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Publication 721

Tax Guide to 
U.S. Civil 


What’s New(p1)

Disaster tax relief.(p1)
Special rules apply to the use of retirement funds by qualified individuals who suffered an economic loss because of Hurricane Harvey, Irma, or Maria, or the California wildfires. See Pub. 976, Disaster Relief, for more information.


Future developments.(p1)
For the latest information about developments related to Pub. 721, such as legislation enacted after it was published, go to
Phased retirement.(p1)
The phased retirement program was signed into law by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. This program allows eligible employees to begin receiving annuity payments while working part time. For more information about phased retirement, go to and click on the Retirement tab and then Phased Retirement. For information on how the tax-free portion (recovery of investment in the contract) of your phased retirement benefits is figured, see Notice 2016-39, available at
Expanded exception to the tax on early distributions from a governmental plan for qualified public safety employees.(p1)
For tax years beginning after December 31, 2015, in addition to those employees described in Qualified public safety employees under Tax on Early Distributions in Pub. 575, Pension and Annuity Income, the definition is expanded to include the following.
  • Federal law enforcement officers.
  • Federal customs and border protection officers.
  • Federal firefighters.
  • Air traffic controllers.
  • Nuclear materials couriers.
  • Members of the United States Capitol Police.
  • Members of the Supreme Court Police.
  • Diplomatic security special agents of the United States Department of State.

In addition, the exception to the tax is extended to distributions from governmental defined contribution plans, as well as governmental defined benefit plans.
See Tax on Early Distributions in Pub. 575 for more information.
Roth Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) balance.(p2)
You may be able to contribute to a designated Roth account through the TSP known as the Roth TSP. Roth TSP contributions are after-tax contributions, subject to the same contribution limits as the traditional TSP. Qualified distributions from a Roth TSP aren't included in your income. See Thrift Savings Plan in Part II for more information.
You can roll over certain amounts from the CSRS, FERS, or TSP to a tax-sheltered annuity plan (403(b) plan) or a state or local government section 457 deferred compensation plan. See Rollover Rules in Part II.
Rollovers by surviving spouse.(p2)
You may be able to roll over a distribution you receive as the surviving spouse of a deceased employee or retiree into a qualified retirement plan or an IRA. See Rollover Rules in Part II.
Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) beneficiary participant accounts.(p2)
If you are the spouse beneficiary of a decedent's TSP account, you have the option of leaving the death benefit payment in a TSP account in your own name (a beneficiary participant account). The amounts in the beneficiary participant account are neither taxable nor reportable until you choose to make a withdrawal, or otherwise receive a distribution from the account.
Benefits for public safety officer's survivors.(p2)
A survivor annuity received by the spouse, former spouse, or child of a public safety officer killed in the line of duty generally will be excluded from the recipient's income. For more information, see Dependents of public safety officers in Part IV.
Uniformed services Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) accounts.(p2)
If you have a uniformed services TSP account, it may include contributions from combat pay. This pay is tax exempt and contributions attributable to that pay are tax exempt when they are distributed from the uniformed services TSP account. However, any earnings on those contributions are subject to tax when they are distributed. The statement you receive from the TSP will separately state the total amount of your distribution and the amount of your taxable distribution for the year. If you have both a civilian and a uniformed services TSP account, you should apply the rules discussed in this publication separately to each account. You can get more information from the TSP website,, or the TSP Service Office.
Photographs of missing children.(p2)
The Internal Revenue Service is a proud partner with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC). Photographs of missing children selected by the Center may appear in this publication on pages that would otherwise be blank. You can help bring these children home by looking at the photographs and calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) if you recognize a child.


This publication explains how the federal income tax rules apply to civil service retirement benefits received by retired federal employees (including those disabled) or their survivors. These benefits are paid primarily under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS).

Tax rules for annuity benefits.(p2)

Part of the annuity benefits you receive is a tax-free recovery of your contributions to the CSRS or FERS. The rest of your benefits are taxable. If your annuity starting date is after November 18, 1996, you must use the Simplified Method to figure the taxable and tax-free parts. If your annuity starting date is before November 19, 1996, you generally could have chosen to use the Simplified Method or the General Rule. See Part II, Rules for Retirees.

Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).(p2)

The TSP provides federal employees with the same savings and tax benefits that many private employers offer their employees. This plan is similar to private sector 401(k) plans. You can defer tax on part of your pay by having it contributed to your traditional balance in the plan. The contributions and earnings on them aren't taxed until they are distributed to you. Also, the TSP offers a Roth TSP option. Contributions to this type of balance are after tax and qualified distributions from the account are tax free. See Thrift Savings Plan in Part II.

Comments and suggestions.(p2)

We welcome your comments about this publication and your suggestions for future editions.
You can send us comments from Or you can write to:

Internal Revenue Service
Tax Forms and Publications
1111 Constitution Ave. NW, IR-6526
Washington, DC 20224

Although we cannot respond individually to each comment received, we do appreciate your feedback and will consider your comments as we revise our tax products.
Ordering forms and publications.(p2)
Visit to download forms and publications. Otherwise, you can go to to order current and prior-year forms and instructions. Your order should arrive within 10 business days.
Tax questions.(p2)
If you have a tax question not answered by this publication, check and How To Get Tax Help at the end of this publication.


Useful items

You may want to see:

 524 Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled
 575 Pension and Annuity Income
 590-A Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)
 590-B Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)
 939 General Rule for Pensions and Annuities
Form (and Instructions)
 CSA 1099-R: Statement of Annuity Paid
 CSF 1099-R: Statement of Survivor Annuity Paid
 W-4P: Withholding Certificate for Pension or Annuity Payments 
 1099-R: Distributions From Pensions, Annuities, Retirement or Profit-Sharing Plans, IRAs, Insurance Contracts, etc.
 5329: Additional Taxes on Qualified Plans (Including IRAs) and Other Tax-Favored Accounts
See How To Get Tax Help at the end of this publication for information about getting publications and forms.

Part I General Information(p3)

This part of the publication contains information that can apply to most recipients of civil service retirement benefits.

Refund of Contributions(p3)

If you leave federal government service or transfer to a job not under the CSRS or FERS and you aren't eligible for an immediate annuity, you can choose to receive a refund of the money in your CSRS or FERS retirement account. The refund will include both regular and voluntary contributions you made to the fund, plus any interest payable.
If the refund includes only your contributions, none of the refund is taxable. If it includes any interest, the interest is taxable unless you roll it over directly into another qualified plan or a traditional individual retirement arrangement (IRA). If you don't have the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) transfer the interest to an IRA or other plan in a direct rollover, tax will be withheld at a 20% rate. See Rollover Rules in Part II for information on how to make a rollover.
Interest isn't paid on contributions to the CSRS for service after 1956 unless your service was for more than 1 year but not more than 5 years. Therefore, many employees who withdraw their contributions under the CSRS don't get interest and don't owe any tax on their refund.
If you don't roll over interest included in your refund, it may qualify as a lump-sum distribution eligible for capital gain treatment or the 10-year tax option. If you separate from service before the calendar year in which you reach age 55, it may be subject to an additional 10% tax on early distributions. For more information, see Lump-Sum Distributions and Tax on Early Distributions in Pub. 575.
A lump-sum distribution is eligible for capital gain treatment or the 10-year tax option only if the plan participant was born before January 2, 1936.

Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax(p3)

The CSRS or FERS annuity you receive is subject to federal income tax withholding, unless you choose not to have tax withheld. OPM will tell you how to make the choice. The choice for no withholding remains in effect until you change it. These withholding rules also apply to a disability annuity, whether received before or after minimum retirement age.
If you choose not to have tax withheld, or if you don't have enough tax withheld, you may have to make estimated tax payments.
You may owe a penalty if the total of your withheld tax and estimated tax doesn’t cover most of the tax shown on your return. Generally, you will owe the penalty for 2018 if the additional tax you must pay with your return is $1,000 or more and more than 10% of the tax to be shown on your 2018 return. For more information, including exceptions to the penalty, see chapter 4 of Pub. 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax.

Form CSA 1099-R.(p3)

Form CSA 1099-R is mailed to you by OPM each year. It will show any tax you had withheld. File a copy of Form CSA 1099-R with your tax return if any federal income tax was withheld.
You also can view and download your Form CSA 1099-R by visiting the OPM website at To log in, you will need your retirement CSA claim number, your social security number, and your password.

Choosing no withholding on payments outside the United States.(p3)

The choice for no withholding generally can't be made for annuity payments to be delivered outside the United States and its possessions.
To choose no withholding if you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, you must provide OPM with your home address in the United States or its possessions. Otherwise, OPM has to withhold tax. For example, OPM must withhold if you provide a U.S. address for a nominee, trustee, or agent (such as a bank) to whom the benefits are to be delivered, but you don't provide your own U.S. home address.
If you don't provide a home address in the United States or its possessions, you can choose not to have tax withheld only if you certify to OPM that you aren't a U.S. citizen, a U.S. resident alien, or someone who left the United States to avoid tax. But if you so certify, you may be subject to the 30% flat rate withholding that applies to nonresident aliens. For details, see Pub. 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.

Withholding certificate.(p4)

If you give OPM a Form W-4P-A, Election of Federal Income Tax Withholding, you can choose not to have tax withheld or you can choose to have tax withheld. The amount of tax withheld depends on your marital status, the number of withholding allowances, and any additional amount you designate to be withheld. If you don't make either of these choices, OPM must withhold as if you were married with three withholding allowances.
To change the amount of tax withholding or to stop withholding, call OPM's Retirement Information Office at 1-888-767-6738. No special form is needed. You will need your retirement CSA or CSF claim number and your social security number when you call. If you have TTY/TDD equipment, call 1-855-887-4957. If you need a PIN, call OPM's Retirement Information Office.
You also can change the amount of withholding or stop withholding online by visiting the OPM website at You will need your retirement CSA or CSF claim number and password.

Withholding from certain lump-sum payments.(p4)

If you leave the federal government before becoming eligible to retire and you apply for a refund of your CSRS or FERS contributions, or you die without leaving a survivor eligible for an annuity, you or your beneficiary will receive a distribution of your contributions to the retirement plan plus any interest payable. Tax will be withheld at a 20% rate on the interest distributed. However, tax will not be withheld if you have OPM transfer (roll over) the interest directly to your traditional IRA or other qualified plan. If you have OPM transfer (roll over) the interest directly to a Roth IRA, the entire amount will be taxed in the current year. Because no income tax will be withheld at the time of the transfer, you may want to increase your withholding or pay estimated taxes. See Rollover Rules in Part II. If you receive only your contributions, no tax will be withheld.

Withholding from Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) payments.(p4)

Generally, a distribution that you receive from the TSP is subject to federal income tax withholding. The amount withheld is:
However, you usually can choose not to have tax withheld from TSP payments other than eligible rollover distributions. By January 31 after the end of the year in which you receive a distribution, the TSP will issue Form 1099-R showing the total distributions you received in the prior year and the amount of tax withheld.
For a detailed discussion of withholding on distributions from the TSP, see Important Tax Information About Payments From Your TSP Account, available from your agency personnel office or from the TSP.
The above document is also available in the "Forms & Publications" section of the TSP website at

Estimated tax.(p4)

Generally, you must make estimated tax payments for 2018 if you expect to owe at least $1,000 in tax for 2018 (after subtracting your withholding and credits) and you expect your withholding and your credits to be less than the smaller of:
You don't have to pay estimated tax for 2018 if you were a U.S. citizen or resident alien for all of 2017 and you had no tax liability for the full 12-month 2017 tax year.
Pub. 505 contains information that you can use to help you figure your estimated tax payments.

Filing Requirements(p4)

If your gross income, including the taxable part of your annuity, is less than a certain amount, you generally don't have to file a federal income tax return for that year. The gross income filing requirements for the tax year are in the instructions for Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ.


If you are the surviving spouse of a federal employee or retiree and your monthly annuity check includes a survivor annuity for one or more children, each child's annuity counts as his or her own income (not yours) for federal income tax purposes.
If your child can be claimed as a dependent, treat the taxable part of his or her annuity as unearned income when applying the filing requirements for dependents.
Form CSF 1099-R.(p4)
Form CSF 1099-R will be mailed by January 31 after the end of each tax year. It will show the total amount of the annuity you received in the past year. It also should show, separately, the survivor annuity for a child or children. Only the part that is each individual's survivor annuity should be shown on that individual's Form 1040 or 1040A.
If your Form CSF 1099-R doesn't show separately the amount paid to you for a child or children, attach a statement to your return, along with a copy of Form CSF 1099-R, explaining why the amount shown on the tax return differs from the amount shown on Form CSF 1099-R.
You also can view and download your Form CSF 1099-R by visiting the OPM website at To log in, you will need your retirement CSF claim number and password.
You may request a Summary of Payments, showing the amounts paid to you for your child(ren), from OPM by calling OPM's Retirement Information Office at 1-888-767-6738. You will need your CSF claim number and your social security number when you call.

Taxable part of annuity.(p5)

To find the taxable part of a retiree's annuity when applying the filing requirements, see the discussion in Part II, Rules for Retirees, or Part III, Rules for Disability Retirement and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled, whichever applies. To find the taxable part of each survivor annuity when applying the filing requirements, see the discussion in Part IV, Rules for Survivors of Federal Employees, or Part V, Rules for Survivors of Federal Retirees, whichever applies.