BRS Comparison Calculator is now live!
by John Cooney on May 26, 2017
After a month or so delay, the DoD’s Retirement Comparison Calculator is now live! The comparison calculator allows service members to input some of their basic information and provides a detailed comparison on what their retirement income would look like under both the current retirement system and the new Blended Retirement System. This is a valuable tool to help provide service members with more information that they can use in making the decision on whether or not to opt-in to the new retirement system when it is implemented in 2018.
If you haven’t yet, start by reading my two part blog on the changes the new system is bringing HERE and HERE. As a basic reminder, the DoD, in an effort to address retirement savings for all service members, not just those who serve 20 years or more, will be adding a defined contribution plan to the defined benefit plan already available for service members who qualify for the pension by serving at least 20 years. The defined contribution plan is the Thrift Savings Plan, which has been enhanced to include government contributions, in exchange for a 20% reduction in the defined benefit plan, AKA the military pension. Anyone who is serving in the military as of 31 December 2017 AND has less than 12 years of service (Active Duty) or 4,320 retirement points (Reserve/National Guard) will have to decide between staying in the legacy system or opting-in to the Blended Retirement System. The Comparison Calculator can help illustrate the amount of retirement income available to the service member under both plans and serve as a strong data point for that service member as they gather all the information they can in an effort to make an educated decision on whether to opt-in or not.
Want additional information on the BRS and what it means to your retirement?
So, where is the calculator and how do you use it? Hopefully, you have already been on the DoD’s Blended Retirement Page, but if you have not you can find it at: http://militarypay.defense.gov/BlendedRetirement/ For those of you who have been to the page, you probably looked longingly at the picture of the calculator that seemed to be forever stamped with the Coming Soon caption. Well, guess what? Soon has finally come. If you click on the calculator now, it will take you to a new page where you can begin entering your personal information and start putting actual numbers to the two plans. What I wanted to do in this blog is walk through the questions being asked, try to help you understand the capabilities, assumptions, and limitations of the comparison calculator, and explain what the results tell you and how you can use them as you make this important decision.
Page 1: Active Duty or Reserves: Since there are differences in how retirement pay is calculated for Active Duty and Reservists, the first step is letting the calculator know your current status. If you are active duty now, but plan on transitioning to the Reserves, you can also indicate that here as well.
Page 2: Personal Information: Very basic info needed here, date of birth, pay entry base date (this is on your LES), current grade, estimate years of service at retirement, and BRS opt-in date. In addition, if you are active duty and plan on transitioning to and retiring from the reserves, you would also enter your planned date of entering the reserves. Reservists have a few additional fields to enter; number of active service days, number of qualifying years of service, and current amount of retirement days. If you are a reservist and don’t know these things, shame on you, call me, today at 508-217-6937. Seriously, know these numbers! If you are in the Army Reserves you can get them through the HRC website on DA Form 5016. For Naval Reservists, access your Annual Retirement Point Record/Annual Statement of Service History at https://www.bol.navy.mil/. Air Force Reservists go to https://ww3.afpc.randolph.af.mil/vmpf/Hub/Pages/Hub.asp and request your point credit summary. Finally, USMC Reservists can access their Marine Retirement Credit Record at Marine Online.
Page 3: Retirement Information: Here you will enter some assumptions about your retirement. The fields you will be asked to enter are life expectancy, TSP withdrawal age, TSP contribution rate, and TSP rate of return. Reservists will also be asked to enter the age they expect pension payments to begin. The calculator does have default options for all of these, and you can use the default values, but you also have the ability to change these fields to see how a change in one affects your overall retirement.
Page 4: Career Progression: Based on the personal information you entered on page 2, the calculator will estimate future promotion dates. You are able to override these if you project different promotion dates, but be careful doing that and not promoting yourself unrealistically, which will change your expected retirement payout.
Page 5: Bonuses and Payments: The BRS added a continuation payment for service members between their 8th and 12th year of service in exchange for a minimum of 3 additional years of service. If you are eligible for this, you will be able to enter into the calculator how you would like to receive the bonus; as a one-time payment to you directly, an installment payment to you over a period of time, or deposited into your TSP account.
Page 6: Lump Sum: A second feature the BRS added is the lump sum payment option. The lump sum payment is an option to receive 25% or 50% of your pension as a lump sum at retirement in exchange for a reduced pension from retirement until the age of 67.
Page 7: Results: You have entered everything you need to and can now access the results! The results themselves are broken down into 5 tabs; Overview, Present Value, TSP Summary, Lump Sum, and All Payments.
Aright, so now you have the results to look at and can compare your potential retirement income under both plans. The overview tab shows you the total retirement income available in both present day and future values. Keep in mind, the results will only show a value for the TSP account under the BRS plan. While opting-in to the BRS is the only route to receive government contributions to your TSP account, you can certainly still and should be contributing to a TSP account, regardless of which retirement system you are in. You will actually have two numbers that you can compare side by side. In addition, you can view the breakdown of the TSP account by your own contributions, the government contributions, and the earnings on both. This helps in getting the full picture of the legacy plan since if you still contribute to your TSP in the legacy system at the same level you would under BRS, you can then see what the value of that non-BRS TSP account would be by looking at the individual contributions and earnings section of the results page. You can also see the year to year values of both plans in graphical and numerical formats. Don’t just run this once, run the calculator multiple times, change around the values you inputted on the retirement page to see how changes in the rate of return, contribution rate, etc can affect the overall retirement plan. Invest the continuation pay to your TSP or receive it as a onetime payment. The point is, try to think of all the different scenarios that could play out to get a better understanding of the range of outcomes that these variables can bring.
Pretty easy, right? If Plan A is higher than Plan B, you go with Plan A, right? Well, not necessarily. While the calculator can give you a hard data point to use in making your decision, this is not just a strictly financial decision. Use the calculator to inform your decision, but you also need to make sure you are discussing this with your family, on-post financial counselors or with a financial advisor.
Limitations of the Comparison Calculator
The calculator is a great tool for you to use as you make this important decision, but it is no way meant as any kind of guarantee or an assurance of what the future will bring. It produces a value that is calculated using assumptions about the future. Some of these assumptions are built into the system and cannot be overridden (think pay tables and cost of living adjustments) and some can be overridden (like TSP rate of return, promotion dates). The bottom line is these are just guesses at what the future will bring, they may be educated guesses and they may prove to be accurate, but they are still just guesses. Again, educate yourself on what these variables/assumptions are and enter meaningful input to get the most out of this tool. If you aren’t sure what you should be entering or aren’t sure what the calculator is asking for, don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Use the resources available to you, like on-post financial counselors or Military One Source counselors to help guide you through the calculator. Finally, treat the results from the calculator as one aspect to this decision. Make sure you understand both the financial and the personal factors that will go into making this decision. Good luck, this is an important decision, but if you spend the time to educate yourself and to talk about it with the people that matter the most in your life, it is one you can make confidently.
Have you used the calculator? What did you think? Let me know on Twitter @greenandgoldfp or if you have questions on your results, schedule a no-obligation phone call by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss the BRS and how it affects you and your retirement plan.