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Color of Money: Furloughed federal workers turn to loans, GoFundMe campaigns and more to make ends meet

Michelle Singletary on

GoFundMe already discovered someone falsely claiming that he was affected by the shutdown.

"We placed the campaign's funds on hold, and we required the campaign organizer to post an update stating he was not impacted by the shutdown," Whithorne said. "We will also offer refunds to donors."

Workers are dipping into their retirement funds. Some employees may resort to tapping their Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which is the federal government's version of a 401(k) plan.

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has issued a fact sheet for workers on tsp.gov about the shutdown's impact on contributions, loans and withdrawals.

Workers in non-pay status cannot take out a loan. However, they can ask for a hardship withdrawal, according to Kim Weaver, director of external affairs at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.

But if an employee is younger than 59 ½, there's a 10 percent early-withdrawal penalty. Non-Roth withdrawals are subject to federal income tax and, in some cases, state income tax.

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Year-over-year -- starting from Dec. 26 through Jan. 3 -- there has been a relatively small uptick of 340 hardship loans, Weaver said.

Employees who take a financial-hardship withdrawal can't make contributions to their TSP accounts for six months. If they get back pay, they cannot return or repay the money removed from their TSP account, according to the board.

Employees have applied for loans. Just as the shutdown began, Navy Federal Credit Union announced a plan to provide a one-time loan up to a maximum of $6,000 to federal-government employees and active-duty members of the Coast Guard who have an established direct-deposit account. There is no credit check and there are no fees or interest charges associated with this loan.

A little more than 100,000 Navy Federal members are affected by the shutdown, according to a spokesman. Of those members, 6,000 enrolled as of Jan. 7 in the loan program in anticipation of not getting their paychecks this week and next.

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