A. I was looking for some information regarding VERA and what effects it will have on benefits including TSP.

I heard that you cannot withdrawal from TSP until age 55 without penalty. I was also told when I called the TSP helpline that even with a VERA, if you leave before age 55, you cannot withdrawal from TSP until age 59½ to avoid penalty.

Does anyone know if what I was told is correct? I find it hard to figure things out with the TSP publications available. And you never know if the person you spoke with really knows. Can you help?

Q. A VERA has no effect on the IRS’ early withdrawal penalty and your TSP account. The normal rules apply:

If you receive a TSP distribution before you reach age 59½, in addition to the regular income tax, you may have to pay an early withdrawal penalty tax equal to 10 percent of any taxable portion of the distribution not transferred or rolled over. The additional 10 percent tax generally does not apply to payments that are either of these:

  • Paid after you separate from service during or after the year you reach age 55 (or the year you reach age 50 if you are a public safety employee as defined in IRC section 72(t)(10)(B)(ii)).
  • Annuity payments.
  • Automatic enrollment refunds.
  • Made as a result of total and permanent disability.
  • Made because of death.
  • Made from a beneficiary participant account.
  • Made in a year you have deductible medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (7.5 percent if you or your spouse is 65 or over).
  • Ordered by a domestic relations court.
  • Paid as substantially equal payments over your life expectancy.

The penalty tax does not apply to any portion of a TSP distribution (including a loan) which represents tax-exempt contributions from pay earned in a combat zone.

Relief from the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty is available to eligible Reservists called to duty for more than 179 days. The Reservist must have been activated after Sept. 11, 2001, and must have received his or her TSP distribution between the date of the order or call and the close of the active-duty period. The Reservist may also be eligible to repay the distribution to an IRA (not the TSP). Participants should consult with their tax advisers, legal assistance officers or the IRS regarding this relief.

See the notice at for more information about the taxation of TSP distributions.


About Author

Mike Miles is a Certified Financial Planner licensee and principal adviser for Variplan LLC, an independent fiduciary in Vienna, Virginia. Email your financial questions to and view his blog at

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