Remarriage after retirement


This is my follow–up question to your answer below on Sept. 28.

Q. When I retired five years ago I was then divorced and did not arrange for any spousal survivor benefits. If  I elect to marry or remarry, how would my pension be affected?

A. If you were to marry, you would have two years to elect a survivor annuity for your new spouse. If you did, there would be two reductions in your annuity. The first would be the standard deduction to provide a survivor annuity, the amount to be determined by whether you elected a full or a partial survivor annuity. The second would be a permanent actuarial reduction. The deposit equals the difference between the new annuity rate and the annuity paid to you for each month since retirement, plus 6 percent interest. The amount is determined by dividing the amount of the deposit by an actuarial factor for your age on the date your annuity is reduced.

If you were to remarry the same person you were married to when you retired, the rules are very different. If that person agreed to either no survivor annuity or a partial survivor annuity, you wouldn’t be able to elect a survivor annuity that was greater than the one you elected at retirement. If none was elected, then you wouldn’t be able to elect one when you remarried. On the other hand, if you were divorced before you retired, the rules stated in the first paragraph apply.

The follow-up is this: Could you describe exactly how the formula is created for the repayment with the 6 percent penalty?  Also, you should describe that the repayment is an actuarial deduction and the retiree does not have to send a lump-sum payment into OPM.  I have read it is generally a 5 percent overall reduction in annuity. Correct? Which in a few years may be recovered if we ever get a retiree cola back. Correct Again?

A. While it might be interesting to know how the repayment and 6 percent interest penalty are calculated, I have to rely on what OPM provides in the CSRS and FERS Handbook for Personnel and Payroll Offices, which is what I wrote in my answer.

It seemed clear to me that an actuarial reduction in an annuity is just that. However, if I use that phrase in the future, I’ll be sure to make clear that a lump sum payment to OPM isn’t required.
I’ve heard various percentages bandied about as the overall reduction in an annuity; however, I’ve never seen any data that confirms 5 percent as a reliable average. As for making up the loss through COLAs, you’ll always be behind where you would have been if you hadn’t made an election. You will, however, eventually arrive at an annuity that equals the amount you would have been paid in the first year after you made the election. When that will be is even less predictable now, because there was no COLA in 2010 and unlikely to be one in 2011.

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Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to

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