Retirement Planning Retirement PlanningRetirement Planning
Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

What You Need to Know

Whether you are a new federal employee or someone with 35 years of service, there are certain things you need to know to plan for your retirement. Your agency's human resources office can be a valuable resource for getting answers to these questions, since it is your link to the Office of Personnel Management, which administers benefits under both the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System.

At a seminar last week I was asked to provide examples of common questions you should ask yourself and your HR office. Here are a series of lists, based on your years of service, along with some suggestions for preliminary research before you head over to HR.

New Employees
For those with less than five years on the job:

  • Which retirement system am I covered under? There is a box on your Standard Form 50 (Notification of Personnel Action) showing your retirement coverage. Most new hires all under FERS. For more information, see OPM's Retirement Information and Services page.
  • How long do I have to work for the government to be eligible to retire with immediate or deferred retirement benefits? See OPM's FERS overview, or my previous column, Eligibility: Facts and Myths (July 6, 2007).
  • If I have prior federal service, has it been documented in my official personnel folder? See OPM's information on Creditable Civilian Service and Creditable Military Service.
  • Is my prior service creditable for future retirement?
  • Do I have to pay a service credit deposit to make this service creditable? OPM has online resources on service credit payments for civilian service and post-1956 military service. In addition, see my previous columns, Getting Credit (Jan. 27, 2006) and Buying Retirement Credit (Feb. 10, 2006)
  • How long does it take to be vested in the Thrift Savings Plan so all agency contributions belong to me, even if I leave federal service? See this summary from the TSP Board.
  • How much will I have in my TSP by the time I am eligible to retire? Use this calculator to project your balance.
  • How much income will I need to retire? The TSP offers a ballpark estimate calculator.
  • How much income can I expect from Social Security? The Social Security Administration offers an online estimator.

Midcareer Employees

For those with five to 15 years on the job:

Near-Retirement Employees

For those with more than 15 years on the job, or who are within five years of retirement eligibility:

NOTE: After this column was published, OPM let me know that it has developed a federal retirement ballpark estimate tool in partnership with the American Savings Education Council of the Employee Benefits Research Institute. It automatically calculates estimates of future CSRS or FERS retirement benefits and Thrift Savings Plan account balances to help users see how well they are doing in meeting their savings goals. You can find it here: Federal Ballpark Estimate.

Tammy Flanagan is the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars. She has spent 25 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning live on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. ET on or on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington metro area. This week's topic: Buy and Hold: Does It Really Work? Should I Stick With It? Guest: W. Kirk Taylor, CFP Taylor Wealth Advisors. Hosts: Bob Leins, CPA, NITP, and John Elliott, Federal Benefits Strategist.


Tammy Flanagan has spent 30 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits. She runs her own consulting business at and provides individual counseling as well as online training for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Plan Your Federal Retirement as well as the Federal Long Term Care insurance Program. She also serves as the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Federal News Radio on Mondays at 10 a.m. ET on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington-metro area. Archived shows are available on

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