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Survey: Vast Majority of TSP Participants Are Satisfied With the Retirement Savings Program

Although satisfaction levels are slightly down compared with 2017, officials with the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program said that is likely due to market volatility at the time of the survey.

Officials with the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program on Monday said that most participants in the Thrift Savings Plan remain satisfied with the program’s offerings, according to a recent survey.

Last spring, the Thrift Savings Plan partnered with Gallup to conduct a survey of participants’ satisfaction with the retirement savings program, the first such poll since 2017. Federal Employees Retirement System and Blended Retirement System participants were able to respond to the survey either by mail or online, while participants in the Civil Service Retirement System for the first time were not polled, due to the fact that they represent a “small and rapidly declining population,” officials said.

According to this year’s survey, 87% of respondents said they were satisfied with the TSP overall, of which 36% reported that they were extremely satisfied. That marks a slight decline from 2017, when 89% of respondents said they were satisfied, of which 35% were extremely satisfied.

Renee Wilder Guerin, director of the TSP’s Office of Enterprise Planning, said the dip in satisfaction likely had little to do with the agency’s performance over the last three years: since the previous survey, the TSP has successfully implemented a series of initiatives to make the program easier to use, including additional ways to withdraw money, and made significant upgrades to its call center. Instead, the decline likely is the result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We administered the survey [between March and May] in the earliest stages of the pandemic, and the financial upheaval negatively affected account balances, and we’ve seen in our surveys and surveys [of private sector investors] that performance and satisfaction are highly correlated,” she said. “And then we had the change in the demographic groups surveyed. In previous surveys, CSRS participants were surveyed, and older long-term participants traditionally are highly satisfied with the plan. This year, Blended Retirement System participants replaced them, and they are much younger and generally less satisfied with the TSP at this point.”

One area where the agency saw marked improvement was on participants’ satisfaction with withdrawal options. In 2019, the TSP implemented a number of new withdrawal options, allowing participants to make multiple post-separation partial withdrawals and allowing annuitants to change the amount and frequency of payments at any time.

In this year’s survey, 66% of participants said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the flexibility of withdrawal options, compared to 62% in 2017. Additionally, although only 39% of participants said they were aware of the new withdrawal options, 88% of those respondents said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the extra flexibility.

A number of findings from the survey showed the need for the TSP to continue to evolve technologically. Nearly 70% of respondents under 30, and 53% of those aged 30-39, said their top feature request from the agency is a mobile app, and the top overall request was the ability to see the status of one’s Social Security, defined benefit annuity and TSP balance all in one statement.

Wilder Guerin noted that while traditionally, the satisfaction survey has included questions about whether participants feel ready for retirement, beginning this year the TSP will devote an entire separate survey to that topic.

“The attention to and focus on retirement readiness has really picked up quite a bit recently,” she said. “So we’re going to do a separate survey following up on that after this one, and we’re talking about fielding it in the next few months.”