While most federal employees are covered by a set of standard retirement provisions, there are other groups of employees that are covered by special ones. Among these are law enforcement officers, firefighters, and air traffic controllers. This time I’ll lay out the rules governing law enforcement officers and firefighters covered by CSRS.
If you are a law enforcement officer or firefighter covered by CSRS, you can retire at an earlier age than most other employees. Of course, to be eligible to retire, you have to meet the age and service requirements: at least age 50 with 20 years of LEO or firefighter-covered service or any age with 25 years as an LEO or firefighter, retire from a CSRS position, and meet the “1-out-of-2” requirement, in other words, be covered by CSRS for at least one year within the two-year period immediately before you retire.
Note: Unused sick leave cannot be used to meet the minimum service requirement. The same is true of military service, unless you go directly from a law enforcement or firefighter position into the military on a military furlough.
As an LEO or firefighter, you are subject to mandatory separation at age 57. If you have completed 20 years of service under these special retirement provisions, you must be separated on the last day of the month in which you reach age 57, but only if you are currently occupying a law enforcement or firefighter position. In the public interest, an agency head may exempt an employee from mandatory separation until age 60.
Note: It’s important to understand that once the years-of-service requirement is met, you don’t need to stay in a covered position to retire under the special annuity computation provision. You can take a non-covered job, avoid mandatory separation, and still receive the special annuity computation for those 20 years of law enforcement or firefighter service.
Because LEOs and firefighters generally have a shorter career than other employees, your annuity is calculated using a special formula that is more generous than your fellow CSRS employees enjoy. However, that comes at a price. To get that enhanced benefit, you contribute more of your base salary to the retirement fund than they do. These days it’s 7.5 percent instead of 7.
Here’s how your annuity is calculated: Take 2.5 percent of your “high-3” average salary and multiply the result by 20 years of law enforcement or firefighter-covered service. Then take 2 percent of your “high-3” salary and multiply it times all remaining service. (Make sure to include any unused sick leave in that service figure.) Add the dollar figures together and you have your starting annuity. That’s the plus. Here’s the potential minus: if you retire before age 55, your annuity will be reduced by 2 percent for every year you are under age 55 (or 1/6 percent per month).
Note: Although the general rule is that a CSRS annuity can’t exceed 80 percent of your “high-3,” there is an exception. Unused sick leave isn’t included in that limitation. So, if you had a long career and accumulated plenty of sick leave, you could receive an annuity that was higher than 80 percent. Here’s one case where staying healthy can really pay off!