How much income will my FERS Pension provide in retirement?
Federal Employees are part of a system that offers comprehensive benefits that include retirement and healthcare, and as part of your retirement benefits the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) offers a pension component. The FERS pension is a promised retirement income stream that is funded primarily by government agency contributions.
How it Works
Most federal employees contribute .8% of their annual salary to FERS while the agency contributes 10.7% or more. Your employee contribution is withheld from after-tax income, making it subject to income and payroll taxes.
As part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, mandatory employee contribution rates were increased substantially. Feds hired after December 31, 2012 contribute a mandatory 3.1% of their annual salary. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 further increased the contribution rate to 4.4% for those hired after December 31, 2013. Agency contributions have also been increased.
Based on these contributions the federal government promises to pay you a monthly annuity through your retirement. With a defined benefit plan like the FERS pension you don’t need to worry about how the money is invested, your obligation is simply to make mandatory contributions and stay employed for the required amount of time to be eligible for benefits.
How much does this equal in guaranteed pension income? The general formula is as follows:
*Under Age 62 at Separation for Retirement, or Age 62 or older with less than 20 years of service
FERS Pension = 1% x high-3 salary x years worked.
*Age 62 or Older at Separation with 20 or More Years of Service
FERS Pension = 1.1% x high-3 salary x years worked.
This equals is 1% (or more) of your high-3 salary average for every year of federal service.
How much you would need to save and invest to match this income stream?
For example, let's say you worked 30 years and retired at 60 with a high-3 of $100,000, making your gross annuity $30,000 a year for the rest of your life. For illustration let’s put what it takes to earn $30,000 a year from an investment portfolio in context1.
The 4% rule is widely accepted as a sustainable distribution strategy from an investment portfolio for retirement income. To keep it simple, it says you can take 4% of the principal of your investments as income on an annual basis (we won’t get into COLA and other issues for the sake of simplicity) without outliving your money.
Applying this rule you would need $750,000 in investment assets to generate $30,000 annually.
How much do you contribute to the FERS pension?
For illustrative purposes let’s look at the hypothetical cost based on employee contributions to the system in our scenario.
Let’s assume you reached $100,000 as your high-3 after 30 years of service for the federal government. Your salary likely started somewhere much lower 30 years ago, so let’s adjust backwards. Using a present value calculation with an average of 3% annual pay increases over that 30 year time period, this starts us at $41,199.
Based on the historical annual employee contribution rate of .08%, over the next 30 years you would have contributed $16,480.08 or just $45.78 per month toward your FERS pension, the same one we just equated to an investment portfolio worth $750,000.
Looking at it based on new hires contribution rate of 3.1% we have a total contribution amount of $63,860.32 or $177.39 per month, and at the 4.4% contribution rate we come out with a total contribution of $90,640.45 or $251.78 per month.
How much would you need to invest in your TSP or IRA account to equal $750,000?
If we assume an 8% rate of return for 30 years, you would need to save an average of $503.23 per month and a total contribution of $181,162.80 (using the same contribution for simplicity) over the same 30 years2.
Clearly the legacy employees have a great deal, but then again so do new hires.
Replacing 30% of income is a nice benefit, but how do we replace the rest of your pre-retirement income?
The good news is that as a FERS employee you are eligible for 5% agency & matching contributions to your TSP account. Funding the TSP and additional long-term investment accounts can help put you on the right track to building the assets you need and the role social security income will play is another factor.
What are your goals for retirement income and how do you plan to meet them?
If you'd like to discuss your plan let's talk!
Information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable as of the current date, but no representation is being made as to its accuracy and completeness. Benefits may be subject to change at your employer’s discretion. District Financial Advisors, Justin Holtz and LPL Financial are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Federal Government. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal or investment advice. If you are investment advice specific to your needs, such services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material. Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC