Countdown to Retirement
Even if you've picked a date almost a year away, though, there are things you should begin to do to make sure the process is a smooth one. Here's a brief checklist.
Complete your retirement application. This should be done at least three months before your retirement date (or as soon as possible after you've made the decision to retire if you are leaving in less than three months). You might need some time to research and ponder decisions regarding survivor benefits, previous federal service and insurance options. Here are links to the relevant forms: Civil Service Retirement System Application, Federal Employees Retirement System Application.
Request a final retirement estimate from your human resources office. You might have an estimate you requested a year or more ago. But now that you've set an exact date, you'll be able to get a more accurate calculation. Then you can review it and ask questions to be sure you understand how it was computed and that it accurately reflects your career. Remember, it still will be only an estimate. The Office of Personnel Management must finalize the amount you receive.
Make decisions regarding any service credit payments that are outstanding. These unpaid "deposits" can permanently affect the amount of your retirement benefits. If you're not sure about this issue, here are four columns that address it:
- Getting Credit (Jan. 27, 2006)
- Buying Retirement Credit (Feb. 10, 2006)
- Redepositing CSRS Refunds (Feb. 17, 2006)
- Military Service Payback (Feb. 24, 2006)
If you're divorced, consider the implications. Does your former spouse have any rights to a portion of your retirement, survivor benefits, or Thrift Savings Plan funds? You will need to submit a copy of your divorce decree with your retirement application if your former spouse was awarded a survivor annuity under CSRS or FERS. For more information, see D-I-V-O-R-C-E (Aug. 24, 2007).
Request that state taxes be withheld from your benefits, if necessary. OPM will automatically advise you regarding federal income tax withholding. (Here's a withholding calculator from the OPM Web site.) But it's up to you to request to have state income tax withheld. Some states won't tax your retirement payments; others will, but not necessarily at the same rate as other income. Here's a summary of state tax rules for 2007.
Make a plan to withdraw your TSP funds. Don't send in a withdrawal request until you have been out of government for at least 30 days. It's important to allow time for your agency to notify the TSP that you are no longer a current employee. Here are some forms and publications to get you started:
- TSP 77, Request for Partial Withdrawal When Separated
- TSP 70, Request for Full Withdrawal When Separated
- TSP Book 2, Withdrawing Your TSP Account after Leaving Federal Service
- Important Tax Information about Payments From Your TSP Account
Contact the Social Security Administration if necessary. Here are a couple of situations where it might be: If you're old enough and eligible to begin receiving Social Security benefits; or if you already are receiving benefits because you are over the full Social Security retirement age, but are getting ready to retire and collect a CSRS retirement. You can contact SSA on its Web site or by calling 800-772-1213.
Reevaluate your insurance needs. You may be able to reduce your life insurance if your kids are now grown and your house is paid off. Here's a calculator to determine how much Federal Employees Group Life Insurance you are currently carrying and how much it is costing you. You may also want to consider purchasing long-term care insurance if you don't already have a policy.
Make sure you'll be eligible to maintain your Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan coverage into retirement. To continue coverage, you must have retired on an immediate annuity, and have been continuously enrolled (or covered as a family member) in any FEHBP plan for the five years of service immediately preceding retirement -- or if less than five years, for all service since your first opportunity to enroll. You can continue coverage under the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program into retirement without having five years in the plan. And retirees can enroll in FEDVIP coverage during annual open seasons.
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.