Applying for federal retirement is a process that must be handled with care. The first thing you need to do is get hold of a copy of an Application for Immediate Retirement. For CSRS, it’s a Standard Form 2801, for FERS a Standard Form 3107. You can get one from your servicing personnel office or by going to www.opm.gov/forms.

The next thing you need to do is read the information and instructions contained in the first 10 pages. While not all of it will apply to your situation, much of it will. The good news is that the instructions beginning on page 2 are keyed to the sections and numbered items on the form itself. Look at them side by side and you’ll be ready to fill in the blanks with a level of comfort you wouldn’t have if you dove directly into the form itself.

Surprisingly for a document that can propel you from employment into retirement, the application form itself is only two pages long. The reason the instructions outnumber those pages is that they have to call your attention to all the possible variations which may influence what you finally write in any given box. For example, marital information helps to sort out the married from the unmarried, the married by clergyman or justice of the peace from those that weren’t, and the divorced with a court order from those without one. Then there are survivor annuity issues to be dealt with. Depending on what you answered, these may lead you to attachments, which need to be filled out.

Once you have worked your way through all the boxes on the application, you need to refer back to the instructions. Not only will they tell you where you need to take the application, but they’ll explain what happens after your file you retirement papers and what to do if your address changes before the processing of your application is completed. They’ll also explain how your annuity will be computed based on the type of annuity you have applied for and what happened to your life and health insurance.

The last thing to do before taking your application to your employing office is to let it rest for a day or so then reread your answers, while rechecking them against the instructions. This will reduce the possibility of errors that could delay the processing of application and your successful move into retirement.