In a perfect world, you should begin serious preparations for retirement at least a year in advance. However, that isn’t always possible.
Maybe your agency surprises you by offering you the opportunity to retire early and even sweetens the deal by offering you a “buyout.” Or more menacingly, if they announce a reduction-if-force (RIF) and your position is in the center of the target.
Maybe your life situation, such as a health consideration for you or a family member, compels you to retire earlier than you might have. Or more optimistically, a favorable opportunity arises or a financial gain allows for it.
If your run-up to retirement turns out to be only a matter of several months or even less, you’ll need to wisely use the time you have to do the things that you otherwise would have done over a period of many months. These include:
• Attend a pre-retirement counseling seminar. If your agency offers one, take it. If it doesn’t, consider signing up for one offered by a private sector firm. Check with your personnel office to find out if they’ll pay for it. If they won’t, you may want to pay for it yourself.
• Make an appointment with your agency’s benefits counselor. Go through your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) to make sure that it includes all your federal employment (plus any military service), the effective dates of each pay adjustment, your present health benefits and life insurance coverage, and any designations of beneficiaries you filed. If anything is missing or inaccurate, this is the time to straighten it out.
• Verify that you’ll meet the age and service requirements to retire when you think. Also check to see if you will meet the requirements to carry your health benefits and/or life insurance coverage into retirement.
• Ask for an estimate of your retirement annuity. If you are a FERS employee, you’ll also need an estimate of your Special Retirement Supplement.
Now let me point out a few “ifs”:
If you owe any deposits for prior periods of civilian or military service or redeposits for civilian service if you left government and got a refund of your retirement deductions, you’ll need to find out what impact that will have on your annuity. If you decide to make a deposit or redeposit, you can download the form at www.opm.gov, click on Forms, then click on Standard Forms and scroll down to SF 2803 (CSRS) or SF 3108 (FERS).
If you are currently receiving (or will be eligible for) military retired pay, you’ll need to find out what affect that would have on your annuity. As a rule, you’ll have to waive your military retired pay and make a deposit for that time before you retire for it to be included in your civilian annuity calculation. Under certain, limited circumstances, you may be able to receive both. Even then, you’ll have to make a deposit to get credit for that time. Note: If you are receiving (or are eligible for) reserve retired pay, you won’t have to do anything. You can receive both benefits without a reduction in either.
If you owe any money to your agency, you’ll want to arrange a repayment schedule in order to avoid having your annuity offset to recover the debt. And, if a court order assigns a portion of your annuity to a former spouse, you’ll need to find out how that will affect your own benefit.
The last step in the retirement process is to fill out your retirement application. You can download a copy at www.opm.gov, click on Forms, then click on Standard Forms and scroll down to SF 2801 (CSRS) or SF 3107 (FERS). After you’ve filled out the form, give the original to your benefits counselor and keep a copy for yourself. If everything checks out, you’ll be ready to retire on the date you’ve chosen.
Now you know what you have to do. Next week, I’ll fill you in what your agency has to do.