Expert's View

There are three players involved in moving you from the employment roll to the retiree roll: you, your agency, and the Office of Personnel Management. Any of those players can hold up your first annuity payment.

You can cause delays if you didn’t take the time to review your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) before you retired to make sure your retirement application was accurate. If your agency is backed up or understaffed, it can prolong the process by taking ages to review your application and send it to OPM. And OPM can hold it up if 1) there are errors that need to be corrected or inconsistencies that need to be resolved or 2) they are inundated with claims. Over the last year the shortest average time it has taken OPM to process a retirement application–and this is after however long it takes the agency to send the application to OPM in the first place, remember– is 92 days; the longest, 118.


The reasons for these processing times are simple. First, the retirement system isn’t fully automated. A lot of it is still paper based. Second, there are more cases than the staff can handle in a timely manner. That’s because the number of applications roller coasters from month to month.

Before the advent of early retirement offers and buyouts, month-to-month case workloads were steadier. These days eligible employees rush to take advantage of those offers. Unfortunately, staffing levels at OPM never seem to match what’s necessary to carry out this essential function of government.

Until OPM makes the final calculation for you, you’ll only be receiving interim pay, which is a percentage of the final amount to which you’ll be entitled. That’s commonly about 80 percent, just at an eyeball glance, but can be much less in some cases. And if you are a FERS retiree who is eligible for the special retirement supplement, that portion won’t be included until your annuity is finalized.

If your employment history is simple and straightforward, you’ll only have to wait in OPM’s queue until your number comes up. However, if you bounced around from agency to agency, had gaps in your service, moved between pay systems, or received some pay that was creditable toward retirement and some not, you can expect to wait longer, sometimes much longer, before your annuity is finalized.

Word to the wise: Have plenty of money in the bank to tide you over while you wait for your annuity to begin.