You receive a lot of benefits as a federal employee. And one of the best of these is annual leave. You can use it for vacations, rest and relaxation, and personal business or emergencies. And you can use it in bite-size pieces or bigger chunks.

How much leave can you earn?

If you have fewer than three years of creditable service, you earn 4 hours for each biweekly pay period (13 days a year). Between 3 and 15 years of service, you earn 6 hours per pay period (20 days a year). After you have 15 years of service, you earn 8 hours per pay period (26 days a year).

How those accumulation rates are set depends on your years of creditable federal service. Included in the term “creditable federal service” is active military duty and active duty for training, if you do not qualify for military retirement. In you do qualify, credit is only given for actual service during a war declared by Congress or while participating in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge is issued or for active duty when your retirement was based on a disability received as a direct result of armed conflict or caused by an instrumentality of war and incurred in the line of duty.

If you are a newly hired employee (or are a former employee who has had a break in service of at least 90 days), you may even be able to get annual leave accrual credit for non-federal service. For example, if you have skills or experience that relate to the duties of the position for which you have been hired. However, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get it. That decision is up to your agency.

Senior Executive Service members and other senior level scientific and technical employees earn 8 hours of annual leave per pay period (26 days a year), regardless of their years of service.

The amount of leave you earn as a part-time GS, Wage or PS employee is based on your years of service and the time you are in a pay status.

Carryover

The amount of annual leave hours you can carry over from one leave year to the next depends on your employment category. Most employees can carry over a maximum of 240 hours (30 days). Any leave above that level is called “use of lose.” In other words, if you don’t use it before the leave year ends, you’ll lose it.

However, there are exceptions to the leave accrual rule. For example, if you are in the Senior Executive Service, you have a 720 hour carryover limit (90 days) unless you had more than that amount on October 13, 1994 when the limit was put in place—that probably applies to very few people anymore. That amount is your personal annual leave limit. If you fall below that amount at the end of any leave year, the lower number becomes your new limit.

If you are employed overseas, you can carry over 560 hours (45 days).

If you are a Postal Service bargaining unit employee, you can carry over 440 hours (55 days). Postal Service Executive and Administrative Schedule employees can carry over a total of 560 hours (70 days).

Cashing in

As a rule, if you retire before the end of a leave year, you’ll be given a lump-sum payment for all your unused annual leave. The amount will be based on the hourly rate of basic pay you would have earned if you had stayed on the job until your leave ran out.

That includes a boost for any pay raise applicable during that period. That is a nice little plus for those who retire right around the turn of the year and a pay raise kicks in effective with the first pay period of the year—a very common scenario. The payment also would reflect any step increase you would have received during that time, a far less common situation.

The rules are different if you work for the Postal Service. If you are a bargaining unit employee, you can be paid for any leave you carried over from the previous year plus any additional leave you earned during the year you retire, not to exceed the carryover limit for your bargaining unit.