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What Are the Contribution Limits For My Thrift Savings Plan?

Thrift Savings Plans (TSPs) are an essential retirement savings tool for federal employees and members of the uniformed services. Like a 401(k) plan for private-sector employees, TSPs allow eligible individuals to save and invest their money for retirement while enjoying tax-deferred growth. However, just like with 401(k) plans, there are annual limits on the amount you can contribute to your TSP account. In this article, we will discuss the TSP contribution limits and how they compare to those of 401(k) plans.

TSP vs. 401(k) Contribution Limits

The contribution limits for TSPs are the same as those for 401(k) plans. Both employees and employers using the TSP will have the same contribution limits as 401(k) plans, which are set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) each year. In 2016, for example, an employee could defer up to $18,000 per year, plus an additional $6,000 catch-up deferral if the employee was over 50 years old. The employer, on the other hand, could contribute up to a maximum total balance of $53,000 (or $59,000 if the employee was over 59 ½), including employee deferrals.

Employer Contributions

Employers who offer a TSP plan are required to contribute a standard 1% flat contribution to all eligible employees' accounts, regardless of whether the employee chooses to contribute or not. This is known as an automatic contribution and is not matched by the employee. Some federal employees may also receive a matching contribution from their employer, which is an additional incentive to save for retirement.

Matching contributions vary depending on the employee's deferral rate and the agency they work for. Generally, the first 3% of an employee's salary that they contribute will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the employer. The next 2% of the employee's salary contributed will be matched at 50 cents on the dollar. This means that if an employee contributes 5% of their salary to their TSP account, they will receive a total of 4% in matching contributions from their employer.

Catch-up Contributions

Catch-up contributions are additional contributions that employees aged 50 or older can make to their TSP accounts, beyond the standard annual limits. In 2016, the catch-up contribution limit was $6,000, allowing eligible employees to defer up to a total of $24,000 per year ($18,000 standard deferral plus $6,000 catch-up deferral). Catch-up contributions are not subject to employer matching.

Contribution Limit Adjustments

The IRS periodically adjusts the contribution limits for TSPs and 401(k) plans to account for inflation and changes in the cost of living. These adjustments are typically announced in the fall for the following year. It is important to stay informed about any changes in contribution limits, as they can impact your retirement savings strategy.

Roth TSP Contributions

In addition to traditional pre-tax TSP contributions, federal employees can also choose to make Roth TSP contributions. Roth contributions are made on an after-tax basis, meaning that contributions are taxed at the time they are made. However, qualified withdrawals from a Roth TSP account are tax-free in retirement, offering potential tax savings to employees who expect to be in a higher tax bracket during retirement.

Roth TSP contribution limits are the same as traditional TSP limits, and employees can choose to split their contributions between the two types of accounts, as long as they do not exceed the annual contribution limits.

Understanding the contribution limits for your TSP account is crucial for maximizing your retirement savings potential. By knowing these limits and taking advantage of employer matching contributions and catch-up contributions, you can ensure that you are on track for a comfortable retirement.

It is also essential to review your TSP account regularly and make any necessary adjustments to your contribution levels or investment allocations. This can help you stay on track with your retirement goals and take advantage of any changes in contribution limits or other relevant factors.

When planning your retirement savings strategy, it is essential to consider factors such as your age, income, expected retirement expenses, and any other sources of retirement income, such as Social Security benefits or pensions. By doing so, you can determine the optimal contribution level for your TSP account that will help you achieve your retirement goals.

The TSP is a valuable retirement savings vehicle for federal employees and members of the uniformed services. By understanding the contribution limits and making the most of employer contributions, catch-up contributions, and Roth TSP options, you can maximize your retirement savings and enjoy a more secure financial future.

Keep in mind that this article is based on the 2016 contribution limits. Be sure to stay informed about any updates or changes to the TSP contribution limits, as they may affect your retirement savings strategy. To learn more about the TSP and the latest contribution limits, consult the TSP website or speak with a financial advisor who is familiar with the TSP program.

Remember that saving for retirement is a long-term commitment, and it is essential to continually monitor your progress and adjust your strategy as needed. By staying informed about the TSP contribution limits and other relevant factors, you can make informed decisions about your retirement savings and help ensure a secure and comfortable retirement.

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