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TSP Basics

As a TSP participant, you’re part of one of the finest retirement plans in the world. Taking advantage of this opportunity is simple—investing in your future doesn’t have to be hard.

Whether you’re new to the TSP or looking for a refresher, we’re here to help with the basics:

TSP Participant Eligibility

Most employees of the United States government are eligible to participate in the TSP. You are eligible if you’re any of the following:

  • A FERS employee (generally if you were hired on or after January 1, 1984)
  • A CSRS employee (generally if you were hired before January 1, 1984 and did not convert to FERS)
  • A member of the uniformed services (active duty or Ready Reserve)
  • A civilian in certain other categories of government service

In addition to being covered by an eligible retirement system, you must also be

  • actively employed by the federal government as a civilian employee or as a member of the uniformed services, in a pay status in order to contribute, and
    working full- or part-time.

Establishing your TSP account

If you’re a FERS employee hired on or after October 1, 2020, your agency has automatically enrolled you in the TSP and 5% of your basic salary is deducted each pay period and deposited in the traditional balance of your TSP account. If you began federal service between August 1, 2010 and September 30, 2020, you were automatically enrolled at 3%.

Designating Beneficiaries

The answer is probably “NO”, but we always recommend you designate a beneficiary. However, if you do not designate a beneficiary and you die, your TSP account would be distributed this way:

  1. To your spouse
  2. If none, to your child or children equally, and to the descendants of deceased children
  3. If none, to your parents equally or to your surviving parent
  4. If none, to the appointed executor or administrator of your estate
  5. If none, to your next of kin who is entitled to your estate under the laws of the state you lived in at the time of your death

For most people, this is the best option because it accounts for life changes like births, deaths, divorce, or marriage that may happen after you open your account.

If you’d like to make an exception, you may complete Form TSP-3, Designation of Beneficiary. The easiest way to do this is to use the online “wizard,” which you’ll find by logging in here: My Account: Beneficiaries.

Don’t remember whether you’ve submitted a Designation of Beneficiary or you’re not sure who you named as your beneficiaries? Look at your annual statement, check the online wizard, or call the ThriftLine at 1-877-968-3778.

Making TSP Contributions

If you’re a FERS or CSRS employee or a BRS member who began or rejoined federal service after October 1, 2020, your agency or service automatically enrolled you in the TSP, and 5% of your basic salary is deducted from your paycheck every pay period and deposited into the traditional balance of your TSP account1 unless you made a contribution election to stop or change your contributions. If you’re a BRS member who stopped your contributions during the year, you are automatically re-enrolled at 5% of your basic pay on January 1.

If you’re a FERS or CSRS employee or a BRS member who began or rejoined federal service between August 1, 2010, and September 30, 2020, you were automatically enrolled at 3%.

The first 3% of pay that you contribute will be matched dollar-for-dollar; the next 2% will be matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Contributions above 5% of your pay will not be matched. If you stop making regular employee contributions, your matching contributions will also stop.

Further, your Agency/Service Matching Contributions are based on the total amount of money (traditional and Roth) that you contribute each pay period. All agency/service contributions are deposited into your traditional balance.

Contributions toward the Catch-Up Limit

Starting in the year you turn 50, you become eligible to save even more by contributing toward the catch-up limit.

Here’s what you should know:

  • Once you exceed the elective deferral or annual addition limit, your contributions will spill over and automatically start counting toward the catch-up limit.
  • Contributions spilling over toward the catch-up limit will qualify for the match on up to 5% of your salary.
  • Separate catch-up elections are no longer required. Your election will carry over each year unless you submit a new election or leave federal service.
  • You may start, stop, or change your contributions at any time.

If you are a uniformed services member and enter a combat zone, your contributions toward the catch-up limit must be Roth. (The TSP cannot accept traditional tax-exempt contributions toward the catch-up limit.) You also cannot contribute toward the catch-up limit from incentive pay, special pay, or bonus pay.

If you are contributing to both a civilian and uniformed services account, the limits apply to the total you contribute to both accounts during the year.

To contribute toward the catch-up limit, use Form TSP-1, Election Form (or Form TSP-U-1 for uniformed services), or your agency’s or service’s electronic system (e,g., Employee Express, EBIS, LiteBlue, myPay, or NFC Employee Personal Page). You can add any contributions toward the catch-up limit in the same place as your other TSP contributions. Remember, separate catch-up elections are not required.

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