FERS TSP enrollment hits record high

Thursday - 8/21/2014, 12:45pm EDT

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Enrollment in the Thrift Savings Plan among employees under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) hit a record high in July.

At its monthly board meeting Thursday in Washington, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) announced that 87.5 percent of FERS employees are actively contributing to their TSP accounts.

The percentage just surpasses the previous record high of 87.4 percent in January 2003. Enrollment dipped steadily after that and eventually hit a low of 81.5 percent during the recession in 2009.

Gregory Long, executive director of FRTIB, says high enrollment in July can be partially attributed to the switch to auto enrollment.

Since 2010, new federal employees automatically enroll into the TSP at a contribution rate of 3 percent, unless they make an alternate choice. According to board statistics, less than 4 percent of federal employees opted out of the auto enrollment option in July.

Although participation is increasing, a lower percentage of participants are contributing full match to their TSP accounts.

"I'm disappointed that this metric is heading in the wrong direction," Long said.

The FERS average deferral rate measures the percentage of employees deferring less than 5 percent. FRTIB's goal is to decrease the rate by 1 percent or more each year.

But the deferral rate rose more than 1 percent, from 24.16 percent in fiscal 2012 to 25.48 percent in fiscal 2013.

In addition, most TSP funds returned in the negative in July.

The S fund, which is invested in small cap stocks, fell the most, dropping 4.38 percent.

Only the G Fund returned in the black, at 0.19 percent.

New employees currently automatically enroll in the G Fund upon entering federal service. But FRTIB has proposed switching the default to an appropriate L (Lifecycle) Fund.

"We do expect the L Fund default legislation to pass by the end of the year," said David Toro, congressional inquiries analyst in FRTIB's Office of External Affairs.

The House already passed the bill in mid-July on a voice vote. The board is confident the L Fund legislation will pass because of the lack of opposition in Congress.

Long says passage is not "a guarantee," but "it's the smart thing to do."

In preparation for the end of the fiscal year, the board also approved its proposed fiscal 2015 budget.

FRTIB will submit to Congress a request for $207.2 million in fiscal 2015 — an increase of 3.1 percent from this year's budget.

Chief Financial Officer Susan Crowder says a large portion of the appropriations will cover growing personnel costs.

"As the agency has continued to grow in both personnel and facilities, we've also needed to enhance our best practices and security measures," she said.

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