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What is a US TSP?

tspIn the United States, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a retirement plan for United States civil service employees and retirees, and also for members of the uniformed services and for employees covered under the older Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).


TSP is a defined-contribution plan designed to resemble both the 401 (k) and the Roth (401) k. Data from the end of 2015 shows that at that point, roughly 4.8 million individuals were enrolled in the TSP. The money in the plan is administered by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.


The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) consists of three components, and TSP is one of them. The other two are FERS annuity and Social Security.

How soon can I join the TSP?

If you are an eligible employee, you can join TSP as soon as you start work.

Employee contributions

Both FERS and CSRS employees, and members of the uniformed services, are allowed to contribute to their TSP account up to the International Revenue Code cap. At the time of writing, this cap is set to $18,000 per year.


  • Uniformed service members can only elect to contribute a percentage of pay.
  • FERS and CSRS employees can elect to contribute a percentage of pay or a specific dollar amount per pay-check.

Catch-up contributions

If you are at least 50 years old, you can make tax-deferred catch-up contributions in addition to your regular contributions. At the time of writing, the cap for catch-up contributions is $6,000 per year.

Uniformed service members

As a uniformed service member, you can make tax-deferred contributions from basic pay, incentive pay, bonus pay and special pay.


Contributions made from a combat zone is contributed as tax-exempt and accrue tax-deferred earnings. (Because of the combat zone tax exclusion.) Tax-exempt contributions are not subject to the IRC elective deferral limit.

Matching contributions

  • Employees under CSRS are not eligible for matching contributions.
  • FERS employees are eligible for matching contributions.
  • Uniformed service members are eligible for matching contributions only if the secretary of the specific service designates “critical specialities” eligible for such.

FERS employees

retirementThe Agency Automatic Contribution is 1% of base pay. Base pay includes shift differential and locality pay, but not overtime pay and bonus pay. You get this 1% contribution even if you don’t contribute to the TSP, but FERS employees must complete three years of Federal civilian service to be fully vested in agency automatic contributions and any earnings thereon.


If you make your own contributions to the TSP, they are matched by the employer dollar-per-dollar up to 3% of base pay. Above that threshold, you get a fifty-cents-per-dollar match from the employer, up to 5% of base pay. Contributions above 5% are not matched.


Example: You contribute 3%. You also get the 1% automatic contribution and the dollar-per-dollar matching contribution. Total contribution to your TSP account is 1% + 3% + 3% = 7%.


Example: You contribute 4%. You get the 1% automatic contribution, and the dollar-per-dollar matching up to 3%. For the remaining part of your contribution, you get a fifty-cents-per-dollar match. Total contribution to your TSP account is 1% + 4% + 3% + 0.5% = 8.5%.


N.B! Catch-up contributions are not matched by the employer.