Maximizing Your TSP Investments: When, Where and How Readers Check and Use Their Retirement Tools

Readers weigh in on when, where and how they check their TSP balance and change their investment allocations.

The Thrift Savings Plan is a big deal for most federal employees since, for many people, it represents the difference between having financial security in retirement or having to continue working.

And, according to our latest survey, most readers check on their TSP balances on a regular basis.

The largest number check their balance monthly (31%); 30% check on it weekly and 26% check the balance each day. 4% say they check their balance once a year, 3% indicate they never check it and 2% are not sure how often they check on their money.

As far as making changes in their TSP allocations, 46% of readers indicate they make changes at least once a year. 13% make changes at least once a month; 13% make changes "as often as possible under the system" and 2% make changes at least once each pay period. 4% never make changes and 22% are not sure when they make changes to their TSP investments.

41% of readers responding to the survey use their computer at work most of the time. 28% use their work computer occasionally and 22% always use their computer at work to check their accounts. 9% never use the computer at work and 1% are not sure which computer they use.

And what about using an outside financial adviser or service to make decisions about TSP accounts? 2% indicate they always use an outside financial adviser or service. 13% indicate they are very likely to use such a service. But 41% say they are very unlikely to use such a service and 34% indicate they will never use an outside adviser. 10% are not sure if they will use outside assistance or not.

A number of readers had comments on the TSP. Many readers had suggestions for improvement; their thoughts on how to allocate money in the program and others had opinions on using a financial adviser.

Here are a few opinions from readers on their investments.

A supply technicial from the Forest Service in Oregon writes: "I put the max allowed into TSP. I wish I had for my whole career. I put 25% in G, 25% in F , 25% in C and 25% in S. I leave it that way."

A staff specialist from DOT in Houston says: "I’ve been a participant in the TSP since its inception. I occasionally may adjust the balance of the funds, but I have no interest in trying to chase yields on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. That race is too hard to win."

A human resources specialist from OPM has this comment: "I will be curious to see what the Real Estate Fund has to offer, when TSP comes out with it. Since transferring from CSRS to FERS at the end of 1998, I have only been investing in the C Fund. Notwithstanding those three awful years (2000, 2001, and 2002) that the stock market went through, and the C Fund with it, I am now at $100,000 as a result of sticking exclusively with my one TSP choice. I may just continue to stick with my current, aggresive strategy, and keep my fingers crossed!"

A Customs and Border Patrol officer from Merritt Island, FL thinks investing in the TSP is unnerving: "This whole idea of investing in the stock market for my future is very scarey considering the amount of fraud,insider trading and greed that is going unpunished on Wall Street! It is possible that you could end up with nothing at retirement with an investment type savings plan."

A human resources specialist with the VA in Phoenix thinks some TSP investors will hurt themselves: "Flexibility is a key component of the TSP but human nature to try to always be ‘ahead of the game’ may lead some to day trading type activities which usually don’t work out in the long run."

But, according to a human resources specialist with the Forest Service in Ogden, UT: I regularly manage my TSP for maximum gains and I am close to retirement. If you are to come out OK, you cannot depend on allowing money to stay put when the market is not doing well, so I feel that one must make adjustments accordingly."

A technicial with the VA hospital in Gainesville, FL tries to help his colleagues with their investments: "I make changes often keeping up with the market. I move at least 20 other employees, (no charge) who have no idea of the money to be made in the market for retirement."

With regard to using financial advisers, there is a wide range of views. Most readers think using an outside service is not a good idea but some think it is necessary.’

A claims representative from the SSA in Poughkeepsie, NY says simply: "It would be ridiculous to use a financial advisor to allocate your TSP investment."

A retiree from Portsmouth, VA has this to say about financial advice: "I used a financial advisor when I first retired to see what I should do with my TSP investments, such as should I roll it over into an IRA. I was advised to do so, but studied the info and found that I would make more money keeping it in the TSP program. The advisor was going to gete my business by rolling over and therefore, make money from me — I would be making less. I am not likely to trust advisors in the future."

A resources specialist from the Bureau of Land Management in Medford, OR comments: "The fewer outside advisers we have giving advice, the better off the majority of TSP investers will be."

But not all readers are opposed to using financial advisers. A letter carrier from Connecticut writes: "I use a fundadvisor {free}…to allocate c and s fund percentages, and watch dollar and european trends for the I fund. Other paid allocation sights..seem unverifiable in their performance."

A Forest Service technicial from Oregon apparently feels overwhelmed: "I would like help managing my funds."

A program technicial from FSA also feels adrift with investments: "It is very difficult to determine how to invest in the TSP to achieve the best results. Without suggestions or guidance about who to contact, many don’t know where to start. I wish we had a little more guidance/knowledge about investments. I doubled my investment since a few years back by changing around, but it was only because someone explained a few things to me."

An accounting technicial from DFAS in Columbus, Ohio plans on using an adviser at a specific time: "I likely will use a financial adviser at retirement time."

A health specialist from CDC in Atlanta has this advice: "To maximize their long-term earnings, most investors need assistance in developing a strategy regarding which funds to put their TSP into over the long-haul, especially given the instability of the global economy."

And a deputy director from the Small Business Administration thinks financial planning should be available to all TSP investors: "I would like to see all TSP employees have access to a Certified Financial Planner that specializes in our retirement options. For a reasonable fee, we could get help with selections, trends, and other pre-retirement planning guidance."

Our thanks to the many readers who took the time to vote in our latest survey and to send in their opinions.