By Tammy Flanagan
July 4, 2008Here are answers to some of your questions about calculating retirement benefits under the Federal Employees Retirement System and the Civil Service Retirement System.
Military Service and FERS
Where can I find information on the effects of buying back military time under the Federal Employees Retirement System?
Military service is creditable under FERS only if you make a military service credit deposit. Even though the rules are more complicated than that simple statement, the basic benefit of paying a military deposit is that one year of active duty equals 1 percent of your high-three average salary. If your high-three average salary is $60,000, then adding one year of military service to the time used to compute your FERS retirement benefit would add $600 a year, or $50 a month, to your lifetime FERS basic benefit.
Information on FERS can be found on the Office of Personnel Management's Web site.
I am in the process of paying down my nearly 12 years of Navy time for FERS purposes. If I go back into military service, is there a way to recover these funds?
If you return to uniformed service and later become entitled to military retirement benefits, you will be entitled to a refund of money paid toward a military service deposit at the time you apply for FERS benefits. OPM automatically refunds an incomplete deposit for a period of military service to a separated employee when it finalizes the application for retirement benefits, unless the incomplete deposit would pay for one or more full periods of military service. If the employee has more than one period of military service and the incomplete deposit would cover all of the deposit for at least one of the periods, OPM would refund only the part of the deposit in excess of the amount needed to cover one or more full periods.
If you leave your civilian career before you are eligible to retire, but have at least five years of civilian service, you will be entitled to a deferred FERS retirement benefit. That would be paid as early as your FERS minimum retirement age if you have at least 10 years of service, or at age 62 if you have more than five but less than 10 years.
Redeposit a Refund
Recently, I received a statement of my service computation dates from the Housing and Urban Development Department's human resources office, but it did not show that I had paid a redeposit to OPM to restore almost five years of service credit from the 1980s. Fortunately, I kept the OPM statement that showed the funds were repaid. Within a day of contacting HUD, the situation was corrected. It was lucky HR contacted me.
When you pay a civilian service credit deposit, the payment is made directly to the Office of Personnel Management. Your agency would not be aware of this payment unless you or your agency filed a copy of the deposit record in your personnel file. Most agencies will assume that if you had a break in service and you were covered by CSRS that you took a refund of your contributions when you left. Under FERS, remember that you cannot redeposit a refund of contributions.
Under CSRS, is the retirement annuity based on the high-three or high-five salary years?
The high-three average salary is used to compute the CSRS as well as the FERS basic retirement benefit.
Please explain the 80 percent maximum CSRS retirement that is achieved after working more than 41 years and 11 months.
Under CSRS, the maximum retirement benefit payable is 80 percent of the high-three average salary. Based on the CSRS retirement formula, that benefit would be earned once an employee has 41 years and 11 months of creditable service. If a CSRS employee has unused sick leave at retirement, it is converted to service credit, which could allow the benefit to exceed 80 percent. For example, an employee with 43 years of service and one year of sick leave credit (2,087 hours) would receive 82 percent of the high-three, since all service beyond 10 years is computed at 2 percent of the high-three per year. When OPM determines the point you reach 41 years and 11 months of service, the agency will compute a refund of excess retirement contributions for all your remaining service.
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.
By Tammy Flanagan
July 4, 2008