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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.
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Is the Grass Really Greener?

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve been exploring the issue of whether to stick it out in a federal career or make the leap to the private sector.

That prompted some requests for help in evaluating the “should I stay or should I go?” question. Let’s look at a couple of them.

Experienced Under CSRS

The first is from a 62-year old single federal employee with 32 years of service under the Civil Service Retirement System. She is a GS-7, Step 10, who doesn’t see any potential for promotion. This employee is four credits shy of the required 40 credits needed to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. Here are her questions, and my responses:

Am I working for the same amount of pay that I would be receiving from my CSRS retirement?

Let’s assume, based on your rank and federal pay tables, that your salary is $50,431. With 32 years of federal service under CSRS, your retirement would be computed at 60.25 percent of your highest three years of salary. If your high-three average is close to your current salary, the unreduced benefit would be $30,330.

Now, 60 percent of your ...

Don’t Go, Please Stay

Last week’s column, To Stay or Not to Stay in Government, which featured my advice to a federal manager considering a jump to the private sector, hit a nerve with many readers. The benefits of a full career of federal employment and service came through loud and clear in the comments from readers of the column. In addition to the benefits that I pointed out, readers came up with additional reasons to look before you leap away from a career in federal service. There is something to be said about hearing these words of wisdom from those who have been there and are reaping the rewards of a federal career. Here’s a summary of what they had to say.

Advantages of Government

Reasons commenters listed for sticking it out in federal service included:

  • The availability of a pension, in the form of the Federal Employees Retirement System basic benefit.
  • Flexibility.
  • Almost guaranteed pay increases in the form of step increases and possibly promotions, along with the potential for annual pay adjustments.
  • The Thrift Savings Plan, including future compounding, automatic contributions and government matching.
  • The fact that while it’s easy to leave federal service, it’s not necessarily ...

To Stay or Not To Stay in Government

Last week, I wrote about my experience talking to “Heather,” a 36-year-old-federal employee. Here are the basics of Heather’s situation:

  • Age 36 with 10 years of federal service; in the Federal Employees Retirement System.
  • TSP balance: more than $200,000.
  • Employed as a GS-14 project manager in the Washington area, at a salary of $112,224.
  • Contributes at least 10 percent of basic pay to her Thrift Savings Plan account and is diversified between the five TSP options, with a substantial percentage split between the C, S and I funds.
  • More than 20 years from retirement.
  • Single mother raising a young son.

Heather’s big question is whether she should continue to work for the federal government or leave federal service for a potentially more interesting position in the private sector. Because of her need to care for her son and the fact that she is the sole breadwinner for her family, she has to be very careful when making career moves.

I offered Heather the following tips and suggestions:

  • Remember that in her current position, she gets a pension. The value of her FERS retirement will be based on having 31 years of service at age 57. It ...

A Case of Savings Envy

When it comes to retirement readiness, it generally doesn’t pay to compare yourself to other people. It can lead to unnecessary disappointment -- or unwarranted joy.

This week I had a casual conversation with “Heather” about how disappointed her aunt, “Brenda,” was when the two of them compared Thrift Savings Plan balances. But a look at the bigger picture shows they are simply in very different stages of the retirement planning process.

Here’s Heather’s situation:

  • Age 36 with 10 years of federal service; in the Federal Employees Retirement System
  • TSP balance: more than $200,000
  • Employed as a GS-14 project manager in the Washington area, at a salary of $112,224
  • Contributes at least 10 percent of basic pay to her TSP account and is diversified between the five TSP options with a substantial percentage split between the C, S and I funds.
  • More than 20 years from retirement
  • Single mom raising a young son

Here’s Brenda’s situation:

  • Age 57 with 30 years of federal service; in FERS
  • Lives away from a major metropolitan area in the “Rest of U.S.” category at GS-11, Step 3, with a salary of $61,234
  • TSP Balance: $145,000 ...

A Different Path for Women

Last week I attended a lecture that gave me newfound appreciation for the women who have paved the way for those in the workforce today, and made me think about the special needs of women in planning for retirement. The lecture was held at the site of the former District of Columbia’s Correctional Complex in Lorton, Va. After closing its doors to prisoners in 2002, this facility has been transformed by the Lorton Arts Foundation into an arts and education center. The lecture was the first in a series called “American Women: The Long and Winding Road.”

I learned that 72 members of the National Women’s Party were imprisoned at Lorton in the early 1900s for demonstrating in favor of women’s right to vote, before passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution finally granted them that right. I realized how much has changed for women in the United States in the last century. It’s easy to take for granted that women can go to college, get good jobs, and become financially independent through meaningful and productive work. But it hasn’t been true for that long. And even today, there is more work to ...