Setting the Retirement Process in Motion

You’ve met your retirement goals. Now it’s time to start the countdown.

Many federal employees dream about the day they can start their life after government. If this is your year for retirement and you’ve already set a date, then it’s time to begin the process of actually filing your paperwork.

The transition starts with initiating your retirement application. Your personnel and payroll offices have an important role in the process of finalizing your retirement before the Office of Personnel Management even knows you’re ready to retire. It’s OK to be optimistic that the transition will be smooth—for most people it is—but you should prepare for all the possibilities by having sufficient cash on hand to cushion a potential delay. Here’s an email I recently received from a new retiree under the Civil Service Retirement System: 

I finally retired under CSRS on Jan. 3, 2020 after 40 years of service. I received my last paycheck on time that was deposited into my bank account on Jan 11, 2020. However, that is the last I have received. No lump sum annual leave payout, no contact from OPM. Nothing. So I tried to contact the retirement unit at my former agency and got someone on the phone who told me that the person who was handling my paperwork had quit in early December.

In a large agency, with many end-of-year retirements, the loss of an experienced personnelist can cause a crisis. All of the cases that this employee had to prepare for retirement processing had to be shifted to someone else’s caseload, so it’s not surprising this caused delays. 

Your agency must submit a “healthy” retirement package to OPM in order for your retirement to be finalized. It’s a good idea not to immediately go on a long vacation or to move into a new residence in the first months following your separation. If your agency or OPM needs to get in touch with you, be sure they know how to find you.

To understand why the resignation of one employee can cause a snowball effect in retirement processing, it’s important to understand all the steps that must be followed before your retirement application is transferred to OPM for processing.

It starts with you. You’ll need to complete and submit your retirement application under CSRS or the Federal Employees Retirement System, along with your request to continue your life insurance to your agency. This involves  the following forms:

You’ll need to submit your retirement application to your agency at least 30 days before the date you want to retire. In larger organizations, you may need to allow 90 days or more. If you have a local personnel office in the organization where you work, you should ask a retirement specialist there for advice on timing. The earlier you submit your application, the more likely it will be worked on ahead of time.

Once you turn in your application, your personnel office must: 

  • Check your electronic Official Personnel Folder or its equivalent to ensure you meet the age and service requirements for retirement. 
  • Prepare a final CSRS or FERS retirement estimate to include with your retirement package, and provide you with a copy.
  • Review your forms to ensure they are properly completed and that the elections reflect your choices.
  • For CSRS employees only, if excess retirement deductions have been made because you have completed enough service to exceed the maximum CSRS retirement computation or you would like to get a refund of voluntary contributions, you will be instructed to complete form SF 2802.
  • You may need a copy, as applicable, of your marriage certificate, divorce decree, military service records, proof of Federal Employee Health Benefits Program coverage under your spouse’s FEHBP plan, proof of military health coverage under a plan such as TRICARE, and documentation of any pending worker’s compensation claims. 

Your retirement specialist should also:

  • Review the completed application with you to ensure all blocks are properly marked and that it has been signed.
  • Explain how the retirement application will be processed by your agency and OPM. 
  • Explain how you will be notified when your retirement package is transmitted to OPM. 
  • Make sure you understand OPM cannot begin to process a retirement annuity until after receiving the application and supporting documentation from your employing agency. 
  • Provide counseling regarding crediting military service towards your CSRS or FERS retirement and be sure you’ve completed your military service credit deposit, if necessary.
  • Explain interim payments and how they are adjusted to reflect the cost of health benefits, life insurance and survivor elections. 
  • Explain the deductions that can be withheld from annuity checks for federal income tax, state income tax (where applicable), health benefits, life insurance premiums, Medicare, union dues and savings bond allotments. 
  • Provide you with addresses and/or phone numbers you may need to check the status of your retirement package. 

Your agency personnel and payroll offices will take it from there, organizing your retirement package and sending it to OPM. From that point on, it’s just a waiting game.