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Thrift savings plan contribution limits increase in 2012

  • Published
  • By Kathryn Iapichino
  • Air Force Personnel Center Benefits and Entitlements Counselor
The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has announced the 2012 elective deferral limit for regular Thrift Savings Plan contributions has increased from $16,500 to $17,000 for 2012, Air Force Personnel Center officials said. The TSP catch-up plan contribution limit will remain at $5,500.

TSP is a long-term retirement savings plan that allows investors to build an investment portfolio while lowering their taxes each year they contribute. Contributions go directly from each paycheck to the member's account, which makes it easy to pay yourself first, with taxes deferred until post-retirement withdrawal.

TSP investments are not limited to stocks: employees can choose government securities or invest in lifecycle funds as well. Regular TSP contributions stop when an employee's contributions reach the annual maximum limit and then automatically resume the next calendar year.

Catch-up contributions are additional tax-deferred contributions separate from regular contributions. Catch-up contributions provide investors a way to secure their retirement, especially for those who begin investing later in their careers.

To be eligible for catch-up contributions, civilian and military employees must be at least 50 years old the year the first deduction from pay occurs. They must also be in a pay status and able to certify they will make, or have made, the maximum regular employee contributions by the end of the year.

Other eligible accounts include uniformed services TSP accounts, employee tax deferred programs, or 401Ks. Employees who have taken a TSP financial hardship in-service withdrawal are not eligible to invest during the six-month, non-contribution period.

Catch-up contributions automatically stop with the last pay date in the calendar year or when the maximum catch-up dollar limit for the year is reached, whichever comes first. Eligible employees must submit a new election for each year they participate.

TSP for military members

Military members can contribute any whole percentage up to 92 percent of basic pay, as long as the annual total does not exceed $17,000 for 2012. If contributing from basic pay, Airmen may also invest all or part of their bonuses, special pay, or incentive pay.

Members may enroll and adjust contribution amounts through their Defense Finance and Accounting Service myPay account. TSP elections made in the current month will be reflected on the leave and earnings statement for the next month.

Those serving in tax-free combat zones may contribute up to $50,000 in annual contributions for 2012, which total includes tax-exempt combat zone contributions and regular deferred contributions. There are monthly contribution limits, though. Military members can call TSP officials at 877-968-3778 for more information.

Military members who want to make catch-up contributions must complete and forward the TSP-U-1-C, TSP Catch-Up Contribution Election Form, to their local finance office.

To make contribution allocations, how an employee chooses to invest money among the investment funds, military members can go to www.tsp.gov and use their personal identification number and password to access their TSP account. Contribution allocations can also be made via the Thrift Line 877-968-3778.

For general TSP questions, call the Total Force Service Center at 800-525-0102 (press 1 and then press 6).

TSP for civilians

Civilians can contribute any whole percentage of their basic pay or a whole dollar amount each pay period to a regular TSP account. This amount is subject to the $17,000 annual maximum for 2012.

Air Force-serviced civilians may submit regular TSP enrollment elections or changes at any time. Contributions will automatically continue into 2012 for those already in TSP, so it is not necessary for employees to submit an election unless they wish to change the amount of their bi-weekly contributions. The Jan. 6 contribution will apply toward the 2012 annual maximum.

Employees who are covered by the Federal Employees' Retirement System must contribute at least five percent of their basic pay every pay period to receive maximum agency matching contributions throughout the entire year. Once the maximum contribution limit of $17,000 is reached, employee contributions and agency matching contributions will be suspended for the remainder of the year.

Regular TSP enrollments, changes, or catch-up contributions submitted Dec. 4 -17 will be effective Dec. 18 and will be reflected on the leave and earning statement for the pay period ending Dec. 31. Elections submitted Dec. 18 - 31 will be effective Jan. 1 and will be reflected on the leave and earnings statement for the pay period ending Jan. 14.

When submitting catch-up contribution elections, employees must designate a whole-dollar amount to contribute each payday. Do not designate an amount that exceeds net pay or payroll will not withhold any TSP contributions. To spread catch-up contributions evenly over the year, divide the total contribution, up to $5,500, by the number of pay dates remaining in the year.

Air Force-serviced civilians submit contribution elections via the Employee Benefits Information System online application or through the automated phone system. EBIS is accessible on the Air Force Portal and through the Air Force Personnel Services secure site.

To reach EBIS via phone, dial 800-525-0102. When the phone system answers, press 2 for civilian employees, and 2 again for benefits and entitlements services. Then follow the prompts. Employees in foreign areas should call the toll-free AT&T direct access number for the country they are in, and then dial 800-525-0102. For AT&T direct access numbers, go to www.usa.att.com/traveler/index.jsp.

For more information about TSP, go to www.tsp.gov. Click on "Summary of the Thrift Savings Plan" located under civilian or uniformed services TSP Forms and Publications.