Opting in the TSP’s blended retirement system? Don’t forget to contribute

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) says more military service members are opting into its new blended retirement system by the month, but several thousand are forgetting an important step.

About 20,000 participants have opted into the TSP’s blended retirement system (BRS) and will receive the automatic 1 percent contribution from their employing military service, but they haven’t chosen how much they’ll commit from their own paychecks, Tee Ramos, director of participant services for the FRTIB, said Monday at the agency’s monthly meeting.

Contributions from BRS participants aren’t automatic, unless a service member specifically designates them as such.

Without electing how much they’ll contribute during a given pay period, uniformed service members aren’t taking advantage of the TSP’s full potential. Under blended retirement, members will automatically receive 1 percent from their military services, but they can receive up to 5 percent from their agency depending how much they choose to contribute from their paychecks.

The TSP is posting several reminders about the opt-in process on Facebook and Twitter, and blended retirement participants will likely receive more specific information in the mail, Jim Courtney, director of communications and education, said.

Individual military services have been automatically enrolling new uniformed members to the TSP since Jan. 1 of this year, when the FRTIB officially launched the blended retirement system. But current military members with 12 years or less of service had to specifically opt in to use blended retirement.

The FRTIB said it’s the latter population of uniformed military members that are missing out on the TSP’s full benefits. To remind them of the entire process for opting into the blended retirement system, the FRTIB also created an instructional video.

Just more than 50 percent of uniformed service members now participate in the TSP in some capacity, Ramos said. About 162,000 service members have opted into the blended retirement system.

Uniformed military with less than 12 years of service have until Dec. 31, 2018 to decide whether they should stay in the current retirement system or opt into BRS.

Customer service slowly improves

After months of long wait times at the TSP’s contact centers, customer service is slowly improving for the FRTIB.

It took “Thriftline” customer service representatives an average of 14 seconds to answer a call during the first week of April — far better than 761 second average in mid-February — according to Clayton Lee, program manager for the TSP’s call centers.

The TSP reached 5.6 percent of callers within 20 seconds in mid-February. Now, more than 87 percent of TSP participants are getting through to the Thriftline within the agency’s 20-second goal.

“We’re not completely there yet,” Lee said of the agency’s current service levels. “We’re still hashing out some of the final details and getting exactly back on track, but we’re right on the way.”

More than 120,000 callers had spent 5 minutes or longer waiting for a Thriftline representative to pick up back in January. That’s well short of the TSP’s customer service goal, which charges Thriftline representatives to answer 90 percent of participants’ calls within 20 seconds or less.

About 1 percent of TSP callers hung up mid-attempt in early April. That’s far better than mid-February, when the agency saw abandonment rates of more than 35 percent.

The agency added more staff members and launched a new training pilot to more quickly onboard new employees, Lee said. TSP contact centers are also simply receiving fewer phone calls now than they had been during the first three months of the year.

The TSP’s “peak season” typically runs from January through mid-March.

In addition, the FRTIB is crafting new queue messages, which it plans to deploy if and when customers face long wait times in the future. The messages will convey information about Thriftline wait times, the TSP website and details on commonly-asked questions about loans, withdrawal requests and other topics.