Have you ever had a moment as an adult where you realized you were living in a bubble?
Someone was recently telling me about how they helped a friend who wanted to get a divorce but couldn’t find their spouse.
I didn’t realize that people could still disappear in the 2020s. But it happens.
Because this man was abandoned by his spouse, and he had no idea where she was living, it was quite an ordeal to get a divorce. He ended up needing to post an “Order of Notice” in the local newspaper for multiple weeks before the court would proceed with the divorce.
And in some cases, you might not be able to fully disentangle your property from your spouse if they disappear.
While no one wants to think about a disappearing spouse, it is an unfortunate reality and potential outcome that will affect your finances, including your TSP.
If you find yourself in this situation, I wrote this article to help you navigate some issues you might have with your TSP, including getting a TSP loan without a spousal signature.Get Gov Worker’s top 4 tips for federal employees!
Table of Contents
- What is a TSP and how does it work?
- TSP Spousal Rights
- Why would someone need to get a TSP loan without a spousal signature?
- Can I withdraw money from my TSP without my spouse’s signature?
- How can I apply for a TSP loan without a spousal signature?
Please do not confuse my personal blog for financial advice, tax advice or an official position of the U.S. Government. This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on a link, I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you.
What is a TSP and how does it work?
The Thrift Savings Plan (or TSP) is an important part of the retirement system for federal employees under FERS and military members who participate in the Blended Retirement System. Practically speaking, the TSP is a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k).
FERS employees can choose to contribute to the TSP through payroll deduction. The government matches your contributions up to the first 5% of your salary. So if you contribute 5% of your paycheck each week, your total contributions will be equal to 10% of your pay. Essentially, you’re getting a 5% raise just by contributing to your retirement.
TSP participants can choose to invest in 5 core funds that invest in stocks (C/S/I) or bonds (F/G). The TSP also offers lifecycle funds in 5 year intervals that correspond with your expected retirement date. In 2022, the TSP offered a mutual fund window to give participants even more investment options. However, the mutual fund window is a bad deal for most federal employees.
TSP Spousal Rights
If you are married, did you know that your spouse owns part of your TSP? (Actually, I hope you knew that).
The details of how much of your TSP your spouse owns depends on a lot of factors, including which state you live in. For example, I live in a “community property” state where all assets and liabilities accumulated during marriage are jointly owned by both spouses.
In my case, I didn’t have a TSP before I got married. Therefore, my entire TSP balance is community property. If I were to get a divorce, my wife would be entitled to half of my TSP balance.
Your particular situation might be different. You may have had a large TSP balance prior to getting married. Or your state might treat marital property slightly different. The key thing to remember however, is that if you are married, your spouse has some claims on at least part of your TSP.
Why do you need a spousal signature for a TSP loan?
Hopefully by now you understand that if you are married, you don’t own all of your TSP. In fact, your husband or wife may own up to half of your TSP balance.
Therefore, when you make a TSP loan, you’re not just borrowing against your retirement, you’re also borrowing from your spouse’s assets. Since they own part of your TSP, they need to agree to the loan. It’s not just loans, your spouse needs to approve any withdrawal of funds from the TSP.
Why would someone need to get a TSP loan without a spousal signature?
There is only one reason why you’d want to get a TSP loan without a spouse’s signature; your spouse can’t or won’t sign the loan paperwork.
Now there may be many reasons why your spouse won’t sign your paperwork. For instance, you might really want to take out a TSP loan to buy a jet-ski but your wife thinks it’s a bad idea. On the opposite spectrum, your spouse may have abandoned you and you might not have any way to find/divorce them.
The TSP allows people in this second category to take out a loan without a spousal signature. However, there are hoops you will have to jump through.
(Side note- if you’re reading this article because you want to sneak a loan to hide your finances from your spouse, I strongly recommend you consider how this financial infidelity will impact your marriage and how you’d feel if your husband or wife was spending their retirement without telling you.)
Can I withdraw money from my TSP without my spouse’s signature?
Yes- you can withdraw money from the TSP without your spouse’s signature under limited circumstances. You will need to fill out a form TSP-16 to make this claim. The TSP allows you to get funds without a spousal signature under two circumstances:
- You cannot locate your spouse.
- You have exceptional circumstances which make obtaining a spousal signature impossible
However, you will need to prove to the TSP that you are indeed facing one of these two unusual marital situations before they will allow you to withdraw money. (Since your spouse owns part of your TSP, the TSP also needs to look out for their interest by ensuring you legitimately meet these criteria).
If you cannot locate your spouse, the TSP requires you to try spend 90 days trying to locate your spouse. You will need to attach documentation, such as statements or police, agency, or judicial determinations to the TSP-16.
While “exceptional circumstance” sounds vague, you will need to submit some documentation such as a court order or some other governmental body. According to the code of federal regulations 5 CFR 1650.64, these exceptional circumstances include a situation where a couple has separated for more than 3 years but chose not to divorce among other options.
How can I apply for a TSP loan without a spousal signature?
You will need to submit a TSP-16 Form: “Exception to Spousal Requirements” along with your loan application. The TSP-16 form is available from the internal TSP website after you log-on. (The TSP forms used to be on the open access portion of the website but this recently changed in June, 2022).
The TSP-16 Form asks for the reason you are requesting an exemption. You will also need to attach justification showing that you tried for 90 days to find your spouse or that the courts have granted you an “exceptional circumstance” exemption.
Finally, you should know that the TSP does not guarantee that you will be able to get a loan without a spouse’s signature.
Does a TSP withdrawal have to be notarized?
The TSP-16 Form does not require the signature of a notary. Furthermore, the loan application (TSP-20) does not require a notarized signature.
Other TSP forms may require the signature of a notary. While the TSP temporarily waived notarization requirements during the pandemic, these have been reinstated as of October 28, 2020.Get Gov Worker’s top 4 tips for federal employees!
Hopefully this article helps if you find yourself in one of these difficult situations if you need a TSP loan without a spousal signature. If you have a TSP Loan story, feel free to share it in my Facebook Group.
SamSam i.e. "Gov Worker" started working for the government at age 18 and loved it so much that he never left. He started GovernmentWorkerFI in 2019 to help fellow federal employees understand their benefits, take control of their finances, and live their best lives.
TSP Forms: The ultimate guide to changing anything with your TSP
In a world where you can do anything with your smartphone, the TSP relies on a number of forms. Here's a guide with handy links to the forms.
TSP Early Withdrawal Penalty- Surprising Truths About Your Retirement
The IRS typically imposes a 10% penalty on early distributions from the TSP. Find out special rules to avoid the TSP early withdrawal penalty.