With all the talk about sequestration, reduced budgets, and early-out and buyout offers, it would be surprising if even the youngest feds aren’t thinking ahead about retirement. If you are nearing eligibility to retire, there are things you can do to get ready. And the sooner you do them, the better off you’ll be when the moment arrives to leave.
In this column, I’ll tell you what to do if you’ve got the leisure to plan well ahead. In the next one, I’ll tell you what to do if time is short.
Ideally, you should plan five years ahead. That’s because you have to be continuously enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program for five years before you retire (or from your first opportunity to enroll).
While there isn’t any exception to the five-year rule for FEGLI, there is one for FEHBP. I’ll tell you about that in my next column.
To verify when you’ll meet the requirements for FEGLI and FEHBP enrollment, check with your personnel office, which should have a record of your enrollment history.
Once you’ve settled those two time-sensitive matters, you can take additional steps to make sure your path to a trouble-free retirement is clear:
Enroll in a pre-retirement seminar. There, you can learn about the timing and mechanics of retirement in less time than it takes to research those issues on your own. If your agency doesn’t offer a pre-retirement seminar, ask if it will pay for one conducted by a nongovernment provider. If not, consider paying for one yourself.
Meet with a benefits counselor in your personnel office to go through your Official Personnel Folder (OPF). Among other things, you need to find out when you’ll be eligible to retire. To determine that, you’ll need to be sure that all your periods of civilian and military service are recorded in your OPF. In most cases, your agency will have this information documented on a Standard Form 2801-1, Certified Summary of Federal Service.
If you have any periods of service when retirement deductions weren’t taken out of your salary or when you left government and took a refund on your contributions, you need to find out if a deposit or redeposit will be required for you to get credit for that time.
If you decide to do that, you’ll have more time to make the payments and avoid mounting interest. The same is true if you want to get credit for any active-duty military service.
If you haven’t set a specific date to retire, now is the time to find out what your annuity would look like under different departure scenarios. Most personnel offices can run the numbers using their own or someone else’s software.
Make sure your beneficiary designations are current. Although you can rely on the standard order of precedence, you are better off specifying who you want to receive those benefits. Keep in mind that different forms are used for a survivor annuity, FEGLI and your Thrift Savings Plan account.
Check with the Social Security Administration to find out if you will be eligible for a Social Security benefit and, if so, in what amount. The Social Security Administration website has calculators you can use to determine that. Civil Service Retirement System employees can check the site to determine any effects of the windfall elimination provision or government pension offset on their benefits.
Consider your options under the Thrift Savings Plan. Click here for information on managing your account, withdrawing your funds after leaving federal service, and TSP annuities.
As you get closer to retirement, go back to your personnel office and review your records. Make certain that any deposits or redeposits you’ve made to get credit for prior service have been included in your file. Update your designations of beneficiary in case something has changed in your life — for example, marriage, divorce or the death of a designee.
Pick a date to retire. Then fill out the Application for Immediate Retirement — SF 2801 for CSRS, SF 3107 for the Federal Employee Retirement System — and submit it to your personnel office.