Know Your Limits: Contribution Limits and Your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) Account

By Abigail Reid, Writer/Editor, Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board

It makes sense that you would want to save as much as possible for a comfortable retirement. But did you know that there are limits to how much you can contribute to your TSP account?  These limits are set by the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). The IRC tells you the maximum dollar amounts that can be contributed to your TSP account and any similar employer-sponsored retirement plans each year. This article will review the three limits that you should understand.


The elective deferral limit restricts the amount that you can contribute in a calendar year to certain types of employer-sponsored defined-contribution plans. The 2013 limit is $17,500.  As a service member this could mean a combination of traditional TSP, TSP ROTH and civilian employer contributions.

There are two ways you could contribute more than $17,500.

  • If you are serving in a combat zone, you can do so by making traditional TSP contributions from your tax-exempt pay.  Because the elective deferral limit does not apply to traditional TSP contributions from your tax-exempt pay.  The annual additions limit for 2013 is $51,000. 
  • If you are age 50 or older you can contribute an additional $5,500 beyond the elective deferral limit or the annual additions limit. You can only make catch-up contributions from basic pay; you cannot make them from incentive pay, special pay, or bonus pay.  Also, you cannot make traditional (non-Roth) catch-up contributions from tax-exempt pay.

Your Next Steps

Now that you understand the limits, you’re ready to start making — or consider increasing — your contributions. You will do this through your pay system, probably online. You must make your request through your service instead of through the TSP because your payroll office calculates the contribution and deducts the appropriate amount of money from your pay.  If your payroll office prefers a paper form, use Form TSP-U-1, Election Form. You can also request this form from your service, or you can call the TSP’s ThriftLine at 1-877-968-3778 and have it sent to you.   

Your TSP contributions can come from various sources:  your basic pay, special pay, incentive pay, and bonus pay.  You decide the amount of each that you want to contribute, as long as you stay within the IRC limits.  However, be aware that you cannot make contributions to the TSP from your housing or subsistence allowances.

Learn more.

The TSP has a wide variety of resources to help you learn more about contribution limits and investing with the TSP:

  • Visit the TSP’s calculator: How Much Can I Contribute? to find out how much you should contribute each pay period to maximize your contributions.
  • Curious about how much you could save if you contributed the maximum that the elective deferral limit allows? Check out the TSP’s calculator: How Much Will My Savings Grow?
  • If you’d like to learn how Roth TSP could be the right choice for you as a uniformed services member, watch the video “Is Roth Right for Me?” on our YouTube channel, TSP4gov.

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