Ready to Go? Here’s What You Need to Do First

A step-by-step guide.

The number of federal employees who filed for retirement jumped 24 percent in fiscal 2018. If you are planning to become part of the growing group of people transitioning into retirement, there are some important steps to follow to make sure the process goes smoothly.

To help you understand them, this week I’m updating one of the first columns I wrote in 2006, called “Smoothing the Transition.”

To retire under the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System, you must be old enough and have enough creditable service to earn a federal retirement benefit. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are no longer going to work. Some people leave government service on a Friday and start working in the private sector on the following Monday. Whether you plan to continue to work after leaving federal service or fully retire, here’s a to-do list to get you started.

Check your service history. This step can (and should) be done early in your career, but be certain to complete it before you file your CSRS or FERS retirement application. This is especially true if you’ve worked for other federal agencies or have served on active duty in the military. It is important to be sure your agency has maintained a clear and complete record of your service so you’ll get an accurate retirement benefit.

The service computation date on your leave and earnings statement is computed for leave and earnings, not retirement. To make sure your federal service history is complete, request a retirement estimate from your agency, and review it to be sure it includes a summary of your federal service. If it doesn’t, then review your electronic Official Personnel Folder to verify that it includes the beginning and ending dates of every period of your creditable federal service.

Make sure you have duplicate copies of key forms. Throughout your career, you should have been provided with copies of personnel action forms. They’re also filed in your eOPF. It pays to keep a copy of these forms in your possession. If something should turn up missing, you will then be able to produce your own copy.

Consider service credit deposits. You may have the option to pay a service credit deposit to either receive credit for service or to avoid a permanent reduction in your retirement benefit. There are three types of service credit deposits:

  • Deposits to CSRS or FERS for civilian service that was not covered by retirement deductions. This is called nondeduction service.
  • Redeposits of refunded CSRS contributions.
  • Deposits for post-1956 military service.

In the annual index of Retirement Planning columns, you can find more than two dozen past columns dedicated to the topic of service credit issues.

Ask questions. Your retirement estimate is just that—an educated guess. Only the Office of Personnel Management can make it official. If something doesn't look right, ask why. The better you understand the benefits you are entitled to, the easier it is to ask questions that may uncover a potential delay-causing problem.

Keep copies of divorce records. If you have a former spouse who was awarded part of your retirement or survivor benefits, keep a copy of your divorce decree or court order. If you don't understand the value of the benefit payable to your former spouse, contact your attorney for an explanation. Be prepared to provide a copy of your most recent retirement estimate.

Make sure you’re eligible to maintain your health insurance and life insurance coverage. Federal Employees Health Benefits and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance are valuable benefits to carry into retirement. Review the rules to maintain FEHB and FEGLI as a federal retiree. There is a “five-year” test that must be met in order to keep these benefits.

Submit your retirement application at least 30 days before your planned retirement date. In many agencies, it is common to give 90 days notice of retirement. This advance planning allows the agency to begin to put your retirement package together before you leave. Since you are still on the job, it will be easier for them to contact you if any questions or concerns surface. Remember, thousands of federal employees enter retirement every month.

Get educated. Having conducted thousands of pre-retirement seminars, I've discovered many employees are focused on their current careers and approach retirement with a dangerous lack of knowledge about basic considerations. If you feel unprepared, plan to attend a pre-retirement seminar at your agency or another location. There are also many online training opportunities available to help you plan for retirement.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Most federal careers end with a smooth transition to retirement, but if you encounter a problem, take a deep breath and develop a game plan. Keep the lines of communication open with your agency and work to find an equitable solution.