A recent report from CNN stated that the United States government is about to face a large wave of retiring federal workers. About 30% of current federal employees will reach the eligible age for retirement in the next three years. But have all of these upcoming retirees adequately planned for retirement?
Planning for your retirement is a necessity, especially given the uncertainty of the current economy. As a federal employee, you have the security of receiving federal pension benefits. These benefits are considerably more generous than plans in the private sector. The first way to begin planning for life after retirement is to understand the details of the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). With that knowledge, you can move on to the three important variables that will impact your life post-retirement: your health, your financial situation, and your goals.
Your Retirement Plan
The first step toward planning your retirement as a federal employee is understanding the Federal Employees Retirement System, also know as FERS. FERS provides you with benefits from three sources: the Basic Benefit Plan, Social Security, and the Thrift Savings Plan.
- Basic Benefit Plan: The Basic Benefit plan, also known as the FERS annuity, is a defined benefit plan that is based on the length of your creditable federal service and the average annual rate of basic pay of your three consecutive years of work that were the highest paid. Note that “creditable federal service” may not include the entirety of your federal service. After retirement, you receive payments from the annuity every month for the rest of your life.
- Social Security: FERS is covered by Social Security, which is the federal insurance program that provides retirement, unemployment, and disability benefits. You will receive Medicare benefits under Social Security. If you change employers prior to retirement, your Social Security will follow you.
- Thrift Savings Plan: The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is an account automatically set up by your agency of employment. Each pay period, your agency deposits 1% of the basic pay you have earned during that pay period into your TSP account. If you contribute to your TSP, your agency will make matching contributions, which are tax-deferred. TSP will also follow you to your next employer if you change jobs before retirement.
One important aspect of FERS to consider is your eligibility. The federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) provides charts to determine your Minimum Retirement Age. There are also different eligibility requirements for immediate, early deferred, or disability retirement. These requirements are based on your age and years of service. OPM also provides FAQs on retirement information for federal government employees.
Check Your Health
Now that you are informed about the intricacies of FERS and have determined your eligibility, one daunting yet necessary conversation to have revolves around your health. Your health will have a large impact both on how long your retirement will be and what financial resources you will need. Experts recommend using life expectancy calculators that take into account a variety of information about your health and lifestyle to more accurately determine how long you may live. This will allow you to both plan financially and take steps toward improving your health, which will decrease your chances of struggling with expensive medical conditions.
It’s All about Money
Considering your life expectancy leads us to the most important aspect of retirement: how much money you will need to save. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that less than half of all Americans have calculated their financial needs for retirement. You should begin saving early, continue saving throughout your career, create savings goals, and stick to those goals. As financial experts reiterate, the upcoming generation of retirees has a vastly different outlook on retirement than that of their parents.
As a federal government employee, your advantage lies in a guaranteed pension, which have been declining in number since the 1970s. Still, as a growing majority of retirees are living longer, federal programs such as Social Security are facing a large amount of strain. Creating a personal savings plan in combination with your FERS benefits is recommended. U.S. News provides some helpful tips on saving for retirement. One especially useful idea is to start an IRA. Although FERS will provide you with the annuity and TSP, it cannot hurt to set up an Individual Retirement Account, or IRA, as well. Consider using your IRA to save money that you receive outside of your normal income, such as tax refunds, inheritances, credit card rewards, or bonuses.
What Are Your Future Goals?
Finally, one piece of retirement that many fail to consider is what exactly they want to do on a daily basis once retired. While the majority may simply look forward to the opportunity to relax and conduct their daily life free of work obligations, you should consider the fact that you will likely be in retirement for 20-30 years. There are a multitude of options for what you can choose to do with that time.
- Traveling: Traveling is often a favored choice among retirees. The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), which will be open to you as a federal employee, boasts multiple member perks revolving around travel. These include discounted plane tickets, car rentals, hotel stays, and vacation rentals.
- Volunteering: Many retirees feel at a loss without the daily commitment of a job. Becoming a volunteer is an excellent way to feel satisfied through being actively involved in a cause that helps others. Volunteering provides the opportunity to take on a job that is new and interesting, and many find that it adds meaning to their lives.
- Furthering Education: If you are intellectually minded, retirement can give you the opportunity you have been waiting for to further your education. NARFE provides discounted tuition for online degree programs.
- Finding a Hobby: While it may seem cliché, retirement gives you the option to rediscover hobbies you may have neglected while you worked. Developing a hobby can lead to meeting new people, provide you with an enjoyable daily activity, and even bring in some extra money.