More feds tapped into TSP nest eggs early in 2015

Fewer federal employees made hardship withdrawals from their Thrift Savings Plan accounts in 2015 compared to the previous year. But more feds took age-based wi...

During a year with no government shutdowns and few agency reductions in force (RIF), fewer federal employees made hardship withdrawals from the Thrift Savings Plan in 2015.

Participants made 111,694 hardship withdrawals worth about $1 billion in 2015, compared with 121,389 withdrawals worth $1.1 billion in 2014. TSP participants can withdraw from their accounts to satisfy a specific, immediate financial need.

But more participants — active employees ages 59 1/2 or older — took age-based withdrawals last year than the year before, members of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) said during its monthly meeting Jan. 25. The board saw 20,242 age-based withdrawals for a total of nearly $2.2 billion in 2015, compared with 19,882 withdrawals worth nearly $2.1 billion in 2014.

TSP participants took out nearly $1 billion more in loans in 2015 than 2014 — about $3.97 billion last year compared to $2.95 billion the year before.

Now, the board said it’s trying to figure out why more active federal employees are tapping into their nest eggs early.

It will continue its campaign to remind participants of the risks of withdrawing from their nest eggs, even as the stock market remains unsettled and some TSP funds continue their downward spiral, the board said.

“What you’re doing is borrowing from your future,” said Jim Courtney, director of the Office of Communications and Education. “The risk of taking the money up front, leaves you with the possibility that you’re going to have hundreds or thousands of dollars less each month in retirement.”

Though the board is turning to social media, particularly Twitter and online videos, to get the word out, the goal is to speak with individuals at a more personal level.

“We are not doing individually directed messaging,” Renee Wilder, the board’s director of enterprise planning, said during the conference call. “Right now, we are one voice to many. Aspirationally, we would like to be one voice to one.”

The TSP saw a record number of Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) participants in 2015 — a 88.5 percent participation rate compared to a 87.5 percent rate in 2014.

Active military participation increased steadily throughout 2015 as well, Wilder said.

The Board is continuing to prepare for an expected influx of 500,000-700,000 new military members to the TSP in 2018, thanks to a provision in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act requiring automatic enrollment for new troops.

Kim Weaver, legislative director for the board, said she is working with the Defense Department on the Uniformed Services Blended Retirement System to make any technical corrections to the NDAA provision before they move forward on implementation.

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