If you serve in the military, you may have an important decision to make in 2018: whether to stay in the current retirement system — the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan — or opt into the new Blended Retirement System.
Once you make your choice, you won’t be able to go back — even if you change your mind before the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline.
The Thrift Savings Plan is the federal government’s traditional retirement plan for federal workers and uniformed service members.
But starting Jan. 1, all new members of the uniformed services have been enrolled in the updated BRS retirement plan. Military service members with fewer than 12 years of service by Dec. 31, 2017, also are eligible to enroll in the new retirement system.
What are the benefits of opting in? For the first time, the government will match some of your annual retirement contributions. This could be an especially good deal for young people, who will have their own account and can kick in their own money over time.
The drawback? The government portion, the pension, will take a 20 percent hit.
Time is of the essence.
“As soon as you opt into the new Blended Retirement System, you get the match in the following pay period. If you want to opt in, do it as soon as possible this year to maximize that,” said Michael J. Meese, a retired Army brigadier general and chief operating officer of the not-for-profit American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association.
At 57, Meese isn’t eligible for the new system — he’s grandfathered into the legacy retirement plan. His son, however, is a 27-year-old captain and is deciding whether to opt in, Meese said.
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At the Thrift Savings Plan’s rather clunky website, TSP.gov, check out the bulletin board for news on the BRS. Or call the Thrift Savings Plan at 1-877-968-3778 and watch the video “Opting Into the Blended Retirement System,” found at www.youtube.com/tsp4gov.
Other websites offer new plan benefit calculators, such as http://militarypay.defense.gov/BlendedRetirement and USAA.com/brs.
The Internal Revenue Service website on Thursday updated tax-withholding tables for 2018 to reflect the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but they may be refined before tax season begins. So check the IRS website for updates, at www.irs.gov.