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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

Getting Credit

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Editor's Note: This is the first edition of our new weekly column on federal retirement issues. In each column, veteran federal benefits expert Tammy Flanagan will offer information and hands-on advice for employees at all stages of their careers. To sign up to receive the column by e-mail, click here.

Did you work for another federal agency before the one you work for now? Did you have a summer job working for a federal agency when you were in high school or college? Did you serve in the military or ROTC? Did you volunteer in the Peace Corps or VISTA? These are examples of potentially creditable service that may not be documented in your official personnel file.

The value of your benefits from the Civil Service Retirement System or Federal Employees Retirement System comes from length of service and your high-three average salary. The more service and the higher your salary, the more benefits you will receive. Missing service records can prevent you from receiving benefits that you have earned.

With few exceptions, all of your federal civilian employment and military service is creditable toward your CSRS or FERS retirement benefit. And the key to getting the credit is to have the service clearly documented in your official personnel records. Solution Periodically throughout your career, review your official personnel folder. Regardless of where you work, you have the right to review your personnel records, even if they are not stored at your location. Many agencies are automating personnel records storage. You may be able to check your service records online. It is also important to maintain personal copies of these important documents.

Civilian service is usually documented on a Notification of Personnel Action (SF 50) form. Military service is generally found on your active duty record, form DD-214. If you find that there are missing or incomplete records, work with your retirement specialist to locate them or obtain acceptable replacements. You may have documents at home in your own records indicating your service. It is obviously easier to locate your records if you begin compiling and storing them yourself early in your career, but remember, it's never too late! Resources

Checklist
  • Office of Human Capital: Review official personnel records maintained by your agency.
  • At Home: Look for missing documentation.
  • Office of Human Capital: Request a retirement estimate (within 5 years of retirement).
  • Office of Human Capital and online: Request a certified summary of federal service. This form is part of the retirement application, but may also be used for retirement counseling or to respond to an employee's request for a record of creditable service.
Follow-Up

By the time you retire, your agency should have clear documentation of your entire federal career. The next step is to find out if you owe a deposit (payment for service credit) for the documented service. More on this issue in a future column.

Have questions or comments about this column? Want to see what others are saying about it? Click here.

Tammy Flanagan has spent 30 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits. She runs her own consulting business at www.tammyflanagan.com and provides individual counseling as well as online training for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Plan Your Federal Retirement as well as the Federal Long Term Care insurance Program. She also serves as the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Federal News Radio on Mondays at 10 a.m. ET on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington-metro area. Archived shows are available on NITPInc.com.

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