Reg Jones Expert's View

If you already have the years and service needed to retire, this is the time of year when you may be thinking seriously about doing it in the not too distant future. Around the turn of the year is a very common time for federal employees to retire, for reasons I’ve explained in past columns, and anyone serious about retiring in only a matter of months should be taking certain steps now, if they haven’t already.

In order to help you avoid any of the common mistakes that can be made, I thought it would be a good idea to spell out the most obvious pitfalls and errors and offer some suggestions about how you can avoid them. I’ll start with one of the most common mistakes – trying to do it all on your own – and fill you in on others during the next three weeks.

Don’t assume that you can plan for retirement without outside help. The federal retirement system is a lot more complicated than you might think. There are details in law and regulation that can easily trip you up.

Among the most complex are those that govern the creditability of certain kinds of service. You may think that you’re entitled to credit for a period of time when you worked for the government only to find out that you’re not. That could mean that you don’t have enough service to retire or, if you are eligible to retire, that your annuity will be smaller than you have been thinking.

On the other hand, you might be eligible to retire but neglect to include a period of service that is creditable. If that’s the case, you might be basing your thinking on an annuity amount that is less than you’re entitled to.

To avoid outcomes like that, you should attend a pre-retirement counseling seminar where they will present the details, or at least give you enough information to know a closer look is needed. Many agencies offer them, especially when they are planning to reorganize or downsize. Even if your agency isn’t offering one, they may be willing to pay for a course offered by an outside provider. If they won’t, consider paying for one yourself.