Last week I wrote about delays in the processing of your retirement application. This week I want to lead you through the actual steps, so you can see how and why the watch ticks the way it does.

On the days following the one on which you kiss your agency goodbye, your personnel office will finish processing your retirement application and forward the package to your payroll office. It will authorize both your final salary payment and a lump sum payment for any unused annual leave. It will also certify and close out your Individual Retirement Record.

Then it will send your retirement package to OPM’s Retirement Operations Center in Boyers, Pennsylvania, on a “Register of Separation and Transfers.” If you’re lucky, your payroll office will let you know the register number, the transmittal and mailing dates, and its office phone number. If yours doesn’t, you can always call your former agency and ask for that information. It’s good to have it on hand because it will let you know if your agency has completed its part of the process and sent your application to OPM.

After OPM gets your retirement record, it will send you an acknowledgement and give you a retirement claim number. OPM’s goal is to get you into interim pay status as soon as possible. (What’s possible and what’s ideal are two different things.) Interim pay is a percentage of what OPM estimates your final annuity amount will be. Giving you that lesser amount protects them from overpaying you, and it protects you from having to refund an overpayment.

Once OPM has authorized the Department of Treasury to make an interim payment, which will take between five days and three weeks. The timing depends on whether your records were sent to OPM electronically or on paper, which would slow down the process. Along with your payment will come a notice letting you know its amount and any federal taxes withheld. Also withheld will be any amount due for health benefit or life insurance premiums.

OPM’s final adjudication of your claim will result in your being put in a full annuity payment status. That first full payment will include any underpayment you are due because you were receiving interim pay. From that point forward, your annuity payments will accrue through the end of the month and be payable on the first business day of the following month.

In the future, you’ll receive a notice from OPM any time the amount of your annuity changes, for example, when a cost-of-living adjustment is made, or when the premiums for any health or life insurance coverage go up or (rarely) down.