Keep Your Records

De-cluttering your life is a great idea, but some records are too important to be thrown out.

If you want tips on organizing your life, all you need to do is turn on the TV, open a magazine or do a quick Google search. Here's a piece of advice from Monica Ricci, who has been an organizing and productivity specialist since 1999:

"Many people accumulate paper clutter due to a fear of throwing away something important, or a concern that it may be needed later. The result is they end up keeping everything, and not being able to discern which things have present or future value and which can be safely discarded. Remember, your trash can and your shredder are your friends."

With the proliferation of this kind of de-cluttering advice, I thought it might be a good time to let you know what you should make sure not to get rid of. There are several good reasons why it's important to hold on to records related to your federal employment for retirement planning purposes:

  • There are only two places where your permanent records are kept. The first is either your agency (in the case of current employees) or the Office of Personnel Management (for former employees and retirees). The second is wherever you choose to put the "employee copy" of the records. Your copies may be needed to serve as evidence of your service should official records become lost.
  • When you die, these papers may prove to be important to those who survive you.
  • If you're contemplating leaving federal service to look for another job, some of the information contained in your employment records might come in handy as you prepare your résumé.

What to Keep

Here's a list of the kinds of records you should keep:

  • Standard Form 50, Notification of Personnel Action -- especially the ones showing the date you were hired, the date you left federal service, a change in retirement coverage, or a change in type of appointment (full-time to part-time, temporary to permanent, etc.)
  • Form DD-214, documenting a military discharge.
  • Beneficiary designation forms for Federal Employees Group Life Insurance, the Thrift Savings Plan, unpaid compensation, and retirement benefits (under either the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System). For more information, see "Who's Your Beneficiary" (May 12, 2006).
  • Record of payments you have made into the retirement system. If you've paid a civilian or military service credit deposit, can you prove it? For military deposits, your payroll office should have completed a worksheet to record your payment. For civilian deposits, OPM should have provided you with a civil service deposit number and a statement of a $0 balance when you completed your payment.
  • Latest annual TSP statement. Beginning this month, all TSP participants will receive annual statements in the mail.
  • Latest Social Security statement.
  • SF 2809, Federal Employees Health Benefits Enrollment.
  • SF 2817, Federal Employees Life Insurance Enrollment.
  • Leave and Earnings Statement. Save the last one from each appointment or when you have a change in payroll system. These statements will show your accumulated retirement contributions during that appointment.
  • Voluntary Contributions Statement (for CSRS employees who participate in the Voluntary Contributions program).
  • Federal Long-Term Care Insurance enrollment information.
  • Any written communications related to resolving a benefits issue (such as correction of a retirement coverage error or a service computation date).

Missing Records

If you are missing any of these documents, check with your agency's human resources office to find out how to get new copies. If you have been out of federal service for 120 days or more, you'll have to contact the National Personnel Records Center at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Hopefully, you can keep all this information neatly in a three-ring binder or on disk next to your computer. Review it once a year so you maintain an up-to-date history of your federal career as well as your benefits that are important to both you and your family.

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.

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