In recent years an increasing number of employees have left government before being eligible to retire. Many of them have withdrawn their retirement contributions. Others have left them in the retirement fund. Those are the people I want to talk to, and also to any of you who may be thinking about leaving. That’s because you may be eligible to receive a deferred annuity. The conditions under which you can receive such an annuity are simple. If you didn’t take a refund of your contributions and have (or had) a minimum of five years of creditable service under either CSRS or FERS, you can apply for a deferred annuity at age 62.
How big that annuity will be depends on your total years of service and your highest three consecutive years of average salary, your “high-3”. It could be worth a lot or a little. Either way, it would be paid to you month after month for the rest of your life. And, at the time you apply for a deferred annuity, you may elect a survivor benefit for your spouse.
Are there any downsides to leaving your money in the retirement fund and receiving a deferred annuity? Yes, there are a few. While the same formulas are used to compute deferred annuities that are used for computing regular annuities, the high-3 used will be the one you had when you left government. It won’t be increased by any of the cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) or pay raises that occurred after you left. So, the longer the time between when you leave and when you are eligible for a deferred annuity, the more inflation will have taken its toll on your benefit.
Further, unlike a retiring CSRS employee, any unused sick leave hours you had to your credit on the day you left the service won’t be added to your years of service when your deferred annuity is computed. That’s not such a blow to former FERS employees because the FERS law provides no extra credit for unused sick leave hours regardless of when or how you retire.
Finally, you won’t be able to reenroll in either the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) or the Federal Employees’ Life Insurance (FEGLI) programs.
If you are eligible for a deferred annuity, call 1-888-767-6738 or write OPM, P.O. Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017-0045 and ask for OPM Form 1496A (CSRS) or RI 92-19 (FERS). Or download them by going to www.opm.gov and clicking on Federal Forms in the lower left hand corner. Then click on Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Forms and scroll down to the one you want. Mail the completed form to OPM no earlier than two months before you reach age 62. Your deferred annuity will begin on your 62nd birthday. If you apply at a later date, your annuity will be paid retroactively to age 62.