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Civil Service Retirement System [CSRS] & Federal Employees Retirement System [FERS] Benefits Search

The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) was established in 1920, providing retirement, death and disability benefits for civilian employees of the federal government. CSRS was replaced in 1987 by FERS, the Federal Employees Retirement System, although some two million families currently receive monthly CSRS retirement or survivor benefits.

Located in “The Cave,” a converted limestone mine 268 feet below ground in Boyers, Pennsylvania, the Department of Labor’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Retirement Operations Center has “no estimate” and “no way of computing” the value of unclaimed pension benefits in their custody, because records on two million former Civil Service workers are not automated, but rather stored in some 35,000 file cabinets by alphabetical order. This system does not permit sorting by age, a likely indicator of unclaimed and unpaid benefits.

Benefits are not declared abandoned unless unclaimed by the designated recipient’s 115th birthday or 30 years after the date of death, at which time they may become unavailable for any future claim. Despite this limitation, the Office of Personnel Management was cited in a GAO report as making “no effort” to find lost owners; and unclaimed amounts will not show up in state unclaimed property databases.

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Pursuant to the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 1996, the Office of Personnel Management also has authority to settle claims involving Federal employees’ compensation and leave issues, including unpaid compensation of deceased employees, and can reissue canceled checks for veterans’ benefits payable to deceased beneficiaries – within the statutory time frame, generally six years.

These specific types of claims are handled by the Claims Adjudication Unit, Room 7535, Office of the General Counsel, Office of Personnel Management, 1900 E Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20415; (202) 606-2233. Note Basic Benefit payments are based on the employees pay and length of service, financed by contributions from both employer and employee. A “Special Retirement Supplement” may be available to employees before they reach age 62.

TSP Thrift Savings Plan

The Thrift Savings Plan is a defined-contribution plan created by the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986 (ERISA) to supplement FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System) benefits. It provides employees in all branches of the federal government, as well as U.S. Postal Service employees and members of the uniformed services, with a tax-advantaged way to save and invest for retirement, similar to a 401(k) in the private sector.

Thrift Savings Plan accounts worth $88 million owed former government employees & military personnel have not been claimed. Accounts may be considered abandoned at age 70 1/2 if withdrawals have not begun. 

Each pay period, FERS (Federal Employees’ Retirement System) TSP accounts are automatically credited 1% of their basic pay. They may also contribute up to 10% of basic pay each period up to $10,000 on a tax-deferred basis, receiving matching funds on the first 5%. (CSRS – Civil Service Retirement System) employees may contribute 5% of basic pay tax-deferred with no matching contribution.)

Participant Statements summarizing contributions, investment selections, and designated beneficiaries are mailed semiannually, so it is imperative to look these over carefully and keep TSP apprised of any name and/or address changes. To change address submit form TSP-9, “Change of Address for Separated Participants;” to submit a name change file Form TSP-15, “Change in Name.”

Plan participants are immediately vested in all voluntary contributions and matching funds, but there is a 2 or 3 year vesting period on the automatic agency contributions of FERS employees. Plan participants are given several investment options, including a menu of three mutual funds: The “G” fund invests in short term U.S. Treasury Securities, “C” fund allocations are invested in Barclays Equity Index Fund, and the “F” Fund is Barclays U.S. Debt Index Fund.

Given the arcane way the government administers its retirement programs – failing to classify accounts as dormant or unclaimed while owners retain the right to claim them – both the dollar amount and value of unclaimed accounts is unknown, but is estimated at several billion dollars.

Upon separation from government service, participants can choose to receive a single lump sum – which may be transferred a 401(k) or IRA – a series of monthly payments, or an annuity from a private provider.

Participants may also elect to keep their accounts open, but withdrawal must begin by April 1st of the later of: (a) the year following the year you became age 70½; or (b) the year following the year you separate from federal service. Accounts valued at less than $3,500 are automatically terminated and refunded, unless other arrangements are made.

In the event of death of a participant, account proceeds are distributed in accordance with Form TSP-3, “Designation of Beneficiary.” (If no beneficiary has been designated, funds are distributed according to the statutory order of precedence, i.e. to your widow, children or descendants of deceased children, then to your parents or other next of kin.

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Click here to initiate a search for unclaimed TSP benefits