Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Disability retirement

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Q. I work for the Air Force, and I have 35 years of actual service under CSRS and I am 62. I have confirmed from OPM that I can apply for disability retirement within a year after retiring and start receiving annuity payments. I have had FEHB for only one year so the regular retirement will not allow me to keep FEHB (five-year rule). Can I apply for disability retirement before my regular retirement, or do I have to wait until after I retire to apply? Read the rest of this entry »

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FERS annuity

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Q. I have 20 years of federal service, am 52 years old and currently work for a Federally Funded Research and Development Center. When I separated from federal employment, I was told I have an annuity based on my employment years (contributions made).

A. Assuming that you didn’t get a refund of your retirement contributions when you left, you’d be entitled to a deferred annuity at age 60.

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Cumulative Retirement

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Q. Item 19 of the LES has “Cumulative Retirement” FERS:
What exactly does this number mean? Is it just a total amount in FERS, or something else? Monthly or yearly amount at retirement?

A. It tells you how much you’ve contributed to the retirement system.

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Military service time

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Q. I served eight years in the Navy Reserve and was honorably discharged. How do those years count toward retirement if I become employed by a federal agency?

A. Only time where you were called to active duty in the service of the U.S. would be creditable, and then only if you made a deposit for that time.

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Buyback on terminal leave

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Q. I have 28 years of active-duty service in the Navy. I am on terminal leave and just started working as a civilian federal employee. Can I buy back my military service while on terminal leave to get credit in the federal service without losing my military retirement once my terminal leave is over and I am fully retired from the military? Read the rest of this entry »

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Seniority

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Q. Does a person have seniority when two people in the same section are applying for the same job? Both have the same experience, one from active duty and retired from active duty of 23 years. But he will only have two years as a federal employee in August 2014. The other has 12 years federal service and 11 years active duty. Both are a GS-07 and looking to apply for a GS-09. I realize management has the right to hire anyone who they feel is qualified. Read the rest of this entry »

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Deposits and redeposits, part 1

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Based on the mail I’ve been getting, there’s a lot of confusion about the rules governing deposits and redeposits to get credit for prior service in determining your eligibility to retire and having that time used in your annuity computation when you retire. In this column, I’ll deal with the rules that apply to Civil Service Retirement System and CSRS Offset employees. In my next column, I’ll do the same for Federal Employees Retirement System employees.

Deposits

The term “nondeduction service” applies to any period of federal government employment where retirement deductions weren’t taken from your pay. If you are a CSRS and CSRS Offset employee, you can make a deposit to get credit for that nondeduction service. The deposit equals the amount of the contributions you would have made to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund if your job been covered by CSRS, plus accrued interest.

Retirement eligibility

If you are covered by CSRS or CSRS Offset when you retire, most kinds of federal government employment that aren’t covered by CSRS count toward the years of service needed to be eligible to retire. That includes federal government employment where only Social Security deductions were taken from your pay. It also includes employment covered by another federal retirement system, such as the Foreign Service, as long as you aren’t receiving any benefits for that time under the other system.

Annuity computation

When you performed that nondeduction service has a significant effect on the way it will be treated.

If you had any nondeduction service before Oct. 1, 1982, you’ll get credit for that time in determining your eligibility to retire; however, unless you make a deposit, your annuity will be reduced by 10 percent of the amount you would have paid into the fund, plus interest.

If you had any nondeduction service on or after Oct. 1, 1982, it, too, will be creditable for determining your eligibility to retire; however, if you don’t make a deposit to get credit for that time, it won’t be used in the computation of your annuity.

Redeposits

With one important exception, if you ever separated from the federal government, took a refund of your CSRS retirement contributions, and later returned, you’ll have to redeposit that money, plus accrued interest, before the time can be used in the computation of your annuity. However, if you don’t make the redeposit, you will still get credit for the time in determining your length of service for retirement, as well as for determining your “high-3.” Your high-3, is the average of your three highest consecutive years of average pay, regardless of when they occurred in your career.

Here’s the exception: If you received a CSRS refund covering a period of service that ended before Oct. 1, 1991, you won’t have to pay the redeposit if you don’t want to. You’ll receive full credit for it in your annuity computation (unless you retire on disability). However, your annuity will be actuarially reduced based on your age and the amount of the redeposit you owe, including interest, on the day you retire.

Contribution rates

Beginning with the first pay period in January 1970, the contribution rate for CSRS has been 7 percent (7.5 percent for law enforcement officers and firefighters beginning with the first pay period in January 1975). If the nondeduction service you performed was before that date, the contribution rate will be lower.

Interest rates

Interest for pre-Oct. 1, 1982 nondeduction service earned before Oct. 1, 1982 (and refunded service if the application for a refund was made on or after that date) equals 3 percent. Interest for nondeduction and refunded service on or after Oct. 1, 1982 equals 3 percent through Dec. 31, 1984. Thereafter, a variable rate is applied. (In 1985 the rate reached an all-time high of 13 percent. In 2014 it’s at an all-time low of 1.625 percent, the same as it was in 2013.)

If you owe any deposits or redeposits, go to www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf-2803.pdf and download a copy of Standard Form 2803, Application to Make Deposits or Redeposits. Once you’ve filled it out, take it to your personnel office. When they tell you how much you owe, you can decide if it’s worth the cost.

To help you make that decision, use the following formula: 0.015 x your high-3 x 5 years of service, plus 0.0175 x your high-3 x 5 years of service, plus 0.02 x your high-3 x all remaining years and full months of service.

As you can see, if you have over 10 years of actual CSRS service, each additional month of credit your get by making a deposit or redeposit is worth 1/6 percent. That’s 2 percent per year.

If you decide to make the deposit, you can pay it in a lump sum or set up a payment schedule, with payments as low as $50 a month. Just remember. The longer you wait to complete the payment, the more you’ll have to pay in interest.

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance programs at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related qustions to fedexperts@federaltimes.com, and view his blog at blogs.federaltimes.com/ federal-retirement.

Taking benefits retroactively

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Q. As a younger federal employee with seven years in, I’m left wondering how I can plan for retirement with Congress constantly threatening to not only change contribution amounts, but benefit payouts. What, if any, limits does Congress face in reducing pensions? Since I’ve already worked 7 years and both I and my employer made contributions during that time, isn’t there an account somewhere with money deposited in my name? Or can Congress come in when I’m 61 and decide to vacate entirely the pension I’ve already earned? I understand changes in calculation of payout growth like what the military has faced, but the Simpson-Bowles Commission, for instance, proposed changing from 1 to 0.7 percent salary payout per year worked. Would that only be for new employees, new years worked, or retroactive? Put simply, is anything in my pension statement legally guaranteed, or can it all be taken away after the work is done? Read the rest of this entry »

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Re-employment

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Q. I am a FERS retiree since 2003. May I work as a temporary fire lookout for the same agency?

A. There is nothing that would prevent you from being rehired by your former agency if it wanted to do so. However, you need to find out what the effect of taking that job would be. As a rule, the salary of a re-employed annuitant would be reduced by the amount of his annuity. If that turns out to be the case with the temporary lookout position, you’d end up working for nothing.

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Re-employment after disability retirement

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Q. I was removed from my agency due to becoming “Medically Unqualified” after 4 years, 9 months under FERS and given disability retirement in 2007. I am considering returning to federal service with a job at the Defense Department. With the disability retirement, I understand that if I maintain the retirement until I am age 62, the time I was on disability retirement would count as time in service for computing my regular retirement. Does that mean the time I have been a disability annuitant will count as service time for a new federal job? Would I/could I buy back the time? I understand my annuity will cease on the date of re-employment. Read the rest of this entry »

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Social Security and pension reduction

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Q. In 2009, I took the postal clerk buyout and retired. I am under CSRS with 32 years with 2 years of military Service included. When military buyback was offered some 25 years ago, I passed. In 2009, the same buyback was almost $10,000 so I passed on that. I am working and will have 37 credits of eligibility toward Social Security at the end of this year. If I continue and become Social Security eligible, how much of my monthly pension will I lose?

A. If you become eligible for a Social Security benefit, you won’t lose a penny of your CSRS annuity. However, your Social Security benefit will be subject to the windfall elimination provision. The WEP reduces the Social Security benefit of anyone who has fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security.

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Matching contributions

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Q. I’m a CSRS employee with more than 41 years of service and plan to continue my federal employment well beyond 41 years. I understand that CSRS employees contribute 7 percent of their salary into the retirement fund and that the government matches that 7 percent contribution into the fund. I’m told that, after completing 41 years, 11 months of service, I will reach the maximum annuity benefit of 80 percent. At that point, the 7 percent retirement contributions will continue to be taken from my pay and placed into an interest bearing account to be refunded when I retire. When that happens, does the government continue to pay its matching 7 percent contribution into the interest bearing account as well? Read the rest of this entry »

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Comp time

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Q. When I retire, will i get paid for compensatory time?

A. Any comp time you have to your credit when you retire will be paid at the hourly rate in effect when it was earned.

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Retirement age

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Q. I am a federal law enforcement officer. I am aware that I can retire at age 50 if I have 20 years experience in a primary law enforcement officer position. If I have 20-plus years primary law enforcement officer experience, but separate from the government at age 47 or 48, can I still receive benefits beginning at age 50?  Would I still be able to receive my pension, health benefits, etc., beginning upon my 50th birthday? Or am I required to work for the government up until my 50th birthday?

A. If you don’t wait until age 50 but instead resign, you’d be eligible for a deferred retirement at your minimum retirement age. MRAs range between 55 and 57, depending on your year of birth.

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Deposits and redeposits, part 1

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Based on the mail I’ve been getting, there’s a lot of confusion about the rules governing deposits and redeposits to get credit for prior service in determining your eligibility to retire and having that time used in your annuity computation when you retire. In this column, I’ll deal with the rules that apply to Civil Service Retirement System and CSRS Offset employees. In my next column, I’ll do the same for Federal Employees Retirement System employees.

Deposits

The term “nondeduction service” applies to any period of federal government employment where retirement deductions weren’t taken from your pay. If you are a CSRS and CSRS Offset employee, you can make a deposit to get credit for that nondeduction service. The deposit equals the amount of the contributions you would have made to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund if your job been covered by CSRS, plus accrued interest.

Retirement eligibility

If you are covered by CSRS or CSRS Offset when you retire, most kinds of federal government employment that aren’t covered by CSRS count toward the years of service needed to be eligible to retire. That includes federal government employment where only Social Security deductions were taken from your pay. It also includes employment covered by another federal retirement system, such as the Foreign Service, as long as you aren’t receiving any benefits for that time under the other system.

Annuity computation

When you performed that nondeduction service has a significant effect on the way it will be treated.

If you had any nondeduction service before Oct. 1, 1982, you’ll get credit for that time in determining your eligibility to retire; however, unless you make a deposit, your annuity will be reduced by 10 percent of the amount you would have paid into the fund, plus interest.

If you had any nondeduction service on or after Oct. 1, 1982, it, too, will be creditable for determining your eligibility to retire; however, if you don’t make a deposit to get credit for that time, it won’t be used in the computation of your annuity.

Redeposits

With one important exception, if you ever separated from the federal government, took a refund of your CSRS retirement contributions, and later returned, you’ll have to redeposit that money, plus accrued interest, before the time can be used in the computation of your annuity. However, if you don’t make the redeposit, you will still get credit for the time in determining your length of service for retirement, as well as for determining your “high-3.” Your high-3 is the average of your three highest consecutive years of pay, regardless of when they occurred in your career.

Here’s the exception: If you received a CSRS refund covering a period of service that ended before Oct. 1, 1991, you won’t have to pay the redeposit if you don’t want to. You’ll receive full credit for it in your annuity computation (unless you retire on disability). However, your annuity will be actuarially reduced based on your age and the amount of the redeposit you owe, including interest, on the day you retire.

Contribution rates

Beginning with the first pay period in January 1970, the contribution rate for CSRS has been 7 percent (7.5 percent for law enforcement officers and firefighters beginning with the first pay period in January 1975). If the nondeduction service you performed was before that date, the contribution rate will be lower.

Interest rates

Interest for nondeduction service earned before Oct. 1, 1982 (and refunded service if the application for a refund was made on or after that date) equals 3 percent. Interest for nondeduction and refunded service on or after Oct. 1, 1982 equals 3 percent through Dec. 31, 1984. Thereafter, a variable rate is applied. (In 1985 the rate reached an all-time high of 13 percent. In 2014 it’s at an all-time low of 1.625 percent, the same as it was in 2013.)

If you owe any deposits or redeposits, go to www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf-2803.pdf and download a copy of Standard Form 2803, Application to Make Deposits or Redeposits. Once you’ve filled it out, take it to your personnel office. When they tell you how much you owe, you can decide if it’s worth the cost.

To help you make that decision, use the following formula: 0.015 x your high-3 x 5 years of service, plus 0.0175 x your high-3 x 5 years of service, plus 0.02 x your high-3 x all remaining years and full months of service.

As you can see, if you have over 10 years of actual CSRS service, each additional month of credit your get by making a deposit or redeposit is worth 1/6 percent. That’s 2 percent per year.

If you decide to make the deposit, you can pay it in a lump sum or set up a payment schedule, with payments as low as $50 a month. Just remember. The longer you wait to complete the payment, the more you’ll have to pay in interest.

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance programs at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to fedexperts@federaltimes.com, and view his blog at blogs.federaltimes.com/ federal-retirement.

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Creditable service

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Q. I received nine years creditable service for Annual Leave accrual for non-federal work experience when first hired for federal service. A friend of mine recently told me that the creditable service will also be factored into my CSRS retirement date. For example, if I plan on retiring after 30 years of service, I would only need to work an additional 21 years for the government. I cannot seem to find anything on the internet to support his claim. Can you tell me if my friend is correct?

A: Your friend is mistaken. You wouldn’t receive any credit for that time in determining your eligibility to retire.

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Retirement penalty

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Q. If a VERA/VSIP is offered next year, will I be able to retire without penalty? I will have 29 years of creditable service as of Jan. 23. I will be 56.

A. Yes.

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COLA, FERS increase

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Q. When I retire (I will be at my MRA and 31-1/2 years on Dec. 31, 2015) and start receiving the Social Security FERS Supplement, and I start my retirement for 2016, do I receive the Social Security COLA and the FERS percentage increase each year?

A. Neither your annuity nor your special retirement aupplement would be increased by COLAs. Your annuity would first be increased by COLAs when you reach age 62. At age 62 your SRS would end and you’d be eligible for a Social Security benefit.

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Unused annual leave

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Q. I am considering retirement under the MRA+10 provision and postponing my annuity until I reach age 62. If I follow this course, am I eligible to sell back any unused annual leave without penalty?

A. Your unused annual leave will automatically be paid to you in a lump sum when you separate from the government.

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Unused leave

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Q. How soon would I receive my lump-sum payment for unused annual leave when I retire?

A. Only your agency payroll office can answer that question.

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