Uncle Sam is gambling with your retirement money again.
Here’s the story, which unfortunately serves as yet another reminder why you can’t rely on Washington to guarantee you will have a safe and secure retirement.
On March 16, the U.S. government hit its debt limit of $18.1 trillion. In order prevent a major default on its debt obligations and to avoid destabilizing the economy, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew initiated a series of “extraordinary measures” to free up cash so that the government can pay its bills.
However, those extraordinary measures include “tapping into and suspending investments into the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and halting the daily reinvestment of the government securities (G) fund,” according to Government Executive.
The Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund is a huge pool of cash and investments that you and hundreds of thousands of other federal workers pay into — a percentage of each check — so that you get a pension check come retirement.
The G fund is one of several funds federal workers can invest in as part of their Thrift Savings Plan, a defined contribution plan that you pay into and the government matches. It is similar to a 401(k).
That’s your money. That’s your hard-earned retirement. And that’s supposedly the contract the government has with you — guaranteed payment of your pension and benefits.
But tapping the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund will loosen up about $20 billion of your money to help the government delay its latest fiscal crisis, according to Government Executive.
By law, the U.S. Treasury must restore any money it takes from your retirement benefits. However, the fate of this money — and in a sense your retirement future — is once again in the hands of Congress. They will decide whether to raise, extend, or revise the debt ceiling, which they have done 78 times since 1960.
If Congress fails to raise the debt limit, it will also make it extraordinary difficult for government to fulfil other obligations like Social Security, Medicare and military salaries. Social Security is one of three pillars supporting your retirement future. The Thrift Savings Plan and your pension, through the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, are the other two.
The U.S. Treasury’s emergency actions will provide the government with enough money to meet its most pressing obligations until later this year, according to Bipartisan Policy Center estimates.
Then, sometime between October through December, the government will not have enough cash on hand to pay its bills. The U.S. Treasury won’t be able to borrow more money unless Congress acts.
Yes, we’ve been here before: politically manufactured debt ceiling crises in which Democrats and Republicans miraculously come to an agreement at the last minute like a Hail Mary pass in the final 10 seconds of the championship game.
More than likely, Congress will raise the debt ceiling. But, you’re left waiting and wondering what’s happening to your money. Not to mention that Congress always uses your pay and benefits as a bargaining chip to get the deal done with seconds left on the clock.
However, your financial future is not a bargaining chip, or a Hail Mary pass. It is not something to be gambled, or used to patch the failures of others. Your retirement security is not a game, something to be given up to chance, or a pawn used in political brinkmanship.
That’s why you need to take more control. You need to be the one deciding what happens to your money — not Congress, not the White House, and not the U.S. Treasury. We can help you get there. There are alternative investments, which we can recommend, that place more power in your hands.
Please contact one of our federal pay and benefits consultants. We’ll help you see through the mess in Washington and chart a safe path to retirement. As you well know, uncertainty prevails in Washington. However, uncertainty is not a formula for success when it comes to securing your retirement.
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