Special category employees include law enforcement officers, firefighters, and air traffic controllers, among others. However, there are times when they must wonder just how special they are. Little information related to retirement is addressed to them even though they have special rules that govern their retirement benefits. Now it’s time to correct that oversight.

Law Enforcement Officers and Firefighters

Law enforcement officers and firefighters may voluntarily retire if they are age 50 or older and have completed at least 20 years of such service. While retirement is mandatory at age 57, when it’s in the public interest an agency head can to make an exception until age 60.

Because their careers of law enforcement officers and firefighters are usually shorter than other employees, the formulas used to compute their retirement benefit are more generous. However, this isn’t a giveaway. Those benefits are paid for through additional contributions by the employees and their agencies. For CSRS employees that’s 7.5 percent each, and for FERS employees, 1.3 percent.

To calculate your CSRS annuity, take 2.5 percent of your high-3 average pay and multiply the product by 20 years of law enforcement or firefighter service. Then take 2 percent of your high-3 times any remaining years of service. While you can’t add any unused sick leave to get you up to 20 years of service, it is added after that figure has been reached. Importantly, there is no annuity reduction for retiring before age 55.

To calculate your FERS annuity, take 1.7 percent of your high-3 average pay and multiply the product by 20 years of law enforcement or firefighter service. Then take 1 percent times any years over 20. Not only will there be no annuity reduction for retiring early but you will be eligible for the Special Annuity Supplement that approximates the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while covered under FERS.

Under both CSRS and FERS, you will be eligible for the annual cost-of-living adjustments paid to retirees regardless of the age at which you retire.

Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers operate under a different set of rules. For one thing, they must be separated from the service on the last day of the month in which they become age 56. Note: This rule doesn’t apply in certain situations. For example, to ATCs appointed by the Department of Transportation before May 16, 1972 or by the Department of Defense before September 12, 1980. The heads of these agencies may also exempt an ATC from the mandatory separation requirement until age 61.

ATCs are entitled to optional retirement at age 50 with 20 years of service as an ATC or at any age with 25 years as an ATC. The annuities of retiring ATCs covered by CSRS are calculated in the same way as they are for all other CSRS employees. However, ATCs are guaranteed an annuity of no less that 50 percent of their high-3 average pay. There is no annuity reduction for being under age 55.

ATCs covered by FERS have their annuities calculated the same way as those for law enforcement and firefighters: 1.7 percent of high-3 pay times 20 years of service and 1 percent times all years over 20. Just as with law enforcement officers and firefighters, there is no annuity reduction for retiring early, and you will be eligible for the Special Annuity Supplement that approximates the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while covered under FERS.