Access Woes and Missing Information Plague TSP Website Redesign

Thrift Savings Plan information given aboard USS Ronald Reagan.
Thrift Savings Plan information is given during a Fleet and Family Support Center event aboard USS Ronald Reagan, Nov. 10, 2021. (U. S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Eric Stanton)

Kate Horrell is a benefits columnist.

A June 1 update to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) website has left the system hard to log into, confusing and missing basic information, users are complaining.

The federal government's Thrift Savings Plan is a federally defined contribution retirement account similar to a civilian 401(k). The TSP has 6.2 million account holders with a combined value in excess of $800 billion.

The Thrift Savings Board rolled out a new website this month, after several weeks of transition during which TSP account holders could not access their accounts. The new website requires that account holders set up new login credentials and features an entirely new layout. Account holders have taken to social media to share their frustration with the new system and my testing confirms that it’s difficult to navigate, confusing and lacking major functions.

“It is a beautiful, clean, unusable website,” wrote user Elliot Unseth.

Here are some of the problems users are reporting.

New login required. Some account holders report that they cannot create a new login online. This requires that a passcode be sent by physical mail to the address registered with TSP. For military members, this may be their home of record or current home location. If they are away, on deployment, training or other travel, they may not be able to retrieve that physically mailed passcode.

Two-factor identification.The new TSP requires two-factor identification via a text message, with no provision to receive a code via email. That creates a significant issue for service members who do not have access to their cellphones, such as sailors aboard ships who may have access to the internet but not have cellphone service.

It's hard to navigate. Typically, users going to the TSP website want to do one of three basic transactions: check their balance, see what funds their balance is invested in or retrieve a statement.

But on the new website, only one of these three transactions is anywhere near easy. The balance is listed on the first page when you log in, but you have to scroll down to find it. Is it just me, or shouldn't that be front and center?

There doesn't appear to be a way to find out what funds your account balance is invested in, though it does show a circle graph with your percentage of stocks and bonds.

And there is no way to access statements on the website. You can generate a specific statement, going back to May 26, 2022, and have it sent to your messages. That's better than nothing, I suppose.

Photo: courtesy tsp screenshot 1800

Roth vs. traditional vs. tax-free account balances. The TSP offers both Roth and traditional IRA accounts, and military members may have balances that were earned in tax-free combat zones. On the old website, these account balances were easy to see.

TSP user Jason Kappes told me via Facebook, "I literally can't figure out how to see my Roth vs. traditional allocations on the mobile site." I don't disagree with Jason. As far as I can tell, there's no way to find this information on the new website. That's kind of ridiculous.

Beneficiary designations. Some account holders are reporting that their beneficiary designations did not transfer over. Then, when they try to set up designations, the online system requires a witness, who confirms via email. But the emails to the witnesses don't always go through. Service members (and any other TSP account holder) should regularly check to be sure that their beneficiary designations are listed the way they intend them to be listed.

For my spouse, a retired sailor, it's unclear whether our secondary beneficiary designations are in place. He’s unable to see whether our TSP beneficiaries are set up properly. He can only see his primary designation, and can’t confirm if the secondary designations are gone.

Historical data. The new website only includes information from May 26, 2022. There is no way to access historical information and statements online.

There is a social media rumor that if you can get someone to answer the phone, they may be able to send you a paper copy of a specific statement through the regular mail. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to get through by phone right now according to users. That’s a problem TSP officials also acknowledged in a letter to D.C. Rep. Eleanor Homles Norton, a non-voting representative to Congress, dated June 17.

The TSP response? While the letter to Norton noted the high call volume and that the transition to the new site “would be bumpy,” it doesn’t give solutions to any of the specific programs.

Meanwhile, the TSP website has a page called Current Known Issues. Sadly, it also doesn't provide solutions to these issues. It helpfully suggests that if you're having trouble logging in, you might want to "try a different internet browser." It also reminds people to check their beneficiary designations. The page does state that you will not have access to any information from before the system transfer.

There is no mention of the two-factor identification problem or the inability to see account balance types.

The new TSP website has a long way to go to perform the basic tasks that it should be expected to perform. Service members should be able to log in efficiently, even when their operational requirements limit their cellphone access. Account holders should be able to quickly find their account balance, fund holdings and amounts in traditional, Roth and tax-exempt accounts. Statements should be readily available. Beneficiary designations need to come over from the old system, and the new email witness program needs to work.

Fingers crossed they'll get these problems sorted out in a timely fashion. In the meantime, create your new login and check your beneficiary designations.

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