Some Feds Apprehensive About Retirement; Some Grateful for Federal Retirement Program

Some readers are looking forward to a happy early retirement. Others are anxious and some are upset their career plans have not led to ample savings to enjoy retirement after working for Uncle Sam

Retirement is on the minds of many current government employees. Will you be able to retire? Will you have enough money to live comfortably? Will you continue to work?

In a new poll, a number of readers voted on several different requirement questions and shared their views. While federal employees are better off than most Americans with regard to retirement finances, there is nevertheless a lot of uncertainty and apprehension from some readers. Others are sailing along smoothly and waiting to start traveling and taking on new challenges.

Here are the results. (Some total percentages will not equal 100% due to rounding.)

28% of those responding are now eligible to retire. 18% will be eligible soon (1-2 years). 22% have 3-5 more years and 32% have more than 5 years before retirement eligibility kicks in.

But 48% of readers responding are not sure they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. 37% say they will have neough and 15% say they will not have enough.

55% of readers who took the poll are in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and 43% are in the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).

41% of readers intend to work in their current job after retirement eligibility. 38% are leaving when eligible and 21% are not sure.

Will a lack of money require readers to continue working or take another job after becoming eligible to retire? 32% say they will have to continue working. 37% will not hve to and 31% are not sure.

Finally, how important is the TSP to financial security in retirement? 46% say it is very important. 29% think it is important; 21% think it is nice to have but not important; 3% of those responding don’t participate in the TSP and the remaining 2% are not sure or think it is not at all important to them.

Here are some of the comments we received from readers on these issues.

On a bright note, this is from an Air Transportation Systems Specialist in Kansas:

“I plan to retire @ 55 (yeah!!)…i’m contributing the max amount into tsp for csrs, plus contributing the max into my personal roth ira, including catch-up. I also plan to have my current home loan paid off before I retire. Also, both of my vehicles are free & clear. barring health problems, the next 50 years should be a breeze…playing bunko with the girls, traveling, shopping, spoiling the kids & grandkids, etc.”

And a similar sentiment from a manager from the Social Security Administration in Baltimore who appreciates the benefits he (or she) has received as a federal employee:

“I am truly blessed to have a career in government and the ability to support myself in retirement with my pension and TSP. My two grown sons who work in private industry will never know my security nor have the benefits (annual, sick leave, health insurance, etc. ) that I have. I started out as a GS-5 and took advantage of the TSP at inception and am glad of it. ”

And an IRS employee from Holtsville, NY appreciates her federal retirement:

“My husband will only get social security. I am very grateful for my CSRS pension.”

And a Fleet Manager with GSA in Atlanta is a happy man:

“I am a career public servant with 34 years of service at 56 years of age. I am healthy and enjoy my work, and plan to work for another 6 years so i can draw 80% of my gross with my CSRS retirement. I hope my retirement will be as enjoyable as my career has been! ”

Some employees, especially those in the FERS system, are not as joyful.

An employee of the FAA in Omaha, NE wrote:

“Govt employees under FERS were sold a bill of goods with the TSP. The fees charged are expensive and hidden.”

An IRS Revenue Agent from New Jersey doesn’t think much of FERS:

“If I were under FERS my future would be really grim. I am so glad I didn’t switch in 1984.”

A Supervisory Forester in Helena, MT offered this suggestion to readers:

“People need to do the math….most will need to keep working or have a secondary income. We chose to go into business several years ago and have built a substantial 2nd income while I finished up my career.”

An IT Specialist from Oklahoma City is not looking forward to a happy retirement:

“Paid in full amount to TSP but when you are merely a GS-04/05 for years and you can pay only a small percentage, I was unable to contribute enough to help now that I am nearing retirement. On FERS without the larger contribution, as well as the years, you have very little to retire on. ”

A writer with the Bureau of Reclamation in Colorado says:

“I save 15 percent of my salary in the TSP, another $3,000 per year in the ROTH IRA, and have a total of $150,000 in savings so far, with 25 years to go before I’m 65. But I do not think that this will be enough–the experts say you need to save at least 50% of your salary and then maybe you might be ok.”

An HR specialist from the Army in Maryland is glad he switched to FERS:

“I’m one of those few employees who switched from CSRS to FERS in 1987 (only had six years under CSRS). I did it for two primary reasons – 1 – By participating fully in the TSP – I now give 15% – would make me better off in the long run then staying in CSRS and 2- I couldn’t imagine being able to stay federal my entire working career. Of course, I now have 22+ years in, but am still convinced when I see my over $225K TSP balance that I did the right thing.”

A Floridian with DoD wishes he could do some things differently:

“My wife and I both have defined benefit retirement plans. My TSP and her employer endorsed before-tax savings plan will be nice additives to our annuities. We both now wish we had diversified our TSP and other savings much earlier in our careers.”

A Veterans Administration employee from Newington, CT has done planning but observes that many people do not plan for retirement:

“I think that you help fedreal employees of all ages:

We are focused on doing our jobs well…but I suspect that only a minority of employees understand the importance of preparation (at an early age for something that may be so far off -retirement. Then surprisingly it’s here. My wife is a teacher. She spends alarge portion of her day on this. She honestly has little time to understand this. Luckily, she has me – I have no problem that teaching consumes her. I am glad she is like that. And I suppose there are many like her, in various worthy professions. However, most people have neither the time nor the inclination to try and provide for retirement apart from their (employer’s) retirement.”

A Management Analyst with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Rockville, MD is in a funk:

“I want to bury my head. There are so many bad headlines about how bad retirement will be for us “boomers” that I hate to read anything. It’s scary. I feel like I’ll have to work forever. I’m not anxious to retire but I’m a caregiver for spouse and parents. I watch my TSP and other investments get worse by the day. Even my time in the private sector on Social Security is threatened. I grow more apprehensive by the day. I want someone to make it all better but the politicians are making it worse.”

Some employees are furious over their situation. This employee from the USDA in Boston reflects the sentiments of several readers.

“I would be able to retire now except that I am under that stupid Windfall Elimination crap, which means I am getting screwed out of 10 years non-governmental employment social security.”

And, to end on a happy note, a reader from Tobyhanna Army Depot is looking forward to an early and enjoyable retirement:

“I started my retirement planning in 1984 when I opened an IRA. I was 28. I paid off my military social security, fully participated in the Thrift Savings Plan and paid off all of my debts. I was taught that a little sacrifice now will have big rewards. When I retire at 55 I expect to make more in retirement than I am making now. Not being anxious about the future means a lot also.”

Thanks to all readers who took the time to respond to this survey and share their opinions with their colleagues in government.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47