Retirement Planning Retirement PlanningRetirement Planning
Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

Where to Start

ARCHIVES
Are you interested in hearing directly from Tammy on the best retirement planning strategies? Then join us for a special webinar on Monday, Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. ET. Click here for more information and to register.

Many federal employees start the retirement planning process by attending a seminar sponsored by their agency. But after two or three days of informative lectures, what's next? Here are a series of first steps you should take to ensure a smooth transition into retirement.

Review Your Personnel Records

This includes going over the official personnel folder (electronic or paper) your agency maintains as well as the records you keep at home. The length of creditable service you have performed determines your eligibility for retirement as well as the dollar amount of your benefit. For Civil Service Retirement System employees, every month of creditable service adds 1/12 of 2 percent of your high-three average salary to your retirement benefit. For those under the Federal Employees Retirement System, the value is 1/12 of 1 percent (or 1.1 percent if you're 62 or older with at least 20 years of service) of your high three.

In reviewing your records, you might encounter one of the following scenarios:

  • You have not maintained a complete history of your federal career. In that case, you'll need to make copies of personnel actions filed in your official personnel folder that show important dates, such as the date of your appointments to various positions. Remember, after you retire, you will no longer be able to access your official personnel folder.
  • The records your agency maintains are incomplete. It's important to check, because the Office of Personnel Management will use these records to compute your retirement benefit.

Many agencies are in the process of transitioning their paper records to electronic storage. When this is complete, retrieving your personnel records will be much easier. In the meantime, access to your records might be limited. Have patience.

If you find that there are missing records or discrepancies in your records, it's time to ask for help. Also, if you find documents that have someone else's information misfiled in your records, you have to let your agency know so the problem can be corrected.

Check on Service Credit Deposits

You might owe money to your retirement system (either CSRS or FERS) for a period of service that wasn't covered by retirement deductions, such as temporary service, seasonal work or intermittent service. In addition, you might have service that became creditable when you were hired as a civilian federal employee, such as active-duty service in the military or volunteer service in the Peace Corps.

Also, you might have had a break in service and withdrew your retirement contributions. Currently, only CSRS employees are able to pay back refunded contributions. This might soon change, however, for FERS employees. A provision to allow redeposits of refunded FERS contributions has been included in the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization bill currently under debate in Congress.

Here are two important questions you should ask if you owe money to the retirement system: How much? and What happens if I don't pay? To find out, you'll need the assistance of a human resources benefits specialist. If you don't know where to find one, here's a list of headquarters level agency benefits officers.

Update Your Beneficiary Designations

I've written about this before. See this column for a complete list of forms and some additional information about these documents.

Check Out Your Social Security Record

If you are eligible for Social Security, but will be retiring under CSRS, you might be affected by the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset. Here are links to two calculators from the Social Security Administration to determine if and how these will affect you:

Consider Enrolling in Medicare If you already are getting Social Security retirement or disability benefits or railroad retirement checks, you will be contacted a few months before you become eligible for Medicare and be given the information you need. For more information about Medicare, contact Social Security at 800-772-1213, or visit its Web site. If you need information about how your federal health plan coordinates coverage with Medicare, go to your plan's Web site. Here's how to find your health plan.

Evaluate Your Health Insurance Needs

It's only 17 days until this year's Federal Employee Health Benefits Program open season begins. Here are some resources to help you prepare:

Evaluate Your Life Insurance Needs

As life goes on, your need for life insurance will change. The cost of life insurance also changes as you get older. Here are some resources to help you evaluate your Federal Employees Group Life Insurance coverage:

Consider Long-Term Care Insurance

I've written about this subject during the past couple of weeks:

Track Your TSP

Investing for retirement is a skill that many employees have not learned and many really do not want to learn. But it's essential to your future financial security.

The Thrift Savings Plan provides information that will help you understand the basics. If you don't feel comfortable choosing where to put your investments, I recommend using the life-cycle funds. You also can consider consulting an independent financial adviser.

Request a Retirement Estimate

To plan properly, you need as accurate an estimate as possible of what your future benefits will be. The best retirement estimate is one done by a human being with access to your official personnel folder. This is typically an employee or contractor who works in the human resources organization within your agency and specializes in retirement benefits. He or she is often overworked, especially these days, when so many employees are contemplating retirement. So your agency might place limits on the number and timing of estimates you can request.

The software most agencies use is capable of generating retirement estimates that take into account a range of service-related issues. The estimate typically will include a summary of your federal service and other useful information you will need to prepare for retirement.

If you already have received an estimate, keep in mind that its purpose is to show what your agency knows about you. If you see things that don't look right or you don't understand, be sure to seek an explanation.

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.

 

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.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.