What Do You Need to Know About Your Federal Benefits?

What do you need to know about your federal career? Here is one inexpensive way to learn more about the federal HR system.

The federal human resources system is complex. Moreover, while some readers will assume that Uncle Sam will do your thinking for you and make sure you obtain the maximum benefit from your time as a federal employee, that is naive. It may have been true at one time. It is not true today. Remember the “Yo-Yo Factor”: You are responsible for yourself. (I cannot take credit for that term—it was coined by the authors of the books which are the subject of this column.)

I have worked for the federal government, owned a human resources services company that worked with numerous federal employee and agencies of the federal government, and authored too many books, newsletters, and columns on federal human resources to be able to count.

But, if I were to assert that I could not learn anymore, I would be a fool. I learn new things every week about how the government complex human resources system functions. There are far too many variations in the multitude of systems to be an expert on how they work. Add to that the many changes that occur each year and the federal personnel system is a massive beast with an evolving life of its own.

I have also worked in the human resources field in various positions, including a few years in a field office for a NASA installation where I came into contact with colleagues who had questions about how the federal system worked. The one most unfortunate situation which frequently came up then and which we now see frequently through the FedSmith website is this: Many federal employees wait until they are almost ready to retire before they start asking questions about their benefits and how to maximize their retirement income.

Some of these folks who lacked information have hurt themselves by not asking questions about their benefits in retirement much earlier in their federal career when they could have planned and made adjustments that would have been very beneficial. Some have made much better decisions about their career had they taken the time to read, ask questions, and find out from federal human resources experts how daily decisions can influence their career advancement and their financial stability later in life.

I realize there is a dearth of federal HR expertise as far as many readers are concerned. Regional personnel offices have closed and an expert that gives you confidence in the advice you receive may not be at your facility or even in your state. Many readers have complained that the quality of the HR advice they receive is not up to date, well researched, or that the system is not adequately understood by the HR personnel with whom they do have contact. (See “Here’s a Quarter. (Call Someone Who Cares)”)

Here are two options for learning more about your federal benefits and planning for your federal retirement. There are two new books published that provide a summary of your federal benefits. (Both authors write articles for the FedSmith website on retirement and investment topics.) The books are very similar, cover the same topics and both are well-written, concise and explain the federal benefits available in a way that is easy to understand. The books are written by two individuals who have worked together and the close similarity of the two books reflects this working relationship.

FedTelligence: The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Your Federal Benefits

FedTelligence: The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Your Federal Benefits is authored by Ann Vanderslice. Her articles on the FedSmith site reflect her wit and ability to provide information about a topic that may be boring in an entertaining way that will enable people to look at a topic from a different perspective. Her company provides retirement training for federal employees.

FedSavvy: Tools and Tips to Maximize Your Federal Benefits

Another new book has been authored by Carol Schmidlin. Carol is president of a company providing her clients with advice on preserving their wealth and is an expert in retirement planning strategies and her articles on the FedSmith site reflect her considerable expertise in these areas.

How These Books Can Help You

Both books focus on federal retirement (both CSRS and FERS). They cover a range of topics from how to calculate your retirement annuity to the role the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) plays in your retirement future along with suggestions on choosing the most opportune date to retire.

To some extent, all federal employees will have (or should have) questions about Medicare, Social Security, health benefits and the TSP when you retire. These two books provide a broad overview of these subjects that will answer many of the most common questions those thinking about retirement.

But it isn’t just about the technical aspects of your financial future. The two authors provide practical advice on questions such as “What Will Your Retirement Look Like?” For example, will you retire and travel abroad, will you live in the United States or will you choose to work part-time after leaving the federal government and what are the considerations in answering these questions?

We often receive queries from FedSmith readers about the best investment strategy for investing in the Thrift Savings Plan. Both books explain options available and some ideas on diversification. If you are in the FERS system, which is now the large majority of federal employees, knowing how to make the TSP work for you is essential since it is a major part of your future retirement. Understanding the basics of the TSP and the “magic numbers” that are important to federal employees will make either of these books on federal benefits worth many times the purchase price.

While the books are very similar and cover the same topics, there are some differences. Both authors use their personal experiences to highpoint various points in the book and the examples they use differ as a result.

FedSavvy provides a more comprehensive “professional fulfillment assessment” for a person to use when considering retirement. This assessment is useful for recognizing what you like about your job and what you may miss when you leave the workplace by asking questions such as how you like to structure your time (if you like to structure it at all) or whether recognition for the job that you do is important to you in the workplace or how important your professional affiliations are to you.

FedTelligence also provides an assessment for the future retiree but the questions are considerably different and reflect a different approach such as: Do most people work after retirement because the want to or they need to or “After you retire, which of the following is likely to have the biggest effect on your happiness?”

And, if you have a smartphone with the ability to read a bar code, there are sections within FedTelligence that enable a reader to obtain more information on a topic by scanning in the bar code

In short, as the title implies, this book will provide readers with information you will need to make a rational decisions about retirement and how to use these benefits to your advantage when planning your future retirement and enhancing your future retirement income.

Many readers will be receiving a federal retirement check for decades. To the extend you can enhance your financial resources during your retirement, it makes sense to do so. If you think you will benefit from knowing more about the federal benefits systems, you can order the Fedtelligence book in paperback ($14.95) or the Kindle digital format through Amazon for $9.99.  The Fedsavvy book is available for $14.95 in paperback through the internet and the Kindle digital format is available through Amazon for $9.99.

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