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Benefits

Most TSP Funds Stumble to Start 2021

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All but two of the portfolios in the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program lost ground for January.

The federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program got off to a rocky start in 2021, as most of its portfolios ended January slightly in the red.

The small- and mid-size businesses of the Thrift Savings Plan’s S Fund were the top performers, gaining 2.85% last month. The G Fund, made up of government securities, also increased 0.07%.

But the common stocks of the C Fund fell 1.01% in January, while the international (I) fund lost 1.09%. The fixed income (F) fund fell 0.71%.

All of the TSP’s lifecycle (L) funds, which shift to more stable investments as participants get closer to retirement, also lost ground last month. The L Income Fund, for people who already have begun making withdrawals, fell 0.10%; L 2025, 0.24%; L 2030, 0.32%; L 2035, 0.35%; L 2040, 0.37%; L 2045, 0.39%; L 2050, 0.41%; L 2055, 0.44%; L 2060, 0.44%; and L 2065, 0.44%.

 

Billions Flow Out of TSP Due to COVID and More

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Officials at the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program said this week that nearly $3 billion exited the Thrift Savings Plan this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CARES Act authorized TSP participants to take loans from their accounts of up to double the normal amount, and it waived requirements that participants be 59 1/2 years old, cite a specific financial hardship or take a 10% tax penalty.

At the January meeting of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the TSP, Participant Services Director Tee Ramos outlined how federal employees and retirees made use of these flexibilities.

Over the course of the programs, which both expired last year, TSP participants took out 3,043 CARES Act loans over the normal $50,000 cap, for a total of $229 million. And 119,720 participants withdrew money using the CARES Act flexibilities, totaling $2.9 billion. Despite these figures, assets in the TSP grew in 2021.

“Plan assets were up to $710 billion in December, and the total number of participants reached 6.2 million,” Ramos said. “Hardship withdrawals and loan volumes were 18% lower than the prior year, likely driven by the availability of CARES Act withdrawals and loans.”

In other retirement news, a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week reintroduced legislation that would eliminate two provisions of the Social Security program reviled by many federal retirees. The Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 82), introduced by Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., would eliminate the windfall elimination provision and the government pension offset from the Social Security Act.

The windfall elimination provision reduces the Social Security benefits of retired federal, state and local government employees who worked in private sector jobs in addition to a government job where Social Security is not intended as an element of their retirement income, like employees in the Civil Service Retirement System. And the government pension offset prevents government retirees from collecting both their own pension like the CSRS annuity and Social Security benefits derived from their spouse’s work in the private sector.

“Virginians shouldn’t be penalized for careers in public service—and that’s why eliminating the government pension offset and windfall elimination provision is so important,” Spanberger said in a statement. “Many central Virginians—including teachers, first responders and public employees—are negatively impacted by these outdated provisions that unfairly reduce the Social Security benefits they’ve earned.”

In a statement, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association National President Ken Thomas endorsed the legislation.

“For decades, NARFE has supported full repeal of the windfall elimination provision and the government pension offset, and applauds introduction of a bill . . . to do just that,” Thomas said. “These policies have unfairly punished retired public servants through reduced Social Security benefits for far too long. This bill would provide much-needed relief for the millions of retirees and survivors currently affected by this inequitable practice and will improve fairness for future retirees.”

 

 

New Bill Would Standardize Federal Retiree Annual Increases and More

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A Washington, D.C., area lawmaker last week filed legislation that would standardize the annual increase in annuity payments that retired federal employees receive across retirement systems.

The Equal COLA Act (H.R. 304), introduced by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., would ensure that federal retirees in the Federal Employee Retirement System and the Civil Service Retirement System both receive the same annual percentage cost of living increase each year.

Under the current rules, which date back to 1986, the CSRS methodology for calculating cost of living adjustments is tied to the annual change in the third quarter consumer price index for workers. But FERS COLAs are based on an extrapolation from the CSRS adjustment: if the CSRS sees an increase of under 2%, FERS retirees will receive the full COLA. If the adjustment is between 2% and 3%, FERS enrollees would only receive a 2% increase. And if the CSRS COLA is 3% or more, FERS retirees would receive that adjustment, minus 1 percentage point.

Connolly’s bill, which he last introduced in 2018, would tie both systems’ annual increase directly to the CPI-W. The prospects for success seem brighter in this session of Congress, with Democrats controlling both chambers. President-elect Biden also vowed to the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association last year that he would push for retiree cost of living adjustments to be based on the more generous consumer price index for the elderly.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan pair of House lawmakers have introduced a bill that would double the cash bonus available to federal employees who identify wasteful spending at their agencies.

The Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act of 2021 (H.R. 103), introduced by Reps. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., would increase the maximum reward for feds who successfully identify wasteful spending to 1% of the amount saved, up to $20,000.

Under the bill, agency heads would be able to grant the cash bonus to federal workers if the agency chief financial officer or other designated official determines the spending is unnecessary. Employees of offices of the inspector general and Senate-confirmed political appointees are ineligible for the benefit.

“In the private sector, employees work hard to identify ways to save their organization money and they are often rewarded for their diligence,” Fleischmann said in a statement. “It doesn’t make sense that federal agencies are encouraged to spend, spend, spend instead of being rewarded for working to save taxpayer dollars and reduce our national debt.”

If you or any coworker has any questions about his or her retirement and would like to have a Free Retirement review, please Contact Us today to schedule your personalized one on one call to get the information you are looking for.

OPM retirement claims backlog reaches over 20k

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By the end of November, the Office of Personnel Management’s backlog of retirement claims in need of processing was more than 20,000 after taking a slight dip over the last seven months of the COVIC-19 pandemic, according to the agency’s latest numbers.

The claims inventory stood at 20,022 last month, up from 19,605 in October and having remained between 17,000 and 19,000 between the months of April and September.

OPM received 5,876 applications for retirement last month, compared to 8,323 in October and having received an average of 6,000 claims per month from March through September.

It processed 5,459 claims in November, which is down from 6,992 the month prior and significantly less than the 8,931 claims it processed in March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency took an average of 76 days to process claims last month, which is comparable to the number of days it took to process a claim throughout the pandemic, but more than the average of 59 days in February, before the pandemic.

The figures come from OPM’s monthly claims processing progress report available on the OPM website.

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TSP Participants Move Out of Stock Funds Right Before Record Highs

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The participation rate in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for federal employees has leveled off in the last several months. That is a normal change for this time of year.

The TSP notes that participation in the TSP for federal employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is still up two percentage points above last year.

Implementing the CARES Act

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) was signed on March 27, 2020. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) created the CARES Act project to implement key provisions of the law. The project included four key provisions to enable TSP participants and beneficiaries to respond to their financial management needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These four provisions were:

  • Changes in 2020 Required Minimum Distributions
  • Loan Payment Suspensions
  • An increase in the maximum loan amount to $100,000
  • CARES Act withdrawal provisions.

CARES Act Loans, Suspensions and Withdrawals

CARES Loans

DateCountAmount
June, 20202,462$61,429,570.22
July, 20204,990$115,588,460.67
MTD – Aug 12, 20201,704$37,803,631.74

CARES Loans Over $50,000

CountAmount
499$37,018,575.68
825$61,766,534.20
267$19,935,382.67

CARES Loan Suspensions

DateCountAmount
June, 2020245$ 12,514,932.41
July, 2020354$ 16,419,035.09
MTD – Aug 12, 202041$ 1,958,857.50

CARES Withdrawals

DateCountAmount
July, 202021,296$ 554,831,990.61
MTD – Aug 12, 202011,621$ 277,567,169.17

TSP Participants Move into Bonds

In July, many TSP participants decided to transfer money from stock funds and into the TSP’s G and F Funds.

The G Fund took in more than $1.1 billion dollars in transfers in July and the F Fund took in more than $1.6 billion. The Lifecycle Funds received more than $933 million in transfers in July.

Also during July, more than $2 billion was transferred out of the C Fund and almost $1.7 billion from the S Fund.

After the transfers into the G and F Funds, the asset allocation in funds for TSP participants breaks out in this way:

FundAllocation Percentage
G Fund33.3%
F Fund4.6%
C Fund28.5%
S Fund9.3%
I Fund3.5%
L Funds20.9%

The latest month shows a change in direction for TSP investors. As of December 30, 2019, 30.7% of asset allocation was in the G Fund, 29.7% was in the C Fund, 3.8% was in the F Fund and 21.6% was in the L Funds. In effect, participants are moving away from stocks and putting more of their assets into the bond funds.

If you would like some help navigating your TSP, or some safe options with your TSP, you can use our Contact Us form and someone will be in touch with you.

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USPS Restructured and VERA

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In an effort to operate in a more efficient and effective manner and better serve customers, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy today announced a modified organizational structure for the U.S. Postal Service.

The new organizational structure is focused on three operating units and their core missions:

• Retail and Delivery Operations — Accept and deliver mail and packages efficiently with a high level of customer satisfaction. This organization will be led by Kristin Seaver.
• Logistics and Processing Operations — Process and move mail and packages efficiently to the delivery units, meeting determined standards. This organization will be led by David Williams.
• Commerce and Business Solutions — Leverage infrastructure to enable growth. This organization will be led by Jakki Krage Strako.

“This organizational change will capture operating efficiencies by providing clarity and economies of scale that will allow us to reduce our cost base and capture new revenue,” said DeJoy. “It is crucial that we do what is within our control to help us successfully complete our mission to serve the American people and, through the universal service obligation, bind our nation together by maintaining and operating our unique, vital and resilient infrastructure.”

As part of the modified structure, logistics and mail processing operations will report into the new Logistics and Processing Operations organization separate from existing area and district reporting structures. This includes all mail processing facilities and local transportation networks offices. Splitting operations into the two organizations of Retail and Delivery Operations, and Logistics and Processing Operations, is designed to allow for improved focus and clear communication channels. The transition to this new organizational structure will take place over the next several weeks. Transition coordinators have been identified to assist in the process.

These organizational changes do not initiate a reduction in force, and there are no immediate impacts to USPS employees. However, to prepare for future changes, the Postal Service has implemented a management hiring freeze and will be requesting future Voluntary Early Retirement Authority from the Office of Personnel Management for non-bargaining employees.

We want to hear your feedback of these new changes, or if you need help deciding if this VERA is right for you, Contact us to schedule your retirement review.

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USDA IT Shop Freezes Hiring and Offers Early Retirement

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The CIO Office at the Department of Agriculture has instituted a hiring freeze and plans to offer early retirement options to IT workers in an effort to optimize the agency’s tech investments and update the skillset of its workforce, according to a report on Federal News Network.

Voluntary Early Retirement Authority options will be offered to eligible IT specialists – excluding cybersecurity professionals — with 20 years of service at age 50, or those with 25 years of service at any age. Those staffers may voluntarily retire and earn an immediate annuity. Eligible employees can apply for VERA through mid-August, the department said.

USDA said it plans to accept as many VERA requests as it can, but early retirement offers will be extended on a first-come, first-serve basis, and those who have been accepted are expected to retire by Sept. 30.

The hiring freeze was instituted June 30 and will extend through fiscal 2021. It only applies to IT professionals who “report directly or indirectly to the mission area chief information officers or program executives,” the USDA spokesperson told Federal News Network.

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Should I Have a Traditional or Roth Thrift Savings Plan?

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Should I Have a Traditional or Roth Thrift Savings Plan?

If you are a federal employee and planning for retirement, you must carefully consider whether to contribute to a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) and what type of TSP you should get. This article will set forth the pros and cons and explain how an effective TSP strategy can best supplement your other retirement income sources.

What is a Thrift Savings Plan?

A Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a retirement and savings plan available to both civilian federal employees and members of the military. It is similar to the 401(k) plans offered by employers in the private sector.

Federal Agency Contributions

One aspect of TSPs that cannot be overlooked is that a federal employee may be eligible for matching contributions from their agency. If you are a federal employee you must look into whether matching contributions are available and whether there is a limit.

Once you have that information, plan on contributing at least the amount that will be matched. If you don’t, you are leaving free money on the table.

For many federal employees, their agency will contribute 1% of income to a TSP even if the employee contributes nothing. If the employee contributes 5% of income, the agency will contribute another 4%.

Traditional TSP

In a traditional TSP, your contribution is deducted from your pre-tax wages, and taxes are deferred until you make withdrawals. This reduces your present taxable income, and your contributions are taxed at the rate that applies to your income in retirement, which should be lower.

Roth TSP

You make contributions to a Roth TSP with after-tax income. While this does not reduce your present taxable income, it does render your withdrawals in retirement tax-free.

What if I Worked in the Private Sector and have a 401(k) or Roth IRA?

You can roll an IRA from a private employer into your federal TSP. However, reach out to a Federal Retirement Consultant to ask about some other ways to manage these as well.  Keep in mind also that if you are 50 or older you can make additional catch-up contributions, however, they will not be eligible for matching contributions from your agency.

Can I Convert a Roth TSP to a Traditional TSP?

No, and you can’t convert a Traditional TSP to a Roth or vice versa.

Which Type of TSP Should I Get?

Consider having one of each and varying the contributions according to how much money you are making. This allows you to strategically allocate retirement savings throughout your career to save the most in income tax.

For example, if you are just starting your career, you might open both a Roth TSP and a Traditional TSP, and contribute most to the Roth and just a bit to the Traditional. As the years pass and you presumably make more money, you can gradually increase contributions to the Traditional and decrease contributions to the Roth.

This way you are taking advantage of both the tax-free withdrawals of a Roth TSP, and the tax-deferred withdrawals of a Traditional TSP, and reducing your taxable income when you are making more, later in your career. Don’t forget to always contribute at least the amount that your agency will match.

What About Other Retirement Income?

You will have Social Security benefits when eligible, and if you are a civilian federal employee you will have an annuity from the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). If you are a member of the uniformed services, you will have Social Security benefits and your military retired pay.

The amount of income you have in retirement will vary according to the amount you contribute to your TSP, the amount that is taxable to you in retirement, and how you allocate your TSP contributions to the various funds and the return that your choices get. Even considering market variables, strategically contributing to your TSP is sure to maximize your income in retirement. 

About the Author

Veronica Baxter is a legal assistant and blogger living and working in the great city of Philadelphia. She frequently works with David Offen, Esq., a busy Philadelphia bankruptcy lawyer.

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Three Great Reasons to Take Social Security Benefits at 62

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There’s no such things as the perfect age to sign up for Social Security. You get an eight-year window to claim benefits that begins at 62 and ends at 70, financially speaking, and each age within that window has its pros and cons.

Now it just so happens that 62 is the most popular age to sign up for Social Security, but it also comes with consequences. You’re entitled to your full monthly benefit based on your wage history once you reach full retirement age, or FRA. That age is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between those two ages, depending on your year of birth.

If you claim Social Security at 62 with an FRA of 66, you’ll shrink your monthly benefit by 25%. And with an FRA of 67, you’re looking at a 30% reduction by filing at 62. But despite that tremendous hit to your retirement income, here’s why it could pay to land on 62 as your Social Security filing age.

1. You’ll get to retire sooner

Many people dream of early retirement. If you’ve spent the bulk of your career at a grueling job, you may want nothing more than to leave the workforce on the early side. And while you’ll generally need a healthy level of retirement savings to make that possible, claiming Social Security could provide the financial push you need to feel comfortable ending your career a bit sooner than most.

2. You have to retire sooner

An estimated 48% of workers are forced to retire earlier than planned, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, and the COVID-19 outbreak — and unemployment crisis it’s produced — could drive that percentage up even higher. These days, a lot of older Americans are out of work, and those struggling to return to a job may have no choice but to retire ahead of schedule instead. Furthermore, some older workers may be voluntarily leaving their jobs due to health concerns, and it’s these same people who are apt to need an income source like Social Security once their paychecks go away.

But even outside of the pandemic, it’s clear that early retirement often isn’t a choice, but rather, a side effect of unwanted circumstances. Older workers get pushed out of jobs all the time to make room for younger, less expensive employees, and health issues can make continuing to work impossible. If that’s the scenario you’re in, whether it’s related to COVID-19 or not, you may have to claim Social Security at 62 so you can pay your bills. And to be clear, that’s a much better option than racking up debt just to exist.

3. You’re not willing to take chances

Technically, Social Security is designed to pay you the same total lifetime benefit regardless of when you file. The logic is that while filing early lowers your monthly benefit, you collect benefits for a greater number of months. When you file on time or even after FRA, you grow your benefit, but collect fewer individual monthly payments. You should therefore, in theory, break even if you live an average lifespan.

But what if you don’t? Even if your health is great at age 62, you never know when a medical issue might pop up out of nowhere that suddenly shortens your lifespan. And if you’re unlikely to live an average life expectancy, you’re better off claiming Social Security early, as that will result in a greater amount of money in your lifetime.

Though claiming Social Security at 62 isn’t the right choice for everyone, it may be the best bet for you. Weigh the pros and cons, and with any luck, you’ll land on a solid choice.

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OPM Implements New Locality Pay Area and More

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The Office of Personnel Management last week proposed regulations that would implement one new locality pay area and expand the boundaries of an existing pay area as authorized by the president’s pay agent last year.

In a proposed rule filed to the Federal Register last week, OPM officials formally began the final implementation process for establishing Des Moines, Iowa, as a locality pay area and adding Imperial County, Calif., to the existing Los Angeles-Long Beach locality pay area, effective with the first full pay period of 2021.

The Federal Salary Council, an advisory group made up of federal employee groups and White House appointees, recommended adding Des Moines and Imperial County to the General Schedule locality pay area system in 2018, and the president’s pay agent advanced the measure last December.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private sector employees in Des Moines on average made 10 percentage points more per year than their federal worker counterparts.

And although Imperial County, Calif., does not meet the admittance standards for any one locality pay area, those in its federal worker population, primarily U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees, commute to both Los Angeles and San Diego. Taken together, the number of commuters to both cities exceeds the threshold needed to be pulled into an existing pay area.

Although the two regions will officially be part of the locality pay tables beginning next year, employees there currently are not slated to see the benefits of locality pay. President Trump’s proposed pay raise for federal civilian employees in 2021 is 1% across the board, with locality pay remaining at 2020 levels.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee declined to override Trump’s pay plan when it advanced the fiscal 2021 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill. Although the bill blocks a series of benefits cuts and includes other federal worker protections, the lack of a provision on federal compensation in 2021 effectively endorses the president’s proposal.

In addition to provisions blocking the controversial proposal to merge most of OPM’s functions with the General Services Administration and blocking nearly all collective bargaining agreements in the federal government that have been implemented since April 2019, appropriators have included a number of policy directives toward OPM.

The bill “encourages” OPM to reexamine rules governing how federal agencies hire and fire people to account for the fact that in some states, marijuana is no longer illegal.

“The committee encourages OPM to review its policies and guidelines regarding hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in states where that individual’s private use of marijuana is not prohibited under the law of the state,” the committee wrote in a report summarizing the bill. “These policies should reflect changes to the law on marijuana usage and clearly state the impact of marijuana usage on federal employment.”

The legislation also instructs OPM to include a section in its next annual report to Congress on telework devoted to federal agencies’ readiness to adopt wide-scale telework during the coronavirus pandemic and make recommendations to better prepare agencies for similar emergencies in the future.

Appropriators also encouraged federal agencies to examine “the fairness and equity” of their closure policies, and consider offering back pay to contractors who were laid off or went without pay due to federal building closures during the pandemic.

Although the committee did not act to override the president’s 1% across-the-board pay increase plan, some lawmakers have indicated they will continue to press for action on the House floor. A bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers last week urged leadership to endorse pay parity between the civilian and military federal workforce, which would amount to a 3% raise, based on language in the House version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.