In my last two articles, I wrote about two key players on your road to retirement: you and your agency. You, because you are the one who wants to retire and has the responsibility of filing an application to do that. Your agency, because it needs to process your application before sending it to the OPM for adjudication.
I also warned to note that the process at the agency stage is not instantaneous, or even necessarily prompt. It will not surprise you to know that the same is true of the OPM stage. A word to the wise: have a balance of readily available cash to tide you over for this period.
What your agency does
Your retirement application should make its way through your agency’s personnel and payroll offices within 30 days of the day you filed it. If they’ve met that target, now that you are retired you are well on your way to being placed on the government’s annuity roll. However, that 30-day goal may not be met.
Until your application is forwarded to OPM, you’ll have to refer any questions about its status to your former agency’s personnel or payroll office. Most agency payroll offices will notify you when your retirement application has been sent to OPM. If yours doesn’t, you’ll have to follow up with them
What OPM does
When your application arrives at OPM, you’ll be sent a written acknowledgment and given a retirement claim number, preceded by the letters CSA, which stands for Civil Service Annuitant.
If OPM is determines that you meet the requirements to receive an annuity, it will authorize an interim annuity payment, which is a percentage of what your final annuity will be. OPM does this for two reasons. First, to provide you with some money while your application is being processed. Second, to avoid overpaying you and having to reclaim the excess when your annuity is finally approved.
After OPM has finished processing your application, your regular annuity amount will be determined and your first regular annuity payment will be authorized and paid by the Treasury Department. (Note: Concurrently, OPM will send you an Annuity Statement and other information about your retirement benefits. Please keep this statement in a safe place. If you ever apply for a home mortgage or some other large loan, you’ll be asked to provide a copy to the lender as a proof of your entitlement to an annuity.) Any money you are owed from being in interim pay status will be added to that first full payment.
How long will that take? It depends. It’s OPM’s goal to reach a final decision on 90 percent of applications within 60 days of receiving them. However, in practice it meets that goal only about 75 percent of the time and in some cases adjudication takes much longer. Another way to look at it: of applications processed within 60 days, the average processing time is about 40 days. Of those taking longer than 60 days, it was about 110 days—almost four months—on average.
The system is old, with many of the records still on paper. Then there are the myriad of laws that might come into play. The variations on what is considered creditable service alone fill chapter after chapter in the CSRS and FERS Handbook for Personnel and Payroll Offices. And service before x-date may be treated differently than service on or after y-date.
Another cause of delays is incomplete or missing information in the application or the accompanying records, requiring back and forth between OPM, you and your employing agency. That’s one big reason for the advice to start retirement preparations more like a year, rather than only a matter of months, in advance.
Now you know what you, your agency and OPM are supposed to do to get you on the road to retirement and on the annuity roll. However, what happens if you change your mind about retiring at the last minute? Or is you want to change a survivor annuity election? I’ll answer those questions next week.