Would you settle for a guaranteed 8 percent to 9 percent return on your money or dive into the stock or bond market for a possible 31 percent payoff -- or loss?

If you work for the federal government, you will soon be able to answer that question with real -- your own -- money.

U.S. employees who have invested $196 million in their tax-deferred stock and bond market accounts are expected to pump more into them if the White House, as anticipated, lifts all restrictions on their thrift savings plan.

Since the savings plan began, most of its investments have been force-fed into the safe treasury securities account. The so-called G-fund is now worth $6.2 billion. It earns a steady $10 million to $12 million daily.

Last year, the C-fund (stock market option) had a 31.03 percent rate of return. The F-fund (bond option) rate of return was 13.89 percent; the treasury G-fund, which received most of the investment money, paid 8.81 percent. But most workers couldn't take advantage of the booming market through their savings plan.

This week President Bush is expected to sign a bill that would allow federal and postal workers to invest any way they want in any of the three funds.

Currently, workers who are covered by the old Civil Service Retirement System can invest only in the G-fund. People in the Federal Employees Retirement System can invest 60 percent of their contributions into the stock or bond funds. The 5 percent matching contribution they get from the government must now go in the safer treasury option.

There are about 2.8 million federal workers. About 500,000 in the new FERS system are investing in the thrift savings plan. About 40 percent are investing something in the stock or bond options. Another 500,000 FERS workers aren't investing. But they still have accounts (invested in the treasury fund) that the government opened and in which it puts 1 percent of salary each payday.

More than 500,000 people in the old CSRS pension plan are investing in the thrift plan. All their money is now invested in the treasury option.

The bill would mean that:Starting in November (the next open season), workers could earmark their past or future investments any way they want. The changes could not be made during the current open season, which ends July 31. Congress gave the funds' managers a year to put the changes in place -- including printing and distributing 3 million brochures outlining the changes. But managers believe they will be able to start taking investment allocation changes during this November's open season. Actual investments would begin in early 1991. The matching contribution arragement would be unchanged. FERS employees would still be able to put in 10 percent of their pay and get a 5 percent tax-deferred match from their agency. Those in the CSRS system still would be able to put in 5 percent. There would be no match for them.