FEDweek

Last-Minute Retirement Preparations

While the turn of a new year is a common time to retire, this year presents a special advantage due to the way the calendar falls. December 31, 2011, for many, is the best day in the best year to retire. Regardless of which retirement system you are in, at the stroke of midnight you’ll cease being an employee and become an annuitant. There won’t be even a minute’s gap between the two. Talk about perfect timing.

I’m hoping that most if not all of you submitted your paperwork a long time ago, which would have been the smart thing to do. That would have given your personnel office time to look it over and for the two of you to iron out any problems that might have arisen, for example, whether a particular period of civilian or military service is creditable for retirement purposes, with or without a deposit.

If you haven’t yet submitted your paperwork, you’d better do so right away. The likelihood in these troubled times is that your personnel office’s inbox will be overflowing with retirement applications from your fellow workers. With the holidays coming up, there’s every chance that your application won’t be processed until January.

Does that mean that you won’t be on the annuity roll in January? In one sense, the answer is yes. Until OPM receives your paperwork, it can’t put you on the annuity roll. In another sense, the answer is no. When OPM finally gets your paperwork, it will put you on the annuity roll, effective January 1, 2012. However, the time lost will likely result in your first interim annuity payment being sent to you later than expected. If the delay is too long, your first payment might be for two months rather than one.

That’s not the only monetary shortfall you might experience. If your personnel office can’t get your paperwork to the payroll office until well after the turn of the year, your lump sum payment for unused annual leave will be delayed. You’ll get it, but it may not be as timely as you had hoped.

I’ve been assuming that all of you who have (or will be) submitting your retirement applications aren’t going to change you minds about retiring. However, experience tells me that a few of you will get cold feet at the last minute and want to cancel your plans to retire. Can you do that? Yes, you can; however, if, for example, your position is one that’s being abolished or steps have already been taken to fill it, your agency can refuse your request. If it does, it must do that in writing, explaining why.

Let’s not dwell too much on a statistically unlikely event. For those of you who are in the majority and will be retiring with no regrets – and maybe even with a sense of relief – I wish you a happy and trouble free retirement, which you’ll have if OPM can ever get control of its backlog of cases. And that’s a topic for the future – specifically, my next column.