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Here’s how to find the information you need when planning for retirement

When it comes to leaving federal employment to transition to retirement, there are important decisions that must be made, and it is vital to know the difference between fact, fiction and rumor.

Did you know that the answers to your retirement questions are readily available if you know where to look? That is a slight catch, isn’t it? Knowing where to look and being sure that you didn’t miss the fine print or an important detail that could change the meaning of what you might be trying to learn.  

When I began studying federal retirement benefits in the 1980s those answers were much more difficult to find. Relying on printed materials with only a table of contents instead of a search engine took time and you never really knew if you were looking at the latest revision of a publication or document. The good thing about those early days is that your “personnel office” was usually just a friendly phone call away, or if you were lucky, in the same building. 

Whether past or present, much of the retirement information that we have is learned from conversations that are passed around among employees who read something or heard something from a “reliable” source. 

The problem with that is it could be like the old game of “telephone,” a popular children's game in which messages are whispered from person to person. As you might guess the final message generally would be very different from the original.  

When it comes to leaving federal employment to transition to retirement, there are important decisions that must be made, and it is vital to know the difference between fact, fiction and rumor. It is good practice to find and verify the source of the information you hear whether it is something you hear at a seminar or from a colleague. This way, there is less chance of misinterpreting the explanation. As Edgar Allen Poe once wrote, “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” 

Here are some resources and references to learn more about planning and preparing for retirement:


The resources for finding answers to your federal retirement benefits questions should begin with the Office of Personnel Management. Over the years, the OPM website has been reinvented and expanded to help employees and retirees locate important benefits information. Here some of my favorite landing places:

  • Retirement Center is where you will find the “Retirement Quick Guide,” a new tool that explains the retirement process and provides a general timeline. There is also a link to “Tax Help for Annuitants” and an area labeled “Retiring Soon?” 
  • Across the top of the homepage of www.opm.gov, you will find a tab labeled “Insurance.” For Federal Employees Health Benefits, click on “Healthcare” and then “Plan Information,” where you will find all the FEHB plans available in your area with links to plan websites and current plan brochures. This is where you will find a link that will take you to the Consumer’s Checkbook Comparison tool to help you narrow down your health plan choices. Also located under the Healthcare tab, you will find “Reference Materials” to locate important Open Season information and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Handbook.  
  • Click the “Retirement” tab and then My Annuity and Benefits to find useful information for retirees and family members.  
  • For specific, but general information about CSRS and FERS retirement, click CSRS Information or FERS Information. For technical information, go to the Benefits Officers Center.
  • If you are looking for topical publications or forms for retirement and insurance, they can be found easily under the “Retirement” tab as well.
  • Looking for information on federal pay rates or leave policies, look no further than the “Pay & Leave” tab under “Policy” link at the top of the homepage. 
  • If you are looking for a snow day, then Operating Status is where you will find that information, generally focused on the Washington, D.C.-area workers.  If you’re outside of the “Washington Capital Beltway,” then you must follow the operating status announcements issued by your agency. Once you retire, every day will be a “snow day!”

Thrift Savings Plan

Most employees have been to www.tsp.gov, after all, that is where you can sign into your personal TSP account to check your balance, change your investment allocation and apply for a loan or withdrawal selection. But did you know:

  •  The TSP offers live online webinar training? You can register for the latest courses at TSP Online Learning.
  • Looking for a publication on the topic of contributions, funds and investments, loans, tax information, withdrawals or death benefits? Look no further than the "Forms" area for fact sheets, booklets, and well, forms! Be aware that the TSP uses very few actual forms these days as most actions are accomplished electronically when you log into your account.
  • You can find the latest plan news and information on the TSP website, which is kept up-to-date and current. Here you can find information about the new I Fund benchmark index that will take place in 2024 as well as the “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2022, which President Biden signed into law on Dec. 29, 2022.  
  • The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board is charged by law to administer the TSP in the interest of you, the TSP participants. Here you will find the latest minutes of the board meetings with interesting statistics about how much is being invested, borrowed and withdrawn from the TSP, in the attachments linked to every copy of the minutes.

Social Security

The reason for creating the Federal Employees Retirement System in the first place was the change in the law that took effect in the early 1980s that required new federal employeest pay into Social Security. The older CSRS was a “single” benefit retirement system that included a generous government pension, but employees were exempt from paying the FICA tax and the TSP did not exist. It is important to understand Social Security as it provides another stream of lifetime income during retirement.  

  • Be sure to set up an account at www.ssa.gov so that you can check your eligibility for benefits, get benefits estimates, and apply for Social Security or Medicare.  
  • There are calculators on the website to help you learn how much of your benefit you will receive whether you apply before or after your normal retirement age.  Other calculators allow you to compute rough estimates of your retirement benefit based on current earnings as well as the impact of the Windfall Elimination Provision for those of you who will receive pensions from work not covered by Social Security such as CSRS retirees. 
  • Did you know that you may apply for Medicare through the Social Security website or by calling Social Security?  


Although you sign up for Medicare through SSA, to learn more about the program, you will find all you need to know about Medicare at www.medicare.gov.

  • Most FEHB plans will coordinate well with original Medicare (Parts A & B), and you won’t need to sign up for Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C), Medicare drug plans (Part D), or Medigap policies (supplemental policies that provide extra coverage for original Medicare).  
  • If you are looking for Medicare providers (physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, and others), you can use the tool on the website to easily locate those in your area. 
  • If you are looking for the basics of original Medicare such as the sign-up periods and coverage information. 
  • Once enrolled, you can create and log into your Medicare account to check a claim, pay your premium, or review your coverage.  

Try out some of these resources today and become familiar with them so that you can easily search for the information that will answer your questions about your valuable federal retirement and insurance benefits. Take charge of your retirement so you can be sure you are getting all the benefits you have worked so hard to achieve!