You’ve all heard about the Office of Personnel Management’s problems in getting newly retired employees on the annuity roll in a timely manner. While some of the fault lies at OPM, other roadblocks are at work here.
Sheer volume is one of them, with early-outs and buyouts generating floods of retirement applications. Of equal importance is the uneven quality of the paperwork OPM receives. If your application is incomplete or includes contradictory information, it can delay the processing of your case.
In this column, I’ll talk about what you can do to increase the likelihood that your application will be processed quickly.
Planning pays off. If possible, begin at least a year ahead of your planned retirement date. If you must act faster, for example, to respond to a time-limited buyout or early-out offer, use what time you have wisely.
There’s nothing worse than making a last-minute decision, only to learn that either you aren’t eligible to retire or you are eligible but will get much less in your annuity than you thought or you won’t be eligible to carry your health benefits or life insurance into retirement.
First, if your agency offers a pre-retirement counseling seminar, sign up at least a year ahead if possible. If your organization doesn’t provide a course, consider enrolling in one offered by a private firm. Be sure to check the staff’s credentials to make sure they understand the federal retirement system. In some cases, your agency will pay for the seminar.
Second, meet with one of your agency’s benefits counselors to go through your official personnel folder (OPF), which should include documentation of all your federal employment, including any military service; effective dates of each adjustment to your pay; and records of your health benefits and life insurance coverage, with up-to-date beneficiary designations.
If your OPF is accurate, ask the counselor to verify when you’re eligible to retire and whether you’re eligible to carry your health and life insurance into retirement. If something is missing or incorrect, work with the counselor to straighten things out.
Third, ask the counselor to estimate what your annuity would be and, if you are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System, what your special retirement supplement would be. If you haven’t settled on an exact date to retire, you can have your annuity calculated for different dates.
If you owe money to the retirement fund — to get credit for work during which your agency did not take retirement contributions out of your pay or to redeposit contributions you took out — ask what the impact would be on your annuity of making or not making the payment. If you decide to make a payment, the counselor can tell you how to do so.
Fourth, if you receive military retired pay, set up another meeting with your counselor, ideally six months before you are ready to retire. You’ll want to assess the impact of military retired pay on your civilian annuity. Under limited circumstances, you may be able to receive both. However, in most cases, you’ll have to waive military retired pay. In either case, you’ll have to make a deposit for your active duty time to get credit for it in your civilian annuity calculation.
While you don’t have to waive any reserve retired pay, you may have to make a deposit for any periods of active-duty service to get credit for them in your annuity calculation.
Also, if you owe money to your agency, arrange a repayment schedule so that your annuity isn’t offset to recoup the debt.
Fifth, several months ahead of your planned retirement date, fill out the “Application for Immediate Retirement” form for your retirement system. These are available from your benefits counselor and at OPM’s website. Give a copy to your benefits counselor and keep a copy for yourself. The counselor will review the forms and let you know if questions or problems arise.
Once the paperwork is done and you’ve confirmed your retirement date, you can enjoy whatever time remains.
While a year of planning sounds like a lot of time, it isn’t if you have had anything other than an uncomplicated career spent in one agency.