Last week I explained how important it is to plan ahead for retirement. I also pointed out that while a year ahead would be ideal place to start, these aren’t ideal times. So you need to use the time you have left, especially if you are planning to retire this year.

Just to recap, I recommended that you attend a pre-retirement seminar, meet with one of your agency’s benefits officers to review your Official Personnel Folder (OPF), get an annuity estimate and – if you are covered by FERS – an estimate of your special retirement supplement or Social Security benefit, and complete the paperwork needed to retire and hand it in to your personnel office.

Once your personnel office has your retirement papers, it will review them to make sure you are eligible to retire on the date you set and carry your Federal Employees’ Health Benefits (FEHB) and/or Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) coverage into retirement. If there are any problems, now is the time to resolve them. (Because there is no “five year” enrollment requirement in the long term care and dental/vision insurance programs, you almost certainly will be eligible to continue them; the exception would be losing eligibility under the latter program if you are taking deferred retirement.)

Assuming that there aren’t any problems, your personnel office will generate a Certified Summary of Federal Service, which will list your federal civilian and military service. When you get your copy, check your federal work record for accuracy and make any needed changes.

When it’s close to the date you selected to retire, your personnel office will:

* certify your FEGLI coverage to OPM, if you are eligible to continue that coverage;

* transfer your FEHB enrollment to OPM, if you are eligible to continue coverage;

* forward any current designations of beneficiary that are in your OPF;

* process an SF 50 (Notification of Personnel Action) to separate you from the service;

* complete and certify the personnel office portion of your retirement application; and

* forward your retirement application and related records to your agency payroll office.

Your payroll office will then do the following:

* authorize your final salary payment, but only after you separate for retirement. It will also authorize any lump-sum payment to you for unused annual leave. If you have been offered a “buyout,” it also will authorize that payment;

* certify and close out your Individual Retirement Record (IRR), the official record of your current service, pay rates, unused sick leave credit for retirement purposes, etc. Since the IRR contains a list of your retirement deductions for your last period of service, it can’t be closed out until your final salary check has been issued;

* certify your annual basic pay for life insurance purposes, if you are carrying any into retirement; and

* forward your retirement package to OPM.

As a rule, you agency payroll office will notify you in writing when your file has been sent to OPM. That notice will include the register number, the transmittal and mailing dates, and your payroll office number. That information is important if you need to check on the status of your case after it has been sent to OPM.

While I’d like to tell you that your agency will finish its part of the job in 30 days, I can’t. It depends on such things as the workload in your agency’s personnel and payroll offices. If they are understaffed and/or buried under a pile of retirement applications, it can take longer, maybe much longer.