Review Your Personnel Records
Start by contacting your agency's human resources office to find out how to review your personnel history. It may involve looking through a paper file that contains your documents or logging in to an electronic records database.
You have a service computation date that appears on your leave and earnings statement that reflects your date of continuous federal service. This date was determined in order to place you in the proper leave accrual category and also to determine your next step increase if you are in the General Schedule pay system. For retirement, however, your service computation date is computed based on the evidence in your personnel records and on the rules for crediting service for retirement eligibility and computation.
Your personnel records should include:
- Beginning and ending dates of all federal service.
- Retirement coverage during your federal career.
- Type of appointment (full time, temporary, part time, etc.).
- Periods of leave without pay.
Request a Retirement Estimate
Estimates are prepared by retirement specialists in your human resources office. If you have a specific retirement date in mind, request an estimate of your Civil Service Retirement System or Federal Employees Retirement System benefits based on that date. If you haven't settled on a date yet, you can ask for an estimate of your first eligibility for retirement. Your agency may limit requests for estimates to employees who are within a year or two of retirement. This is due to the heavy demand for estimates as well as the fact that processing paperwork for employees who are actually retiring takes precedence over preparing estimates.
The agency's estimate will be reviewed by the Office of Personnel Management after you retire. It is important that you understand what goes into computing the estimate, so that you can ask questions and provide additional details about your service history or personal information. For more information, see: Retirement Estimate: The Details (May 11, 2007).
When you receive your estimate, review the following information for accuracy:
- Service history: The estimate should provide beginning and ending dates of each appointment to federal service, along with the agency and type of retirement coverage.
- Date of retirement: Remember, if you change the date you retire, the estimated benefit also will change.
- Deposit information: You may have to pay a service credit deposit in order to receive an unreduced retirement or to receive credit for certain service. You may want to review my articles on deposits to learn more about your choices: Getting Credit (Jan. 27, 2006), Buying Retirement Credit (Feb. 10, 2006), Redepositing CSRS Refunds (Feb. 17, 2006) and Military Service Payback (Feb. 24, 2006).
- Survivor elections: If your benefits specialist knows that you're married, he or she will include information about survivor benefits for your spouse that also will cause a reduction to your retirement. To read more about these choices, see Spousal Benefits (March 10, 2006) and Survivor: Federal Edition (Jan. 12, 2007).
- Monthly retirement benefit: Consider the estimated benefit you'll be receiving after taxes and insurance withholding. Will it cover your expenses? What other income will you be entitled to? Social Security benefits? Thrift Savings Plan or other investment income? Salary from a second career? Pensions from other prior employment?
- Salary information: Since your retirement benefit is based on your "high-three" average salary, be sure that the estimate reflects your largest three consecutive years of salary rates.
- Personal information: Check to make sure your name, birth date and Social Security number are accurate.
- Unusual circumstances: Are you entitled to a FERS Supplement? Will you be affected by the CSRS Offset at age 62 or when you retire? Have you worked in a part-time federal job? Check your estimate to be sure it includes information about these types of situations.
Provide Additional Information
You might need to provide additional specific information to your agency's retirement specialist, depending on your individual circumstances. Here are a few examples of information that could affect your benefits:
- If you are planning to get married (or divorced), ask for information about survivor benefits and health benefits coverage for your spouse (or former spouse).
- Your human resource office may not know that you've already paid a redeposit of a prior CSRS refund.
- They also may not have a record of seasonal work you did for an agency such as the National Park Service before you were a full-time federal employee.
- If you earned your college degree at one of the military service academies, you can receive credit for these four years of education, just as you would for active-duty military service.
Ask About Insurance Benefits
In addition to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the recently created dental, vision and long-term care insurance plans are available to retirees (and even qualified family members). But health and life insurance benefits have some basic requirements that must be met. Read more about them in these columns: Ensuring a Healthy Retirement (June 16, 2006), Life Insurance Options: Part One (Sept. 15, 2006) and Life Insurance Options: Part Two (Sept. 22, 2006). By the way, flexible spending accounts for health expenses are employee-only benefits.
Update Your Beneficiary Forms
During your career, have you married, divorced, been widowed or had children? These are all occasions when you might have wanted to update your beneficiary designations for retirement and other benefits. For more information, see Who's Your Beneficiary? (May 12, 2006).
Beneficiary designation forms are available through the Office of Personnel Management's Web site. Here are links to some of the ones you may need to update:
That should keep you busy as you begin to plan for your life after retirement. You may also want to consider attending a pre-retirement planning workshop. Most agencies schedule them on a regular basis. You also may individually enroll in a class through Management Concepts or the USDA Graduate School.
Tammy Flanagan is the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars. She has spent 25 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits.