Note: An updated version of this article is available at http://www.fedsmith.com/2016/09/22/where-can-i-find-good-information-on-retirement/
Where can I get good information on retirement?
That question was one of the top questions that respondents wanted to know the answer to when we asked the question “What should all retirees know?” a few months ago.
In the “old days” the answer would have been to go to personnel and ask the retirement specialist. That was when a personnel office or official was on-site and when there was an actual retirement expert on the staff. There are still offices like this today, but they are getting fewer and further between.
Human Resources in general, and retirement in particular, have been centralized in many agencies, resulting in a real or perceived loss of service. Whether the loss is real or perceived often depends on the number, quality and responsiveness of the centralized employees. Centralized offices, being out of sight, are also often out of mind for their customers. Nonetheless, HR should be an employee’s first stop in the search for retirement information.
Employees might be tempted to contact the Office of Personnel Management with retirement questions. However, OPM generally refers current employees back to their agency’s HR department.
The National Association of Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) has experts on staff to field questions from members. They also publish answers to retirement questions in their monthly publication Retirement Life. They are an organization that retired (and soon to be retired) feds should consider joining.
Pre-retirement seminars are also a good source of information, especially for those close to retirement. Unfortunately, many agencies limit attendance at pre-retirement seminars to those employees closest to retirement eligibility. Those employees in the middle or early parts of their careers (the employees who actually have the time to plan and save for retirement and the inclination to do something about it) are often excluded. Very few agencies provide mid-career or early career retirement seminars. An employee should enquire of their HR or training office as to when the next pre-retirement seminar will be held and then request to attend it.
Not all pre-retirement seminars are created equal. Some agencies offer as little as a four-hour seminar only once in an employee’s career. Others offer seminars as long as three days, that go in-depth into areas (e.g., estate planning, financial planning, retirement living, etc.) beyond the basic annuity, Social Security and the TSP. Any seminar is better than no seminar (with few exceptions) so, if your agency is offering an abbreviated seminar, ask them if they would consider extending it. Some agencies use HR staff for their seminars and others contract them out.
Individuals who work for small agencies (or small offices of large agencies) may have to attend an “open-enrollment” seminar if their agency cannot round up enough interested employees for a seminar made up exclusively of agency employees. GRA, Inc. and the Graduate School, USDA offer open-enrollment seminars. In addition, many Federal Executive Boards sponsor open-enrollment seminars. Your agency will usually pay the enrollment fee for a seminar.
Ideally, a pre-retirement seminar should simply provide you with information that you can use to help plan your retirement. Pre-retirement seminars should not contain lots of recommendations as to exactly what you should do. Be leery if an instructor is recommending certain investments, or is making blanket statements about what all prospective retirees should do. Be especially leery if they offer you a “one-hour free consultation”.
If you are a special category employee (law enforcement officer, firefighter, etc.) make sure the seminar will address issues that are specific to your position.
Another option is to purchase and read a detailed text on retirement. Several excellent retirement books are published by FEDweek and FPMI Solutions. FEDweek has separate books for CSRS, FERS and the TSP that cost $9.95 plus shipping and handling. The FPMI book covers both systems, Social Security, TSP, financial planning, estate planning and retirement living and costs $20.00 plus shipping and handling and can be ordered by calling 256-539-1850 and asking for Dianne Johnson. In the interest of full disclosure, I am the author of the FPMI book.
Above all, keep in mind that what you don’t know can hurt you when it comes to retirement planning. If you have a question that you believe is important, keep asking until you get an answer.
John Grobe’s latest book, The Answer Book on Your Federal Employee Benefits, has just been released by LRP Publications. The book is written in an easy to understand question and answer format and covers all areas of federal benefits from the perspective of an employee at various stages of their career. Order your copy at shoplrp.com.