Expert's View

Make sure to ask your agency’s benefits counselor to go through your Official Personnel Folder with you. Image: Balefire/Shutterstock.com

Reg Jones

It’s mid-year and that means it’s about six months from the annual surge of federal retirements around the turn of the year. If you’re one of those thinking about retiring in that time frame, it would have been better to begin firm preparations by now, but it’s still not too late to get started.

If you’re not looking at that specific time frame but have retirement in the not distant future, all the better—get started now.

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In either case, here are four steps to take:

1. Sign up for a pre-retirement counseling seminar, if your agency offers one. If it doesn’t, check with your agency personnel office to find out if they’ll pay for one provided by a private sector firm. If they won’t pay for it, consider paying for it yourself. It would be a good investment.

2. Ask your agency’s benefits counselor to go through your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) to make sure that it includes all your periods of federal service, the effective dates of each pay adjustment, your present health benefits (FEHB) and life insurance (FEGLI) coverage, and any designations of beneficiaries you filed. If anything is missing or inaccurate, this is the time to get it corrected. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure that any years of active duty military service have been included.

3. Make sure that you’ll meet the age and service requirements to retire. Also check to see if you will meet the requirements to continue your FEHB and/or FEGLI when you retire.

4. Finally, ask your benefits counselor to give you an estimate of your retirement annuity. If you are a FERS employee, you’ll also need an estimate of your Special Retirement Supplement if you will be retiring before age 62.

Those four apply to everyone. However, for others there are one or more “ifs” you may have to deal with. For example:

1. If you owe any deposits either for periods of active duty military service or redeposits for civilian service if you left government and got a refund of your retirement deductions, you’ll have 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/forms–click on Standard Forms and scroll down to SF 2803 (CSRS) or SF 3108 (FERS).

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2. If you are receiving – or will be entitled to receive – military retired pay, you’ll need to find out what effect that would have on your civilian annuity. As a rule, you’d have to waive your military retired pay and make a deposit for that time before you retire in order for it to be included in your civilian annuity computation. However, under limited circumstances, you may be able to receive both. Even then, you’d have to make a deposit to the civilian retirement system to get credit for any period of active duty service. FYI: If you are either 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.

3. If you owe any money to your agency, you’ll need to arrange a repayment schedule 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 have to find out how that will affect your own benefit.

The last step in the retirement process is this: fill out your retirement application. You can download a copy as above—you’ll want 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.

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