A Class A uniform-clad Pvt. Adrian Williams and three of his buddies just graduated from quartermaster advanced individual training. He now knows how to handle a weapon, save a life, survive in an urban combat environment and take care of his buddies.
But he doesn’t know anything about the Thrift Savings Plan.
“They never told us anything about it,” he offered, his friends agreeing.
Therein lies the problem with the military’s version of a 401K plan, said Patsy Piggott, Army Community Service. Piggott, a financial counselor whose job it is to teach financial readiness, said TSP suffers from a lack of awareness.
“We’re not pushing investment like we really should,” said Piggott. “So the young Soldiers are very apprehensive about taking advantage of saving money.”
The 7-year-old Thrift Savings Plan for the Uniform Services, or TSP for short, is a long-term retirement savings and investment program in which Military members can contribute up to $15,500 (the limit for 2007) of their pay annually to a tax-deferred account.
Contributions and earnings are eligible for withdrawal without penalty at age 59 and a half or later at which point they will be taxed.
Contributors to the plan have their choice of five funds with varying degrees of risk and return in which to invest. Funds may be contributed to one fund or up to a combination of all five.
Although it could save Military members thousands with its tax-exempt features alone, TSP lacks stellar enrollment numbers. According to the Armed Forces Tax Council, only about 50 percent of all Military members are signed up for TSP. Piggott said her research shows about a 35 percent participation rate at Fort Lee, but that could change in the near future.
“The Army has actually stepped up its financial and money management training,” she said. “But I’d like to see the Army make information available at initial entry processing centers, so Soldiers can get the information they need to make decisions.”
Financial readiness training, said Piggott, is mandatory, but not all commanders are making sure their Soldiers receive the training.
“The majority of the responses I get from commanders is ‘Where am I going to find the time to do financial readiness training.’”
Regardless of support for the program at the company level, TSP is a hard sell for Soldiers like Spc. Trent Hollon, 267th Quartermaster Company, 240th Quartermaster Battalion. The 23-year-old Hollon is familiar with the program but said that TSP lacks usefulness for Soldiers like himself with plans of getting out in two or three years.
“I would consider TSP,” said Hollon, “and it has crossed my mind, but right now I’d really rather have my paycheck.”
As would many young people in general, according to the U.S. Deparment of Commerce. It reported that young adults are spending at alarming rates, and that there are prevailing attitudes against putting money away for the long term.
Sgt. Shannon Lantz, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 23rd QM Brigade, said she doesn’t have a problem putting money away. She would, though, like quick access to it in case of an emergency. That’s why she didn’t enroll in TSP.
“When you need the money now or during an emergency, you’re stuck because you get penalized for getting the money out,” said the married mother of one.
Lantz cited a situation in which she was stuck with a $1,500 telephone bill on calls she made to her husband in Iraq.
“All of a sudden we needed to pull out money from our savings account,” she said. “With the Thrift Savings Plan, you can’t do that.”
Lantz said TSP would be ideal if you weren’t penalized and had more freedom with it.
Military members do have the option to borrow against their earnings but at a cost.
TSP for the Uniformed Services is a modified version of the U.S. government’s TSP for civilian employees. It was designed as a supplement to retirement income and does not offer matching funds like its counterpart.
There is currently a pilot program in which the funds are matched. That program is only available for military personnel in critical shortage military occupational specialties.
For more information about TSP, contact Patsy Piggott at (804)734-7952 or visit the TSP Web site at www.tsp.gov.
► Military members may contribute up to $15, 500 for 2007. As little as $49 per month may be allotted to an account.
► Contributions are tax deferred, meaning TSP contributions are taken out of members’ pay before taxes are withheld, so less tax is paid now. Contributions are not included on the member’s taxable income reported to the IRS. This can save the Military member thousands over a 20-year period.
► Contributions and earnings can be “rolled over” to an individual retirement account or employer’s 401K program.
► Military members have the option of withdrawing money in a TSP account with penalty, or borrowing money
from the account at some cost.
► For details, call Patsy Piggott at (804)734-7952 or visit www.tsp.gov