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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.
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Take Charge of Your Retirement

In 1985, I began a new position at FBI headquarters in Washington as a retirement counselor. This position laid the groundwork and provided the training for my future career as a retirement specialist that I continue today. My official title was Employee Relations Specialist-Employee Benefits, and my duties included communicating laws, policies and regulations regarding retirement matters to FBI employees and providing innovative planning and techniques to help guide them as they planned for retirement.

This week I received the following email that made me reflect on the role of a retirement counselor:

I plan to retire Jan. 3, 2015. The general question is where do I go to discuss retirement issues prior to putting in my retirement papers? I've heard that someone would be assigned as a counselor once they receive my paper work at HR, but I would like some info prior to submitting the papers.

Here’s my response:

Your agency should provide you with retirement counseling both before and after you submit your retirement application. Prior to submitting your application, you should be able to contact your HR office with general questions and you should be provided with a retirement estimate for a single date ...

The 4 Keys to Boosting Your Savings

Some of you may not believe this, but I still find federal employees who think they’re limited to contributing 10 percent of their salary to the Thrift Savings Plan. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given that 22 percent of federal employees under 45 don’t even save 5 percent of their salary in the TSP and that there used to be limits on TSP contributions.

For the record, the percentage limits were lifted eight years ago. Now there’s only the elective deferral limit the IRS places on all tax-deferred savings plans. That limit is $17,500 for 2014. Employees who turn 50 in 2014 can also make catch-up contributions of an additional $5,500. And this doesn’t count the agency automatic and matching contributions for those under the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Of course, not everyone can afford to max out their TSP, but there do seem to be some common themes among those who have been accumulated substantial wealth in their TSP accounts. Here are the four things I learned when I asked people with big balances about their strategies. It might surprise you that there is nothing magical or lucky about these approaches ...

You May Be Better Off Than You Think

Many federal employees are worried that they may not be financially ready to retire and aren’t really sure how to determine when the time is right. Here are some recent comments and questions I’ve heard at my pre-retirement seminars:

I will have 30 years and nine months of service on my birthday. Does it make sense for me to work three more months so that I will have 31 years?

The best thing to do is request retirement estimates from your human resources office for the two different dates. I generally suggest that the two retirement dates are at least six months apart to see how much more your retirement will be if you work a little longer. The bigger question, though, is this: Can you afford to retire? You’ll need to take into consideration your expenses and your total retirement income. There’s nothing magical about having 31 years of service compared to 30 years and nine months.

I’m getting a step increase next month. How long do I need to work so I will get credit for the higher pay in my high-three average salary?

The short answer is: one day. But that means ...

Found Money

Everyone likes “found money”—those few extra bucks you find in the pocket of an old jacket in the closet, or that wadded up $10 bill in a pair of jeans headed for the laundry. This week, I want to share a few ways you might be able to find some extra money for your retirement so you can be more comfortable as you make the transition from a paycheck to a fixed income.

Here are a few tips on where you might find some extra cash:

Understand the difference between sick leave and annual leave credit, especially if you’re going to retire within the next year.

If you need to use your sick leave in the last year of service, use it instead of annual leave. Last week, I was talking to an employee who is retiring in 2014. She was getting ready to use her annual leave to care for husband who is ill. But she could get credit for that leave in her final lump-sum payout of unused annual leave. She should consider taking advantage of the ability to use sick leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Here is a ...

Advice From a TSP Millionaire

As we continue to celebrate Financial Literacy Month, I’ve been thinking about a column I wrote in February about one of the Thrift Savings Plan’s newest millionaires, Jim, who had just achieved a seven-figure balance in his TSP account and was getting ready to retire from his federal job. Now that he’s retired and has a little more time on his hands, Jim recently wrote to me to offer some insights on his method of achieving financial security. I have a feeling some of you may have additional tips to add to his list.

Here are his words of wisdom and my two cents:

I generally spend two to four hours on managing our investments most weeks. When I am making changes to or buying new stocks, mutual funds, Exchange Traded Funds or other investments, I can go on for four to eight hours for that week. In addition, for entertainment I do watch CNBC and other investment programs.

I think it’s interesting that Jim listed the time he dedicates to managing his investments as his first tip. It appears to be an enjoyable activity for him and he devotes substantial time to it. I know ...