Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

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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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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Rehired annuitant looking to add to retirement

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Q. I retired as a CSRS employee Nov. 30, 2006, and am a rehired annuitant. I have been working in my current position with the Air Force for the last 22 months, receiving both my annuity and the full salary of my new position. I want to find another way to add to my retirement before this overseas job ends.

What additional retirement program options do I have? I was told by Air Force personnel management that I do not qualify for supplementing/contributing to my CSRS annuity. TSP also is closed for me to invest in since I started to withdraw from my account.

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FERS survivor benefits

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Q. I am revisiting my life insurance needs and want to ensure I understand FERS survivor benefits. I have more than 20 years of 1811 experience, but I won’t turn 50 until next year. If I die before I turn 50, will the survivor annuity be calculated at 10 percent for my first 20 years of 1811 experience or at 17 percent for those years? If I die after I turn 50 but am still employed by the federal government, will the survivor annuity be calculated at 10 percent for my first 20 years of 1811 experience or at 17 percent for those years? If I die before I retire, will my sick leave be added to my years of service for the survivor annuity calculation; if so, will it be 50 percent of my sick leave balance before Jan. 1, 2014, and 100 percent of it after?

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CSRS, survivor annuity and Social Security

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Q. I have two questions about the Reg Jones article in the Feb. 18 Federal Times issue, titled “2013 brings changes to Medicare, survivor benefits” (Page 22).

1) Under death benefits, it says, “under CSRS, if you die while still employed, your widow will be entitled to a survivor annuity.” When I retired in 1995, I signed an agreement to take a reduction in my annuity so that when I die, my wife will get a percent of my annuity. Please explain what is wrong with one of these two statements.

2) Under the same topic, he says, “the spouse will get a survivor benefit equal half of my basic Social Security if I had 10 years of payment.” I fully qualified for a full Social Security benefit; however, the government sees fit to steal most of my earned benefit because I receive an annuity. Please clarify the status.

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Social Security and FICA deductions

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Q. I receive FERS benefits but am now applying for Social Security, which will be my main retirement. I got to a question on the application process that asks whether I ever earned money where FICA was not taken out. I worked for two and parts of two other year for Gallaudet College, which was at the time a quasi-government and Civil Service. Those earnings do not appear on my Social Security statement of benefits I assume for that reason. I took the retirement in a lump sum when I left that position.

I was federally employed (FERS and Social Security) from 1984-97. When computing my years of service, I inquired if I could buy back those few Gallaudet years so as to count for years of service, and I did. So the Social Security benefits application asked if I benefited from in terms of pension or annuity by the earnings I didn’t pay FICA for. So do I benefit from years of service though no credit for money earned having bought back those years for greater benefit based on years of service? Will this influence the amount of retirement due me from Social Security?

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CSRS disability and military redeposit

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Q. I’m a 55-year-old CSRS employee filing for disability retirement from the USPS. I have eight years military but have redeposited only half of what is required.

Will I be able to continue making deposits while OPM reviews my case? And if not, will I get my initial deposit back in a lump sum?

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Retiree death and lump sum for survivor

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Q. My father passed away at the age of 62 after 20 years with the Forest Service (most of those years as law enforcement.) He passed away just shy of two months after his retirement day and thus didn’t receive a single annuity check. I am his only survivor, and I’m trying to determining what the lump-sum payout will be. Is there any way to estimate what he paid in? He was set to receive roughly $22,000 year for 30 years. What percentage of that would his contribution actually be?

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Recharacterizing leave after retirement

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Q. After 35 years with the federal government, I retired Feb. 29, 2012.

During my last full pay period, I used 16 hours of sick leave. I discovered after a call from OPM recently that a correction to my final sick leave balance was made by my former employing agency, modestly increasing my sick leave balance. OPM informed me today that after the correction, my sick leave balance was six hours short of the number of hours needed to bring my total creditable working hours up by one more full month.

After hearing this, I realize that had I used six hours LESS sick leave (instead of 16 hours) in my last full pay period in pay status, and used just 10 hours of sick leave plus six hours of annual leave for the time I took off during that last full pay period, I would have had enough creditable work hours to complete another full month toward the calculation of my annuity.

My question to you now is whether or not leave I used in my last full pay period can be recharacterized almost a year since retiring because that would initiate another updated correction to my sick leave balance, which would be forwarded to OPM via the National Finance Center, and subsequently permit a recalculation of my final annuity amount.

I was paid a lump sum for unused annual leave a few weeks after retiring but would gladly reimburse the agency for six of those hours if possible if a correction to my time and attendance report for the last full pay period could be done, allowing for a recharacterization of leave I used during my last full pay period, which would increase my annuity, even if only a little.

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Best day to retire in 2015

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Q. I’ve been in CSRS since Feb. 10, 1975, and I turned 65 in January.

1) Which day, in late leave year 2015, would be the best day to retire?

2) What should be my schedule for submitting retirement documents?

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Disability and pension access

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Q. I have been receiving Social Security Disability Insurance for a total disability since 2008. From 1981 to 1989, I was a CSRS offset employee in the USPS. When I tried to apply for my CSRS pension, I was informed by letter that I had to wait until I reached age 62, which is unlikely, or withdraw the small amount I contributed as a lump sum. Is it not possible to apply for and receive my CSRS pension when completely disabled? I have read CSRS Pamphlet No. 7 and searched the website Q&A, and I am very confused.

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Annual leave and cashing out

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Q. I will have approximately 503 hours of annual leave when I retire at the end of May (183 hours were carried over). I also have 24 hours of a time off award and 30 hours of home leave unused as a result of a previous overseas assignment. Will my payout for leave include the 24 hours of the time off award added to my 503 hours? Will I receive a payout for the 30 hours of home leave, will I simply lose it, or will it be added as creditable service in my retirement calculations?

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Resignation and pension

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Q. I am 45 years old with 13 years of service under FERS and will be resigning this month to pursue other activities. I understand that I would eligible for a full pension (computed on my high-3) at age 62. That is 17 years away and, in the meantime, my defined benefit pension would remain static and thus be seriously eroded by inflation. Is there a way to protect myself against this within the pension system, or can I take a lump sum on separation and roll that into an IRA? If I take the lump sum, must I do it as of my separation, how is it computed, and does it represent only my contributions to the basic pension, or also those of the government? I have a separate Thrift Savings Plan, which I plan to roll into an IRA.

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12 questions on VERA

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Q. I am a letter carrier, age 52, started in 1985 and have 28 years of creditable service.

If I understand what I’ve gleaned from the posts here and the Postal Service were to offer me a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority this year,

1.  Would I begin my annuity immediately?

2.  Would I have no reductions in calculations of my annuity? (average high-3 x 1 percent x 28)

3.  Would I receive credit for half of my sick leave and all of my annual leave? (How are these applied?)

4.  Would I receive the special retirement supplement beginning at age 56 (my minimum retirement age), and receive it until I reach age 62?

5. Would I be able to continue carrying my current health and life insurance at non-USPS rates? (I couldn’t find how long these could be carried. Until death?)

6.  Could I begin receiving Social Security as early as age 62?

7. Any withdrawal from my Thrift Savings Plan prior to age 59½ would be penalized 10 percent as per Internal Revenue Service regulations? (Can I continue to contribute to TSP after retirement?)

8. As a FERS annuitant, is there no limit to what I can earn after separation from the Postal Service as it pertains to my annuity payment?

9. At age 56 (my MRA), the special retirement supplement from Social Security would begin and would be subject to yearly income limits. Would supplement payments be reduced by approximately $1 for every $2 I earned above that year’s Social Security income limit?

10. At age 65, I’d be eligible for Medicare parts A and B? (Would this affect my health insurance coverage through Federal Employees Health Benefits?)

11.  Would there be cost-of-living increases at any point for my annuity?

12.  Is there a date during the year that maximizes the benefits of retirement?

Did I get this right, and are there any other things I should know before considering a VERA if it is offered?

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Credit for sick leave

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Q. It is my understanding that unused sick leave after Jan. 1, 2014, is credited at 100 percent to the employee at retirement. Is it just added to the total annuity, or is it a lump-sum payout like unused annual leave?

A. Unused sick leave has no cash value. Instead those hours are added to any actual service hours that weren’t used in the initial computation of an annuity. For every combination of hours that adds up to 174, an additional month will be added to the actual service time and increase the amount of the final annuity.

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Annual leave payout

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Q. I’m being retired on medical disability, and I have more than 190 hours of annual leave. Who pays me for this and approximately when?

A. Your agency is responsible for generating a lump-sum payment for any unused annual leave. Usually such payments are made at the same time as your final paycheck is issued. Check with your agency to find out what its payment schedule is.

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Sequestration and unused annual leave

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Q. As a FERS employee retiring at the end of March after 27+ years at age 65. How will the sequestration and continuing resolution affect when I will get my check for unused annual leave? Will there be any effect on the delivery of my first annuity and Social Security checks?

A. There shouldn’t be any delay in the delivery of your annuity and Social Security checks. Whether there would be a delay in your lump-sum annual leave payment is something that only your agency can answer.

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Best date to retire

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Q. I’m 60 with 10 years in CSRS, 25 in FERS, with about 2,900 hours of unused sick leave (900 of which were in CSRS) and about 440 hours of unused annual leave expected by the end of the year.

If I retire on Dec. 31 to try to maximize my unused annual leave lump sum, it looks like I will not qualify to apply up to 100 percent of my unused sick leave to time of service (except the CSRS portion).

If I retire on Jan 1-3, 2014, to be able to use the full (rounded in months) amount of my unused sick leave applied to length of service, then I miss out on the maximum unused annual leave (since only 240 hours can be carried over), but I will get my pension check effective Feb. 1. Or does the leave year actually end in 2014, thereby allowing around 440 hours of unused annual leave for the lump sum?

Since I turn 62 on Oct. 8, 2014, and the annuity formula changes to 1.1 percent, what’s the earliest I could retire and maximize unused annual leave, get to apply my unused sick leave, and get a check in a timely fashion? Dec. 31 2014?

A. If you retire Dec. 31, you’ll only get credit for half of your unused annual leave. Since the 2013 leave year doesn’t end until Jan. 11, 2014, you could retire any time up to that date and get full credit. However, since you are a FERS employee, retiring after Dec. 31 would mean that you wouldn’t be on the annuity roll until February.

If you waited until you were 60, the FERS component in your annuity would be calculated using the enhanced 1.1 percent formula. Although you would have only been able to carry 240 hours into the new leave year, you would be earning additional annual leave during 2014. If you retired at the end of the last pay period in December 2014, you’d be able to get a lump-sum payment for all that accumulated leave and be on the annuity roll on Jan. 1, 2015.

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Is VSIP always a lump sum?

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Q. I am 62 with 25 years of service. Since Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments have been offered in my organization, I am thinking about taking one. Do I have to take the lump sum, or can the incentive be taken in installments?

A. How the payments are made is entirely up to your agency, and, with the exception of the Postal Service, they usually make it in a one-time lump sum.

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Spousal death and survivor benefit

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Q. My husband of six months passed away in April 2005 while an active federal employee. His will made me the personal representative and his daughter (my stepdaughter) as alternate if I should not wish to be the personal rep. After his death, his daughter said she would be the personal rep because I asked her to since the estate would be given to his three children. After his death, I was told that I had no claim on his FERS account since we were not married for a year. But do his grown children? If not, what happens to the funds that he paid in all those years?

A. Because no one was eligible for a survivor benefit, a lump sum benefit would be payable according to the standard order of precedence, the first two of which are relevant: first, to the beneficiary he designated on a Standard Form 2808 (CSRS) or 3102 (FERS); second, to the widow.

You need to consult an attorney who can make sure the benefits are properly distributed, including any Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance he may have had.

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