Expert's View

Every year, federal retirees enjoy a benefit that isn’t available to most of their fellow citizens – a cost-of-living adjustment or COLA. If you are a CSRS retiree and have been retired for at least one year, you’ll receive the full COLA of 4.1 percent in your January 2006 annuity payment, while those eligible under FERS will receive 3.1 percent. Anyone retired for a shorter period off time will receive proportionately less.

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To figure out how much your COLA will be, use the following formula and round the answer off to the nearest 1/10th of 1 percent:

Number of months on annuity roll

    COLA rate

 12

x = Prorated COLA

For example, if you were a CSRS retiree who had been on the annuity roll for six months, your COLA would be 2 percent (4.1 ÷ 12 = 0.34 percent x 6 = 2 percent (2.04 rounded to the nearest 1/10th of 1 percent).

To determine how long you’ve been on the annuity roll, use this chart:

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If your monthly annuity begins during… Number of months on the roll is…
December of previous year 12
January 11
February 10
March 9
April 8
May 7
June 6
July 5
August 4
September 3
October 2
November 1

I know, I know. All you FERS retirees are wondering why your COLA is smaller than the one given to your CSRS colleagues. You can blame that on the law that created FERS. Congress in its wisdom determined that if the annual change in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI/W) increases by 3 percent or more, the COLAs of FERS beneficiaries will be increased by the CPI/W minus 1 percent.

Just to refresh your memories, CSRS COLAs are payable no matter the age at which you retire. The same is true for survivors, disability retirees, and special category employees, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters. On the other hand, COLAs for most FERS retirees begin at age 62. You can thank the Congress for that, too.