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Survey: TSP remains popular with feds

Retired federal employees rely on three means of financial support: the Federal Employees Retirement System or the Civil Service Retirement System, personal savings and the Thrift Savings Plan, a $600 billion-plus pool of funds fueled by defined employee contributions and investment plan choices.

A new survey of 5,500 participants shows that TSP -- established in 1986, and long popular -- remains so with feds. In fact, nearly 9 out of ten federal employees said they are happy with it.  

But satisfaction has slipped just a bit since the last survey, which was conducted in 2017: The total portion reporting either “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” this year stands at 87%, while three years ago it was at 89%.

A small difference may have been caused in part by the pandemic and high unemployment, according to Kim Weaver, director of external affairs for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which manages TSP and provides the online tools participants use to monitor and select their investment choices.

“What we have found over the years in doing these surveys is that if you’re feeling bad in general and about your balance, then you feel worse about us -- the TSP.” Weaver told FederalSoup, noting that it’s been a rough year for the country. “If your mood is sour, that can affect things. The slightly-down survey results this time, in part, may have been due to that.”

Weaver also noted that this year’s survey was conducted in the early period of the pandemic, March 20 through May 11, when TSP market values were significantly depressed.

Other changes that affected this year’s survey numbers -- further depressing them slightly -- include changes to those included in the poll.

“This time, for the first time ever, we did not include participants covered by the older, Civil Service Retirement System, the CSRS,” Weaver explained. “That’s a closed system, and it is shrinking.”

“And included for the first time … are the now automatically enrolled uniform services,” Weaver continued. “The automatic enrollment of the uniform services started Jan. 1, 2018, so they’ve been in a couple of years.”

“Basically, we had a satisfaction rate of about 90% -- obviously, excellent -- and then we added in a new population we have never surveyed before,” Weaver said. “That brought the overall satisfaction down to 87, something we are aware of but not alarmed by.”

“They have different views about retirement,” Weaver said of younger participants. “You will see that in the details of the survey results.” The full results have not yet been posted on the FRTIB website.

Only 77% of the new participants -- who participate under a new moniker, the Blended Retirement System -- report being either “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with TSP.

“One thing we hear that many users want, especially these new participants, is a mobile app,” Weaver said, adding that ease-of-use on mobile is a key want. “I think the 2% drop in satisfaction has mostly to do with this and the new participants added.”

“Our new [online] record keeper page will offer a mobile app,” Weaver said. “It was already in the works. But … now we know from the input that this is something of value to our participants.”

Weaver told FederalSoup that because the record keeper program is currently being modernized, the mobile app is not scheduled to be released until 2022.

Historical TSP survey results showed a steady rise in program satisfaction scores with participants over the years, from 86% in 2011, to 87% in 2013 and 89% in 2017 -- polls conducted before the respondent composition was changed.

Reader comments

Tue, Sep 1, 2020 sam

The future should limit investment in all dictator countries. Not just China. Russia and Iran and others. They all cheat normal prices by taking government money and putting it into their companies. Unfair to our companies.

Mon, Aug 31, 2020

We have to make the TSP favor American investments. You can find solid returns in the USA. Good idea to not invest in China and a few of the other worst cheats and labor abusing countries.

Mon, Aug 31, 2020

TSP should invest in well established American Companies. This will keep Americans employed and will be beneficial to TSP participants. Please keep the president, congress and senate as far away as possible from this beneficial retirement system option. They have to reason to goof up what is working so well.

Mon, Aug 31, 2020

I have several retirement savings plans, coming from previous positions. This requirement is by far the best program. There has been rumor that the powers to be want to privatize our retirement program. Then there'll be PLENTY for people to complain about!

Fri, Aug 28, 2020 sam

We should not let the TSP invest heavily in China. Just helps totalitarian government.

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2020 Digital Almanac

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