How Federal Employees Can
Plan To Retire On Time

By Jay Shareef ChFEBC

Working for the federal government can set you up for a lot of success financially. After all, being able to retire after 30 years of service is something that most private-sector employees only dream of. Just because you are allowed to retire after 30 years doesn’t mean you can, though. Without proper planning and financial management, retirement can be just as elusive for federal employees as it is for everyone else.

I know because I’ve seen it firsthand. As a former federal employee, I watched many of my coworkers fail to plan and end up going back to work after attempting retirement. My own father went through that exact same process. I know how difficult that can be, so I want to prevent you from having to experience it. This is what you need to do to be able to retire on time.

Know Your Retirement Age

One of the keys to retiring on time is maximizing your retirement benefits. When you retire and how long you have been in service will greatly affect the benefits you receive. If you retire before you have reached your minimum retirement age (MRA) or before you have completed enough service, you will not be able to maximize your benefits. The following chart shows your minimum retirement age:

To receive full benefits, you must have 30 years of service and reach your MRA or 20 years of service and be age 60 or older. If you have between 10-30 years of service, you are allowed to retire at your MRA, but your benefits will be reduced by 5% a year for each year you are under age 62. For example, if you retire at age 56 with 19 years of service, your benefit will be reduced by 30% (5% for each of 6 years). However, if you work 4 more years and retire at age 60 with 23 years of service, you will receive the full benefit.

The amount of benefit you receive will affect your ability to retire successfully (i.e., having enough money to live on without going back to work). It is important to strategically balance your years of service and retirement age in order to receive a high enough benefit to support you during retirement. Sometimes simply working one or two more years can make a big difference in the benefits to which you are entitled.

Keep Your High-Paying Job A Little Longer

Another factor in your benefit calculation is your salary. Under FERS, your pension benefit is calculated as:

(average of 3 highest years’ salary) X (years of service) X (pension multiplier)* = (annual pension benefit)

*The pension multiplier depends on your years of service and age at retirement, as discussed above.

If your salary significantly increases shortly before retirement, working a couple more years may be well worth it. Let’s say you plan to retire at age 60 with 30 years of service. One year prior, you go from earning $100,000 as you did for the previous 2 years to $120,000. If you retire as planned, your pension benefit will be:

$106,667 X 30 years X 1.1% = $35,200

If you decide to stay in that higher-paying job for two more years, your pension benefit will be:

$120,000 X 32 years X 1.1% = $42,240

Staying in the higher-paying job for at least three years to increase your benefit calculation can make a big difference in retirement. In our example, it is a $7,040 difference per year. Over a 20-year retirement, that comes out to $140,800.

Take Advantage Of Your TSP Match

In addition to your FERS pension, as a federal employee, you have access to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Instead of getting a promised pension amount, what you get out of it is a combination of what you put in and how you invest it, much like the popular private-sector 401(k) plan. It is your choice whether or not to contribute to the TSP and how much you put in it.

To build up the most funds for retirement, you need to contribute up to your agency’s match. Receiving a matching contribution from the government is essentially an immediate 100% gain on your money. Your agency matches your contributions up to 5% of base pay, so you should contribute at least that much. Contributing any less is leaving free money on the table, money that will fund your retirement.

Invest Your TSP For Growth

On top of getting your agency match, you want to make sure your TSP funds are invested wisely. Where you put your money over a 30-year career can make a huge difference in your account balance when it comes time to retire and, therefore, your ability to do so. It may be tempting to keep your money protected from the volatility of the stock market, but that also robs you of the opportunity for your money to grow along with the stock market. Without that growth, you may not have enough funds to retire on time.

The right investments for your TSP will depend on your age, goals, and risk tolerance. There is no one-size-fits-all answer that is best for everyone. An experienced financial advisor can not only help you build a diversified portfolio within your TSP, but they can also help you create an overall plan and strategy to be able to retire on time. If you don’t already have an advisor helping you do that, reach out to me at (301) 798-5250 or [email protected] You can also schedule a free introductory 30-minute phone call now.

About Jay

Jay Shareef is vice president, financial advisor, federal benefits consultant, and co-founder at Certa Advisors. As a U.S. Army veteran, Jay is passionate about helping federal employees create a bulletproof plan for retirement and navigate the often confusing and complicated federal benefits landscape. He spends his days educating and providing clients with unbiased insurance benefits and retirement strategies to help his clients create guaranteed income for life. As a problem-solver and trustworthy resource, Jay always puts his clients and their needs first so they can find financial peace of mind. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in finance and holds the Chartered Federal Benefits consultant (ChFEBC℠) credential. To learn more about Jay, connect with him on LinkedIn.

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