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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

A Retirement Guide for Every Stage of Your Career

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Flickr user Richard Walker

Last week, we looked at some of the factors federal employees fear could threaten their financial security in retirement. The results came from a recent in-depth research study of federal employees conducted by Government Executive’s research unit, the Government Business Council. Another question posed in this survey that I thought would be interesting to explore involved the resources available to federal employees to help them in the retirement planning process.

Most respondents to the survey (68 percent) indicated they had access to retirement classes and workshops to help them prepare. However, far fewer respondents said their agencies offered personal retirement and benefits counseling, external resources such as retirement or benefits guides, professional financial planning assistance, and career fairs.

When asked how satisfied they were with the availability of resources, 29 percent of respondents indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied, 29 percent said they were somewhat satisfied, and 34 percent said they were not very or not at all satisfied. Respondents also had mixed feelings about the quality of their agency’s resources: 34 percent were satisfied or very satisfied, 27 percent were somewhat satisfied, and 28 percent were not very or not at all satisfied.

Click here to read the full report on the survey: Surfing the Retirement Wave

It would be wonderful if all federal employees had access to early career, mid-career and pre-retirement services. If you do, consider yourself lucky — they’ve all but disappeared from many federal agencies. In some cases, there are services available to managers and senior executives, but less for the rank-and-file.

What can you do if your agency is not providing adequate resources to help you plan for retirement? Fortunately, today there are many outside resources available, as long as you know the right questions to ask and the most important things to have on your to-do list.

Let’s take a look at retirement planning at the three stages of your federal career: early, mid-career, and pre-retirement. Here are some questions that you should be asking yourself at each stage of your career, along with lists of resources to help you find the answers.

Early Career

(Up to 10 years on the job)

What are the basics of my retirement plan?

When am I eligible for retirement?

What is the formula to compute the value of my retirement benefit?

What if I become disabled during my career?

How much can I expect in Social Security benefits?

Do I have adequate life insurance protection?

Do I have the best health benefits coverage for myself and my family?

How much should I save for my retirement in the Thrift Savings Plan?

What if I leave federal service prior to becoming eligible for retirement? What are the vesting requirements for basic retirement benefits and the TSP?

Midcareer

(From 10 years on the job to five years before retirement)

Do I know if and/or when I plan to retire from federal service? If I am planning a second career, have I begun to explore options? If I am planning to stop working, have I computed how much retirement income I will need?

Have I reviewed my electronic official personnel folder? There should be evidence of the beginning and ending dates of each of my federal appointments.

Has my retirement coverage changed during my federal career?

Has my work schedule changed?

Are my beneficiary designations for FEHBP, FEGLI and unpaid compensation up to date?

Have I performed active duty military service that I want to use towards eligibility or computation of my retirement benefit? Do I have any civilian service that was not covered by retirement deductions? Do I have any refunded retirement contributions?

Have I had a life event such as marriage, divorce, death of a family member, or birth or adoption of a child?

Have I updated my beneficiary designations?

Do I need help from a professional financial adviser?

Pre-Retirement

(Five years or fewer before retirement)

Have I requested a retirement estimate for a specific date or several dates from my human resources office?

Am I eligible to continue FEHBP and FEGLI into retirement?

Do I understand my options for electing an unreduced CSRS or FERS annuity payable during my lifetime compared with a reduced annuity to provide a survivor annuity to a spouse or a person who may have an insurable interest in me?

Have I started to explore the different withdrawal options for using the money that I’ve saved in my TSP?

If I will be retiring at age 62 or later, have I started to explore the strategies for claiming my Social Security retirement benefit? Do I understand how spousal and survivor benefits work under Social Security?

Have I considered signing up for long-term care insurance?

Have I re-evaluated my life insurance needs?

Will I be eligible for Medicare when I retire?

Do I understand how my retirement benefits will be taxed?

Retirement planning is like anything else that is complicated: Learn the basics and build on them. If retirement is a word that causes anxiety and fear for you, then it’s important to become better educated. Understanding the rules and calculations will reduce your anxiety  and give you more confidence.

Photo: Flickr user Richard Walker

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 www.tammyflanagan.com 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 NITPInc.com.

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