Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Windfall elimination provision

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Q. I retired in 2006 under CSRS as an air traffic controller. I had 33 years of government service between the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration. I started receiving Social Security disability payments this month. I receive a periodic statement from the Social Security Administration stating what my benefits are and how much I would receive each month. The statement showed $1,200 a month. I receive $705 a month instead. I’ve earned enough credits working prior to and after my CSRS career. Why am I penalized when I have earned both benefits in my opinion?

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Terminated before retirement

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Q. I was an air traffic controller. My Federal Aviation Administration hire date was Sept. 30, 1990. I was terminated March 8 — 261 days from being eligible for retirement because I lost my medical. My 50th birthday is Nov. 24. I have over 22 years of “good time” and five years of military time, which I bought back, for a total of 27 years of government service. The FAA says I can file for a disability retirement, but otherwise I am entitled to nothing. Can this be right? Even if I get the disability retirement, it will be less than what I would have received at age 50.

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Waiver for mandatory retirement age?

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Q. Are there any situations and/or waivers that would allow someone under FERS to continue to work after reaching mandatory retirement age?

A. CSRS and FERS law enforcement officers and firefighters are subject to mandatory retirement at age 57 if they have 20 years of service. An agency head can retain an LEO until age 60 if he finds that the employee’s continued service is in the public interest. The FBI has limited authority to raise the age to 65. While a CSRS LEO can be retained above age 60, it may only do so with the Office of Personnel Management’s permission. A FERS LEO may only be retained with the permission of the president.

Air traffic controllers must be separated from the service on the last day of the month in which they become age 56. However, that requirement doesn’t apply to someone appointed as an ATC by the Department of Transportation before May 16, 1972, or by the Defense Department before Sept. 12, 1980.

Foreign service officers are mandatorily retired at age 65.

There isn’t any mandatory retirement age for regular CSRS and FERS employees.

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Mandatory retirement age

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Q. What is the mandatory retirement age to retire from the federal government? I just turned 52 years old and will have 28 years of federal service in June. How many years can I work to reach the mandatory retirement age? What happens when I reach the mandatory retirement age and I decide not to retire at that time?

A. With the exception of special category employees, such as law enforcement officers, firefighters and air traffic controllers, there is no mandatory retirement age for federal employees.

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Phased retirement

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Q. Who is eligible for phased retirement under the bill that Congress passed that will allow retirement-eligible federal employees to work part time?

A. The law applies to anyone who has met the age and service requirements to retire on an unreduced annuity except for law enforcement officers — including Customs and Border Protection, Capitol Police and Supreme Court officers — firefighters, nuclear materials couriers and air traffic controllers, all of whom face a mandatory retirement age. However, the decision on whether to use the new authority rests solely with the employee’s agency.

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FERS retirement

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Q. Can I apply for an air traffic controller FERS retirement even if I am not employed by the federal government? I left the FAA OCT in 2009 and was 47. I resigned in good standing and left only for personal reasons.

I am now 50 with more than 21 years of good air traffic controller time. I was hired by the FAA in 1988 and also have 6½ years’ Air Force time. I have also paid back my military service. I now receive Social Security for disability. Does this impact my eligibility for FERS? What do I do?

A. You would be eligible for an enhanced annuity based on your 20 years of air traffic controller service when you reach your minimum retirement age, which in your case appears to be 56 years and two months. The remaining air traffic controller service and the active-duty service for which you made a deposit would be calculated using the standard formula. The fact that you are receiving Social Security disability benefits would have no effect on your entitlement to a FERS annuity.

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Work after being an air traffic controller

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Q. I am an air traffic controller who will be forced to retire in one year at age 56. Are there other federal agencies I can transfer into and retain my benefits (vacation/sick leave), and even perhaps my current pay, before I reach mandatory retirement age under the FAA?

A. There may be such opportunities, but you’ll have to find them on your own. Start by going to www.USAjobs.gov. That’s where you’ll find an inventory of positions agencies are hoping to fill. If they match your skills and abilities and meet the pay criteria you’ve set, you can apply for them.

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Air traffic controller mandatory retirement

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Q. I am an air traffic controller subject to mandatory retirement at age 56. I am under FERS. When I reach age 56, I will not have 20 years of service. Can I continue as a controller until I reach my 20 years of service even though I will be past age 56?

A. Yes.

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Forced retirement and special retirement supplement

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Q. I am a federal air traffic controller facing forced retirement at age 56. There is a Social Security “bridge” supplement to cover the  gap between 56 and the age when I can draw full Social Security. Is any portion of my retirement subject to earning restrictions?

A. Yes. Your special retirement supplement will be reduced or suspended if you earn more from wages or self-employment in a calendar year than the annual Social Security earnings limit. In 2012, that limit is $14,640.

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Air traffic controller and creditable service

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Q. I am an air traffic controller under FERS who will retire with 25 years of service at age 49. I also have five years of military service that I’ve bought back, bringing my total to 30 years. I’m unclear on the manner in which my military service will be calculated in my retirement annuity. One possibility would be to declare military service time as part of the 30-year requirement to convert all the years values to 1.7 percent, instead of 1.7 percent for the first 20, then 1 percent after that. The legal language has historically read “30 years of creditable service,” and service time has been allowed. However, Section 226 of PL 108-176, Aviation Reauthorization Act, now reads as “30 years of service.”  That would lead me to believe that military time will only count after the 30-year requirement has been satisfied. The wording seems ambiguous and I cannot find any clear guidance towards solving this issue. Do I need 30 years of Federal Aviation Administration service, then add my five military years, or can I go at 25 years and add the military time to complete the requirement?

A. I can find nothing in the law that would alter the standard way of calculating an annuity for an air traffic controller covered by FERS: 0.017 x high-3 x 20 years of covered service + 0.01 x high-3 x all remaining years and full months of service (whether covered, noncovered or acquired through deposit for active-duty service). As far as I know, nothing has changed the parallel annuity computation provisions for law enforcement officers, firefighter and air traffic controllers.

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Social Security supplement back pay

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Q. I am an air traffic controller and will be retiring at the end of May at age 51 with 22 years of service. I’m being told the Social Security supplement portion of my retirement will come six to eight months after I leave, and it will not be retroactive. This doesn’t seem accurate as this is a integral part of my three-tier pension system. Am I getting correct information?

A. Whoever told you that was mistaken. When you begin receiving your full annuity payment, you’ll be sent a catch-up payment for the money you didn’t get because you were receiving interim payments and the full amount of the special retirement supplement you didn’t receive while your case was being finalized.

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Special provision employees and VERA

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Q. Special provision employees’ careers are much shorter than those of typical federal employees.The “20 years service and 50 years old or 25 at any age” requirement for Voluntary Early Retirement Authority  mirrors our normal retirement plan. Is there a VERA rule that would allow a firefighter/air traffic controller/ law enforcement officer to get out earlier than the 20 years and 50 years old?

A. No.

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ATC disability retirement

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Q. In February 1992, I retired on disability as an air traffic controller with 10 years of service. I have been receiving a Civil Service Retirement System disability annuity since February 1992. I will be turning 55 in November 2011. Is there a time when my disability retirement will be recalculated to a regular retirement? Do I fall under the special provisions for ATC, retirement at age 50 with 20 years, or any age after 25 years of service?

 A. As long as you are disabled, your disability annuity will continue. It will never be converted to a regular annuity. While you will be required to provide evidence of your disability until age 60, you won’t need to after that.

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MRA+30 calculation

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Q: Can you confirm that a FERS employee who retires from air traffic control, law enforcement, or fire fighting at their minimum retirement age with 30 years of service in the covered position will have their retirement calculated with all (30 years at 1.7 percent) as opposed to (20 years at 1.7 percent and 10 years at 1 percent)? In addition, lets assume only 15 years in the covered position and 15 years in a non-covered position that the calculation will be (15 years at 1.7 percent) and (15 years at 1 percent)? Lots of people believe that they need at least 20 years in a covered position or none of those years will be counted at 1.7 percent. I believe that is true if they retire without having 30 years of government service, but anyone that retires under the MRA+30 option gets all covered service at 1.7 percent as long as they have at least five years of covered time. Is that a correct interpretation of the law?

A: This special provision above only applies to air traffic controllers. The basis for it is 5 USC 8412(a). Check with your personnel office to be sure that that provision applies to you.

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FERS

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Q. I have not seen this question answered and I know my situation applies to hundreds of employees. I was employed as an air traffic controller for 17.5 years before my branch of Air Traffic (Flight Service) was privatized. Not being eligible for retirement, I was willing but unable to secure another local federal position (air traffic or otherwise), so I went to work for the winning contractor (Lockheed Martin). When Lockheed closed my air traffic facility, I was unemployed. I eventually was rehired by the FAA for a much lower-graded administrative position. For 17.5 years as an air traffic controller I contributed 1.3 percent of my salary to my retirement. I left these funds intact when I separated. I now contribute 0.8 percent in my present position.
My question is: Using my FERS annuity formula, do I use the 1 percent (times high 3 times years of service) or the air traffic formula multiplier of 1.7 percent? I paid an extra 0.5 percent for 17.5 years, so is it pro-rated or is the 0.5 percent lost? If so, can I at least get my extra 0.5 percent (which I am calculating to be $5,250) contributions back?

A. Your annuity will be computed using the standard FERS formula: 0.01 x your high-3 x your total years and full months of service. The law doesn’t provide for a refund of the extra contributions you made to the retirement fund while employed as an air traffic controller.

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Air traffic controller, FERS retirement

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Q  I have been an air traffic controller since November 1985. I was born in 1960. If I work until I am 56 (mandatory retirement), am I then, or at anytime, eligible for the 1.7 percent calculator for all the 30+ years I am employed?

A. If you are an ATCS with 30+ years and retire at age 56, you have the option of the regular computation, 20 years at 1.7% and remaining years at 1%, or all years at 1.7%, however, if you choose the 1.7% for all years, you would get no cost of living adjustment until you reach age 62.

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