Gold Bugs & The TSP

Unless they’ve invested in coins or inherited lots of jewelry, most of the gold owned by most federal workers is probably in their teeth! And that gives them little to smile about.

Wouldn’t it be great in these troubled economic times to have some gold, silver or platinum in your Thrift Savings Plan portfolio?

Right now you do have some. But not much. If you are in the stock-indexed C fund, about 1.1 percent is invested in the metals and mining category. In the S fund that share is about 1.6 percent.

But for true gold bugs, it is impossible to invest in an exclusively precious metals fund via the TSP. Nor is there a geographical or country-specific fund (like Greece, Iceland or Chad) available to the 3-plus million TSP account holders.

For years, some investors (and some very influential groups) have been pushing the TSP to open up or give investors more choices. Currently the federal 401(k) program is indexed to the U.S. stock market (via the C and S funds), to international stocks (the I fund), and to the bond market (F fund) and special Treasury securities via the G-fund. There are also lifecycle funds made up of the C, S, I, F and G funds.

But if you want to bet on Thailand or Croatia as the next economic super-power, you can’t do it via the TSP.

Ever since the TSP was set up some investors have sought more choices. So have organizations that would like to siphon off some of the $2 billion (with a B) federal and postal workers invest each month in the federal 401(k) plan.

For several years before the market imploded, several members of Congress demanded that the TSP set up a fund. At one point Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and others proposed a gold fund. Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) wanted the TSP to add a real estate investment trust fund when REITS were hot. They are now not.

Over the years members of Congress have proposed that the TSP set up a small-business fund; a minority-owned business fund; a terror-fund (which didn’t invest in any industry which does business with the military) and a fund composed exclusively of companies that are demanding that the U.S. put an end of the situation in Darfur.

Congress has given the Thrift Investment Retirement Board, which runs the TSP, the authority to open up a window when investors could put some of their money in an outside mutual fund offering a variety of options.

Both the 5-member board that runs the TSP and the 15-member advisory council made up of federal unions and groups, have split on whether to open that window.

But it could happen someday.

When/if that decision is made, TSP fund managers would decide which company offered the best fund (and options) at the lowest cost. People who put some of their TSP money into that fund would pay the higher administrative fees that it would almost certainly charge.

Bottom line: There’s gold in them thar hills, but not so much in your TSP account.

Gold Fever: For another take on the record high price of gold, click here.

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