Welles: Are you really ready to retire?

Employees approaching retirement need more info and less wishful thinking about their options

Many federal workers are preparing to retire. But what some might view as being ready and what readiness actually means are two different things.

According to the results of a recent survey by the Office of Personnel Management and the International Foundation for Retirement Education, a majority of federal employees — more than eight in 10 — say they are on track or ahead of schedule in planning and saving for their retirement years. More than half of those workers expect to retire before age 62, and almost four in 10 expect to retire at 59 or younger.

However, the Web-based survey of 7,294 federal workers revealed that less than half have calculated how much they need to save for a comfortable retirement. Moreover, the employees who have calculated that amount have estimated, guessed or used a self-created worksheet.

Most federal employees also said they lack confidence about making investment decisions for retirement.

It seems to me that the employees who said they are on track with their retirement savings might be basing their answers more on wishful thinking than on careful planning.

Economic insecurity or baby boomer energy might motivate the majority of the federal workers surveyed — three out of four — to say that they expect to work for pay after they retire from their government jobs.

It’s not surprising that almost eight in 10 workers are very or extremely interested in their agencies providing additional information about preparing for retirement.

OPM is developing information and identifying educational resources to help federal workers better prepare for their retirement years. The recent survey was the first step. The results will help OPM develop a retirement-readiness profile that employees can use to evaluate how well they are planning for their futures.

In the meantime, the Thrift Savings Plan offers assistance, including a retirement calculator, on its Web site (www.tsp.gov). Many other groups, including AARP, provide free online retirement-planning calculators.

Nine in 10 federal workers participate in TSP, and although that rate is good, the TSP would like to see 100 percent participation. For people thinking about working somewhere else after they retire from the government, TSP accounts can provide a helpful base of support. About 777,000 people who have left government jobs continue to keep funds in their TSP accounts.

If workers gain 401(k) funds through other employment, they have the option of consolidating all of their retirement savings in their TSP accounts later.

If you want to get a life when you retire, you need to consider where you stand financially today, what you will need in the future and how to achieve those goals.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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