Who’s the TSP’s $5 million man/woman?

Since the dawn of time, wise male elders have told their womenfolk that size doesn’t matter. It’s not how much the wooly mammoth weighs, proud hunters told their cave partners. What counts is the quality of the meat and hide. But that was then, this is now…

Fast forward 40,000 years to today. Now. Your office. Your Thrift Savings Plan account. Uncle Sam’s generous in-house 401(k) plan. As of the end of last year, the TSP had almost 4.9 million participants. That includes active-duty federal and uniformed military personnel as well as tens of thousands of retirees. It dwarfs all other plans. And if you are like most feds working today, the money you (and Uncle Sam) put into your TSP could be the source of from one-third to one-half of all the income you have in retirement. So size definitely counts.

And at least one TSP account holder (as of last December) had a balance of $5.3 million (with an “M”) in his, or her, account. Whoever the $5 Million Man or Woman is, chances are he or she brought money with them from an outside account. They may have joined the government as a political appointee, a member of the House or Senate or as a very successful lawyer who became a federal judge. Whoever it is, he or she is out there.

Thanks to the fact that so many feds get it (the importance of saving for retirement), and that the government will match up to 5 percent of the money FERS employees put into their federal 401(k) plan, lots of feds are on the way to a very happy (if money is an indicator) retirement. FERS employees will qualify for a lifetime Social Security benefit fully indexed to inflation, and to a FERS retirement benefit partially linked to inflation.

So where do you stand in the TSP lineup? See if you can find yourself:

  • There are 2.8 million account holders with balances of $50,000 or less. The average has been in government for 8.8 years. That’s a pretty good nest egg for such a short period.
  • Just over 1.4 million participants’ account balances are between $50,000 and $249,000. Average time in government: 18.6 years.
  • About 413,000 people have account balances worth between $250,000 and $499,000. Time in government: 23.5 years.
  • There are 35,0000-plus feds and retirees with TSP account balances worth between $500,000 and $749,000. Time in government averages 26.2 years.
  • Just over 35,000 account holders had TSP balances of between $750,000 and $999,000. That has a nice ring. Average time in government: 28.3 years.
  • Push it a little bit more and you see that there are at least 9,599 (as of mid-December) who had TSP account balances of $1 million or more. Average time in government: 29.2 years.

I’ve either talked with or heard from a dozen TSP millionaires. All of them had one thing in common. They invested in the TSP from day one. They put in at least enough to get the government match, which is the equivalent of a 45 percent tax-deferred pay raise. And they stayed the course. They didn’t panic when the bear market hit, and they kept buying in the stock-index funds during good times (when stocks were high) and bad (when shares were “on sale”).

If you want more info on how the TSP operates, listen to Wednesday’s Your Turn radio show here on Federal News Radio. Kim Weaver, director of external affairs, explained what the TSP is, how it works, who oversees it and she answered some questions from listeners. To hear the full show, on Wednesday, at 10 a.m. EST, click here.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

At 3 hours, 1 minute and 50 seconds, “In The Garden” by PC III label Pipe Choir is the longest officially released song.

Source: Guinness World Records