Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

OPM-SSA integration

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Q: I am an employee under the Civil Service Retirement System Offset program, and I plan on retiring at age 64. I know my annuity will be reduced for the period of time I was an offset employee. I have dealt with the local Social Security Administration office and I am concerned; they had no idea what the offset is. Does the Office of Personnel Management deal with SSA experts for the offset?

A: OPM and the Social Security Administration have a file-matching system that allows OPM to accurately reduce a CSRS Offset annuity by the amount of Social Security benefit earned while covered by CSRS Offset, and for Social Security to provide a benefit based on an employee’s total Social Security-covered employment.

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Applying for annuity long after retirement

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Q: If someone who is eligible for an immediate retirement annuity chooses to simply quit federal employment and submit for the annuity at a later time, where does that person apply for the annuity?

A: You can apply on your own. Just go to the Office of Personnel Management website and click on Find Form(s). Fill out an SF 2801 (Civil Service Retirement System) or SF 3107 (Federal Employees Retirement System). After you’re done, print a copy and send it to the following address: Office of Personnel Management, Retirement Operations Center, PO Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017-0045 and mark it “Attn: Application for Immediate Retirement.”

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CSRS Offset and Social Security

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Q: I am a Civil Service Retirement System Offset retiree (15 years in offset) and turned 62 in October. I [was] scheduled to receive my first Social Security benefit Dec. 22. I have contacted the Office of Personnel Management on several occasions requesting to know how much my annuity will be offset, but no one seems to know. My annuity still has not changed. Is it normal for OPM to be late in changing (offsetting) annuities of CSRS Offset retirees? How will overpayments of my annuity be handled?

A: Because you aren’t due for your first Social Security benefit check until the end of December, it’s likely that OPM will make the reduction in your January annuity payment. While OPM doesn’t provide estimates of CSRS Offset reductions, you can get a good idea about what it will be by using the online calculator at www.FEDbens.us.

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FERS coverage exceptions

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Q: What is the exception for automatic coverage under the Federal Employees Retirement System for federal employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 1987, and for most employees hired after Dec. 31, 1983?

A: There are number of exceptions to the automatic FERS coverage you referred to. To find out what they are, go to this handbook on the Office of Personnel Management website and scroll down to Section 10A1.3-5, entitled “FERS: Exclusions.”

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Federal service under multiple programs

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Q: What are the available annuity options for a federal employee with 19 years of service under the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System (FSRDS) and an additional 21 years under the Civil Service Retirement System? A former spouse has an entitlement for the 19 years under FSRDS, and a current spouse has entitlement for the 21 years in CSRS. Is there an option for two separate annuity computations? Also, what are the various benefits included in a lump-sum payment from the Office of Personnel Management?

A: If you don’t take steps to combine your service, you would be eligible for a FSRDS deferred annuity at age 60. Because you have at least 20 years of service, you’d be eligible for an immediate CSRS annuity at age 60. You could also retire under the minimum retirement age plus-10 provision when you reach your MRA, which ranges between 55 and 57 depending on your year of birth. However, your annuity would be reduced by 5 percent for every year you were under age 62 unless you postponed the receipt of your annuity to a later date.
 
As to your final question, basically there are  two kinds of lump-sum payments. One is for unused annual leave and is paid either when you resign from the government or retire. The other is a refund of your retirement contributions if you resign from the government before being eligible for a retirement benefit.

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Tracking down life insurance benefits

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Q: My brother retired from the U.S. Postal Service a few years ago. He passed away a few weeks ago, and his wife asked the San Antonio post office how she could apply for his insurance. She was told that he had no insurance. He specifically told me that he did: I retired from civil service and have insurance, and my brother said that he had the same sort of coverage. If he has a claim it would be a great aid to his widow.

A: His widow should call the Office of Personnel Management’s Retirement Information Office at 888-767-6738 and report his death. Make sure she has his retiree identification number at hand. It begins with the letters “CSA.” They will know whether she is entitled to a survivor annuity and a benefit from the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance program. They will also provide her with the paperwork needed to file her claim.

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Buying back temp time

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Q: I worked in a federal job as a temporary employee where no retirement deductions were taken out for seven years. I was then converted to a permanent employee. I am now 62 years old with 33 years of federal service and a service computation date of 1977. I am looking at retirement but I am reading about the requirement to pay a deposit back so that my annuity will not be reduced by 10 percent. How do I go about determining what that amount is, and how do I pay it back?

A: Because your period of nondeduction service occurred before Oct. 1, 1982, you have the option of making a deposit to get credit for that time in your annuity computation or having your annuity reduced by 10 percent of the amount you owe, plus accrued interest. You can find out how much you owe by completing Standard Form 2803, Application to Make Deposit or Redeposit, available from you personnel office or online, and sending it to the Office of Personnel Management. Once you have that information, you can figure out which is the best option.

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WEP and disability annuities, survivor benefits

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Q: My mother started with the U.S. Postal Service in 1974. Due to health issues, she retired on disability (not based on age or years of service) with her annuity commencing in September 1992. Her husband died in March and was receiving Social Security. When she applied for survivor benefits, it took almost three months for the Office of Personnel Managment to get back to Social Security and we were told even at that point they did not provide the information originally requested. Social Security made the decision that the survivor benefits fell under the windfall elimination provision. We are not sure why this decision was made. My mother was eligible to receive a disability pension prior to December 1982, and her husband was self-employed with net earnings generally equal to hers. Is she under the WEP because she wasn’t eligible to receive a regular pension before December 1982?

A: The windfall elimination provision applies to anyone who receives a disability annuity from a retirement system into which he or she didn’t pay Social Security taxes and began receiving that annuity after 1985. For the official story, read this Social Security Administration fact sheet.

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Enough time to earn retirement pay?

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Q: From January 1990 through August 1993, I was a Treasury Department adviser to Saudi Arabian Ministry of Finance. During that tenure, I purchased credit in the retirement system for the three years of active duty in the Navy (1967-1970). So, I have something slightly in excess of 6.5 years in the system. I am now 67 years old and self-employed.

My questions are the following: Do I have sufficient time in the Treasury Department’s retirement system to draw a monthly stipend? If so, who would I contact to start these benefits? If not, how much more time as a government employee would be required to meet the minimum?

A: Assuming that you did not take a refund of your retirement contributions and the money you deposited for your active-duty service, you could retire now and receive an annuity. Anyone with five years of creditable service can do that when he reaches age 62. To apply for an annuity, you’ll need to fill out a copy of Standard Form 3107, Application for Immediate Retirement, and send it to the Office of Personnel Management.

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Law enforcement re-employment

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Q: I retired from federal service in 2006 under the law enforcement retirement provision. I have since been re-employed by the government with a waiver for a temporary law enforcement position that allows me to receive both my annuity and the full salary of my new job. I have been informed that when my temporary position ends, the Office of Personnel Management will recalculate my retirement. Are there are any special provisions that would apply to my situation due to being re-employed with a waiver? Because I have not been contributing to retirement in my temporary position, would the recalculation just involve additional years of service?

A: You’ll need to find out which appointment authority was used to hire you, because with rare exception, anyone who receives a waiver that allows him to keep his salary and the full salary of his position isn’t entitled to any additional retirement credit for the time he is re-employed. If your authority does allow you to get credit for that time, you’d have to work one year to be entitled to a supplemental annuity and at least five years to have your annuity recomputed. In either case, you’d have to make a deposit to the retirement system to get that credit.

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Military service and reduction-in-force

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Q: Is a reserve-component retired military person considered a nonveteran the same as an active-duty retired military person in a reduction-in-force?

A: To find out how your service in the armed forces would be credited during a reduction-in-force, read the Office of Personnel Management’s VetGuide, located online here.

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Extension of dependent health care

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Q: My son has recently been dropped from my health care because he reached the age of 22. I have heard that there might be an extension of health benefits for dependents. Has there been any decision on this? Also, are there any provisions of adding dependents after the open health benefits period, which is approaching.

A: Extending the age at which dependents may be covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits program would require a change in the law. Although such a change was proposed by the previous Office of Personnel Management director, Congress has so far has taken no action. At present, dependents can only be added after the close of an open season if a specific event occurs, such as when the enrollee marries, has a new child born of the marriage or adopts a child.

— Reg Jones

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