Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Mandatory retirement and further federal employment

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Q. I am a federal firefighter under FERS. I have 25 years in position and will reach mandatory retirement age in 4.5 years. I want to stay with the federal program where I work. Is it legal for me to retire from the fire service and move to another government position here at the base where I am employed? If so, where is this in print, or under what regulation? I know in years past this was not allowed unless you came back as a contract employee.

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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

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Q. I am a law enforcement officer with 25 years of FERS service as an 1811 and recently (Feb. 1) turned age 50. I am eligible to retire but have no plans or desire to. I will be forced to retire at age 57. Do I have to retire on Dec. 31, 2019, when I am still 56, or can I retire the year I turn 57, which would be Dec. 31, 2020? Also, I would like to know, now that I have the 25 years of 1811 service time in, can I switch job series, to intelligence officer or other (non-6C coverage) and work as long as I want? I have five kids and want to work until I am at least 62, if not 65.

A. You will be separated on the last day of the month in which you turn age 57. Since you have already met the minimum requirements for an enhanced law enforcement officer annuity (age 50 with 20 years of service), you could look for another job at any time. When you finally retired, any years of service above 20 would be computed using the standard formula.

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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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Voluntary vs. mandatory retirement

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Q. I am eligible for retirement March 21 as a law enforcement officer under FERS. I will have 20 years of law enforcement experience and am age 56. Because I turn 57 in October (seven months later), I will be forced to retire Oct. 31.

Aside from the extra approximately $8.56 per month I will get in my annuity for each month I stay after March and the benefit of having a full salaried job for seven more months, is there any advantage to me retiring under mandatory retirement age versus voluntary?

The combination of my projected annuity and special retirement supplement provides me with a net of approximately $500 per month less than what I currently take home.

My intention is to get a part-time job to bridge the $500 gap not to exceed the maximum allowed wage of $14,640 so as not to affect my Social Security.

Also, I heard from a retirement counselor who said if you wait until you are forced out, you might qualify for unemployment benefits depending on your state.

A. While the final decision is up to your state, it’s unlikely that you’d be eligible for unemployment benefits.

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Mandatory retirement

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Q. As a federal agent with 6c coverage, do I have to achieve 20 years of service *on* the day I turn 57, or can I achieve 20 years of service *during* the year I turn 57? For example, could I achieve 20 years of service in the sixth month of the year I turn 57, so long as I retire during my 57th year of age with 20 years of service? Everything I see says I have to achieve 20 years at age 57.

A. You appear to be asking about the rules for mandatory retirement. If you have completed 20 years of service, you must be separated on the last day of the month in which you reach age 57. If you have reached age 57 and haven’t completed the required 20 years of service, you must be separated on the last day of the month in which you complete 20 years of service.

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Mandatory retirement age

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Q. Is there a rule that says a federal employee must retire from federal employment? In other words, if a person chooses to, could they work until they die? This question applies to a person who is 57, has no retirement plan and has been a federal employee for two years and so will never build up any reasonable retirement.

A. Only special category employees, such as a law enforcement officers or firefighters, are subject to mandatory retirement at a specific age. Other employees aren’t. If you are one of the latter, you can work until the paramedics carry you out in a body bag.

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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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Special retirement supplement and law enforcement positions

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Q. I have about 23 years of 6c covered law enforcement officer service and turn 50 this year. I’m trying to decide if I want to jump to a private-sector job, and part of my decision will be based on what I am expecting as my FERS pension plus the special retirement supplement we are supposed to get given our mandatory retirement age. I have heard that a recent change in federal law, possibly as part of the Affordable Care Act, eliminated (or will eliminate) this supplement, even though when I started 23 years ago, that was not the law.

I have a few questions:

1. Are you aware of any recent legal change that would deny federal LEOs from collecting this supplement?

2. Is the retirement supplement (assuming it is still around) means tested against the roughly $14,000 annual earnings cap, even as an LEO? If it is, any new job would exceed the cap, and I would not even bother to count the supplement in my pension calculation.

3. Does the supplement (if still available) go away when I become eligible for normal Social Security benefits?

A. 1. No. 2. Yes. 3. Yes.

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Military service, law enforcement employment and retirement

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Q. I am going through the hiring process for a couple of federal law enforcement agencies. I am 41; however, I am a veteran’s preference eligible candidate and therefore eligible for an age waiver. As such, the agencies have advised me that hiring of eligible such candidates older than 37 has occurred and is occurring; however, no one can tell me how that affects the mandatory retirement of 57. I have 18 years of military service. roughly half active duty and half reserve time (I am a drilling reservist looking to retire out of the reserves at 20 years).

What are the retirement considerations for those hired into covered law enforcement positions after age 37? Does/can an adequate number of years of military buyback factor into meeting the mandatory retirement at 57?

A. If you are hired after the normal entry age, you will be mandatorily retired at the end of the month in which you complete 20 years of covered service. Your annuity for that 20 years of covered service will be computed using the enhanced formula for law enforcement officers. Your active-duty military service isn’t creditable toward meeting the 20-year requirement. Instead, if you have made a deposit to get credit for that time, that portion of your annuity will be computed using the standard annuity formula.

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6c covered position and mandatory retirement

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Q. I am working under a non-6c-covered law enforcement position and will turn 37 at the end of this year. I am working on finishing my degree and would like to move into an 1811 position, but the timing will not permit my movement directly into that series. If I move into a 6c position before my 37th birthday, will I be eligible to transfer into an 1811 position (FBI)? I have been looking for an answer for a few days and haven’t had much luck. HR folks at FBI were not sure but did say my SF-50 would have to contain a specific notation on it that would make me eligible for transfer after age 37.

A. In general, an employee must be in a covered position before age 37 to complete 20 years of service before the mandatory retirement age of 57. However, under certain circumstances, an agency can hire someone after age 37. If they do, the employee can continue to work until he completes 20 years and then be separated. The ability to do that varies by not only agency but, sometimes, activity. Only the agency you want to join can tell you whether you’d be able to do that. Even then, they may have to check with a higher level or even OPM.

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Maximum government contribution?

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Q. I am a FERS GS0081 employee. Next year, I will have 31 years of service at 52 years of age. I was planning to work until I reached my mandatory retirement age of 57. But I have been told the federal government will only contribute to retirement for a maximum of 31 years. Is this correct?

A. Whoever told you that is misinformed. As long as you continue working, both you and the government will continue to contribute to the retirement fund. And those years will be included in your annuity computation. Because you are a special category employee, the more generous formula will be used for your 20 years of covered service and all additional years computed using the standard formula.

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Special retirement supplement and disability

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Q. If you have met time in service and age requirements to retire under FERS special retirement but have not yet reached your mandatory retirement age and become too disabled to work, how is your retirement calculated? If it is considered a disability retirement, are you still eligible to collect the Social Security supplement since you met the requirements for a regular retirement? If it is considered a regular retirement, can you collect Social Security disability without the wash?

A. If you take regular retirement, you’ll receive the special retirement supplement. If you are approved for disability retirement, you won’t. If you take regular retirement and then are approved for Social Security disability benefits, the special retirement supplement will end.

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Staying an extra year in 6c

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Q. I have 14 years of noncovered government time and currently serve with 12 years of 6c covered time. I was hired into the 6c position at age 38 and suggested that I would serve until age 58 instead of 57. Will I have to make special arrangements to stay the extra year?

A. No, you don’t have to make special arrangements. By law, if you reach the standard mandatory separation age and haven’t completed the required 20 years of service, your separation will be postponed to the last day of the month in which you have completed 20 years.

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Change in positions

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Q. I am a Customs and Border Protection officer, series 1895, with an enhanced (6c) FERS pension and am moving into another position with the same agency as an investigative program specialist, series 1801. I was grandfathered in with CBP prior to the enhanced coverage changes a couple of years ago resulting in age requirements concerning coming on the job and retirement.  I have been with Customs and CBP for almost almost nine years, joining the agency in my 40s. Will this change in positions result in my losing the enhanced coverage and law enforcement officer status? If so, how will the change affect me? Is there a maximum retirement age with the 1801 position?

A. 1801 is a catchall series. Whether a particular 1801 position would be covered by the enhanced retirement provision (and, therefore, have a mandatory retirement age) would depend on what’s written in the position description. You’ll have to check that out before you transfer.

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Reclassified position

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Q. I am a federal law enforcement employee, hired as a GS-1811 criminal investigator six years ago. I am 54 years old. The position was not under the SRC. However, CPAC has determined that it should have been. The agency has been directed to move 1811s to the SRC.

I have bought back 10 years of military service and understand I will be required to “buy in” to the SRC (extra 0.5 percent base salary x six years). I understand the SRC requires mandatory retirement at age 57 or as soon thereafter as I have 20 years “qualifying” service. From what I have read, it appears that only the six years I have served in the 1811 law enforcement position count as qualifying service. If that is the case, what benefit is the 10 years military service I have bought back already? My plan under FERS was to retire at age 62 with 24 years service. What impact will this change have, and what will my retirement options be if my agency moves me to the SRC?

A. Your understanding is correct. You would need to have 20 years of service in a covered position to retire under the special provision for law enforcement officers. Your active-duty service for which you made a deposit cannot be used to meet that requirement. However, that time will be added to your total service and calculated under the standard, rather than the enhanced, annuity formula.

Alternatively, you could retire on an unreduced annuity at age 60 with at least 20 years of service (served and bought back). However, all that service would be calculated using the standard annuity formula.

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Military hiree

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Q. I’m new to the federal system and would like to asses my options.

1. I have spent 14 years and about 10 months on active duty in the Armhy plus some reserve time. I understand reserve time is not computed on military buyback. What is the maximum years that I can sell back?

2. I was hired by ICE at the age of 38. How does that factor in for retirement purposes — mandatory retirement age for an ICE covered agent?

3. If I sell my military time, do my leave and sick hours change to match those of service dates of one with close to 15 years of federal service?

4. How do I access such information? I have asked around and no one knows. The only thing I found is a FERS pamphlet PDF dated 1986 about the percentages for retirement.

A. 1. There is no limit on the number of years of active duty service for which you can make a deposit.

2. As a rule, if you are hired into a covered position, you’d be allowed to continue working until you completed 20 years of service, and then be mandatorily retired.

3. As a nonretired member of the armed forces, you’ll get full credit for your active-duty service in determining your annual leave accrual rate. The sick leave accrual rate for all employees is the same —  four hours per biweekly pay period.

4. Information about all aspects of civilian employment and its interaction with active-duty service will be found at www.opm.gov. You’ll just have to dig around to find what you need.

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Early outs and MRAs

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Q. You have indicated that when an early out is offered, Federal Employees Retirement System employees with more than 25 years are eligible at any age. So in theory, a potential annuitant could easily be less than 50. If the employee is not at the mandatory retirement age but has the 25-plus years of service accepts the offer, is he or she entitled to the Social Security makeup benefit? If not immediately, when?

A. Unless they are special category employees, such as law enforcement officers, they won’t be eligible for the special retirement supplement until they reach their minimum retirement age. MRAs range between 55 and 57, depending on the year of birth.

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Mandatory retirement

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Q. I am a federal law enforcement officer covered under the 6C retirement. When I hired on in 1989,  the maximum hiring age was 35 with a mandatory retirement age of 55. As my career progressed, the mandatory hire/retirement ages were moved to 37 and 57 respectively.  I was advised I would be able work until I was 57. The current new hires have mandatory hire/retirement ages of 40/60 years old now. I am told that I must still retire at 57 years despite the current new hires in my organization being able to work until age 60. Is this correct? If it is, is there any class action litigation in place to contest the right to work until age 60 in my covered position?

A.  As a rule, law enforcement officers are subject to mandatory retirement at age 57. Consequently, they can’t be first hired into a covered position later than the last day of the month in which they turn 37. While there may be some agency- or occupation-based legislative variations on the upper age at which an LEO can be hired, if it is after age 37, the employee must be separated on the last day of the month in which he completes 20 years of covered service. To the best of my knowledge there isn’t any pending litigation to contest the law. Prior attempts to change it have failed.

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Mandatory retirement before Social Security

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Q: I am an air traffic controller with the DoD. I will reach 20 years of service at age 59 years and 2 months. As an air traffic controller, I will face mandatory retirement. 1) Since I will not be eligible for Social Security, are there benefit programs available to me to bridge the gap from mandatory retirement to Social Security? 2) Will my civil service government pension impact the amount I receive from Social Security? 3) I draw a military retirement pension; will this pension impact my Social Security benefits?

A: You will receive the special retirement supplement, which approximates the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while you were a FERS employee. That benefit continues to age 62, when you become eligible for a Social Security benefit. At age 62 your Social Security benefit will be recomputed to included all of your Social Security-covered employment. However, both your SRS and your Social Security benefit can be reduced or suspended if you have earnings from wages or self employment that exceed the Social Security earnings limit.

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