Comedian Tommy Smothers (if you ever watched his TV show, you’re probably within sight of retirement) used have a line that he was writing a book titled “The 27 Most Important Things to Be Thinking about at the Moment of Impact.”
That’s a little funnier if you’re a golfer, but even non-golfers should be able to recognize the underlying point. On a complex topic, if you try to hold all of it in your head at once, the result likely will be paralysis by analysis.
The same is true of federal retirement planning. There are so many aspects of it that trying to handle them all at the same time – just before ending your federal career with everything else that will be going on at the same time – could result in mental lockup.
But fortunately some of the most important steps can, and should, be taken well in advance. Here are five:
Review Your Designation of Beneficiary Forms
There are several types of beneficiary forms that you need to complete to designate your death benefits. These forms include: the SF 2823, Designation of Beneficiary, Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI); your Designation of Beneficiary (SF 2808 for CSRS, SF 3102 for FERS); SF 1152, Designation of Beneficiary–Unpaid Compensation of Deceased Civilian Employee; and TSP 3, Designation of Beneficiary. If you previously completed designation of beneficiary forms, you should review those forms to ensure they reflect your current desires. You can make changes by filing a new version; the forms are at www.opm.gov/forms and at www.tsp.gov/forms.
Check for Needed Civilian Deposit / Civilian Redeposit / Military Deposits
If you were a temporary employee where retirement deductions were not withheld, if you are a rehired federal employee who previously took a refund, or if you had military service for which you have not made a deposit, you may owe a deposit or redeposit in order to receive retirement credit for that period of service. If you owe a deposit/redeposit, an agency benefits counselor can compute an annuity estimate for you. This will enable you to assess the benefits/detriments of making or not making the deposit. However, if you owe a redeposit for refunded service, you will need to contact OPM to obtain the redeposit amount, before contacting a benefits counselor to assist you. It is important to remember that the longer it takes to make the deposit/redeposit, the higher the interest owed will be.
See also Owed Deposits for Federal Retirement at ask.FEDweek.com
Consider Your Survivor Benefit Options
Part of planning for your retirement is planning for the benefits that you would like to leave your spouse if he/she survives you. If you are married, you can elect to leave your spouse a full, partial, insurable interest, combination of current/former spouse, or no survivor annuity. A full CSRS survivor annuity is 55 percent of the full annuity base, under FERS 50 percent. Additionally, you should consider the effects of any court order upon your annuity. In general, in order for your spouse to continue Federal Employees Health Benefits program coverage, you must elect a survivor annuity. Also, a survivor benefit must be provided in order for your spouse to be eligible to enroll in the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program after your death (although if he or she is already enrolled that coverage continues).
More on federal retirement survivor annuities at ask.FEDweek.com
Know Your Life and Health Insurance Options
You will be eligible to carry life and health insurance into retirement, if you retire on an immediate annuity, are insured on the date of retirement (or covered as a family member under the FEHB program), and have been covered for five years of service immediately preceding retirement, or since your first opportunity to enroll. If eligible for health insurance, your coverage will automatically roll over into retirement without any additional forms to be completed on your part. If you do not want health insurance to continue into retirement, you will need to send a completed SF 2809, canceling your coverage, along with your retirement package. If you’re eligible to continue life insurance into retirement, you will need to complete SF 2818, Continuation of Life Insurance as an Annuitant or Compensationer, and forward it with your retirement package.
Consider Thrift Savings Plan Withdrawal Options
You should begin to look at TSP withdrawal options at least six months to a year before your planned retirement date. You will have the option to receive one of several types of annuities, transfer your money to an individual retirement account, receive your account balance in a lump-sum payment, receive equal monthly installments, or a combination. But remember, in general you probably won’t have to make a withdrawal choice right away; you could simply leave the account in place while you considered the possibilities, until the year after you turn 70 ½, when certain minimum distributions are required. Also be aware that as a retiree you can continue to shift money among the funds, although you could not take out a loan or add new money to the account.
Do at least those five things well in advance of your retirement. And don’t leave them to the moment of impact!