Why Does it Take So Long to Get Your Benefits?

It’s a paper-intensive process, and mistakes can cause delays.

You’ve done everything right. You set your retirement date well in advance of your last day on the job. You received a final retirement estimate, completed your retirement application documents and turned them in a full 90 days before the date you set to leave. 

If you did everything right, why does it still take so long to process your retirement benefit claim? Unfortunately, retirement processing is a tedious process. It starts with you, the retiring employee. You must accurately complete a retirement application that may appear to be simple, but can be deceptively complicated. Then your agency’s human resources office has to review the information you provide and compile the personnel documents to accompany your retirement application. 

Your agency’s payroll provider also has an important role to play. During the pandemic some payroll providers experienced delays in submitting retirement packages to the Office of Personnel Management due to system processing changes and staffing challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic. It normally should take the agency’s payroll provider about 30 days to send completed retirement paperwork to OPM for processing once your final salary payment is paid and your lump sum annual leave payment has been disbursed.

But according to Rep. Gerald Connolly, chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, one major payroll office said it was taking anywhere from 60 to 90 days recently to process and submit retirement paperwork to OPM. 

Once your retirement application arrives at OPM, there is more work to do. Some claims can be complicated by unpaid service credit deposits; court orders dividing retirement benefits and survivor benefits with a former spouse; provisions involving special employee groups such as law enforcement officers, firefighters and air traffic controllers; and other factors.

If all goes well, the entire process can take 60 to120 days from the day you pack up your office until your first regular retirement payment arrives at your bank. And that’s assuming there aren’t any mistakes in the paperwork. 

OPM recently conducted an analysis of the most common errors recorded in the past three years. They included:

  • On Federal Employees Retirement System applications, 8.6% of form SF 2821 (Agency Certification of Insurance Status for Federal Employees Group Life Insurance) were not signed by a certifying human resources official,  and 12.7% were not signed by a certifying payroll official.
  • More than 6%  SF 2818 (Continuation of Life Insurance Coverage) forms were not signed.
  • More than 6% of retirement packages failed to fully document whether an employee met the five-year coverage requirement to continue Federal Employee Health Benefits coverage into retirement. Often, the problem is that the documentation of electronic enrollment changes reflects a new plan and effective date, but not an old plan. 
  • 3.76% of FERS applications were missing a copy of a necessary marriage certificate. 
  • About 3% of SF 3107-1 (Certified Summary of Federal Service), forms, which are part of the FERS retirement application that is completed by the personnel office, were not signed. 

This may not sound like much, but in July, OPM received 8,922 new retirement claims for processing. If 3% of those applications had an error and had to be put on hold awaiting a correction, that would have affected 268 applications that month alone. 

To avoid unnecessary delays in getting your retirement benefits, be careful about filling out your paperwork—and hope that HR officials at your agency do the same.