Q. I am gathering information for my federal agency to ascertain how much it will cost me to buy back some or all of my military time. I can’t imagine that my case is unusual, but I haven’t found anyone in my agency who knows or is forthcoming enough to respond to my questions until I have all my documentation in hand. I would really appreciate the answers to a few things before I present them with my paperwork.
I have had several periods of long- (up to four years) and short-term (single days) active duty over a 30-year career spent mostly in the Army Reserve. I had three separate periods of exempt federal service positions at the GS-12 to GS-15 levels. The first six-year period followed my initial four years of active duty. Then, four years later, I had another 2½ years, which were interrupted by a 365-day stint of active duty for training (at the Army War College). Then I had an 11-year break from federal service and performed quite a bit of active duty during that period, including a 16-month mobilization. I retired from the Reserves before beginning my current federal civilian service. I have just now returned to federal civilian service and expect to work for five to 10 years before I retire completely.
My first hurdle is getting the exact dates of 364 active-duty points performed from 1982 (when I left active duty) to 1994 (when HRC started keeping track of the points details). I have made a request to DFAS for the dates of duty, many of which were, as I mentioned, a day here, two days there, two weeks, etc. I have every date for 1994-2008.
I understand there is a rule about buying back the time without interest. I thought it was two years upon beginning civilian service, but your article mentioned three years. Has it changed, or was I just misinformed? And, say I performed periods of active duty from 1993 to 2000 and served as a government civilian from 1998-2000 but did not buy back any time. Then, in 2012, as I once again begin federal service, am I am already way past the no-interest grace period because I did not exercise my option to buy back military service when I had the opportunity in 1998-2000? If yes, will I owe interest from 1993 to the present or only from 1998-2000? That is, is the interest tolled when I was not employed as a federal civilian? Or does the two-year (or three-year) period start anew now that I have started a new period of civilian service? You mentioned various interest rates over the years, with the range for FERS being a low of 2.25 percent to a high of 3.4 percent. For example, your article said that for 2000, it was 3.4 percent. So, if this year I bought back time for duty performed in 2000, is the interest rate 3.4 percent rather than the current rate of 2.25 percent? That is, does the interest rate attach to the year the payment is being made or to the year in which the duty was performed? Or does it happen in some other manner? Also, is there any provision for repaying for time once paid for? I paid for my four years of active duty from 1978-1982 during my federal service from 1987-1993 and (foolishly) had the money refunded to me when I left federal service. I believe the answer is “I blew it,” but is there hope? I will be grateful if you can shed light on any of my questions!
A. You’ll have to start by completing Form RI 20-97, Estimated Earnings During Military Service, and mail it to the military finance center for your branch of service, along with a copy of your DD Form(s) 214, Report of Transfer or Discharge. The completed form will be returned to you showing your estimated earnings for each period of service. Take that letter, a copy of your DD 214(s) and a Standard Form 2803 (CSRS) or 3108 (FERS) to your local payroll office and ask them to give you an estimate of the deposit required. They’ll figure out how much you owe, at which point you can decide whether or not to make a deposit and if you want to make it in a lump sum or a series of payments. Because you have a number of periods of active duty service, you can even select the ones where you want to make a deposit. Interest rates are cumulative and begin one day short of three years after you are FIRST hired by the federal government.
Note: The RI and Standard Forms are available at www.opm.gov, click on Find Form(s).