What Is a Tax Sheltered Annuity (TSA)?

Looking for a smart way to save on taxes while preparing for retirement? A Tax Sheltered Annuity might be the tool you need.

Ideal for public-sector educators and nonprofit employees, a TSA lets you save pre-tax dollars now and pay taxes later. This article will explain what a TSA is, how it works, and why it might be advantageous for your retirement planning. 

If you’re looking for ways to maximize the income you’ll receive in retirement, then it might also make sense to look at outside annuity options that are available through a 1035 transfer to an IRA.


  • Tax Sheltered Annuities (TSAs) are retirement plans primarily for public education employees and certain non-profit workers, offering tax deferral on contributions until distribution.
  • There are annual contribution limits to TSAs ($22,500 in 2023, $23,000 in 2024), with catch-up contributions allowed for individuals aged 50 or over and specialized contribution limits for employees with 15 years of service.
  • While TSAs offer a range of benefits including tax deferment, individuals must consider potential penalties for early withdrawal and the implications of transferring funds to different accounts like IRAs.

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Demystifying Tax Sheltered Annuities

In the realm of retirement savings, a Tax Sheltered Annuity (TSA) stands out as an appealing option for a certain demographic. A TSA is a type of tax sheltered annuity plan that beautifully marries the benefits of tax sheltering with the guaranteed return of an annuity.

It’s a plan tailored for employees within the public education sector, such as those employed with universities and public schools, as well as employees of certain 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations.

But what does a TSA look like? Within 403(b) plans, TSAs can take various forms. They could be annuity contracts offered by insurance companies, custodial accounts invested in mutual funds, or retirement income accounts, especially for church employees.

This flexibility means that TSAs can adapt to suit different financial needs and risk appetites.

The Mechanics of Tax Sheltered Annuity Plans

So, how does a TSA plan work? Starting from the date they are hired, employees can defer part of their salary into a TSA, or 403(b) plan, through a salary reduction agreement.

One of the key perks of a TSA plan is that the contributions you make are not taxed by federal or state governments until distributed, meaning you don’t have to pay taxes on them right away.

This tax-deferred status allows your retirement savings to grow unhindered, maximizing the power of compound interest.

TSAs can be structured in two ways. They can be immediate, providing payouts right away, or deferred, accumulating value over time for future payouts. This flexibility allows you to choose a plan that aligns with your retirement timeline.

Additionally, there is an option of variable TSAs. The growth rates of these annuities fluctuate with market conditions, which can be an attractive proposition for those who are comfortable with a bit of risk.

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TSA Plan Contributions and Limits

When it comes to contributions, the IRS has set certain limits. For the tax year 2023, the cap on contributions to TSAs is $22,500, scheduled to increase to $23,000 in 2024. If you’re aged 50 or over, you’re allowed to make an additional catch-up contribution of $7,500 each year for 2023 and 2024.

This is a helpful provision for those looking to boost their retirement savings as they approach retirement age.

Notably, employees who have completed 15 years of service may be eligible for additional contributions to their 403(b) plans. Also, contributions aren’t just limited to employees. Employers may also chip in under certain conditions.

However, it’s worth noting that non-ERISA 403(b) plans do not permit employer matching contributions or the adoption of automatic enrollment features.

Rollovers and Transfers: Maximizing TSA Benefits

Once you hit the age of 59 1/2 or upon separating from employment, you get the green light to roll over funds from a TSA.

You can move funds to another TSA or a different deferred tax annuity inside an IRA. Transfers between 403(b) plans are subject to the transferring and receiving plans’ transfer policies and maintaining the benefit value.

However, be mindful of the potential pitfalls. If you roll over funds before age 59 1/2, you could incur a 10% penalty unless the funds are moved due to reasons such as disability or employment changes.

Even transferring funds from a 403(b) plan to an IRA requires conditions such as employment termination to be met.

Transferring TSA funds may be desirable for reasons such as seeking better features or investment options, as well as potential tax advantages. But before taking that leap, weigh the pros and cons. A hasty transfer may lead to penalties, loss of benefits, or adverse tax consequences.

Comparing TSA and other IRA Annuity Options

Choosing between a TSA and another annuity within an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) often depends on individual circumstances, like how close one is to retirement and their existing retirement savings portfolio.

If you’re transitioning between employers, rolling a 403(b) into an IRA could open up a broader selection of investment opportunities, potentially leading to increased financial growth.

Transferring funds from a 403(b) to an IRA can also offer additional benefits such as the potential for more growth and enhanced market protection.

For participants over the age of 59 and a half, transferring their 403b plan to an IRA while still employed offers a strategic option for retirement planning. Thus, evaluating your options and making a well-informed choice could significantly impact your retirement nest egg.

The Impact of Taxes on Your TSA

While TSAs come with their share of benefits, it’s crucial to understand the tax implications. Withdrawals from a TSA are taxed at the federal income tax rate and may also be subject to state income tax.

However, participants can withdraw funds without incurring a penalty after reaching 59 1/2 years of age.

But what happens if you need to access your funds early? Here are some important points to consider:

  • Early withdrawals from a TSA before age 59 1/2 are subject to a 10% penalty, in addition to regular income taxes.
  • On the flip side, pre tax contributions to a TSA are made with pre-tax dollars, allowing investments to grow tax-free until distribution.
  • This could result in lower tax liabilities depending on future tax brackets.

Retirement Plan Portability: From TSA to IRA

Retirement plans aren’t set in stone. For instance, a 403(b) plan can be rolled over into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). This move could open up opportunities for more growth and guaranteed income opportunities compared to the original 403(b) plan.

Shifting funds from an old 403(b) to an IRA can potentially lead to higher income in retirement because it can open access to other higher paying annuity options. This portability feature offers flexibility and can be a strategic move in your retirement planning journey.

TSA vs. Other Qualified Retirement Plans

When compared to other retirement plans like IRAs and 401(k)s, TSAs have unique features. Here are some key differences:

  • TSAs are insurance products designed to provide guaranteed income, while IRAs and 401(k)s do not offer this guarantee. You can however, purchase annuity contracts with the rolled over funds in an IRA.
  • Both TSAs and IRAs offer tax benefits.
  • TSA-eligible 403(b) plans come with a universal availability requirement, meaning that all employees of eligible organizations can participate. In contrast, 401(k) plans have more flexibility in terms of eligibility.

Traditionally, 403(b) plans, which include TSAs, have had higher fees than 401(k) plans, which may affect participation and savings outcomes. Despite having similar annual contribution limits to 401(k)s, 403(b) plans often see lower participation rates and average savings rates.

However, nonprofits switching from a 403(b) plan to a Safe Harbor 401(k) might find opportunities to reduce employer contribution costs by setting service or age-based eligibility requirements.

Speak with an annuity expert

Booking a call with an annuity expert can provide personalized guidance on annuity strategies and help you make informed decisions about your retirement income.

I can help you:

  • Determine the best solution for your unique circumstances
  • Navigate and make crucial decisions during your financial journey
  • Find the best annuities for your unique situation

By clicking here to schedule a call, I can take a look at specific annuity options and strategize on possible 403b to IRA transfers to take advantage of higher paying annuities. 


After exploring the nuances of Tax Sheltered Annuities, it’s clear that they offer a unique retirement savings solution, especially for employees within the public education sector and certain non-profit organizations.

From tax advantages and guaranteed returns to investment flexibility, TSAs are packed with features that can help build a robust retirement nest egg.

Frequently Asked Questions

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