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You Have TSP Questions; We Have Answers

One of my favorite things to do is to answer questions from federal employees and retirees. Last week's column generated a lot of questions and commentary from readers about general retirement processing, Thrift Savings Plan issues and other considerations that affect your retirement funds. So this week I thought I’d provide some additional reference material for those who want to continue the dialogue.

Initial Steps

One reader pointed out that you will need to include a copy of your marriage certificate (if married) and the W-4P withholding certificate (federal tax withholding election) for pension or annuity payments with your retirement application. Also, if you have been divorced and your ex was awarded a portion of your retirement or survivor benefits, a copy of the divorce decree will also need to accompany your retirement application. 

It’s a good idea to do a dry run of your tax return before you retire so that you get a better idea of the taxes you will pay on your income from FERS or CSRS, Social Security, and distributions from your TSP. You can use available software or a professional tax preparer can provide this service as well.  Many federal employees underestimate...

Don’t Forget to ‘Turn On’ Your Benefits

I’m often asked what steps federal employees need to take to receive their benefits after retirement. As with most questions in life, the answer can be complex. Once an employee determines they are eligible for retirement -- and that they can afford to retire -- they must decide how and when to apply for their retirement benefits. Your agency will assist you in applying for federal employee and civil service retirement benefits and the continuation of health and life insurance benefits. But there are a number of additional things to do as well.

Here’s a list of other retirement benefits you may need to turn on:

FERS basic retirement benefit (also known as FERS pension, FERS annuity, government pension, the “new” system etc.).  You will need to complete a Standard Form 3107, Application for Immediate Retirement (this application will also serve as the application for the FERS supplement if you are entitled to it).

CSRS retirement (also known as CSRS annuity, CSRS pension, government pension, the “old system”). You will need to complete a Standard Form 2801, Application for Immediate Retirement under CSRS. Most agencies recommend this form be completed and turned in (paper forms only) at least 30 days...

How Divorce or a Job Change Could Derail Your Financial Plan

As federal employees close in on retirement, I often get some last minute questions, the answers to which can have a big impact on your post-career life. Here are a few that are at the top of the list:

I was divorced during my federal career.  How much of my retirement will my former spouse be entitled to?

Surprisingly, many people underestimate the importance of this issue. The answer to the question is found in your divorce decree or court order. Divorce papers will spell out the specific benefit payable to the former spouse. If the decree is “silent” and does not mention CSRS, FERS, TSP, FEGLI or any of your other federal benefits (sometimes, even the lump sum annual leave payment be divided in a divorce settlement), then you can be pretty sure that your former spouse is not entitled to any of your retirement or other federal benefits. If there is a mention of your federal benefits, then be sure that you understand how the benefit will be divided. A common misunderstanding is failing to distinguish between the retirement benefit under CSRS or FERS and the CSRS or FERS survivor’s benefit. Those are two separate benefits. One...

Open Season Trick or Treat

Since its inception in 1960, the Federal Employee’s Health Benefits Program has offered only two enrollment types, but now it’s finally offering a third option for a family of two.  According to the Office of Personnel Management, Self Plus One enrollment allows you to cover yourself and one eligible family member you designate. Starting in 2016, all FEHB plans will offer Self Only, Self Plus One, and Self and Family coverage options.

Employees and retirees will be able to enroll in Self Plus One coverage during the 2015 open season. Employees who neglect to make a change during open season will remain in their current enrollment unless they experience a qualifying life event, in which case they will have the option to make changes at that time. Retirees may decrease enrollment at any time, however. Open season changes are effective Jan. 1, 2016, for annuitants, and on the first full pay period in January 2016, which for most employees will be effective on Jan. 10, 2016.  Employees can make open season enrollment changes using Standard Form 2809 or Employee Express if offered by their agency; retirees can use Office of Personnel Management Form 2809 or OPM’s Annuitant...

Looking for Expert Advice? TSP Has It.

My previous two columns have focused on working with a financial professional to manage your Thrift Savings Plan investment. But it’s important to know that the TSP itself is a good resource. Today, I will share some tips from TSP Supervisory Training and Liaison Specialist Randy Urban, who took part in a recent webinar titled, “Your TSP Account: What to Consider When Retiring from or Leaving the Government.” 

Urban pointed out that one of the best reasons to leave your money in the TSP is the low administrative expenses, which are based on the size of your account balance. For example, the G Fund’s expense ratio for 2014 was .029 percent. Therefore, if you invested in the TSP in 2014, your earnings were reduced by 29 cents per $1,000 of your TSP balance. That’s substantially less than most private plans.

Here are some other things to consider about your TSP account:

If you apply for a TSP loan before you retire (or separate) and choose not to repay the loan balance after you leave service, this does not count as against the one-time post-separation partial distribution. But you should also know that this will delay the...