A decision on when to retire can be guided in part by some common-sense principles regarding when you should not retire.
First, don’t retire on an impulse, for example, when you’re angry at someone or fed up with the job. In all likelihood, you’ll live to regret it. It’s far better to retire to something than to retire to get away from something.
Second, don’t retire unless you are sure that you have been given credit for all your years of federal service — both civilian and military, if applicable. Don’t neglect to include bits of creditable civilian service such as from employment when in high school or college.
Third, don’t retire if you haven’t evaluated your future financial needs and probable income to verify that you’ll be able to maintain your standard of living. Having to cut corner after corner in retirement can take the shine off those “golden years.”
Fourth, don’t retire if you haven’t been covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits program for the most recent five years (or from your first opportunity to enroll). If you do, you’ll be losing out on one of the greatest benefits available to federal retirees. The exceptions to this requirement are very rare. (The same five-year rule applies to the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance program, which may or may not be as important to you.)
Fifth, don’t retire unless you have checked out all the options and timings. To do that you will need professional help, not water-cooler advice. You can get such help from the benefits officers in your personnel office, government agency websites, or private sector specialists.
Sixth, if you are married (or have a special someone), don’t retire unless you have discussed it with that person. That old saw, “I married you for better or worse but not for lunch,” has a measure of truth in it. Accommodations will need to be made and the implications of that need to be worked on before you start being together 24/7.
Seventh, don’t retire if you feel like you’re walking the plank and facing a life without purpose. As noted in the first point above, it’s far better to retire to something. That something can be another job, starting a business, perfecting a hobby, travel, volunteer work, etc. The common question, “What do you do?” needs an answer that makes you feel good about yourself when you are retired.