Pay and Benefits Watch: A longer leave year, a delay in pay

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Here's an arcane federal rule that you may need to remember when planning your vacation: The leave year begins on the first day of the first full pay period of the year.

Because Sunday, Dec. 31, 2000 is the beginning of a pay period for most federal employees, the leave year for 2000 does not end until Jan. 13. The 2001 leave year begins on Jan. 14, 2001, the first day of the first full pay period of the year.

That means you have until Jan. 13, 2001 to use up any "use-or-lose" leave that you have accumulated this year.

Annual pay increases work the same way. So across-the-board pay increases and locality pay increases for 2001 won't take effect, for most workers, until the pay period beginning Jan. 14, 2001. The pay rates for 2000 will be in effect until Jan. 13, 2001, or for 27 pay periods.

In calendar year 2000, there are only 26 pay days. In calendar years with 27 pay days, executives who are capped by the IRS limit ($10,500 this year) on Thrift Savings Plan contributions must redistribute their biweekly contributions to take full advantage of matching agency contributions. For most federal employees, the last time a calendar year had 27 pay days was in 1996 and 1997, and that won't happen again for several more years (For more on calendar years with 27 pay days, see "Why your paychecks don't always add up", Sept. 9, 1999).

Some federal employees are on alternate pay cycles, so their leave years begin and end at different times.

But every cycle that is a biweekly cycle, because of the way our calendar works, generates a 27th period every so often. Employees don't ever get cheated out of a pay day in any year, but accounting for the extra period can certainly make your head spin.

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