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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

Best Dates to Retire 2019

Download the Best Dates to Retire 2019 Calendar

It’s time for our annual look ahead at the best dates to retire in the next year. As always, your retirement coverage under the Civil Service Retirement System (including CSRS Offset) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (including transfers to FERS) will be an important factor in choosing the best date.


Some of the best dates to retire for CSRS employees occur when the end of the month (or one of the first three days of the month) coincides with the end of a leave period. This allows a final leave accrual (remember, annual leave is paid in a lump sum after you separate) and also ensures that the day after your separation is the first day you begin accruing CSRS retirement benefits.

The best dates for CSRS in 2019 that will allow a retirement at the end of the month (or within the first three days of a month) and also at or near the end of a leave period will be Jan. 3, Feb. 1, March 1, March 30, Aug. 2, and Aug. 31. Jan. 3, 2020, would also work, because it’s within the 2019 leave year...

Making a Date With Retirement

Next week, I’ll present my annual Best Dates to Retire column. I look forward to preparing it every year. It’s a particularly popular topic as employees get closer to retirement under either the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System. Helping people select the best retirement date was one of the first things I learned to do when I became a federal employee benefits specialist in the 1980s.

With more and more employees now retiring under FERS, it makes sense to think in terms of not just one, but three best dates. FERS retirement involves applying for the FERS retirement benefit, Social Security retirement benefits and Thrift Savings Plan withdrawals. Each of these could be done on a different date. Although it’s important to carefully choose your formal retirement date, under FERS it’s even more critical to figure out exactly how much income you’ll need in retirement and when you’ll begin receiving your benefits.

When I refer to a best date to to retire, I’m assuming that the would-be retiree has achieved eligibility for an immediate voluntary CSRS or FERS retirement. For CSRS employees this is generally at age 55...

The Power of TSP Savings

I recently went through some old documents that I’ve saved since 1987, and found the first Thrift Savings Plan open season brochure. It estimated that a federal employee with an average salary who saved 5 percent of basic pay in the TSP eventually would have about a third of their retirement income come from their investments. The other two-thirds would come from Social Security and the Federal Employees Retirement System basic benefit. For many employees retiring today, that initial projection is becoming a reality.

The TSP is arguably the most important part of securing your retirement. It’s the one benefit that is in your control in terms of how much you save and where you invest those savings. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how committed you are to saving and how you manage your long-term investments. Some retirees will receive a larger portion of of retirement income from their TSP accounts if they are able to save a significant portion of their income and be consistent about managing it. Others might have to rely more heavily on their basic government pension benefit and Social Security.

It’s important to remember that if you...

Medicare Disadvantage

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about whether federal employees and retirees should consider enrolling in Medicare parts A and B (covering inpatient and outpatient care) when they reach age 65.

You may wonder if you should also enroll in Medicare Part C (known as Medicare Advantage) and Part D (prescription drug coverage). The general answer is no, you will not need Medicare Part C or D coverage as long as you are enrolled in a Federal Employees Health Benefits Program plan or have TRICARE for Life coverage based on military service. Let’s explore in a little more detail why that’s the case.

You can find information about Medicare Advantage plans by entering your zip code in the Medicare Plan Finder. You will need to answer a few questions about your current health coverage. Also, you can enter your prescriptions, so that their cost will be included in the total cost of enrolling in the plan. I entered my zip code and picked the option that I was new to Medicare (even though I won’t be eligible for about another five years). I also entered in a couple of prescriptions.

When I compared using Medicare Advantage...

Don’t Overestimate Your Expected Income

They say time flies when you’re having fun. To me, it seems like yesterday that I was first learning about the Thrift Savings Plan and how it fit into the three-tiered Federal Employees Retirement System. That was in 1987, when investing for retirement was a new concept for most federal employees.  

A lot has happened since then.

For many federal employees retiring today, the income generated in retirement from FERS, Social Security and investments in the Thrift Savings Plan will fully replace the net income they earned while employed.

While that probably sounds great, remember that there is a big difference between your gross salary and the net income that you spend every two weeks. Similarly, there is also a difference between your gross retirement income and the net. Each of the three components of your retirement is subject to a variety of withholdings, and your FERS benefit may also be subject to various reductions. Consider the following:

  • The FERS basic retirement benefit, sometimes referred to as a pension or annuity, is subject to reductions for part-time work schedules, survivor benefit elections, age penalties (in some cases when an employee retires early). You may also need to provide a...