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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

How to Avoid Costly Mistakes Filling Out Your TSP Forms

Sergey Nivens /

The board that administers the Thrift Savings Plan has some simple but important advice for successfully submitting forms to make changes to TSP accounts.

In a new YouTube video, the TSP board offers five tips to help federal employees complete TSP requests, including those for withdrawals, and to do so correctly, “the first time.” That would indicate that a lot of people haven’t been conducting transactions correctly.

So what does TSP suggest?

  • Use Online Wizards: Enrollees can log into their accounts at, click “Online Transactions” and select the appropriate form for their transaction. A “wizard” will walk users through the process of correctly filling out forms and electronically submit them. Users also can print out the forms at the end of the transaction and mail or fax them to the TSP.
  • Be Mindful of Boxes: TSP enrollees should make sure they check the right box for the desired transaction, and then fill out the corresponding section. For example, if you want to transfer a withdrawal, then check that box and then fill out the applicable section on transfers.
  • Check Your Status: If you leave government service, you can keep your money in the TSP. But if you want to withdraw money from your account, you need to make sure your federal agency sends the TSP notice of your separation. Otherwise, you’ll be unable to withdraw any funds.
  • Pay Attention to Details: Scanners read most of the TSP forms, so an errant mark, or letters and numbers that span more than one box when enrollees are filling out their personal information, can be interpreted as errors. A machine can’t quite intuit the way a human reader can, so be sure to pay attention to detail if you are going to fill out the paperwork by hand. Only fill out the sections that are applicable to your transaction. For example, if you don’t have a Roth account, skip that section. And make sure all percentages add up to 100 percent. “Double checking these details can save a lot of time down the line,” the video said.
  • Submit Once, and Only Once: Apparently, some users have been submitting their forms in multiple formats (online, mail, and fax), perhaps hoping for an expedited transaction; however, the TSP can only process a transaction once. Users can check the status of withdrawals and loans online within five days of submission.

VA Wants to Make it Easier to Obtain Headstones for Deceased Vets

The Veterans Affairs Department wants to make it easier for the extended family and friends of deceased veterans to obtain headstones and markers from the government to honor the dead.

VA is expanding its definition from “next of kin” to “family member” to ensure more applicants – such as fifth cousins or great-nieces -- are able to receive burial and memorial headstones or markers on behalf of a deceased veteran. Family member would include the surviving spouse, child, parent or sibling, whether biological, adopted or step relation. “In addition, because we may receive requests to provide burial headstones and markers for veterans who served decades and even centuries ago, we would allow for requests from a lineal or collateral descendant of the decedent,” said the proposed rule in Wednesday’s Federal Register. “This would allow families who have recently discovered the military service of an ancestor to apply for memorialization of their deceased relative.”

VA’s current definition of who can apply for such benefits includes the deceased vet’s next of kin or a person authorized by the next of kin or the decedent – a definition the department called “too restrictive” resulting in denied requests “which has frustrated the efforts of individuals to ensure the unmarked graves of veterans, particularly those from historic eras, are appropriately marked,” the proposed rule stated.

VA also wants to expand the definition of “personal representative” to include close friends or fellow veterans “who may be called upon to make final arrangements for a veteran with no living family members.”

The department provides two types of headstones or markers for certain deceased vets at the request of family members -- for unmarked graves, or to commemorate a vet whose remains are unavailable.

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Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Federal Contracting in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.