Expert's View

Reg Jones

It’s amazing how quickly the rumor mill gets going when a new administration comes into town. When the pandemic was in full swing, one of them took longer to move from rumor to presumed fact and has proven difficult to unwind.

This particular rumor was based on a belief that reorganizations and realignments were on the way and that agencies would offer buyouts to employees who have met the age and service requirements for retirement and would give those who haven’t met those requirements the option of adding three years to their age or service time to make them eligible to retire immediately.

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That was the latest version of rumors that have taken various forms for many years, decades actually. One that went around many times was the so-called “Triple Nickel”: five more years of age credit, plus five years of service credit plus a buyout of $5,000—or in some versions, $50,000.

The term “wishful thinking” doesn’t even begin to describe that.

Let’s pause for a reality check. Adding years of age or service, either to make someone eligible to retire or to sweeten the annuity pot for someone who is already eligible to retire has never been used as an incentive to encourage employees to retire. Not only isn’t that possible under current law but it has never been considered by any Congress or administration.

To be eligible to retire, you have to meet the age and service requirements set in law, which vary slightly between CSRS and FERS. Under CSRS you can retire on an immediate annuity at age 62 with 5 years of service, age 60 with 20 or age 55 with 30, Under FERS you can retire at age 62 with 5, 60 with 20, or at your minimum retirement age (MRA) with 30. You can also retire at your MRA with 10, but with a 5 percent per year reduction for every year you are under age 62.

The government already has provisions to ease those rules if it wants to encourage people to retire if your agency is undergoing a major reorganization or reduction-in-force. Under both retirement systems, it can offer early retirement at age 50 with 20 years of service or at any age with 25. That authority has been on the books for decades and the government has never seen a need to change it.

In short, when it comes to retirement from the federal government, the rules are clear. The only age you have is the one that began on the day you were born and ends on the day you retire. And the only service used in the computation of your basic annuity is that from which retirement deductions were taken.

So, if someone tells you that your agency is going to help you retire by adding years to either your age or service, just ignore them. Or tell them—in a helpful tone, if you can—that you’ve heard that one before and t’aint so.

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