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By Tammy Flanagan

September 7, 2012

Until the creation of the Federal Employees Retirement System in 1984, employees who were more than a year from retirement eligibility typically didn’t give retirement planning much thought. Some of you might remember a column I wrote about my Uncle Steve and Aunt Helen, who retired from federal service in the 1970s. I once asked Steve, “What did you do to prepare for retirement?” He said, “I filled out my retirement application 30 days before I turned 55.”

Those were the days when all federal employees were covered by the single-benefit Civil Service Retirement System. The only planning required was to work for 30-plus years in federal service. Then you could earn a benefit that, in many cases, could support you for more years than you actually worked.

For today’s federal employee covered under FERS, though, retirement planning is a career-long endeavor. If FERS employees were to wait until 30 days before retirement eligibility, they might find their financial outlook to be grim.

There are three legs to the retirement stool under FERS: a basic benefit, Social Security and the Thrift Savings Plan. Figuring out how these all fit together is not a spectator sport. There is a lot of audience participation. If you are just starting your career or if you are at midcareer, here are some things you need to know to set realistic goals for retirement.

Understand Social Security

FERS Basic Benefit

TSP Holds the Key

Tips and Advice

Correction: The original version of this column said that there were $7,991,000 in outstanding TSP loans. The correct figure is $7,991,000,000. The column has been updated to correct the error.

By Tammy Flanagan

September 7, 2012