Expert's View

Over the last three weeks, I’ve answered three questions, which are essential when you sit down to figure out what your annuity will be when you retire: What is your high-3? What is basic pay? Why is your high-3 important?

Next I put those answers to work by showing you how to compute your own annuity. Then I spelled out the rules governing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). This time I want to answer a few questions that often come up but don’t always get clear answers.


Do the three years used when computing my high-3 have to be continuous?
No they don’t. Two or more separate – but consecutive – periods of service may be joined together if you have a break in service. All that matters is that the three years of service (78 pay biweekly periods) be the ones that produce the highest average salary.

Can my unused sick leave be used to meet the length of service requirement to retire?
No, it can’t. It can only be added and used in the annuity computation after you have met the age and service requirements to retire.

Will periods of leave-without-pay (LWOP) affect my eligibility to retire or my annuity?
No, as long as you haven’t taken more than six months in a calendar year. That time period of absence will be treated as if you’d been at work and receiving your regular salary. However, LWOP beyond six months in a calendar year will be treated as if you have had a break in service, and won’t be included when determining your years and full months of service.

When I retire what happens to any days that don’t add up to a full month of service?
They are dropped and not included in your annuity computation.

Will this year’s pay increase show up in my annuity when I retire?
It depends on when you retire. For that increase to have the maximum effect on your annuity, you’d have to receive it for at least one year before you retire. The fewer months you received that increase, the smaller the effect on your annuity would be.

When employees get a pay increase will my annuity be increased by the same amount?
No. Any increase in your annuity will be based on annual changes in the consumer price index (CPI-W). And the rules governing the amount of that adjustment are different for CSRS and FERS employees. To find out what those differences are, take a look at last week’s article on how COLAs impact your federal annuity.

Read more on calculating an annuity under FERS and CSRS at