions (Elective Deferral Contributions)

Eligible TSP participants can begin making regular employee contributions at any time. These contributions, also known as Elective Deferral Contribitions, are made from basic pay.

Traditional contributions are made before taxes are withheld and Roth contributions are made after taxes have been paid. Your contribution election will remain in place until you elect to stop or change the contribution amount, reach the contribution limit, or take a Thrift Savings Plan financial hardship withdrawal.

Catch-up Contributions

Catch-up contributions are only available to those aged 50 and above. You must elect to make catch-up contributions each calendar year.  If you don’t elect to make catch-up contributions each year, they will automatically stop. You can make regular and catch-up contributions at the same time.

If you plan the amounts you contribute carefully, you will maximize both the $19,500 regular contributions and the $6,500 in catch-up contributions during the last pay period of the year.  This is much simpler than having to keep track of when your regular TSP contributions will max out, stopping the regular contributions, and then starting catch-up contributions.

In addition, if you are eligible to make catch-up contributions and you are deployed to a designated combat zone, you will not be able to make any traditional catch-up contributions from your tax-exempt pay. However, Roth catch-up contributions from tax-exempt pay are allowed.

Annual Addition Limit Contributions

Annual Addition Limit Contributions include all contributions made on behalf of the employee during the applicable calendar year. This limit includes all employee contributions, as well as employer matching contributions.

The annual addition limit also applies to contributions above the annual Elective Deferral Limit (contributions above $19,500, in 2020) made by service members who are deployed to a tax-exempt zone.

The Internal Revenue Code §415(c) states the annual addition limit is per employer. However, for 415(c) purposes, working for multiple Federal agencies or services in the same year is considered having one employer. (This would apply to members of the Guard/Reserves who are also employed by a federal agency, or those who change jobs in a given calendar year).

Two Thrift Savings Plans – Uniformed Services & Federal Service

There are two separate Thrift Savings Plan accounts – one for military members, and one for those employed by the federal government. It is possible for members to have both accounts. This can even be common for members of the Guard or Reserves who also serve as technicians in the civil service.

These two plans share the same annual contribution limits across both accounts. So it is important to understand how to balance having multiple retirement accounts. See the section below, titled, “How Contribution Limits Are Impacted With Multiple Retirement Accounts.”

Uniformed Services TSP Contributions

The Thrift Savings Plan is available to all military members. Military members are eligible to contribute any whole percentage of basic pay, as long as the annual total of the tax-deferred investment doesn’t exceed the maximum contribution limit. Military members also have the option of contributing any portion of their incentive pay, bonuses, or special pay so long as they contribute a portion of their basic pay.

Roth TSP Contributions for TSP members. Roth Thrift Savings Plan contributions are limited to the $19,500 elective deferral limit. All additional contributions toward the Annual Additions Limit must be made into a Traditional TSP account, even if the contributions come from tax-exempt pay.

Tax-free combat zone contributions. Military members serving in tax-free combat zones are allowed to contribute up to $57,000. This total includes regular deferred contributions, tax-exempt combat zone contributions, and special pay and bonuses.

Note regarding catch-up contributions and tax-free pay: Military members who are receiving tax-exempt pay while serving in an eligible combat zone must make catch-up contributions into a Roth Thrift Savings Plan account.

TSP Federal Agency Contributions

Federal Civil Service members can also participate in the Traditional or Roth TSP. They have the same contribution limits. However, the section above regarding tax-free combat zones does not apply.

Matching TSP Contributions Chart

Members of the uniformed services only receive matching contributions if they participate in the Blended Retirement System. Otherwise, they do not receive matching contributions. FERS Employees are eligible for matching contributions from the government.

Thrift Savings Plan participants who are eligible to receive a matching contribution receive an automatic 1% contribution from the federal government, then a 100% match for the first 3% they contribute, followed by an additional 0.5%  match for the next 2% the contribute, bringing the maximum agency contribution to 5%.

Participants can contribute as high of a percentage of their salary as they wish, so long as they don’t exceed total contribution limits, including the catch-up limits allowed for those age 50 and above.

The following chart can be used by military members and Federal Employees to determine the total amount of their contributions including agency match.

TSP Agency Contribution Chart
TSP Matching Contribution Chart

How Contribution Limits Are Impacted With Multiple Retirement Accounts

The TSP is similar to a 401k plan, and they share the same annual contribution limit per person. This means if you cannot contribute more than $19,500 ($26,000 with catch-up contributions) across both accounts in any given calendar year.

This doesn’t impact most active duty members or civil service employees with only one job. However, this is very important to note for anyone who transitions to or from the military or civil service in any given year. And it’s important for traditional members of the Guard and Reserves, as they often have another retirement plan through their full-time job.

Be careful! TSP participants should be careful not to exceed their annual contribution limits across whichever retirement accounts they have. The TSP system will not allow you to contribute too much to the TSP. If you do, the TSP will refund you the difference, and reject future contributions through the end of the calendar year. But the TSP doesn’t have insight into your other retirement accounts.

Military TSP + Federal TSP. Many members of the Guard and Reserves are also Technicians and have access to both a military TSP account and a civil service TSP account. They can make contributions to both TSP accounts in the same tax year. However, these accounts share the same annual limit across both accounts. It’s very important not to exceed these contribution limits.

The only time you can go above the annual employee deferral limit is when you are called to active duty and deploy to a tax-exempt zone. At this point, you will be able to contribute up to the Annual Addition Limit shown above ($57,000, or $63,000 with catch-up contributions).

TSP + 401k (or similar retirement account). Again, the TSP and 401k plans share the same annual limit. In theory, it seems like one should be able to contribute up to the Annual Addition Limit if you have contributed to the maximum allowed between your other retirement account and the TSP. But the TSP won’t be able to track this on their own. So you will need to contact them and verify that it is possible, and request they allow it. Again, this is a theory. I have not seen it in practice.

Other Notes about TSP Contributions

The following information should help you determine how to allocate your TSP contributions:

Contributing by a percentage of your pay.

If you elect to contribute a percentage of pay to the TSP and the amount is more than your remaining salary after mandatory deductions (e.g. Federal income tax, state taxes, TSP loan payments, etc.) and other voluntary deductions that are processed before TSP contributions, then the resulting pay will be the amount withheld and contributed to your TSP account.

Contributing by dollar amount.

If you designate a whole dollar amount that is greater than your remaining salary, then no employee contributions will be made for that pay period, and if you are FERS you will not receive Agency Matching Contributions for that pay period.

If this occurs, you will need to lower your contribution level by electing to contribute either a lower percentage or dollar amount. No TSP contributions will be withheld from your pay until your new election is effective. Neither the new election or any matching contributions will be applied retroactively.

Automatic contributions.

The Thrift Savings Plan offers Automatic TSP Contributions for new employees. The military will also have automatic enrollment for members participating in the blended retirement plan.

Roth TSP. Here is more information about the Roth Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).

The Thrift Savings Plan is a great opportunity to save money for retirement and you should take advantage of it if you are eligible to participate. You can read more about the contribution rules at the TSP page.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

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  1. Michael Munitz says

    Hello Ryan,

    Are all TSP contributions to be made from government salaries? In other words, can I divert some funds from a personal trust fund into my TSP as long as I don’t exceed the addition or overall annual TSP limit? I hope you didn’t already address this question and I glanced over it.

    Great stuff, thanks so much.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Michael,

      Thank you for contacting me. Yes, all TSP contributions must come directly from your paycheck. However, you can also roll other retirement funds into your TSP, such as funds from another employer’s 401k, and IRA, etc.

      If that isn’t an option, one strategy would be to increase your contributions from your paycheck to ensure you max out your TSP each year, and if you need more money for living expenses, pull a corresponding amount from savings or a personal trust fund. That would have the same impact as moving the amount directly from your trust fund into the TSP. Just don’t use that as an excuse to raid the fund. You would have to maintain the discipline to only withdraw the corresponding amount that you contributed to your TSP.

      I hope this helps!

  2. Crystal Cui says

    Dear Ryan,
    My son is an new Marine just graduated from Boot camp on Jan 31, 2020. I want to know which retirement plan he is eligible participated from military automatically?( because I don’t see his checking account statement showing any contribution payroll deduction for each pay period ), second, where he can set up TSP account with? it seems TSP contribution has to deducted directly from his account. No ideas about how it works. Can you please possible advise? thanks. thanks for taking your valuable time!

    New Marine’s Mom

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Crystal,

      Your son should be in the Blended Retirement System. There is no payroll deduction for his military retirement plan – only for the Thrift Savings Plan. He can sign up for the Thrift Savings Plan through his MyPay account.

      The military will automatically contribute 1% of his base pay to his TSP account once he reaches 60 days of service. Matching contributions from the military will begin after 2 years of service and will continue through 26 years of service.

      He can receive the maximum matching contribution from the military by contributing up to 5% of his pay (the military will also contribute 5% of his base pay). 

      Of course, he doesn’t need to limit his contributions to 5% of his pay. The more he puts away now, the more money he will have in his retirement years.
      Best wishes.

  3. Bill says

    I am now confused about my TSP contributions and annual catch up contributions. For tax year 2018 my tax preparer told me that since my TSP is a retirement account and block 12 of my W2 had an amount in it, it counted as income for the taxable year? This has not occurred in past years. Is this something in the new tax law(s)? I looked at several tax publications and the 1040, am I missing or overlooked something? Are my TSP contributions taxable annually? If so, then why am I saving to be taxed again when I begin to take withdrawals. Isn’t that being taxed twice? I am understanding that this is pretax money? Please cite the reference that you are speaking of for the explanation.

  4. Mike says

    Hello Ryan,

    Are there any advantages or disadvantages to selecting different pay to contribute from? For example: contributing 10% from base pay and 3% from special/incentive pay.

    Thanks for your help!

  5. Bryan says

    Ryan:

    Have a complex question that TSP customer service was uncertain of, and hoping you can help.

    I am deploying later this year. I am maxing my $19K elective deferral limit contributions before I leave. While there, I will max the remaining $37K annual additional limit. Next year, I will be able to contribute about $24K total before I redeploy.

    For next year – will the $24K count against the annual additional limit – because I’m deployed – thus allowing me to still contribute the full $19K elective deferral limit starting once I return home?

    Or, since it’s the first $19K for the year, will that max out the standard limit first, making only the remaining $5K or so counting towards the additional limit – thus preventing me from contributing anymore for the year once I return home?

    Any insight would rock. Thank you.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Bryan,

      I asked a friend of mine who is a retired Reserve officer and CFP. He said “If you are CZTE January through May, and you contribute to traditional TSP, none of your contributions count against the Elective Deferral Limit (EDL). You still have $19k to contribute while you are CONUS from June through December. Earlier, CZTE contributions count against the Annual Addition Limi (AAL).”

      So yes, it appears as though you can contribute toward the Annual Addition Limit then still have your Elective Deferral Limit contributions when you return home.

      I would consider contributing the elective deferral contributions to the Roth TSP since you will be in a very low tax bracket in 2019, and won’t pay much in taxes on those contributions. However, I believe the maximum you can put into the Roth TSP is around 60% of your paycheck. So you may wish to confirm that with the TSP customer support, then figure out the percentage you would need to do in a Roth/Traditional split, to max out your elective deferral contributions.

      In 2020, you want to put as much as possible into the Roth TSP as you can while in the CZTE, since that money won’t be taxed going in or coming out.

      I hope this helps!

      • Alex says

        I am in a similar situation. Army reservist with 10k already in elective deferrals in civilian 401k for 2019. I called TSP and asked how I report to them what I contributed to my civilian 401k so that only the first 9k of CZTE Roth TSP contributions count towards the elective deferral limit and any amount over that counts toward the additional annual limit. They informed me that it’s not possible and no contributions will be coded towards the additional limit until the first 19k of elective deferral contributions happen in the TSP. Seems like a basic technology issues that DFAS and TSP should have a manual process to resolve.

        Are you aware of any work arounds? I don’t want to have a civilian W2 and military W2 showing excess elective deferrals in 2019 above 19k. With that said, I’ll be piling as much as possible into the Roth TSP in 2020, which is worth leaving the fall 2020 civilian match on the table for the tax free benefits on the CZTE Roth contributions.

      • Ryan Guina says

        Hello Alex, I’m not sure which workarounds are available. You would think the TSP would have a way to connect the two accounts, but from what I understand, there is no link between them. This impacts everyone in the Guard/Reserve system who has a civilian TSP and military TSP.

        There are also similar issues for everyone in the Guard/Reserve program who have civilian 401k plans and similar retirement plans – since there is no way to enter that information to prevent the TSP from contributing too much if the member also has a civilian retirement plan.

        I hope something will be one about this soon. But I don’t know where they might be in the process, or if it is even on their radar.

        I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  6. Steve M says

    Thanks for the update! I was hoping that we could re-visit the question of over-contributing to the TSP. I think this is a topic that doesn’t get enough attention and is certainly not well addressed by either DFAS or the TSP. Many people have stated that they want to max-out their TSP (contributing $18,500 for 2018 and now $19,000 for 2019). The math to get to this point is easy, as you suggest in the post ($1,583.33/month for 12 months). Unfortunately, the myPay contribution interface is not set up to allow members to contribute specific dollar amounts. Instead, we have to figure out the percentage of our pay(s) that gets us closest to that number. Given this setup, there is no possible way to get to the exact contribution limit for the year without going over.

    You mention in your post that “The TSP system will not allow you to contribute too much to the TSP. If you do, the TSP will refund you the difference, and reject future contributions through the end of the calendar year.” If you only had the one 401k/TSP account then, it would be possible to simply round-up the percentage point calculated earlier and allow the system to protect you at the end of the year by preventing an over-contribution (while also exactly meeting the contribution limit).

    A TSP bulletin from last year however states that “The TSP is not allowed to accept a contribution that exceeds the elective deferral limit for the year. If a payroll office submits a contribution that exceeds the elective deferral limit, the TSP will reject the ENTIRE (emphasis added) employee contribution and all associated matching contributions, and will send a report to the payroll office showing the additional contributions allowed for the year.” (see here: https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/bulletins/17-01.html)

    Has anyone had any personal experience with this situation? Can we confirm that it is possible to exactly meet the elective contribution limits via myPay without going over?

    Thank you again.

  7. Craig says

    Ryan,
    I am a reservist, over 50, with both ROTH TSP and a civilian 401K. For 2018, my employer contributed $3,738 to my 401K. I have contributed $9,690 to the 401k and $12,520 to the ROTH TSP. Is my civilian employer’s contrbution included in reaching the $24,500 limit ?

    I contributed $3,710.00 over the 2018 $18,500 without designating the $6,000 as catch up. Does the catch up amount over $18,500 require a seperate delegation?

    If I violated the limit, what do I do to fix the overage?

  8. E. P. Haley says

    If I served 7 years active duty (and I buy those back) and additionally work 3 years for DOD and change jobs (to a non-DOD job) at 58, will I be able to collect a FERS annuity based on 10 years service at the age of 62? Or, have I failed to meet the minimum 5 year period required to be vested? My personnel department is stating that the 5 year minimum must be met however, it would seem to me that once the buyback is paid in full that those years should count. Please let me know.

    Thanks…….Pat

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Pat, Thank you for your question. I believe you must have the 5 years of federal service to vest in the FERS plan. The time you bought back will be in addition to your other service time. I’m not an expert here, so I recommend you go with what your HR office states or request an official retirement estimate based on your service. Additionally, if you do not reach the required service time, you can request the civil service return your pension plan contributions. It may also be possible to receive a refund on the amount of money you paid into the military service credits, but I’m not positive. Again, contact your HR department for more information. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  9. Brian Tollefson says

    Is it possible to roll a 401K into an existing TSP after retirement to consolidate accounts? If not, is it possible to roll the TSP into an IRA? I am nearing retirement and have multiple retirement accounts…TSP, 403b, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, ORP. I’d like to consolidate accounts as much as possible.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Brian, Thank you for your question. Yes, you can roll a 401k or other eligible retirement account into your TSP.

      If you are still employed by the company where you have your 401k, then you can only roll your 401k into your TSP if your employer allows in-service distributions. Otherwise, you will need to wait until you end your employment with that company. It is also possible to roll Traditional IRAs into your TSP. (you cannot roll a Roth IRA into the TSP at this time).

      Note: you can also roll your 401k, TSP, or other retirement plans into an IRA. There is a lot of flexibility with how you consolidate your retirement accounts.

      I recommend speaking with a fee-only financial advisor who can help you assess your options and help you make the optimal decision for your retirement plan, as well as avoid any costly mistakes when it comes to potential tax implications.

      I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  10. Justin White says

    Hi Ryan,

    Active duty Air Force deployed overseas in tax-free zone in early Sep 2018. I reached my $18.5K limit while CONUS and want to get as close to the $55K limit as possible by the end of the year.

    I have my TSP on myPay set to put 92% of my base pay into traditional. However, my Sep checks were just tax-free and nothing additional went into TSP.

    Question… do you know if I need to let someone at DFAS know I want to contribute above the $18.5K or should it do it automatically (since I have set on myPay) and I just need to be patient as it works through the system?

    I called TSP.gov today and they said they just contribute what DFAS gives them. When I called DFAS, they just forwarded my call to TSP.gov. No help there…

    Thanks for any thoughts.

  11. Mark Wakeam says

    I am retired military and receive a monthly retirement check. Why can’t I make an allotment from my retirement check to my military TSP account? Wouldn’t the government want retired military members contributing to their future financial well being? Maybe we need to have our voices heard to our congress men and women. It would also be a nice benefit that may help keep active duty members for the long haul of 20+ years of service.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Mark, TSP contributions can only be made through payroll deductions while you are currently employed by the organization. The same rules apply to the civilian TSP and civilian employer sponsored retirement plans such as the 401k, 457b, etc.

      You can transfer funds into your TSP from another retirement plan, such as an IRA, 401k, and similar retirement plan. You could petition Congress regarding this rule, but it would likely require rule changes for all retirement plans, not just the TSP.

  12. Robert says

    Hello Michael,

    Is this strategy allowed under TSP rules: I am in the military and deploying to a combat zone for nine months. I want to contribute the max annual addition limit of $55,000. $36,500 of that amount will be allocated to my traditional TSP account of CSI. The remaining $18,500 will be allocated to a Roth TSP and I will contribute an additional $6,000 (catch-up contribution) to the Roth TSP for a total of $24,500.

  13. Michael says

    Mr Guina,

    I have been withholding the standard 5% from my biweekly paychecks for my TSP (employer match 5%). I understand the maximum contribution to ANY retirement plan for calendar year 2017 is $18,000 for a single individual under 50 years of age. Is the TSP ROTH separate from a fidelity ROTH IRA? In other words, can i still contribute $5500 to a fidelity ROTH despite having ROTH TSP contributions for the year 2017?

    Thank you for your time.

  14. DLS says

    I am doing to short term military deployment to a tax exclusion zone. I want to maximize my TSP contributions during this short time. I prefer the Roth option and would go 100% of all pay, if that were possible. In the past, when Roth TSP first became an option, my first contribution failed on my LES because the percentage was too high to cover federal withholding. The contribution election was allowed, but the TSP contribution was rejected on the subsequent LES. I don’t want to make this mistake now since my deployment is only four pay periods and I want to max the contributions.

    The question is can BAH, which is not subject to fed withholding, but used to cover the withholding for my taxable income? Or do manage the percentage of my taxable pay, to leave enough to cover withholding?

    Also, can traditional TSP contributions be rolled over to a Roth TSP in a later tax year?

    Thanks.

    • Ryan Guina says

      DLS, Thank you for your questions. To answer your questions – yes, the Roth TSP is the way to go when you are deployed. But as you learned, you can only contribute from your pay *after* your FICA and Medicare tax withholding (a total of 7.65&, combined). I believe the TSP will allow you to contribute up to 92% of your pay (with an 8% withholding to cover FICA and Medicare). That said, I would verify this number with the TSP, just to be certain. If you want to build a little margin into your withholding, you should be fine if you set it at 90%. That extra 2% won’t account for a large amount of money over 4 pay periods (2 months).

      TSP Contributions can only be made from payroll deductions from your pay and certain bonuses, such as reenlistment bonuses. Likewise, your tax withholdings can also only com from your payroll. You cannot make TSP contributions from BAH, BAS, or other similar benefits, nor can those other benefits be used to cover tax withholdings.

      The TSP does not allow Traditional to Roth conversions within the TSP. So any elections you make, either Traditional or Roth, are permanent until you decide to withdraw them or roll them out of the TSP (the only way to do that and maintain their tax benefits is to wait until you leave military service, at which point you can do an IRA rollover, or move it into a civilian TSP, 401k plan, or other tax advantaged account).

  15. Taylor says

    I am currently Active Duty and are considering transitioning to a civilian career but staying in the Reserves. Can I only contribute to the TSP from my reserve pay? Or can I still contribute the max from my civilian pay?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Taylor, you can contribute from your Reserve pay. You can also contribute to a civilian retirement plan, such as a 401k, 457, 403b, etc. However, the TSP and the civilian retirement plan share the same contribution limit. So for example, the contribution limit in 2018 is $18,500 for workers under age 50 (there is an additional $6,000 catch up contribution limit on top of that for those over age 50). You could contribute in any combination up to the limit. For example, $5,000 from Reserve pay and $13,500 from your civilian job, or any other combination not to exceed $18,500. The limit does not take into account agency matching contributions, so no need to calculate those.

      You can no longer contribute to your military TSP from non-military income. You can only contribute via paycheck contributions. So you can continue contributing through the Guard or Reserves, but you cannot contribute to the TSP from civilian pay. You would need to contribute to a civilian retirement plan, or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

  16. Tom says

    I contribute to my TSP to the max allowed and I have been missing out on the advantages of catchup elections. For the 2017 tax year, can I elect to contribute ($6K) of catch up contributions in the pay cycles in 2018 up April 15 for them to be counted towards the 2017 tax year and then revise my catch-up contribution for my remaining pay cycles in 2018 to max out the $6K for 2018?

  17. Tony says

    “Elective deferral contributions only apply to regular employee contributions that are made in before-tax (i.e., tax-deferred) dollars.”

    I am a little confused in the language. For 2017 the Annual Contribution Limit is $18,000 and Annual Addition Limit is $54,000. Can I put $18,000 into my TSP and then put $36,000 into my ROTH TSP since the ROTH contributions are taxed?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Tony, Great question, and I should clear up that language. I believe it was written before the Roth TSP was around.

      Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. You can only put in $18,000 from your salary, unless you are making contributions from a tax-exempt zone. The $54,000 annual addition limit accounts for agency matching or contributions from a tax-exempt zone. The agency match currently applies to civil service, but it will be part of the Blended Retirement System starting in 2018.

      I hope that clarifies the process.

  18. Thomas says

    Ryan:

    Quick question, I miscalculated my deduction from Civil Service and ended up only contributing 17365.00 into my TSP and 5880.00 CUC. I’m an idiot.

    Is there a way to top that out prior to April 15th in regards to the 2016 tax year. I have other accounts into which I could move the 635/120 dollars respectively if that helps to generate proof of contribution for the year. If unable, will that cause my CUC not to count for the year. And what sort of chocolate mess can I expect from CS pay/TSP.

  19. [email protected] MilitaryFIRE says

    Great stuff- I’m finding a common misconception that service members cannot contribute to the TSP and and IRA. This misunderstanding seems especially prevalent with the Roth TSP. People seem to see “Roth” and think “IRA” with the $5500 contribution limit. The most common INCORRECT argument I hear is that you can contribute $5500 to your Roth IRA and $12500 to your Roth TSP!

    The TSP’s website and the IRS do not do a good job explaining that you can save the max TSP contribution and contribute to an IRA simultaneously. As you note, the TSP is a deferral of income, whereas a (traditional) IRA deducts from income. These are important points, but they get glossed over because noone can conceive of saving much more that 10% of income, and especially not enough to need to use the TSP and an IRA.

  20. Kevin says

    Ryan,

    I am a Retired Air Force Member and also a Federal Employee. I am expecting a significant amount of Veteran’s Administration Back Pay for Disabilities sustained while on Active Duty. Can I deposit those funds into my TSP when received?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Kevin, Thank you for contacting me. Unfortunately, you can’t contribute VA disability compensation pay into your TSP. Disability compensation is paid by the VA, not the military or the civil service. The TSP is a way to defer income from your job.

      That said, Disability income is tax free, so you will receive the full amount. If you were planning on investing that money what you could do is put your disability compensation into your checking account and temporarily increase your TSP contributions to your desired level, then reduce your TSP contributions once you have deferred your desired amount of income. The effect will be similar, though it would take a little work on your end to coordinate. I hope this helps. Best of luck, and thank you for your service!

  21. K. C. says

    “Catch-up contributions. Catch-up contributions are only available to those age 50 and above. To make catch-up contributions, you must first contribute the maximum amount of regular employee contributions, for the year, the elect to make catch-up contributions. Your catch-up contributions will stop automatically when you reach the contribution limit or at the end of the calendar year. You will need to elect to make catch-up contributions each calendar year.”

    Unless this is different than contributions made by FERS employees, the statement above is not correct. You can make regular and catch-up contributions at the same time. You do not need to max out the regular contributions first. I have been doing this for years. This paragraph might better be stated like this.

    “Catch-up contributions. Catch-up contributions are only available to those age 50 and above. To make catch-up contributions, you must elect to make catch-up contributions each calendar year. If you don’t they will automatically stop. You can made regular and catch-up contributions at the same time. If you plan the amounts you contribute carefully, you will maximize both the $18,000 regular contributions and the $6,000 in catch-up contributions during the last pay period of the year. This is much simpler than having to keep track of when your regular TSP contributions will max out, stopping the regular contributions, and then starting catch-up contributions.”

  22. Mike McKenna says

    1. I now make 5% Roth only contributions to my TSP.
    Is this good enough to receive the 5% matching, or do I need to make the 5% Traditional contributions too?

    2. I want to contribute the full $18,000 in 2015 and this is November.
    How exactly do I make the extra contribution to reach the maximum allowable – is there a form – do I call somebody – do I mail TSP a check?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Mike, Thank you for contacting me. To answer your questions 1) The government only offers matching contributions to civil service employees at this time. The new military retirement program will offer matching contributions for all servicemembers who opt into the new program, but that isn’t slated to start until 2018 (and many current military members will be better off under the current retirement system).

      2). TSP contributions are payroll contributions, meaning they must come directly from your pay. You cannot contribute to the TSP in the form of a check. You can contribute almost the full amount of your paycheck, so you may wish to move your contribution amount to 100% of your paycheck for the final month of the year. Note that the December pay period is almost here, so you would need to get your new contribution amount set ASAP for it to take effect in time. I recommend planning your 2016 contributions now so you have a better chance of maxing out your TSP contributions in 2016.

  23. Chris says

    I’m a reservist with civilian full-time employment. If I contribute $18,000 to my civilian employer’s 401-k program, can I still contribute to TSP?

    Thanks!

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hi Chris, the TSP shares a contribution limit with your civilian 401k plan. You can contribute to both, but you cannot exceed the annual limit of $18,000 (or the limit stated by the IRS).

  24. Cody says

    Ryan,

    I’ve recently started active duty and I have about 10k sitting in my checking account I would like to put into a tsp account. Can I make this lump sum deposit from my checking account into a tsp account?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hi Cody, Unfortunately, you cannot make lump sum contributions to your TSP account. You can only make payroll deductions. However, you can increase your TSP contribution limit until you reach $10,000 and just live off your savings during that time frame. This will have the same long-term effect, but would require you to make the manual changes to your contributions as well as budget accordingly.

  25. Patrick Nelson says

    Ryan, Good Morning.
    So for 2015, can I contribute the max of $18K (non-combat pay) to my traditional military TSP, plus another $12K from special pay (Foreign Language Pay) for a total of $30K for the calendar year? Thank you.

    Pat

  26. John says

    Mikel – TSP is restricted to pay-roll reductions only so REDUX transaction is a no go – IRA (up to yearly limit) and relax in ROTH would seem a possible course to me. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Your comment is false, John. Military members who choose the Career Sates Bonus as part of the REDUX retirement plan are eligible to contribute 100% of the amount to the Thrift Savings Plan, provided they do not exceed the $52,000 annual contribution limit ($57,500 if over age 50). The annual contribution limit for payroll deductions is $17,500 ($23,000 if over age 50). However, TSP participants can contribute up to $52,000 ($57,500 if over age 50) if they elect to contribute eligible non-payroll compensation such as a reenlistment bonus, Career Status Bonus, or select other forms of income.

      Here is more info: Career Status Bonus Options, and TSP Contribution Limits.

      The idea of contributing to a Roth IRA is always a good one, however that does nothing to address the major tax hit a military member would take by choosing the REDUX option. Long term, the REDUX option is usually not the best long-term financial option unless there is an immediate and pressing need for the CSB. Even choosing to invest 100% of the CSB in the TSP isn’t a guaranteed method of beating the value of the higher pension that comes with the High-3 retirement plan. Most military members would be better off choosing the High-3 retirement plan, while continuing to make additional investments in their Thrift Savings Plan account, or in a Roth IRA.

  27. Nate says

    Ryan,
    Thank you for all your information. I have a basic question. I understand that you can contribute $51,000 in TSP while deployed and that $17,500 of that can be put into Roth. Here are my questions.

    1. Does that mean that while deployed, I can $17,500 in Roth TSP and $33,500 in traditioanl TSP?

    2. Will this $33,500 in TSP also reduce my taxable income ON TOP of the tax free salary during deployment.

    3. When I return from deployment, if I contribute $51,000K while deployed, can I still contribute more to TSP. In other words, is $51K my total for the year, or is it $51K while deployed and then another $17500 when I get back?

    Thanks a bunch and keep up the strong work!

    Nate

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Nate, Thanks for contacting me. Here are the answers to your questions:

      (1) You can only contribute up to $17,500 of your own funds (salary) into the TSP per year. You can contribute to either the Roth or the Traditional, your choice. Any additional TSP contributions must come from the employer (in this case, the military). Since there is no employer match, the contributions would have to come from things such as special duty pay, reenlistment bonuses, and other special payments you might receive while deployed. These can only go up to the $51,000 limit for the tax year. All employer contributions are automatically classified as Traditional TSP contributions (there is no way to change this).

      (2) No. Your pay is already tax free. You won’t be able to reduce your taxable income more by making Traditional TSP contributions. This is why contributing to the Roth TSP is such a great deal while deployed.

      (3) As stated in the first answer, your max contribution of your own funds is $17,500. The $51,000 limit includes employer contributions. These are the annual maximums and cannot be exceeded.

      If you wish to do further investing, I recommend opening a Roth IRA, then the Savings Deposit Program, followed by non-taxable investments. This article on investing while deployed should be helpful. Thanks for your service!

  28. matt says

    Can an eligible military member who is also eligible for a 401(k) through a second employer contribute and max out both (which happens to be the same limit of $17,500 + $5500 catch up) or does the max of the two combined need to not exceed the annual limit? Thank you!

    • Ryan Guina says

      Matt, The TSP and 401k plans are under the same umbrella and share a max contribution limit. You can contribute up to $17,500 + $5,500 catch-up contributions across both accounts. Note: this only applies to your personal contributions. The max including all employer matching, bonus contributions, and other contributions is $51,000.

      It’s a good idea to plan your contributions accordingly, so you don’t contribute too much. I would recommend starting with the plan that has a company or agency match if you have one, that way you get any free money available to you. Then contribute to the plan that offers the best available investments with the remaining funds.

      Best of luck, and thanks for your service.

  29. JD says

    Ryan,

    Great info on the TSP…. Question regarding a military bonus…

    I will shortly be receiving the USAF Pilot Bonus. I would like to make the most of the bonus, while also trying to minimize the tax against it. It’s a $25K bonus. I’ve thought of making a lump sum contribution to the TSP for the year with $17K of the $25K. Does that mean that only $8K will be taxable?

    I appreciate your help and all the info you’ve provided on your blog.

    JD

    • Ryan Guina says

      JD, My understanding is that you can contribute up to $17,000 of your base pay to the TSP, but you can contribute up to a total of $50,000 (source) when you add other funds such as bonuses and retention pay (source).

      Regarding contributing from retention pay and bonuses: You can also contribute from 1 to 100 percent of any incentive pay, special pay, or bonus pay — as long as you also elect to contribute from your basic pay. (This quote is directly from the TSP website (second source link above).

      To contribute your retention bonus, you need to also contribute form your base pay. So I recommend setting that up ASAP, even if it is only 1%.

      You can contribute the entire $25,000 to the TSP if you want, but you don’t have to.

      As for taxes, the amount you contribute will generally be exempt from federal taxes, but you will still have to pay the FICA and Medicare taxes, which is usually around 8% or so (see note by Nords on this thread).

      So you would pay FICA and Medicare on any contributions, but you would not pay any Federal taxes on those contributions.

      Any funds you take now would be taxed at their normal rates (FICA, Medicare, and state / federal).

      If you receive the bonus in a tax free zone, then your entire bonus may be tax exempt. This has very nice long term potential.

  30. stan68ar says

    Mikel – TSP is limited to payroll deductions only so REDUX payment is a no go – IRA (up to annual limit) and rest in ROTH would seem a possible course to me.

  31. Dan says

    Ryan

    Great website!

    As the military rolls out the Roth TSP, can the $49,000 earned in a combat zone, be contributed to the ROTH TSP for each calendar year?

    Thanks again!

  32. mikel says

    Ryan i have a question can i contribute the whole 30,000 dollars (redux) to TSP ? without penalty with the IRS for tax purposes? let me know, because i am planning to get the redux and invest it to TSP .

  33. Adrienne says

    I want to change my TSP to roll over into a ROTH or IRA while I am in a tax free zone. I was told I could do this online. However, how do they know I am actually in a tax free zone?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Adrienne, the Roth TSP hasn’t officially been released yet, so you can’t change it over while you are deployed. However, since you will be in a tax free zone, your contributions will be from tax exempt pay, which will automatically be tracked by the Thrift Savings Plan and your tax free TSP contributions will show up at the bottom of your statements. These tax free contributions are similar to the Roth, as they can be withdrawn without paying taxes when you are in retirement. However, it is only the contributions which can be withdrawn tax free, and not the earnings from those contributions.

      After you separate from the military, you will be able to decide what to do with your TSP, including leaving it in the TSP, rolling it into a civilian TSP or a 401k plan, or rolling it into an IRA. If you choose to roll your TSP into an IRA, then you can leave your regular contributions in a Traditional IRA, and roll your tax-exempt contributions into a Roth IRA.

  34. David says

    Ryan,
    Do you know if the TSP allows military members to make contributions for the previous tax year before the tax deadline as other retirement account types do? For instance, I do not currently have a TSP but am interested in opening one and contributing a lump sum for 2011 contributions in order to reduce my 2011 taxable income while also investing.
    Thanks!

  35. Mike says

    Ryan – why does DFAS refuse to let deployed members earning more than the tax free base pay cap make deferred contributions – DFAS insists the first dollars of TSP contributions come from tax free pay! Only if you elect like 100% TSP deduction can I get to my taxable pay!

    This seems anti-service member as some of us are trying to lower our AGI so we can enjoy certain deductions and credits.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Mike, I’m not 100% certain, but I believe there are rules regarding how contributions are made, and in which order they come from your pay. I recommend contacting someone at DFAS or the TSP.

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