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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

Are You Ready to Apply?

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Based on the 2012 numbers so far, many of you will be retiring soon. The Office of Personnel Management projected it would receive 8,000 retirement claims in August. The agency actually received 8,973. OPM projected 7,000 claims would be filed in September, but the final count was 11,952. The October numbers will be out soon. OPM projected 7,000, but . . . we’ll see. (If you’re interested, OPM’s monthly reports are filed here.)

So, if you’re one of the thousands of federal employees who are planning to retire at the end of 2012 -- OPM projects 21,000 claims will be filed in January 2013 -- then it’s time to start the application process.

Retirement Application

You’ll have to complete Civil Service Retirement System Form SF 2801 or Federal Employees Retirement System Form SF 3107. (Both are available here.)

Here are some things to keep in mind as you complete the application:

  • Agencies would like you to turn in these forms to a retirement specialist in your human resources office at least 30 days before your planned retirement date. Larger organizations prefer a 60-90 day time frame. This is in your best interest so that the HR portion of the application process can take place prior to your retirement. Your payroll office can’t complete the process until you’ve actually left federal service, since it has to send in payroll information such as your final accounting of leave and your retirement contributions record.
  • If you have questions about filling out the forms, contact your HR retirement specialist for assistance. Some agencies will provide telephone -- or in some cases, in person -- counseling for this purpose. If you are married, include your spouse in these discussions.
  • If you don’t know who the retirement specialist is in your organization, check the employee page of your agency’s website or contact your headquarters-level agency benefits officer to find out whom you should contact. Here’s a directory of such officers.
  • If you’re retiring at the end of 2012, look back at my Best Dates to Retire 2012 column for tips on choosing a specific date.
  • Be sure to fill out your forms legibly and with no erasures or mistakes. These forms will be read by a human, not a computer. The easier they are to read, the quicker they will be processed.
  • All applicants have to make a survivor election in Section F of the SF 2801 or Section D of the SF 3107, regardless of whether they are married, widowed, divorced or single. If you’re married and you choose less than the full survivor annuity, spousal consent must be provided. You’ll have to complete an additional form that is included in the application called Spouse’s Consent to Survivor Election. This form must be notarized.
  • Make a copy of all retirement forms to keep in your records.

Thrift Savings Plan

If you’re planning to take a withdrawal from your TSP account after you retire, wait a minimum of 30 days after your separation. This will allow time for your agency to notify the TSP that you are no longer a federal employee and are eligible to make a withdrawal.

Here are a few important TSP resources:

To make the withdrawal application easier and more accurate, when you’re ready to request your withdrawal, log into “My Account” on the TSP website and click on the “Withdrawals” link on the menu. You will need your 8-character password and your TSP account number (or user ID). You will be able to click on the partial withdrawal link (if you are eligible) and a full withdrawal link. Each link takes you to an easy program that will lead you step-by-step through the withdrawal process and will help you avoid mistakes that could cause your form to be delayed or rejected.

Social Security

The Social Security Administration offers an online retirement application that you can complete in as little as 15 minutes. There's no need to drive to a local Social Security office or wait for an appointment with a Social Security representative. In most cases, once your application is submitted electronically, you’re done.

You also can contact Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tell the representative which type of benefits you wish to apply for: retirement, spouses, Medicare, disability, Supplemental Security Income or survivors.

If you would prefer to visit your local Social Security office, here’s a list of office locations.

You can apply for benefits up to four months before you want your benefit to begin. You must be at least 61 years and 9 months old to apply for Social Security retirement benefits for yourself.

Here are a couple of other Social Security resources:

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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