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TSP open season begins

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- Civilian and military employees can sign up for, or change, their Thrift Savings Plan contribution amounts during the "open season" Oct. 15 to Dec. 31.

"TSP is an easy, long-term retirement savings plan, that everyone should consider," said Senior Master Sgt. Felipe Ortiz, superintendent of the Air Force Personnel Center’s contact center here. "Current account holders might be interested, too, in transferring money from one fund to another -- the TSP folks are set up to handle that.

"Either way, it's a great supplement to military and civilian retirement plans," Ortiz said. "It's important to note that TSP is not limited to investing in stocks. People can choose safer government securities as well."

Open season applies only to regular contributions. It does not include catch-up contributions, as they are not tied to open seasons, said Janet Thomas of AFPC's civilian benefits and entitlements service team.

The program offers investors the chance for lower taxes each year they contribute while not having to pay taxes on earnings until they reach retirement.

"Eligible employees can take out loans and make in-service withdrawals from their TSP accounts," Thomas said. "And you can keep your account, even if you leave military or federal service."

Investment money is deposited directly from each paycheck "so you never have to think about it," Ortiz said. "That makes it easy to pay yourself first while only investing what you deem appropriate."

The five funds are: the Government Securities Investment (G) Fund; the Common Stock Index Investment (C) Fund; the Fixed Income Index Investment (F) Fund; the Small Capitalization Stock Index Investment (S) Fund; and the International Stock Index Investment (I) Fund.

"As with any individual retirement account, the sooner you begin contributing, the better," said Thomas.

Contribution elections or changes made between Oct. 15 and Dec. 13 will take effect Dec. 14, for both military and civilian personnel. Changes made after Dec. 14 will become effective at the beginning of the pay period following the pay period in which the election is made for civilians and the following month for military.

Some of the specifics of the program include:

Military

-- Airmen can continue to contribute up to 8 percent of their base pay through November. Beginning Dec. 1, they may increase their contribution to 9 percent as long as the annual total of tax-deferred investment does not exceed $12,000 for 2003. Airmen also can invest all or part of their bonuses or special pay.

-- Those serving in tax-free combat zones are allowed up to $40,000 in annual contributions.

-- Airmen can enroll through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service Web site at http://www.dfas.mil/emss/. They can also enroll by filling out a form TSP-U-1 at local military personnel flights, finance offices and family support centers.

-- How an employee chooses to invest money among the five funds can be made by calling the TSP automated ThriftLine at (504) 255-8777 or on the TSP Web site at http://www.tsp.gov/. For general TSP questions, call the AFPC Contact Center at DSN 665-5000 or (866) 229-7074.

-- Specific TSP information is available for airmen at http://www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/mpf/TSP/thrift_savings_plan.htm.

Civilian

Contribution limits are based on which retirement system an employee has. For the current open season, the following contribution rates apply:

-- Federal Employees' Retirement System employees may contribute up to 14 percent of basic pay each pay period. Once eligible, the government provides matching funds of up to 4 percent as well as an automatic 1 percent each pay period, whether the employee contributes or not, making the government's contribution 5 percent.

-- Employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System may contribute up to 9 percent of basic pay but do not receive any matching contributions or the automatic 1 percent.

-- The percentage FERS and CSRS employees may contribute will increase by one point each year through 2004, when they will be restricted only by the Internal Revenue Code's annual limit, $12,000 in 2003 and $13,000 in 2004, said Thomas.

-- Specific information is available for civilian employees from the Thrift Savings Web site at http://www.tsp.gov/ or the BEST home page at http://www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/dpc/BEST/menu.htm.

-- All Air Force civilian employees can make their TSP contribution elections or changes through the BEST automated phone system at (800) 997-2378, or commercial 527-2378 in San Antonio. They can also use the Employee Benefits Information System Web application at www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/dpc/BEST_GRB/EBIS.htm. Hearing impaired employees can contact BEST by calling TDD (800) 382-0893 or commercial 565-2276. Overseas employees enter the AT&T direct-access number for the country they are calling from and then enter (800) 997-2378. AT&T access instructions can be obtained from http://www.att.com/business_traveler/guides_and_access/dialing_instr.html#outside. Counselors are available weekdays 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the central time zone.

-- How an employee chooses to invest their money among the five funds are made by calling the TSP automated ThriftLine at (504) 255-8777 or on the TSP Web site at http://www.tsp.gov/.

More information about the Thrift Savings Plan can be found in the booklet "Summary of the Thrift Savings Plan" on the TSP home page under civilian or uniformed services TSP Forms and Publications. (Courtesy of AFPC News Service.)

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