Q. I have 13 years of service as a Secret Service special agent under FERS.
I am considering leaving the service at 20 years, but I will be only 43. If I understand correctly, I must maintain a government job until age 50 to receive a retirement package that would give me a 41 percent retirement benefit (34 percent from my Secret Service time and 7 percent from the other government work from age 43-50) plus the full FERS special retirement supplement, as well as being able to maintain my FEHB. Is that true? Am I giving anything up by doing that? Do I have to have uninterrupted service with the government, or is it OK to take a couple of years off? Does it have to be full-time employment, or can it be part time? Basically, I have done an excellent job of saving, and I’m trying to figure out a way to get away from the wear and tear of this job after only 20 years and maintain the bulk of my retirement benefits.
A. In answer to your first question, yes. If you work to age 50 in either a covered or noncovered position, you will be able to retire and receive the enhanced annuity benefit for 20 years of service and the standard benefit for all remaining years of service. Assuming that you’re covered by the FEHB program for the five consecutive years before you retire, you’ll be able to carry that coverage into retirement.
If you decide to leave government with 20 years of covered service and don’t return, you’ll be entitled to an annuity at your minimum retirement age, which will be computed using the enhanced formula. But you won’t be able to re-enroll in the FEHB program.
If you leave and then return, you will be picking up where you left off. However, if your basic pay — either full-time or part-time — is lower than what you were receiving when you left, it will affect your high-3 and could result in a reduced annuity. When you reach age 50, you’ll be able to retire immediately. However, if you return only so you can retire, your new employer will have every right to be angry at having been duped into wasting a lot of precious time to hire you.
As for FEHB coverage, if you were enrolled on the day you left government, re-enrolled when you returned and had five years of combined coverage, you could carry that coverage into retirement.