“Special category” employees include law enforcement officers, firefighters, and air traffic controllers. If you fall into one of those categories, you should be aware of the special rules that govern your retirement benefits.
Law Enforcement Officers and Firefighters. Law enforcement officers and firefighters may voluntarily retire if they are age 50 or older and have completed at least 20 years of such service. While retirement is mandatory at age 57, when it’s in the public interest an agency head can to make an exception until age 60.
Because their careers of law enforcement officers and firefighters are usually shorter than other employees, the formulas used to compute their retirement benefit are more generous. Those benefits are paid for through additional contributions by the employees and their agencies of an another half percentage point of salary.
To calculate your CSRS annuity, take 2.5 percent of your high-3 average pay and multiply the product by 20 years of law enforcement or firefighter service. Then take 2 percent of your high-3 times any remaining years of service. While you can’t add any unused sick leave to get you up to 20 years of service, it is added after that figure has been reached. Importantly, there is no annuity reduction for retiring before age 55.
To calculate your FERS annuity, take 1.7 percent of your high-3 average pay and multiply the product by 20 years of law enforcement or firefighter service. Then take 1 percent times any years over 20. Not only will there be no annuity reduction for retiring early but you will be eligible for the Special Retirement Supplement that approximates the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while covered under FERS.
Under both CSRS and FERS, you will be eligible for the annual cost-of-living adjustments paid to retirees regardless of the age at which you retire.
Air Traffic Controllers. Air traffic controllers operate under a different set of rules. For one thing, generally they must be separated from the service on the last day of the month in which they become age 56. There are limited exceptions.
ATCs are entitled to optional retirement at age 50 with 20 years of service as an ATC or at any age with 25 years as an ATC. The annuities of retiring ATCs covered by CSRS are calculated in the same way as they are for all other CSRS employees. However, ATCs are guaranteed an annuity of no less that 50 percent of their high-3 average pay. There is no annuity reduction for being under age 55.
ATCs covered by FERS have their annuities calculated the same way as those for law enforcement and firefighters: 1.7 percent of high-3 pay times 20 years of service and 1 percent times all years over 20. Just as with law enforcement officers and firefighters, there is no annuity reduction for retiring early, and you will be eligible for the Special Retirement Supplement as mentioned above.