Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Years of service and deferred annuity

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Q. I’m 49 with 30 years and one month of federal service. If I sign Standard Form 52 and resign, will I be able to collect my retirement at age 62?

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Military and federal retirements

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Q. I retired from the Marine Corps after 21 years of service in 2002, and I’m working with the State Department. I have 10 years of service with the department and plan to do 20 years and retire from the department at 59. Can I earn separate retirements, or do I need to combine my military time with foreign service time when I retire from the department?

A. Yes, you can earn two separate retirements.

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Interrupted government service and pension

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Q. I am 54, with five years under FERS. I am taking a job in the private sector but would like to return to federal employment for three to five years. If I do nothing, can I apply for a deferred pension at age 62? If I do return to government service, do the total number of years accumulate? So, for example, if I return and work another five years, is my pension based on 10 years, even though they were interrupted?

A. As long as you don’t take a refund of your retirement contributions when you leave, you could apply for a deferred annuity at age 62. Also, if you left that money in the fund and returned to government employment, you’d be able to pick up where you left off, and all that time would count for determining your length of service and your annuity computation. If you did take a refund and returned to government service, you’d have to repay that amount plus accrued interest to get credit for that time.

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Calculating years of federal service

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Q. I don’t understand the years and months of federal service for the annuity calculation. Would a year be 12 months, thus, say, 20 years and six months = 320 months, or 20+6 = 26? I get the 0.011 and the high-3 methodology, just stuck on the above.

A. Using your example, 20 years and six months would be 20.5 years.

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Military and federal service and retirement

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Q. I am on active duty. If I leave active duty and buy back my time to work at another federal job and at the same time do time with a National Guard component, will I be eligible to receive two retirements once I turn the right age?

A. If you work for the federal government, you can make a deposit to get credit for that time. If you are eligible for reserve retired pay, you can receive that pay and the annuity of your civilian position. If you are eligible for military retired pay, you’ll have to waive that pay.

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Social Security and federal and military retirement

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Q. I’m 54 and have been working for the government for the past nine years. I’m planning on staying for 20 years but already spent 22 years in military and am receiving my monthly pension faithfully. If and when I’m done, do I receive a separate check or do they combine them as one, and do I still get my Social Security benefit at the proper age?

A. You will receive separate payments for you military and civilian service. When you apply for a Social Security benefit, you will receive that as a separate payment. In the last case, if you apply for that benefit before you reach your full Social Security retirement age, you’ll be subject to the Social Security earnings test.

Since you were born in 1958, your full retirement age is 67.

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Active-duty and National Guard time and federal benefits

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Q. I was in the active Air Force for five years and in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard for 18 years. I am retired and am receiving benefits. I also have two years as a federal employee in the VA health system. I am considering a job with VA. How do I determine my status regarding years of service and how this affects benefits while working and at retirement? What office gives the definitive answer?

A. OPM is the ultimate source of definitive answers; however, your own agency personnel office should be able to give you the same answers. They are the ones I’ll give you now.

To be vested in the civilian retirement system, you’ll have to have five years of full-time service under FERS. If you make a deposit for your active-duty service, that time will be used in determining your total years of service and in your annuity computation when you retire.

Doing so will not affect your entitlement to reserve retired pay.

Whether or not you make a deposit, you should be able to get credit for your active-duty service in setting your annual leave accrual rate. Check with your personnel office to be sure. Note: Time spent in the reserves is never creditable for any civilian purpose unless you are called to active duty.

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Using federal service toward military retirement

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Q. I worked one year at the veterans hospital in Palo Alto, then joined the Navy. I am exploring retirement from the Navy after 26 years of good service. Can I link my federal service toward military retirement? Every year of military service means 2.5 percent more toward retirement. Most people are asking about the opposite.

A. No.

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Leaving federal service, intending to return

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Q. I have been employed with the Department of Homeland Security in the Transportation Security Administration for just under five years. I am planning to leave federal service to obtain field experience in the private sector with ambitions to return to the federal system with the FBI.

1. Are there any specific impacts of leaving service before the five-year milestone?

2. Are there specific do’s and don’t’s when leaving with intent to return to service?

3. Will the time I have invested stay with me when I rejoin the system?

4. Do I need to resume service within a certain time?

Some information that may be needed: I joined DHS on Jan. 6, 2008. I plan to leave before my five-year mark, probably around October. I contribute to a TSP and plan to make a 100 percent withdrawal or roll that into my private sector’s retirement plan if possible. I plan to return to federal service within three to five years, hoping to be employed with the FBI. I am 25.

A. If you leave before you have five years of service, you won’t be vested in the retirement system; therefore, you wouldn’t be entitled to any benefit if you didn’t return. If you did return to federal employment and had left your retirement contributions in the fund, you’d pick up right where you left off. If you had taken a refund, you’d have to redeposit that money to get credit for your previous service.

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Buyout and taxes

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Q. I have more than 24 years’ federal service, am 65 and recently was offered a $20,000 buyout. When I received the printout for the buyout, it showed I had two exemptions not considered or computed for the federal tax and I was charged the full 25 percent federal tax, $5,000. The normal state tax with two exemptions, along with Social Security and Medicare, were taken out at the usual rate with two exemptions. Should my two exemptions have been figured into and deducted from the deduction?

A. The 25 percent federal tax deduction is automatic and is taken from every buyout payment.

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Receiving pay for home leave

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Q. I retired from federal service in September. While I was working in Europe, I earned home leave, and it has remained on my leave and earnings statement since I returned to the continental Unites States in 2004. Will I receive pay for it when I retire?

A. As a rule, home leave may be taken only during service abroad or within a reasonable period after you return from service abroad and are expected to return to service abroad immediately or on completion of an assignment in the U.S. Since home leave is grated at the discretion of an agency, you’ll have to check with yours to see how it’s handled.

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Annual leave and prior federal service

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Q. I worked for the Department of Justice for 18 months, then transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs. I have served three years of federal service. Am I entitled to begin receiving six hours of annual leave per pay period, or did my service time start over when I transferred?

A. Yes. Your prior service time transferred with you.

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Payback of retirement contributions

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Q. In 1985, after 16 years of federal service with the Department of Defense, I withdrew all my retirement contributions. I am now 64. How can I compute the amount of payback necessary to draw a pension, or is that possible?

A. It would be possible only if you returned to work for the federal government.

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Federal time applied to military retirement?

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Q: I know there is a military time buy back process so military time can apply toward civilian retirement. If I have federal time, can I apply that toward a military retirement if I join the military? Or does it only go one way?

A: No, you can’t apply your federal civilian time toward a military retirement. It only goes one way.

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Returning to service, repaying annual leave

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Q: Mr. Jones answered a question on Dec. 2 (“Annual leave and returning to federal service”) pertaining to lump-sum payment for annual leave for one returning to federal service. The answer was: “As required by law, you will have to return every penny you received for annual leave that hasn’t expired between the time you retired, and the time you return to work.”

Two questions: Can you provide citations to statute and/or regulations that require this result? And what does “hasn’t expired” mean? The leave year typically ends in early January. If you retire in July and return to work in November of the same year, do you have to repay because you are within the same leave year, and leave “hasn’t expired”?

A: The answer to your questions will be found at http://opm.gov/oca/leave/html/lumpsum.htm. Just scroll down to “Return to Federal Service.”

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