Is Roth Right for Me?

By Beth Perry, Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board

Similar to private sector 401(k) plans, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a defined-contribution plan that provides uniformed services members and federal employees the opportunity to save for additional retirement security. To sign up for the TSP or increase your contributions, log into myPay.

The TSP has two options for contributing to your account: traditional and Roth. With traditional contributions, you pay no taxes on the money you save when it goes into your TSP account. This reduces your taxable income while you’re contributing, but you’ll be subject to taxes on what you save and any earnings when you take it out in the future. Roth is different.

“Roth” means you pay taxes on the money you save before it goes into your TSP account. If you select this option, more money will come out of your paycheck up front, but Roth has a huge benefit. Since you’ve already paid taxes on what you contribute, it will be tax-free when you take it out. And any Roth earnings in your account are also tax-free if you meet certain IRS conditions.*

Here’s what that can mean for uniformed services members: Any combat zone pay you receive is always tax-free. If you contribute it to our Roth option, your earnings can be tax-free as well.* On the other hand, if you contribute combat zone pay to our traditional option, the IRS will still tax your earnings.

There’s something else to consider. Think about your current tax rate and compare it to what you expect your tax rate will be when you need your savings. For example, you may be in the early stages of your career and expect to earn more as you advance. You might think tax rates will go up. Or, since any future income you receive from a military pension is generally taxable, you may want tax-free TSP income in retirement. Any of these could mean Roth is right for you.

Think Roth is right for you? You can sign up for Roth TSP by logging into myPay. Click “Traditional TSP and Roth TSP” from the main menu, and then scroll to “Contribution from Roth TSP.” Decide how much of your pay you’d like to save (7%, for example). Then click “Save” at the bottom of the screen. For more information about our Roth option, watch “Is Roth Right for Me? (Uniformed Services)” at youtube.com/tsp4gov.

* Roth earnings are paid tax-free if 1) you have reached age 59¬Ω or have a permanent disability and 2) five years have passed since January 1 of the year of your first Roth contribution.

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