Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

FERS and VERA

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Q. If I accept a VERA with just over 30 years of service under FERS at age 54 and with just under 18 months to go before I reach 56 or my MRA, would I still be immediately eligible at early separation for the special retirement supplement under a VERA, or do I have to wait until I turn 56?

A. The special retirement supplement will begin when you reach your MRA.

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Severance pay

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Q. I am 52 with 17 years in the federal government (FERS). I am not eligible to retire yet and am not eligible for a discontinued service retirement. My agency field office is closing, and I have decided to decline their directed assignment outside of my state. I am eligible for severance pay due to the fact that it is not a reasonable job offer (it is outside of my commuting area, and I am not subject to a mobility agreement). I have submitted my information and found I am eligible to receive one year’s worth of severance payments. I know that if I receive severance payments but soon after get hired into another federal job, the severance payments will stop. Read the rest of this entry »

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Deferred retirement

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Q. I am 50 and I have been in government for 27 years. I am going to apply for a deferred retirement at age 60 or 62.  I thought I read somewhere that the “high-3″ was consecutive. If I was a GS-13 and due to BRAC had to come back into the government at a much lower grade, could I still use my high-3 including grades 11-13 or am I required to use the last grade I held?

A. Yes. Your high-3 is the highest three consecutive years of average basic pay (78 pay periods), regardless of when they occur in your career.

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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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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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Best retirement date

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Q. I am in the FERS system and plan to retire Jan. 9, unless Dec. 28 would be a better date? I will have a large lump-sum leave payment and want to maximize any possible salary increases (i.e. 1 percent) that might be applied to the lump sum in 2015 without losing my maximum carry-over hours. I am willing to start my annuity the following month.

A. You’ve touched all the bases in your analysis. Since you are willing to forgo an annuity in the month you retire, you’ve already answered your question: Jan. 9 is the date that best fits your goals.

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Pre-MRA retirement annuity, and where sick leave goes

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Q. I am 51 and was born in 1961. I work in FERS. My MRA, I believe, is 56. I have 28 years in federal service. Will I get an annuity if I retire now before my MRA? If I do get an annuity, how big a reduction will it be from the pension I would get if I retired at 56?

Also, I have seven months of sick leave. Do I lose it all when I retire, or does it get applied as service credit?

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SRS and earnings limit

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Q. I can retire in June 2014 at 60 with 26 years in FERS. As it will be in June, I will have made more than the $15,000-plus earnings limit. If I max out my TSP contribution (approximately $11,000 for six months), my net working income will drop so I can get under the $15,000-plus earnings limit; will my special retirement supplement the following year be unreduced?

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Military and law enforcement service and retirement

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Q. I am a veteran with six years of active-duty service, and I am employed as a federal law enforcement official with seven years of service under FERS. I am considering leaving federal service. Am I eligible for any retirement benefits after age 62, or do I simply lose the 13 years that I have in military and civilian service?

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Special retirement supplement and Social Security

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Q. I am looking at retiring next year in FERS as a federal firefighter with 30 years of service at age 53. I will receive the special retirement supplement. Until I turn 62, I will not be (possibly) paying into Social Security, so does that reduce the amount of Social Security I will receive according to my current projected Social Security payments at age 62? If I’m not paying into Social Security during the period before drawing Social Security affects the rate, does that change at age 57 when the earning limitations for Social Security hit even though you are not paying into Social Security? Or is my Social Security statement set due to my firefighter retirement? Lastly, my TSP funds will be taxed as I receive payments as they were tax-deferred, but will they count against the earning limitations for Social Security? Will it make a difference if I purchase an annuity, roll it to another fund or just take a regular monthly payment from TSP in regard to how it relates to Social Security?

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FERS and cashing out annual leave

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Q. Recent legislation entitles FERS-eligible employees to have sick leave credited to their time in service: 50 percent until 2013 and 100 percent in 2014. At the same time, FERS annual leave hours past 240 are not lost but paid in full in completing your last year of employment.

Can you clarify that if you retire Jan. 1, 2014, you lose the hours in excess of 240? (I was informed by an HR employee that if you don’t retire Dec. 31, your hours in excess of 240 are not paid even if you retire the next day, Jan. 1 — I have my doubts.)

But if you didn’t and retired Dec. 31, you would lose 50 percent of your sick leave.

I have four months of accrued sick leave, whereas I would have about $20,000 in unused annual leave paid if I retired Jan. 1.

If the information from HR is true, I would have to choose between losing 50 percent of my 700 hours of accrued sick leave for retiring before Jan. 1, 2014, and losing more than 240 hours.

What is the better financial decision? Accruing four months of time in service and losing all my leave in excess of 240 or taking the full lump sum and getting credit for only two months?

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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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Special retirement supplement withholding

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Q. I am receiving the FERS special retirement supplement, and there is a withholding due to my 2012 earnings. In April 2014, I turn 62 and the supplement ends. How with the withholding due to my 2013 earnings affect my retirement benefit at that time?

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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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Living overseas and health care

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Q. I am in the GS, age 64. I hit seven years overseas and am on the Priority Placement Program to return to the U.S. Instead, I plan to stay overseas and marry a local national. My options are to retire at 13 years’ service or to resign and take a Non-Appropriated Fund job on base to continue earning FERS coverage. I understand that next year I must enroll in Medicare Part A, although I will be overseas and unable to use it. Is there any benefit to me also enrolling in Part B if I plan to retire overseas? I have the Foreign Service Benefit Plan.

It appears that I am going to be undercovered either way unless I am still able to work on base as NAF and access the U.S. hospital where Medicare coverage would be primary. Do you have any advice on how to retire overseas regarding health care benefits? It seems there is no good answer, and yet I know many people who are not military retirees making the decision to stay overseas after their tours end.

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Service academy attendance and leave accrual credit

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Q. I’m confused about receiving service academy credit toward leave accrual for retired military members. The personnel servicing agency has denied request for credit based on Title 5 and 38. Title 5 of US Code 6303 states, “An employee who is a retired member of a uniformed service as defined by section 3501 of this title is entitled to credit for active military service only if — (A) his retirement was based on disability — (i) resulting from injury or disease received in line of duty as a direct result of armed conflict; or (ii) caused by an instrumentality of war and incurred in line of duty during a period of war as defined by sections 101 and 1101 of title 38.” The US Air Force Academy time cannot be considered for people who retired from active duty.

It makes sense that the military time should not be double-counted toward government retirements except in exceptional situations. However, the service academy time is not creditable toward military retirement and should not be held to the standard set under Title 5 section 6303. Is the personnel servicing agency correct that the time is not creditable for leave accrual even though the service academy time is creditable toward retirement in FERS?

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Disability annuity and continued federal employment

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Q. Since I started receiving a FERS disability annuity, I have worked while still receiving the annuity. What percent of my federal service salary can I earn without losing my annuity? (It was 60 percent or so.)

I was a GS-855-12 step 2. What is the current salary for that position (GS schedules are easy to find, but not GS-855 salary schedules showing their higher rates of pay)?

Do I still lose my disability annuity if I return to work for the federal government as a teacher at an overseas military base? (It used to be that returning to work for the federal government would automatically end the disability annuity.)

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Reduction in force and retirement

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Q. I will be 58 next year, when we are supposed to be RIF with the Postal Service if we have not found another EAS position. At that time I will have 24½ years in and be 58. I understand I will be eligible for DSR.

How is the amount calculated? Is it the same as the FERS amount, is it permanent and can I still receive the FERS supplement? Can I receive DSR and FERS, or just the DSR or FERS? I don’t want to retire but am trying to see how I will be financially if I am part of an RIF. Also, does this affect my Social Security?

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FERS retirement and leave

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Q. I am a FERS employee and was hired in January 1984. I will reach MRA (56) with 31½ years of service in early July 2015.

What is the best day for me to retire in 2015 to get credit for the most annual and sick leave?

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