Military service buy back

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Q. I retired as a master sergeant in the Army with 25 years of active-duty service. I currently collect my Army retirement check and disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs. I have been a FERS GG-12 for nine years. I believe I can buy back my military retirement time with interest and that would be added to my civilian FERS time. When do I have to relinquish my military retirement check: when I retire into FERS or when I have bought back my time?

A. Yes, you can make a deposit, plus accrued interest, to get credit for your active-duty service. You only need to waive your military retired pay when you get ready to retire. To see how that’s done, go to www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/csrsfers-handbook/c023.pdf and scroll to Section 23A2.1-3, which applies to both CSRS and FERS employees.

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About Author

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

12 Comments

  1. I retired in 2000 with 20 years. Started civil service in 2004 didn’t buy my retirement back until 2017. I retire end of this month that’s when my military retirement payments stop.

  2. REG,
    I see this question a lot here, just wondering why anyone with a military retirement check coming in would trade it for the purpose of buying back their time and ceasing what they have earned, wouldn’t a good suggestion be to keep their check and contribute as much as they can to the TSP.
    Just a thought.

    • If your retirement income would be greater, you should consider waiving your military retired pay when you retire from your civilian job. If it wouldn’t, you shouldn’t. Contributing the maximum amount to the TSP while working is always a good idea. However, if you were already doing that, it would have no bearing on your decision.

      • I just don’t see where its a smart move especially under the FERS guidelines approximately 1% per year to calculate annuity and military time can not be calculated in for the FERS supplement.
        Maybe if you retired military as an E-4 and then made it to a GS-13 or better maybe I could believe that.

        • As I just wrote to someone else, it’s a matter of dollars and cents. If combining your military and civilian service would produce a higher annual income, then you should waive your military retired pay. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t.

  3. Chuck-
    I retired an E-7 with 20 years of active service (DFAS) and I am rated at 40% disability VA). I crunched the numbers and it was worth paying back the $9K to combine my years at retirement from CS FERS.

    I believe the issue is what year you retired. I retired in 2000. The troops are making much more money now. I had a conversation with an Army E6 who retired, and it wasnt worth it for her.

    Everyones situation is different. If you crunch the numbers and it isnt beneficial, than you know what you need to do. For me, I could should the numbers to a child and it was a significant difference and made the right choice.

    Hope this helps.

    • Thanks for your helpful response. It’s what I’ve been saying all along. If the numbers work for you do it. If they don’t, don’t do it.

  4. James Joshua on

    I have 20 years of military service and receive military retirement. I’ve been in fers system for 10 years. I’ve always been told that buying back a military retirement wasn’t a good idea. Was i wrong to take that advice on face value and never double check? What steps do i need to accomplish to obtain all the facts necessary to find out if it would benefit me.

    • While I can tell you what you’d get if you made a deposit to get credit for that time, I can’t tell you how much it would cost you. If you made the deposit, you’d automatically have your years of service increased by 10 years and your annuity by 10 percent. To find out what you’d owe, complete OPM form RI 20-97, Estimated Earnings During Military Service, and mail it, along with a copy of your DD 214, to the military finance center for your branch of service. When you receive that estimate, take it to your payroll office, along with copies of your DD 214 and a Standard Form 3108, Application to Make Deposit or Redeposit, and ask for an estimate of the amount you’d owe, plus accrued interest. Once you have that information, you can decide if the benefit is worth the cost. (The OPM and Standard forms are available for download at http://www.opm.gov, cllick on Forms.)

    • I forgot to add that when you retire from your civilian job, you’d have to waive your military retired pay.

  5. Mickey Mitani on

    Reg, he would get 20 percent added to his annuity – I think you got his service and FERS times backwards.

    A quick ballpark way to help decide if your buy-back is reasonable.
    Take your yearly Military Retirement and divide by the years of Miltary service. The result is what a year of service earns – call it a Military Year. Then take your Federal Salary (Base plus Locality) and divide it by 100. This is what a year of FERS federal service (FERS Year) would earn if you retired now (unless you are over 62, then add a tenth to the value of the FERS Year). If the value of your Military Year is higher than the value of your FERS Year, then it is unlikely that you should buy back your time. This is provided that you are not expecting a grade increase or relocation to a higher locality pay area. The same if you plan on staying for enough years to get a few step increases before retiring – you need to recalculate the FERS year.
    Another consideration is if you are receiving VA Disability with a rating of 40% or less non-combat related so that your Military Retirement is reduced by the amount of the VA payment. If you waive your Military Retirement pay you are still entitled to the VA payment, so that needs to be considered. In my case, the FERS plus buy-back was $4K less per year than FERS and separate Military Retirement. But my VA disability was $7K per year (40% rating) so that it actually means that the FERS plus buy-back plus VA is $3K more a year than keep them separate. That would mean that after 5 years of retirement I would break even with my cost of the buy-back and then would be better off.

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