Here the situation. You are thinking of leaving government without immediate eligibility for an annuity. One big question you have is whether to take a refund of your retirement contributions or leave them there.
First, some background. Every federal employee contributes a portion of his salary to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund. (Despite its name, the CSRDF holds the funds for both CSRS and FERS.) If you are a special category employee, such as a law enforcement officer or firefighter, you contribute more. And if you are a CSRS employee, you contribute more than if you are a FERS employee (the difference is what FERS people pay into Social Security).
So, the amount of money available to you as a departing employee varies not only by your employment category and retirement system but by your salary level and the number of years you’ve been contributing to the fund.
Therefore, whether you ask for a refund may depend on how much you’d get back if you asked for it. Clearly, given the same service history, a CSRS refund would be much greater than a FERS refund.
Would you be better off taking the money and investing it, or leaving it there? That’s a question best left to a financial advisor, one who has no personal stake in the decision.
First, you’ll need to understand if you might be eligible for a deferred annuity in the future. These are paid after age 62 to those who had at least five years of service and who left their money in the retirement fund on separation. If you have less than five years and don’t think you’ll ever return to the government in the future, that argues for taking the money out (you always could repay it, although with interest required, to recapture that service time if you do later return).
If you would be eligible for deferred retirement, it would probably be better to leave your money in the fund. While the annuity you eventually receive may not be large—because it will be based on a relatively short career and on the high-3 salary level at the point you left—it will be backed by the full faith and credit of the government. And it will keep being paid to you as long as you live. Looked at as an investment, that’s an awfully good one.
Let’s say that you have examined those issues and have decided to take a refund. In that case, here are some further considerations.
1. What do you have to do to get that refund? You’ll need to get a copy of the appropriate form (SF 2802 for CSRS, SF 3106 for FERS, available at www.opm.gov/forms). Then you’ll have to send the completed form to OPM at the following address: P.O. Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017-0045). Note: Before OPM will send you that refund, you’ll have to provide proof that you’ve notified your spouse (and any former spouse) that you are asking for a refund. If the refund would end any court-ordered right a former spouse might have based on future benefits, you may be barred from receiving a refund.
2. Will any interest be paid on your refund? If you are a CSRS employee who has one to five years of total service, the answer is yes. Interest would be paid at the rate of 3 percent, and it would be compounded annually to the date you left government. If you left with more than five years of service, no interest would be paid. On the other hand, market rate interest is paid on all FERS contributions covering a period of service that totals one year or more. And it is compounded annually up to the month before OPM makes the payment.
3. What will happen to your insurance coverage? Coverage under the FEHB and FEGLI programs will end after a 31-day cost-free extension of coverage. You can, of course, convert to an individual life insurance policy or, in the case of the FEHB program, continue that coverage for up to 18 months under the Temporary Continuation provision of law and convert it to individual coverage during that period or at the end. However, you’ll have pay the premiums for either of those coverages, without any matching contributions from the government. You will lose eligibility under FEDVIP with no 31-day extension and no right to convert; if you have FLTCIP insurance, you can continue it by continuing to pay the premiums.