If you leave government before you have the right combination of age and service to retire, you’ll be entitled to a deferred annuity if certain conditions are met.
First, you must not take a refund of your retirement contributions. Second, you must have a minimum of 5 years of creditable service. If you meet those conditions and are covered by CSRS, you’d be eligible for a deferred annuity at age 62.
If you are covered by FERS, there are more options. If you have as few as 5 years of service, you can retire at age 62. If you have between 20 and 29, you can retire at age 60. And if you have at least 30, you can retire when you reach your minimum retirement age.
Note: You can also retire at your MRA with at least 10 but fewer than 30 years of service; however, your annuity would be reduced by 5 percent per year (5/12ths of 1 percent per month) that you are under age 62.
The formula used to determine the amount of your annuity is based on two factors: your total years and full months of service and your highest three consecutive years of average salary, your high-3. That annuity would be paid to you every month for the rest of your life. If you elect a survivor benefit for your spouse and you die first, your widow(er) would receive that benefit for life.
While that’s the upside of leaving your money in the retirement fund, there are downsides.
First, you won’t have the use of that money. Second, the high-3 used to compute your annuity will be the one you had when you left government. Not only won’t have been increased by any pay raises or within-grade increases but it won’t include any cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) that were added after you left. As a result, the longer the time between when you leave and when you are eligible for your annuity, the more its value will have been eroded by inflation.
Third, you won’t get credit for any unused sick leave hours you had on the books when you left. Finally, you won’t be able to reenroll in either the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) or the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program.
If you are eligible for a deferred annuity, you can download the form you need to apply for that benefit by going to www.opm.gov and click on Forms.
If you are a former CSRS employee, you’ll need OPM Form 1496A. If you are a former FERS employee, it’s RI 92-19. Mail the completed form to OPM no earlier than two months before you reach the age and service combination spelled out above.
Your deferred annuity will begin on your next birthday. If you lost track of time and applied after that, your annuity payment will be retroactive to the day on which you first became eligible for a deferred annuity.
ask.FEDweek.com: Retirement Eligibility & FERS Minimum Retirement Age (MRA)