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I have a similar situation with TIAA-CREF and have decided to use the Supplemental Retirement Annuity (SRA). Some important factors in my decision.

1. Fully fund Roth first. I am in my 30's and this has the greatest advantage.

2. Max out the 403b. If the 403b is a mandatory contributions (as it is at my institution) then this contribution doesn't count toward the maximum (13%, I think) allowed in before tax contributions. There are a couple of other factors in this as well, such as ERISA, so check with your HR department to make sure that it applies to you.

3. Only put money into the SRA that you won't need until 59 1/2. If you are thinking about early retirement (like I am), this is an important consideration. I think that I may be able to get at the money at 55 if there is a "separation" with the employer, but I am still trying to figure out if this includes retirement or only dismissal.

4. Watch out for the limitations on the types of investment and their expenses. You are right that TIAA-CREF has low expenses across the board (though not as low as Vanguard's for index accounts). However, you probably only have access to the basic 10 fund choices in the SRA -- the same choices as available for your 403b. Half of those choices are bonds or annuities. So that leaves only a few options for diversification (and no S&P 500 index fund, only Russell 3000 index available).

I have decided to put as much as I can into the SRA for a year or two. Then I will re-evaluate the early retirement scenario and see if I need more accessible money.

Hope that helps.
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