You should begin planning for retirement at least a year ahead of the day you expect to retire. However, an early retirement offer, a “buyout,” or a RIF can motivate you to make a quick retirement decision. In either case, you need to wisely use the time you have to plan ahead.
If your agency offers a pre-retirement counseling seminar, take it. If it doesn’t, consider taking one offered by a private sector firm. In some cases, your agency will pay for it.
Get in touch with your agency’s benefits counselor and go through your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) to make sure that it documents all your federal employment (including any military service), the effective dates of each pay adjustment, your present health benefits and life insurance coverage, and any designations of beneficiaries you filed. If there is anything missing or inaccurate, the two of you can straighten it out.
If your OPF is up-to-date and accurate, verify when you’ll meet the age and service requirements to retire. Also check to see if you meet the requirements to carry your health benefits and/or life insurance coverage into retirement.
Next, ask for 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 owe any deposits for either prior civilian or military service when retirement deductions weren’t taken out of your pay or redeposits if you took a refund of your retirement deductions, you’ll need to find out what effect that will have on your annuity. If you decide to make a deposit or redeposit, you can get the form from your benefits counselor or download it at www.opm.gov, click on Forms, then click on Standard Forms and scroll down to SF 2803 (CSRS) or SF 3108 (FERS).
If you are currently receiving military retired pay, you’ll need to find out what effect that would have on your annuity. As a rule, you’ll have to waive your military retired pay and make a deposit for that time before you retire in order for that time to be included in your civilian annuity calculation. Under certain, limited circumstances, you may be able to receive both. Even then, you’ll have to make a deposit to get credit for that time.
If you owe any money to your agency, you’ll want to arrange a repayment schedule in order 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 need to know how that will affect your own benefit.
The last step is to fill out you retirement application. You can get a copy from your personnel office or download it at www.opm.gov, click on Forms, then click on Standard Forms and scroll down to SF 2801 (CSRS) or SF 3107 (FERS). After you’ve filled out the form, give the original to your benefits counselor for review and keep a copy for yourself. If everything checks out, you’ll be ready to retire on the date you’ve chosen.
Now you know what you have to do. Next week, I’ll fill you in your agency’s role.