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What Happens to Your Retirement Paperwork

A complex and often slow process unfolds after you apply.

Last week, we looked at how the formal federal retirement process starts, when you get your paperwork in order and file your application at your agency. This week, we’ll explore what happens after your agency sends the application to the Office of Personnel Management. 

OPM will notify you when your application is received and provide a civil service claim identification number (a seven-digit figure preceded by "CSA"). You must use this number whenever you contact OPM about your annuity.

If you need to get in touch with OPM before you receive your claim number, first contact your former payroll office to find the date your records were transferred to OPM. Your payroll office should provide you with the number and date of the Register of Separations and Transfers. You will also need your payroll identification number. Be sure to have contact information for your agency’s personnel and payroll office in case you have questions before your claim gets to OPM.

Here’s what OPM does to process your claim:

  • Obtains any information missing from your retirement documents.
  • Determines your eligibility for an annuity and continued health and life insurance coverages.
  • Computes the amount of your annuity.
  • Sends you materials concerning your survivor benefit election, authorizes your annuity payment and sends you an annuity statement.

Regular monthly payments are due the first business day of the month. The payment covers the month before the month in which the payment is made.

Time Frame

As of July 2019, the average processing time for retirement applications is 55 days from the date OPM receives your final paperwork from your human resources and payroll offices. If your retirement records are complete upon receipt and OPM doesn’t need additional information from you or your former agency, your claim might be processed more quickly.

An additional three to four weeks may be required if OPM needs to contact you to make a specific choice about a particular benefit, or if they need to get in touch with your former employing agency for necessary information that was not included with your retirement package.

Allow extra time to process a retirement that has a court order awarding retirement or survivor benefits to a former spouse. Applications from people in special groups such as law enforcement officers, firefighters and air traffic controllers also sometimes take longer.

Here are some things that, according to OPM, can slow down the processing of your retirement claim:

  • Your form included corrections, such as scratch-outs, white-outs or lineouts. New forms must be completed in lieu of any alterations to previously entered information.
  • You failed to complete the Spouse’s Consent to Survivor Election portion of the retirement application if you’re choosing less than full survivor benefits for your current spouse. The consent form must be notarized.
  • Spousal information is lacking. Such information must be provided for all married applicants, including those separated but not yet divorced.
  • Your name, Social Security number and date of birth don’t match documents on file.
  • Documentation is not included to show an allowable reason for suspending Federal Employee Health Benefits Program coverage.

For most federal employees, the retirement benefit, along with continuation of insurance benefits, is the foundation of financial security in retirement (along with Social Security benefits and Thrift Savings Plan investments). So it pays to be careful in filling out your paperwork to begin receiving the benefit you have earned as quickly as possible.