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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

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For the first time in the 30 years, I'm homesick. I live in the Washington suburbs, but for the past few days I haven't not been able to come home because the East Coast and beyond has been snowed in. I've spent the week in a hotel room trying to book and rebook flights and lodging. The irony is I'm one of the few who love the snow.

I'll stop grumbling now. Speaking of which, there was a lot of grumbling after my trifecta of columns on civilian and military service credit deposits last month. In particular, the last of the three led to a lot of comments and questions that I think need to be addressed to finally put the topic to rest. Let's take a look at some of them.

I repaid over $9,000 to my retirement fund. Fortunately, I made copies of my payment coupons and my credit union provided copies of my canceled checks. I cannot get an accurate retirement estimate and the Office of Personnel Management claims to have no records on me. They referred me to the National Personnel Records Center, which also has no information regarding my repayment. My retirement date is Jan. 2, 2011, and I'm wondering if I'll have to file a congressional complaint to get this straightened out in time.

Here are three things that might help:

  • If you have paid a deposit or redeposit, the agency you work for will be able to include that information in your retirement estimate without proof of the payment. (It is after all, only an estimate.) But it's very good that you saved the records of your payment, because it does provide proof if you need it in the future.
  • The National Personnel Records Center, located in St. Louis, Mo., is not going to have a record of your deposit. Your current personnel records are with your agency, and your retirement records (other than from your current appointment) are stored at an OPM facility in Boyers, Pa. You seem to be getting misleading information. I suggest you talk to a retirement specialist or supervisor at your agency.
  • If you write to your representative in Congress regarding this problem, you might get action, but keep your letter short and to the point, and make sure of the facts before you write. If OPM does receive a congressional inquiry, it will respond. Remember, because of the problems OPM has been having with processing service credit payments, it is now mostly a manual process. The office is giving priority to employees who are retiring soon.

I have been trying to contact OPM regarding the new rules that allow individuals who are under the Federal Employees Retirement System on or after Oct. 28, 2009, to pay a redeposit of refunded contributions. I called OPM and actually spoke with a live person who told me to wait until my retirement benefit was calculated. One problem: I can't retire for another 17 years.

Current employees covered under FERS who want to pay a redeposit of a refund of their retirement contributions and who are not about to retire must wait until OPM has created a system to collect such payments. The law allowing redeposits was passed at the end of October, but OPM really couldn't begin to prepare for the change until it became final. I'm guessing that when forms are eventually distributed, there will be an interest-free grace period for initial applications. That's how it worked when folks under the Civil Service Retirement System first were able to pay their military deposits in 1982.

FERS employees also should be able to buy back their post-1988 temporary time. Many current permanent employees worked many years under temporary status at the beginning of their careers.

I agree, and I'm sure there are many more employees with temporary service and seasonal employment on their records who would love to see this change. The change that allows redeposits of FERS refunds is a step in the right direction.

Prior to being hired as a FERS employee, I had nine years of active duty in the Public Health Service. Is PHS handled any differently from the other uniformed services? When the policy is described for a "military" payback, PHS usually is not included.

The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps has been treated the same as other uniformed service branches since June 1960. Read more in Chapter 22 of the CSRS and FERS Handbook.

I have three years of military active duty. I was hired in 1984 as a civilian, and was put into FERS in 1987. Do I have to pay back my military service if I work 30 years (not including my military time) and am at my minimum retirement age?

You never have to pay any deposit. They all are optional. Under FERS, you must pay the military service deposit if you want to use the service for eligibility and/or computation of your basic retirement benefit. You will not need your military service to be eligible for retirement, because you were young enough when you were hired that you will have 30 years of civilian service by the time you reach the FERS minimum retirement age (55-57).

But remember, the additional three years of service added to the computation of your FERS benefit will add 3 percent of your high-three average salary to your FERS retirement. Your deposit will be computed based on 3 percent of your military base pay (plus interest, depending on when you make the payment). This generally is going to result in a very good return on your investment.

I am a member of the Senior Executive Service drawing military retirement for 21 years and 4 months of combined enlisted and commissioned service. How do I determine the cost of the military service deposit if I elect to combine my military service time with FERS when I retire in 10 years (at age 70)? How will this affect my Social Security benefits upon retirement?

I suggest you do two things to help you make your decision:

  • Find out how much you need to pay for the military service credit deposit. You will have to get an estimate of your basic pay from the military finance center using Form RI 20-97. Once you have the amount of your estimated earnings, the human resources specialist at your agency can compute the amount that you will owe.
  • Request two retirement estimates from your retirement benefits specialist in your HR office. The first one should be based only on your civilian service, and the second on a combined career with both the military and civilian service (which will require payment of the military deposit and a waiver of your retired pay at the time you retire under FERS).

This should provide the information you need to make the financial decision that is in your best interest. Because you are a high-level civilian employee and a portion of your military service was enlisted time, I have a feeling you might be better off combining your two careers when you retire. But don't take my word for it. Do the homework. It is well-worth the effort.

I'm confused as to why those under FERS who retire prior to 2014 only get half of their unused sick leave credited. What is the reasoning?

If it makes you feel any better, employees who retired under FERS prior to Oct. 28, 2009, didn't get any credit for their unused sick leave. The change in policy is being phased in, allowing 50 percent credit for employees who retire prior to Jan. 1, 2014, and full credit afterwards. It will cost the government money to add the extra time to the FERS retirement benefit, which is probably the reason for phasing in the change. 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 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 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.

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