Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Return after LWOP

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Q. If a person is in a voluntary LWOP for a period of time and then returns to active service, is the service time necessary to meet retirement qualifications affected? For instance, if a person went on LWOP for three months does that time need to be made up in order to meet a minimum service requirement?

A. No, it doesn’t. You can be on LWOP for up to six months in a calendar year without it affecting your creditable years of service.

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High-3 calculation

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Q. I have been a federal employee for Homeland Security for 6-1/2 years. I have been medically disqualified from my job. I am going to try to get disability. I have worked full time for the first 4-1/2 years, and went part-time down to 25 to 30 hours a week. Will they use the highest three salaries, even if when discharged I was working part-time for the agency? How does the calculation work for this situation?

A. An employee’s full-time salaries are used in determining his high-3, even if he is in a part-time position.

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Refund of contributions

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Q. I went to work for the federal government in 1974 under CSRS and worked until 1984, when I resigned and drew my retirement out. I returned to federal service in 2007 under FERS. I will have 20 years service counting military next May 4th. How will drawing my retirement out affect my retirement check?

A. Although you got a refund of your retirement contributions before October 1, 1991, you’ll still get credit for that time in determining your length of service; however, your annuity will be actuarially reduced based on the amount you owe, including accrued interest, and your age on the day you retire.

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Prior LEO service

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Q. I worked for 10 years and five months under CSRS prior to moving to a law-enforcement covered position. How will the first 10 years be calculated with the 21 years as a LEO?

A. All time beyond 20 years of covered service will be computed using the standard formula, not the enhanced one for LEOs.

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Deferred retirement

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Q. I’m a federal law enforcement officer with 16 years covered and three years federal service not covered. If I decide to take a deferred retirement will I still get the enhanced 1.7 x the number of years x my high three and 1 x the number of non-law enforcement years X my high-3? I also bought back 13 years of military service. How will those years be added? Read the rest of this entry »

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FERS rate following transfer

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Q. I was hired at the Defense Department in October 2012, and thus I contributed .8 percent of my pay to FERS. I transferred to VA in April 2014 with no break in service and now have 3.1 percent of my pay deducted, and I am told that it is increasing to 4.4 percent of my pay, as this rate applies to new hires after January 2014. Is it correct that I should be treated as a new hire, despite in all other areas being treated as a transfer (leave carried forward, no ability to change benefits until open season)? I checked and my SF-50 reflects the correct service computation date from 2012. My HR representative has informed me that I will be in the 4.4 percent group when I questioned why I was already paying the 3.1 percent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Minimum retirement age

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Q. My wife will be 50 in three years and will have 30 years of federal service under FERS. Can she retire with no penalty and keep her federal health benefits.

A. No, she cannot retire on an immediate annuity. The earliest she could do that would be when she reaches her minimum retirement age, which in her case would be 56 years and 6 months. The only way she could retire earlier than her MRA would be if her agency offered her an opportunity under the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and she was at least age 50.

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Early retirement

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Q. I have 18 years of service and I am 51 years old. Can I do an early retirement and receive Social Security and pension?

A. No. If your agency was offering early retirement, you would have to meet one of the following age and service requirements: age 50 with 20 years of service or at any age with 25. You don’t meet either requirement.

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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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Buy back

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Q. I have 20 years at the VA and two years of military service of which I paid back to get credit. I worked in the Postal Service from 1970 to 1977 and took out my retirement.  Can I repay, with interest, that money to receive credit for those seven years?

A. Yes, you can.

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Service computation date and FERS retirement

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Q. I am contemplating retirement with a separation date of Jan. 6, 2014. Under FERS, my creditable service for retirement (on Jan. 6, 2014) will be 29 years and two months (service computation date of Oct. 24 1984). My creditable service for RIF and leave (on Jan. 6, 2014) will be 31 years and seven months (service computation date of June 20, 1982). The estimate I have indicates the MRA+10 provision, reducing my annuity by approximately 35 percent (5 percent each year under 62; I will be 57 in January). From an eligibility standpoint, which would be the correct creditable service date to use? I understand the annuity formula (1 percent x high 3, etc); if I have at least 30 years of service and have reached MRA, why such a huge penalty when the annuity is already based on the years I was able to contribute to the annuity portion of FERS?

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Leave without pay and creditable service

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Q. In 2011, I left my civil service job for 175 days to deploy to Afghanistan as an active-duty officer. While deployed, I used a day or two of annual or military leave every pay period to pay for my health care benefits. FERS payments also were made on the days I was on paid leave.

When I got back from my deployment, I was told I had to buy back the time, and I put in paperwork with DFAS to do so. However, I just read in my agency’s furlough FAQ that: The amount of a CSRS or FERS annuity paid by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is based primarily on the amount of creditable service an employee performs and the employee’s high-3 average salary.

Both CSRS and FERS allow service credit for up to 6 months of nonpay status in any calendar year. If a furlough period does not cause an employee to be in a nonpay status for more than 6 months in a calendar year, the furlough period will be included as creditable service in determining the employee’s total creditable service used in the annuity computation. If the total amount of time an employee spends in a nonpay status in a calendar year exceeds 6 months, the amount of nonpay status in excess of 6 months in the calendar year will not be creditable for retirement purposes.

Based upon this, it looks like as long as I was not in a nonpay status for six months that calendar year, I do not have to buy back that time for it to count toward my retirement. Am I correct in my interpretation of this? If so, is there a way to verify how many creditable years I have?

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Federal retirement and re-employment

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Q. 1. I left the Fed in November 2011 with 22 years of creditable service (military time buyback included) and, as I am under my MRA of 56, would not be eligible for my retirement benefits without penalty until age 62, correct? 2. Can I work part time (consultant) on an agency’s payroll without affecting my current status, or would that part time add to my benefit? 3. Also, if I came back to the Fed and did three more years of full-time work before age 62, would that reinstate my health benefits?

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Creditable service and retirement benefit eligibility

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Q. Is there a minimum probation or vesting period required to be eligible to participate in FERS? Suppose a person worked for the federal government for one year, had nine years of military service and participated in the military buyback? Would this be considered 10 years of creditable service? Would the person be eligible for a retirement annuity?

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Retirement before 60

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Q. I would like to retire at between 56 and 58 with deferment until I reach age 60 and can draw my reserve retirement.

I am a gray area reservist with 20 creditable years of total service. This includes four years and two months of active duty that I bought back after I accepted a FERS position. I have been with FERS for 20 years, including buyback. Will I still be able to draw both retirements since my military retirement is a reserve retirement? In 2017, I will have 25 years, and I would like to retire no later than 2018 at 58.

How will my annuity be calculated? Do I have to retire at 60 to receive both retirements?

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Change in retirement plan

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Q. I started my employment as a CC military spouse in Germany in 1981 (no military service myself), then resigned (as we were directed) just before we returned to the U.S. in late 1983. I got picked up into a fed position in September 1984, which set the dates for leave and retirement as 1982. I had been told I was FERS at that time, and I have been contributing and planning toward that, along with attending the FERS retirement classes. However, when I received an estimate for retirement last year, I was told that I was CSRS Offset, with four years and 10 months of creditable service before being picked up in the U.S. I emailed with HR to make sure of that, and the HR person said that I was CSRS offset.

I now have 31 years of federal employment, and thought I had figured out my retirement numbers, until I received the CSRS offset news.

Since I haven’t firmly fixed a date to retire, I hadn’t really looked into it, but now I am wondering what that means exactly with regard to my retirement numbers.

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Creditable service

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Q. I worked with the government for about five years with the Peace Corps and then I was a personal services contractor for about four years (2000-2004) with the U.S. Agency for International Development. I then joined USAID as a foreign services officer doing the same job I did as a personal services contractor. USAID credited my Peace Corps time. I would like my four years as a personal services contractor with USAID to count toward my retirement since I was doing the same job that I did as a foreign services officer. What can/should I do?

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Residency and creditable service

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Q. I’m a federal employee in a Veterans Affairs Department hospital. Before actual employment, I spent three years doing medical residency in VA. Will those three years in training count toward my creditable service for retirement?

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Creditable service

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Q. I am 43 years old with 20 years of federal service: nine years as Border Patrol agent and 11 as an 1811 (Postal Inspector). Will my Border Patrol time count as out at any age with 25 years?

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