- You can request a final retirement benefit computation from your benefits office to verify all your federal service is being credited and to make sure you don't owe any money to the retirement fund.
- You'll have time to consider the important decisions you'll make at retirement regarding service credit deposits, survivor benefits and continuation of insurance.
- You can begin to seriously contemplate life after retirement.
In other words, it's not too early to start planning for 2011. So let's take a month-by-month look at next year's best dates. (If you're still figuring out the best date to retire for 2010, then here's this year's calendar.)
On the months below, the dates highlighted in blue signify the last day of the month. That's always considered a good day to retire because you become an annuitant the following day. That's true for employees under both the Civil Service Retirement System (and CSRS Offset) and the Federal Employees Retirement System.
Under CSRS, the days highlighted in yellow -- the 1st, 2nd or 3rd of the month -- are sometimes good, because retirement benefits still will kick in the following day. Another important set of days -- the end of the leave periods for most federal employees -- are highlighted in gray.
Just to be clear, here's a key:
End of a leave period
End of the month
Beginning of the month
Let's get to the calendar:
December 2010/January 2011
For those retiring at the end of 2010, you can't beat Friday, Dec. 31. You don't even have to go to work that day, because it's a federal holiday. It's also at the end of the 2010 leave year. As long as you have completed your 80 hours of work period, you will have earned your final leave accrual. Technically, the leave year ends on Jan. 1, 2011, but that isn't a good date to retire under FERS, because you wouldn't receive a January retirement check. Under CSRS it would be OK, except your retirement check for January would be computed at 29/30 of the full payment. Why lose 1/30 of your retirement check if you don't have to?
If you are cashing out more than the amount allowed for the maximum leave carryover (240 hours for most federal employees), then Jan. 2 or Jan. 3 are not good dates, because they're the beginning dates of the 2011 leave year, and you would be limited to no more than 240 hours of annual leave going into 2011.
If you're not worried about leave carryover, then Jan. 31 wouldn't be a bad date. It would provide a little credit toward your high-three computation at the 2011 pay rate and allow you to spend some 2011 flexible spending account dollars before you retire. But the expenses would have to be incurred before your final day of employment.
Feb. 1-3 wouldn't be bad days for a CSRS employee. You'd be in a full pay status for those days and your first retirement check would be for 27/30 of the February payment (payable on March 1). Even though you wouldn't get to the end of a leave period, you would get three more days of service. If you added that to your unused sick leave, then you might get another month of service to compute your retirement. Feb. 28 isn't a bad date, either. Your first retirement payment would be April 1 for the month of March.
Same advice as February. The first three days are good for CSRS and the last day of the month is always good to consider. Springtime retirements allow employees to contribute to their Thrift Savings Plan accounts for a few months before retirement, and make use of their flexible spending accounts.
Who wouldn't want to retire on April Fool's Day? If you're under CSRS, you can become an annuitant on April 2 and your first retirement payment will be computed for 29/30 of April, payable on May 1. If you're under FERS, choose March 31 or April 30 instead. They're not as memorable, but at least you'll get your first month's retirement payment.
May 2 or 3 aren't bad dates for CSRS employees who want to add a few more days of full salary to their final paycheck, along with two or three more days of creditable service. May 31 also works. Since May 30 is the Memorial Day holiday, you would report to work on Tuesday to pack up and say goodbye.
June 3 is a particularly sweet day for those under CSRS. It's a Friday, it's the end of the leave period and it's within the first three days of the month. The only thing that could be better is if it were a federal holiday. For FERS employees, May 31 or June 30 would be your days.
The federal holiday falls on Monday, July 4, so that doesn't work out to be a good date. Friday, July 1 isn't bad for CSRS employees for the same reason Friday, June 3 is a good date. If you need a day or two of additional service to make up another month in your retirement computation, then consider July 2 or 3. Otherwise, stick with July 1. For FERS employees, it's June 30 or July 31.
For those under CSRS, Aug. 1-3 won't get you to the end of a leave period or even to the end of a week. But they are workdays, so you'll be paid your salary for those days and your retirement benefit will begin on Aug. 4. Your first check will be for 27/30 of August, payable on Sept. 1. FERS retirees should focus on July 31 or Aug. 31.
Sept. 2 isn't bad for CSRS retirees. Sept. 30 looks pretty good, too. Sept. 5 is the Labor Day holiday, so you can squeeze one more of those in before you go.
I'd recommend leaving at the end of September rather than Oct. 3, unless you need the extra three days of service in your CSRS retirement computation. If you leave as of Oct. 3, you'll lose three days of retirement pay and gain only one day of full salary. For FERS, it's either Sept. 30 or wait to go out on Halloween.
See my comments after February and August. The advice for November is the same.
December 2011/January 2012
Friday, Dec. 2, is a good date for CSRS employees who want to retire toward the end of the year, but not all the way at the end of December. There's a good chance you'll receive your lump-sum leave payment in 2012, which might be preferable for tax planning purposes. It's the end of a leave period, so you'll accrue leave. But if I had to decide, I'd stay until Dec. 31 and get two more leave accruals and one more holiday. Plus, if you retire on Dec. 31, you'll get your lump-sum leave payment computed at the 2012 salary rate.
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.