FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Retirement -- for Department of the Army civilian employees, knowledge and planning are essential tools in preparation.

Fort Riley Garrison Commander Col. John Lawrence stressed at a town hall on Jan. 25 that, when it comes to taking practical steps in the face of uncertainty, government workers are their own best advocates.

"You need to know your situation," Lawrence said. "Nobody takes care of you like you."
Director of the Army Benefits Center-Civilian Gregory Buchanan said: Each employee is responsible for managing his or her own retirement. Employees should start planning early enough -- "a minimum of five years out." -- so they can make the necessary corrections in their retirement folder.

"When we talk at new employee briefings, we tell them, 'Now is the time to begin thinking about retirement,'" Buchanan said.

There are two retirement systems for employees in place -- the Federal Employees Retirement System -- this system includes a majority a workers in government service -- and the Civil Service Retirement System, which includes workers who have been in federal service the longest. Management of a retirement package depends on which system employees are enrolled in.

According to Mike Causey of Federal News Radio, about 300,000 of the estimated 4.4 million federal workers, remain under CSRS and that number is dwindling.
"They are definitely a vanishing breed," Causey said. "Their ranks thin every day."
All the tools for managing individual retirement plans are available online at the Army Benefits Center -- Civilian website www.abc.army.mil, provides a menu of planning tools and advice.

The agency employs an automated Employee Benefit Information System, which is accessible through a port at the right-hand side of the ABC-C main page. It requires a pin number and a password and once those have been established employees have control of their plans.

"It is a self-servicing system," Buchanan said. "You can control your own benefits 24-hours a day, seven days a week."

Users will find their personal data, a variety of calculators, including those for estimating retirement, and determining Thrift Savings Plan annuities based on what is currently in an account, a personal transaction page to help with tracking the status of a variety of benefits and more.

However, the website doesn't mean workers can't contact ABC-C and receive assistance, said Kristine Tiroch, supervisor Human Resources (Benefits), ABC-C. Benefit specialists at ABC-C are available via phone between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., Central Standard Time, Monday through Friday. The local number is 785-240-2222 or call 1-877-276-9287.

ABC-C services provide advice on and process transactions for the following:
• Federal Employees Health Benefits
• Federal Employees Group Life Insurance
• Thrift Savings Plan
• Retirement (Federal Employees Retirement System and Civil Service Retirement System)
• Survivorship (Death Claim Processing)
• Unemployment Compensation

A worker's retirement package includes several things that should be reviewed periodically. They are Thrift Savings Plan accounts, Social Security, defined benefit plans, e.g., CSRS/FERS annuity and other sources such as military pension.
There are also things that can be done depending on where a worker is in their career.

Credit for Military Service

As a general rule, military service is creditable for civilian retirement purposes if it was active service terminated under honorable conditions and performed prior to an employee's separation from civilian service for retirement.

In order to receive credit, a deposit must be made to the employees retirement account with one exception -- service which was performed before 1957 is creditable without deposit.

For service performed on or after Jan. 1, 1957, a deposit must be paid to credit the service to establish title to an annuity or to compute your annuity.

Those with time in the military, but who are not yet receiving a retirement pension, can make deposits into their retirement account so that service can be credited toward total time of government service. For example, a person with five years military service and 10 years of government service can pay into the retirement plan to be claim 15 years of total service creditable toward retirement.

If a person wanted to have a full 20-plus year military career credited toward the government service time, they would have to waive the pension until retirement from government service is attained, and buy back the time through payments deducted each month.

In either case, it's important to do this as early as possible to avoid interest.

"It's important to know this because under FERS, the more time you have credited to you, the more your annuity is going to be," Buchanan said.

Not taking steps to convert military service to creditable time in government service, is just one mistake people make when managing their retirement, Tiroch said.

Another is not setting up their Thrift Savings Plan account.

"About 75 percent of the money you are going to live on in your retirement will come from your TSP account," Tiroch said.

The website is www.tsp.gov. Once there, employees can perform two functions -- determine how much to contribute to their TSP account and decide how assertive they wish to be in the market.

Thus using these tools can help any government employee get a handle on their retirement plans.