Military Payback: More Questions

By Tammy Flanagan

June 12, 2009

Until there ceases to be confusion on the subject of military service credit deposits, I'm going to keep writing about it. My recent column, Payback Time, addressed the issue of crediting military service toward benefits under either the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System. The comments following that column show a lot of people still have questions about this issue.

Here are a few more of those questions -- and some answers:

I am planning to retire on May 2, 2011. I will have a total of 40 years of federal service. I am under CSRS. I paid back my military time of 11 years. What effect will that have on the calculation of my retirement?

If you didn't pay the deposit, you would have been a victim of what's known as Catch-62.

Since you paid the deposit, you can receive credit for your military service under both CSRS and Social Security retirement. You paid Social Security taxes on your military pay while you served on active duty after 1956. Because of the Social Security coverage, you must make a payment into CSRS to credit the military service in the computation of your CSRS retirement, even though the service would count toward eligibility whether or not you paid the deposit. Each year of military service is worth 2 percent of your high-three average salary in the computation of your CSRS retirement. Employees hired into CSRS or FERS on or after Oct. 1, 1982, must pay the military service deposit to credit the service toward eligibility and computation of your retirement benefit.

Those veterans covered under CSRS who do not qualify for Social Security at retirement if they are already 62 (or who won't qualify by the time they are 62 if they turn 62 after retirement) do not have to pay the military service deposit. For them, the service will be used in the computation of their CSRS retirement as long as it is not used to compute a military retirement (with some exceptions). Qualifying for Social Security generally means having 40 credits of coverage or the equivalent of 10 years of Social Security-covered work.

Here's how one person in this situation describes it: "I retired from CSRS in 1985. I was retired from the military as an E-9. My total military service deposit for the period from 1957 through 1968 was slightly more than $3,000. My CSRS retirement based on the military and civilian service was significantly greater than keeping the military and civilian retirement benefits separate. For me, it was a profitable decision."

I am a FERS employee working as a civilian in the Department of the Army, with 10 years of military service. I also am an enlisted member of the Air National Guard. I bought back eight years of enlisted active-duty Air Force time to count toward my FERS retirement. If I retire from the Air National Guard and from my FERS job, can I collect both pensions, or must I forfeit one?

You can receive credit for active duty in the Air Force that was performed under honorable conditions and is documented on your DD-214 military discharge form. Retirement from the Air National Guard will not affect the creditability of that service. I think there was some confusion in my last column, since military retirees cannot receive credit for the same military service toward their military retirement and civilian retirement.

The retirement specialists at your agency's human resources office can determine whether your military service is creditable toward CSRS and FERS retirement. They also can help you decide the value of paying your military service credit deposit by computing the amount you owe and showing what your retirement would look like with and without the military service used in the computation. And they can let you know if the military deposit payment will affect your eligibility for FERS retirement.

How does one get additional supporting documentation for time in the Army Reserves? I spent six-plus years active in the Army and have received credit after paying my 3 percent on my earnings. I also spent about two years in the Army Reserves, with about three weeks of that time considered active duty, before becoming a federal employee. I did not receive a DD-214. What documentation do I need to get to receive credit in FERS for the three weeks active duty while in the Army reserves? Is it worth the effort for three more weeks?

Great question. Time spent on active duty for training while serving in the reserves is something that people tend to overlook because it is not documented on the DD-214 and usually is not a lot of service. Nonetheless, it is creditable and can have an affect on the amount of your retirement under CSRS and FERS. If the time was served while on annual leave or military leave from your federal civilian position, it will not count as additional service, since it already counts as civilian service. But some people have active service in the reserves prior to their federal civilian appointment, or have interrupted their civilian service to go back on active duty.

The easiest way to document this service if you don't have adequate records is to request a Statement of Active Service from the Military Records Center in St. Louis, Mo. The request is made on the SF-180 form.

What happens if you divorced after your military service but before your civil service and your former spouse gets a percentage of your military retirement? Say she gets 40 percent of your military retirement and you waive your retirement after paying back your 3 percent. Who loses what?

Here is a reference from an OPM fact sheet on court-ordered benefits: "If the employee's military retired pay is subject to a court order awarding a former spouse a portion of the military retired pay, the retiring employee cannot receive credit for the military service for Civil Service Retirement or Federal Employees Retirement without first consenting for OPM to continue payment to the former spouse. OPM must pay the amount the military pay center would pay the former spouse if military retired pay continued."

I apologize for writing about military service twice within three weeks, but it is very important that those who are confused have accurate information.

I want to continue to call attention to the plight of those who didn't understand the consequences of not paying the military service deposit prior to their retirement. In a previous column, I wrote about my friend, Jerry Westfall, who represents the worst of what can happen to someone who failed to comprehend the law.

I can't make any promises, but if you are retired from federal civilian service and had a reduction in your CSRS retirement benefit because you did not pay your military deposit, I would love to hear from you. Click here to send your story.

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.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Monday mornings at 10 a.m. ET on federalnewsradio.com or on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington metro area.


By Tammy Flanagan

June 12, 2009

http://www.govexec.com/pay-benefits/retirement-planning/2009/06/military-payback-more-questions/29340/