Skip to main content


Federal Employee Financial Planning: They Are Not Talking To You (EP18)

Not all financial advice and financial planning is created equally. If you are a federal employee and you are taking advice from an advisor who doesn’t specialize in helping people with your unique set of benefits and pensions, then that advice is not going to be useful to you. In fact these advisors will probably give advice that will do more damage than good. So, in this episode, Michael, Tommy and John will be sharing the importance of knowing where you’re getting your information from and how to ensure you’re getting the unique advice you deserve.

Listen in as they share generic advice that you may come across that does not apply to you as a federal employee, as well as why all of the Medicare advertisements you may be seeing probably do not apply to you. You will learn the benefit of going to someone who specializes in federal employees, how to avoid common financial planning mistakes and how to make the most of your benefits as a federal employee.

Listen to the full episode here:

What you will learn:

  • The benefit of using surge meetings to ensure clients are getting the most value from their advisors. (1:20)
  • Who “they” are and why they’re not talking to you. (8:30)
  • The importance of questioning where the information you’re getting is from. (11:05)
  • Examples of generic advice that doesn’t apply to you as a federal employee. (14:30)
  • How you can avoid common financial planning mistakes. (19:00)

Ideas worth sharing:

“The next time we hear a piece of advice, let’s step back from the TV or article and say 'are they talking to me?'” - Mason & Associates, LLC

“It’s not the same to say Medicare for all is the solution when a select group of federal employees can make the decision that… federal employee health benefits is enough for them.” - Mason & Associates, LLC

“If every one of your clients looks different, you cannot provide the same value.” - Mason & Associates, LLC

Resources from this episode:


Did you enjoy the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast? Never miss an episode by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, AmazonSpotify, Stitcher, and Google Podcasts.


Read the Transcript Below:

Congratulations for taking ownership of your financial plan by tuning into the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, hosted by Mason & Associates, financial advisors with over three decades of experience serving you.

Michael Mason: Welcome to the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, hosted by Michael Mason, certified financial planner; John Mason, certified financial planner, and Tommy Blackburn, certified financial planner and certified public accountant.

Mason & Associates have over three decades helping federal employees with their financial plans.

Guys, hey, we're two weeks into our strategic planning season. We call it surge. We're doing 60 appointments a week and this is the second week into it. And we take the time to record this podcast. You know, it's five o'clock Eastern time right now, 60 appointments a week., how are we feeling?

Tommy Blackburn: Oh, well, it's a mixed bag. A lot of excitement, we really enjoy seeing our clients. It’s a really, for the most part, I feel good time. It's also tiring because as you said, we're running 60 of these a week and it is mentally draining doing this. It's also exciting and we just see the value in doing it this way.

So, I guess it's kind of a roller coaster; it's a lot of fun, but it is definitely intense, maybe is a fair word.

John Mason: It's intense, I guess, Tommy, as I think about the emotion. I'm tired, but I get really invigorated during these meetings and I'm sure you feel the same way.

But with my son, who's two and a half years old, trying to figure out, is it going to be me? Is it going to be my wife, Sarah, who's taking him to daycare in the morning. And if he sleeps in, we sleep in, but we have a hard eight o'clock appointment, which we don't typically have throughout the year.

So, it's just a different time for us, but I think it's exciting and it's been revolutionary. We didn't create this concept on our own. We've learned from other industry professionals like Michael Kitces, The Perfect RIA, and implementing some of these things have really changed our company and have put us in a position where we're adding even more value because we're able to make sure, Mike, that all of our clients are on the same service schedule.

We get to do these strategic planning meetings, April, May, and then we get to go into implementation mode, June, July, August, and then we get to go in tax year closeout mode with end of year tax planning.

When you're haphazardly having (I say haphazard) appointments throughout the year, you can't have everybody in the same place at the same time, which means inherently, you're delivering different value or less value because folks are not on the same service schedule; life-changing, business-changing. Thank you to those professionals for helping us and our business get here.

Michael Mason: And one perfect example again, for context, April 19th, 2022, the recording of this — two months, April and May are the strategic planning meeting months. If your plan didn't happen until November, we're telling folks about I bonds that are just now coming into Vogue because of this high interest rate environment. Well, you'd miss out six months of I bonds if you're waiting until that date.

Tommy Blackburn: Absolutely. And John, I had to chuckle as you were talking about managing the family life, as well as the surge life right now. I know there's been times you've called me after work and when I'm at home and you can hear our daughter Zoe in the background.

So, it's managing quite a bit right now, but yeah, it's really added a lot of value to how we run the firm and deliver value to clients. And as we've said around here too, we’re like setting the foundation with these strategic planning meetings in the spring.

We just got through tax season, reviewed returns or using that fresh return to begin to plan, talking about what's hot for everybody right now, could be I bonds, could be a number of things, estate planning, and we're really setting the foundation for how the rest of the year is going to go.

Which is pretty cool in of itself, especially clients that have been through it, because they get it now. It's like, okay, we're going to talk about these things and we're going to set these plans for the rest of the year and we'll be in touch on these other items as we go.

Michael Mason: We're going to get — in this episode we've been using this saying for probably 20 years talking with federal employees. So, the title of this episode is They Are Not Talking to You.

And we want to explain what that means, but one last comment I'll make on surge and the strategic planning meetings that you just can't replace. It's like every day, twice a day, we're going to an awards banquet and we're being recognized.

And that's the thing that's beautiful for us. And that's when you sit down and you show that the plan's working and folks tell you, “We wouldn't be here without you.” And they tell us how much they appreciate us.

Some people get in the awards banquet once a lifetime. Some get it once a year. During this surge, no matter how hard the work is, we are getting that awards banquet multiple times a week and you just can't take that away.

Tommy Blackburn: So, I know we need to get into, they’re not talking to you, but one other thing I wanted to add that's pretty neat about surge is the planners coming together, which we're together all the time.

The senior advisors of the firm, we're always working together and talking, but as we're each going through these surge meetings, we get together at lunch and we're talking and it's really cool how an idea or something we see with one client can spread like wildfire to the rest of our clients, because we're talking at lunch, we're talking about any cases that we're working, any out of the box thinking. And once that's shared, everybody gets the benefit of it.

Michael Mason: That's a great point. As we go into, they’re not talking to you, let me just make this comment as well. We've reached a milestone of over a thousand downloads. We started January of 2022 — over a thousand downloads since we launched.

For our listeners, if you haven't already, please give us that five-star rating and also help us make this better for you. We've said this before, we cannot help directly every federal employee in America. But we do this podcast for a couple of reasons. One, we are going to expand our business and we're going to expand it with the people that meet our goals to add to the book of business.

But we usually, I mean, we really want everybody to benefit from 30 plus years of knowledge and five senior financial planners. We want you to benefit from that. Why keep that in here? And if you're a financial planner out there, you ought to listen to this because there's millions of federal employees out there.

So, tell us how we can be better, that's John, you helped us do the seminars for years; they're not talking to you. What in the world, who is “they” and why aren't they talking to federal employees?

John Mason: Mike, they are not talking to you as a tagline from the seminar that I think you and Ken presented from, I don't know, 1992 through 2017, 15 timeframes.

So, they are not talking to you is a tagline of the copyrighted, Avoid the Common Financial Planning Mistakes Made by Federal Employees. And that seminar evolved over time.

But one of the most impactful things that we used to educate our attendees on right at the beginning was this concept of they are not talking to you, and we want to define who they are. And then we want to define why these people, why they cannot be talking to you as a federal employee.

So, “they,” falls into a group of people; typically these are media personalities. So, think of … there's some good advice that comes from these people. Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, Jim Cramer, Clark Howard — really any sort of financial planning advice that is mass marketed, fill in the blank with who's presenting it.

That doesn't mean these folks are bad, but they are selling something; they're selling their TV spot, their TV show their book, their radio program, their podcast. They are incentivized to provide great content.

Who are they providing those content for? And they are providing content for non-federal and non-military and non-state. People who do not have defined benefit pensions. So, it is not possible for this blanket financial planning advice by “they,” to be talking to you as a federal state military employee, because its mass marketed to the folks who don't have pensions.

Michael Mason: If you're selling a book, a radio show, a podcast, whatever it is, if you're trying to make money on it, you don't want to talk to the minority. You want to talk to the majority of the folks.

So, you give basic financial planning that 90% of the population can use, but you can screw up that 10%, that has defined benefit pensions and has other benefits you can … when I say screw them up, you're not being value-added when you're not speaking their language and to their benefits.

John Mason: You're not speaking to their language, to their benefits. It may not be completely accurate this statistic, but I think it's less than 10 to 15% of folks have access to a defined benefit pension and an even smaller amount, Mike, have one that's designed to be cost of living adjusted, which means CSRS got 5.9% pay raise this year, military got 5.9, FERS got 4.9. Whereas, our folks at Sentara and Huntington Ingalls and Dominion, those pensions were flat.

So, a very small subset of the population has a pension, which means the advice in the media is geared towards those folks who don't have them, not towards folks who do.

If we get nothing else from this podcast, if our listeners take away one big action item, the next time we hear a piece of financial advice, let's step back from the table, let's step back from that article, that TV show and say, “Are they talking to me? Are they talking to me as somebody that has a pension and these lucrative benefits?”

Michael Mason: And as the show builds, we will get into some specific advice that may be good for those without pensions, but not so good with those that have pensions.

But we have a really unique personality here tonight with Tommy, in that he came from a firm in 10 years of financial planning that didn't specialize with federal employees. And now, he's two years plus with the Mason team that does specialize.

So, from a high-level, Tommy, give us that difference. You could have been the, “they,” you know back in the day.

Tommy Blackburn: Absolutely, from the perspective of, it's just so different for our federal employees, our military, and our state employees than the typical private sector employee. And in the world, I came from, we worked with what are called high net worth individuals.

And the takeaway that I have here is one, our specialty is with people who not only have a pension, but it's so much more than just a pension. I mean, when you look at the other benefits, you look at that FEHB that you get to carry into retirement, it is way more than just a pension.

So, working with folks that don't have that specific benefit package, what you have to plan for and think about, and the considerations, it is just completely different. And as I've made the comment amongst us, truthfully, our federal employees, we call them the secret millionaire. I have tried to change it — in my perspective, they're the secret multimillionaires.

The retirement plan that you're going to have is what most executives in private America are going to have. That's the financial plan you get to have. And most folks who don't know you, don't specialize in you, they're not talking to you.

John Mason: Planners who dabble are, I guess, maybe just as dangerous, Tommy, as some of those other “theys,” because the advice for a 35 or 40-year-old couple on how much they need to save to get to financial freedom is completely different for somebody who has a pension or who doesn't.

The concept of how much you can pay for college versus how much you need to be saving into your TSP is completely different than somebody with a pension and somebody without a pension.

So, the advice … the federal employee benefits are so complex. If you only have one or two federal employee clients, there's no way you'd ever have the time or the means, or really, even a justifiable reason to be that expert.

And some of the people we've talked to are friends in the industry have said, “From what we've learned from you guys, we should never take on a federal employee client because we don't do a good job as you. That means we're not being a fiduciary. We need to refer our federal employee clients to Mason & Associates, so they can be properly taken care of.”

Michael Mason: And I want to get down to the nitty and gritty. Some of the advice you hear, one of them, John, you touched briefly on with college; you hear these one liners. You can borrow for college, but you can't borrow for your retirement.

That may be a hundred percent beneficial for somebody that doesn't have a pension; do not borrow out of that 401k, because that's where your pension above social security's going to come from.

But if you're going to retire with 40 years of federal service or 43 years and you're going to have social security and a pension and 700 to a million dollars in your TSP anyhow, it's okay probably to borrow from that TSP at a very low interest rate to keep from having high student loan debt.

So, that's just a typical advice that you might hear generic that's not necessarily applicable in your world.

John Mason: How about Tommy, They are not talking to you — you should not retire before 65 because you're going to lose your group health insurance and you're not eligible for Medicare. Let's compare and contrast that a bit; private sector versus federal.

Tommy Blackburn: Night and day. The Affordable Care Act has changed it for the private sector a little bit of getting … it's changed it, but as a federal retiree and military retiree, you know, between Tricare and FEHB, retiring before 65 is very much in the cards, is very normal for this segment. They are not talking to you.

Most private sector financial planners are assuming you're working to at least 65, if not longer, because your primary source of income guaranteed is social security, then it's on the investments, and then we've got to solve for how do we do healthcare for our federal retirees who often are also in military.

You're going to get to keep your FEHB, you get to pay exactly what you've been paying. You're going to have a cost-of-living adjusted pension. I mean, it's a completely different fact pattern here.

John Mason: And can you tell us a little bit more? So, we see a lot of commercials at the end of the year. Is that Tom Selleck, is he one of them? And some of these other like high-profile actors that are on these Medicare advantage commercials or Medicare supplement commercials and Medicare part D?

What do federal employees need to know about that? Because again, we're talking about, they are not talking to you.

Tommy Blackburn: You can't ignore almost all of it. Truthfully, right now, as a federal retiree, you can decide whether you're even going to go on Medicare because you could just do FEHB by itself.

Most of the time, coupling Medicare with it makes sense. All you need to be thinking about there is A plus B parts, Medicare part A and B plus your FEHB. And if you're military, it's Tricare plus Medicare A and B. So, you can avoid the advantage plans, the meta gap supplement, drug plans, all of that; they are not talking to you.

Michael Mason: And what a great point you make Tommy, in that sometimes the members of Congress says, “Medicare for all.” You think, well, boy, they're right on track, everybody should have Medicare. But those members of Congress, John, are federal employees.

And something you need to know as a federal retiree, especially with Medicare being income-tested, maybe you make so much income that it doesn't make sense to continue to buy Medicare part B. And you have that option, if you're Nancy Pelosi, if you're Chuck Schumer, if you're a Republican that's a millionaire. You know, I'm not trying to be partisan here.

If you're making so much money, you might just want to keep federal employees health benefits and pay your deductible versus be guaranteed to pay a whole lot for Medicare part B and in premiums where the deductible might be cheaper.

John Mason: Well, I guess, what you really want is you want the option, right? You would like to say Medicare for all, that's great. So, if I'm 35-years-old, can I be on Medicare A and B, in an advantage plan or a supplement plan subject to donut holes, et cetera? Or why can't I just have the ability to enroll in federal employee health benefits?

And that's, I think, it's just not the same. It's not the same to say Medicare for all is the solution, when a select group of federal employees, and a few of our clients over the years have made the decision that they did not need two or more health insurances in retirement, that federal employees health benefits would be enough for them. They didn't need to worry about advantage or drug plans or even, anything other than just the free Medicare part A.

Michael Mason: Yeah, they're going to get that for free. And many that even had small, would've been small Medicare premiums have survived very well. CSRS retirees with having the same health insurance, they survived with for the 20 years before they were 65-years-old. Right?

John Mason: Absolutely. And Mike, I think as we wrap up this podcast, guys, it's been another fun, one recording, They Are Not Talking to You. And as I personally reflect on the 11 years that you and I, Mike have been working together and Tommy, you and I now 11 years as good friends and now, business partners — it's so important to understand why this message should resonate throughout all of our listeners, should resonate to those who are going to be shared with this podcast.

Because when we specialize with federal employees, the biggest thing that it does, is it helps us avoid these common financial planning mistakes, but it also helps our clients be able to retire at 57-years-old on a hundred percent of current income.

It allows us to build a client base that's focused on service, that's focused on fiduciary advice, that's focused on getting to know our clients on an intimate level because we're not down in the weeds trying to relearn federal benefits every time somebody walks in.

And because we are specializing, and because we've for now, 30 years, Mike, have been working this niche, we know benefits. Now, we just get to focus on knowing our clients.

And that gives us the ability to have superpowers and the tax plan, the insurance plan, the financial plan, the retirement plan — if every one of your clients looks different, you cannot provide that same value.

Michael Mason: What a great point. And that's what we said early on when we decided to specialize. And I have to tell the story about the client that we acquired that their financial planner, the “they” in this said, “I'm sorry, but you guys …” and they were saving like 15% into TSP: “You guys are coming up a million dollars short.”

Because the planner didn't understand that FERS didn't mean TSP. It meant social security, defined benefit annuity, and TSP. So, what that planner was missing was the $40,000 pension, which is the million dollars they were coming up short.

We got to fly in there and said, “Hey, we just found your million dollars. It's in your FERS-defined benefit pension.”

John Mason: And as we think about again, just closing the loop on this, they're not talking to you; Tommy mentioned earlier, the secret millionaire. Now, we're changing that to the secret multi-millionaire because many of the federal employees that we're seeing have 7, 8, 900,000, a million or more in their Thrift Savings Plan.

And it's not atypical for the clients that walk through our Zoom meetings, because we don't meet in person, but our clients, Mike, to have five guaranteed incomes on top of a million dollars.

And here's some easy math for our listeners; every 30 to $40,000 of guaranteed pension is the equivalent of a million dollars. So, if you were this person, I have a VA disability of 1,500 to $2,000 a month. I have two social security checks, I have a FERS, and I have a military — well, when you add up all those pensions guys, that's probably 3 to $4 million that you'd have to have in a thrift savings plan to replicate that guaranteed income stream.

And then, oh, by the way, we've got a million bucks on top of it. So, just like Tommy said, these one, at 57-years-old, many federal employees can replace a hundred percent of current income, retire without missing a beat. And we're walking into retirement with C-suite type benefits and C-suite type income, tremendous.

And we just really love being able to, I guess like knock down all these barriers, make it simple, Mike, for our clients to realize that they can actually start enjoying their retirement at 57 where everybody else is waiting until 65 or later.

Michael Mason: And let's put context on it. It's May 17th, the inflation rate is off the charts. And as you said, those four or five pensions that add up to three, four or five million, got a 5 to 6% COLA to start the year.

So, as many people are bemoaning the fact that their million dollars may be down 12% or 120,000, their $4 million in guaranteed pensions is up 5 or 6%. We need to realize when they are not talking to you, you're never going to know that until you listen to this podcast.

John Mason: And it's fascinating that home values were flat for a while, COLAs, cost of living adjustments on pensions were flat for a while, but TSPs and IRAs were way up. So, then the one year that TSPs and IRAs are down or negative, and then your house is up 20, 30% or whatever the numbers are, you get a 5.9% pay raise on your pensions.

So, it's flip-flop a bit this year. It's different than it has been, but we're pretty diversified as federal employee retirees when you think about those assets and how they kind of work together

Michael Mason: And folks, if you don't know, as we close this up — if you don't know whether they're talking to you or not, they will help you make all the wrong decisions at all the right times to screw up your plan.

Every bit of advice, and John, you said this earlier; every bit of advice you get, whether it's from your life insurance agent, the wealth manager that thinks they're a financial planner, the buddy that is a federal employee — if you'll just step back and ask, “Are they talking to me?” That is going to be your gauge for how much of that conversation you really want to listen to.

John Mason: Well guys, another episode in the books; thank you both, thank you to our listeners, thank you for everybody that's rated us five stars for our listener across the country. You can find us at, introductory phone calls available right on our website. We'd love to hear from you. Feedback on further topics can be sent to

Remember, we're Mason & Associates. We're financial planners with decades of experience serving federal employees. And this podcast is specifically for you to help you knock down those barriers, get comfortable learning about all of your benefits so you can make educated and informed decisions about your retirement.

The topics discussed on this podcast represent our best understanding of federal benefits and are for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as investment, financial planning, or other professional advice.

We encourage you to consult with the office of personnel management and one or more professional advisors before taking any action based on the information presented.