With all the turbulence going on in the federal government – downsizing, right-sizing, increases in the amount of retirement deductions for new and some returning employees, the prospect of even higher retirement deductions for all, etc. – many employees who don’t have the age and service requirements needed to retire have asked me, “Is it better to jump ship?” And they’ve followed is up by asking, “If I do, will I be eligible for any retirement benefits in the future?” While I can’t answer the first question, I can answer the second one.

If you leave government before being eligible to retire, you’d be eligible to receive a deferred annuity if you 1) didn’t take a refund of your contributions when you left, and 2) had a minimum of five years of creditable service under either CSRS or FERS. Under both retirement systems, you’d be eligible for a deferred annuity at age 62; under FERS, you’d be eligible at age 60, if you had at least 20 years of service.

The amount of your annuity would depend on your total years and full months of service and your highest three consecutive years of average salary—your high-3. Regardless of how much you were entitled to, it would be paid to you every month for the rest of your life. You would also have the option of electing a survivor benefit for your spouse. Then if you died before your spouse died, your widow(er) would receive that benefit for as long as he or she lives.

Deferred annuities are computed in the same way as regular annuities. However, any unused sick leave hours you had to your credit when you left wouldn’t be added to your years of service when your deferred annuity is computed. And the high-3 used would be the one you had when you left government. It wouldn’t be increased by any pay raises or cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) that occurred after you left. So, the greater the distance between the time you leave and the day you are eligible for a deferred annuity, the more inflation will have taken its toll on your benefit.

One more piece of bad news. Even if you were enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) or the Federal Employees’ Life Insurance (FEGLI) programs for the five consecutive years before you left government, you won’t be able to reenroll in either of them.

If you leave government and are later 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 you can download a copy by going to www.opm.gov/forms. Mail the completed form to OPM no earlier than two months before you reach age 62 (age 60 if you were covered by FERS and had at least 20 years of service). Your deferred annuity will begin on your birthday. If you apply after that, your annuity will be paid retroactive to the day on which you first became eligible for a deferred annuity.