Hitting the Road to Retirement
The path from filing your paperwork to getting your full benefits can be long and winding.
If you’re planning to retire at the end of this year, congratulations! What should you expect as you start down the road to a new way of life? For starters, a fair amount of waiting.
Keep in mind that many other federal employees will be retiring along with you. The Office of Personnel Management receives thousands of new retirement applications every month. Last month, for example, OPM received 6,064 new claims for processing and was able to process 7,442 claims. That still left the agency with almost 24,000 claims awaiting adjudication. This is the lowest backlog in many years, but is still a lot higher than OPM’s goal of 13,000.
Here’s what happens during processing:
- Your retirement claim is checked for completeness.
- Prior retirement records from past payroll providers are attached to the claim.
- If it’s clear to OPM that you’re eligible for your benefit, then interim annuity payments are authorized to provide you with some income while you await final processing.
- If necessary, OPM will request additional information to fill in gaps in your service history or to obtain insurance documentation not provided by the agency. This will delay processing.
- In some cases that are complete and straightforward, OPM proceeds directly to adjudication of the case without placing the retiree in interim pay status.
Although some prospective retirees have experienced unexpected delays, I can assure you that most federal employees have found the process of retiring from federal service to be smooth sailing. That being said, there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong as you go through the three main steps outlined below.
Step One: Submit your Retirement Application
Retirement processing begins with you. You must complete the formal application for retirement (SF 2801 for the Civil Service Retirement System or SF 3107 for the Federal Employees Retirement System). Here are some things to remember as you do that:
- If your application is handwritten, it might be illegible. Better to complete the application online.
- Be sure to provide responses in all areas of the application. There are many questions to answer.
- Make a copy of the application before submitting it, so you can refer back to it or resubmit it later if necessary.
- Provide all required signatures and attachments. (OPM has approved electronic signatures on retirement forms).
Step Two: Human Resources and Payroll
- There is an agency checklist on the retirement application (Schedule D) that will give you an idea of the documents that your agency is required to submit to OPM to process your claim.
- A retirement specialist at your agency will complete a certified summary of your federal service. You will be asked to sign and certify the accuracy and completeness of this form prior to your separation.
- Your retirement specialist will review and organize the retirement package, then send it to OPM after payroll certification of deductions.
- Once the HR work is completed, then the payroll provider will forward a hard copy of the application on a Register of Separations and Transfers to OPM. Under OPM standards, your agency is expected to complete its processing actions and forward the package to OPM within 30 days of your separation.
- Your payroll provider will authorize your final salary payment and a lump-sum payment for any unused annual leave.
Step 3: Final Processing at the Office of Personnel Management
- Once OPM's Retirement Operations Center in Boyers, Pennsylvania, receives the retirement application from the agency, OPM will send an acknowledgement letter that provides the employee with a retirement claim number. It will begin with the letters "CSA." You will be able to contact OPM only after you have received your CSA number.
- If you haven’t received your CSA number and you have been retired for more than six weeks, contact OPM.
- Your interim retirement payments attempt to approximate your net monthly payment after deductions. The FERS Special Retirement Supplement is not included in this payment, but it will be included, if you’re entitled to it, when your claim is finalized.
- OPM will only withhold federal income tax from interim pay. You might find that the federal taxes withheld from your first interim payment will be higher than the withholdings from subsequent interim payments and your regular annuity. This is because OPM sometimes makes withholding adjustments when they finish processing your application.
- OPM will provide you with information on how to manage your account using its online services.
For additional information on the retirement transition process, see the following articles:
- When You Can Expect That First Retirement Check
- Why Does it Take So Long to Get Your Benefits?
- A Retirement Journey, Part One: Pre-Retirement
- A Retirement Journey, Part Two: The Transition
- A Retirement Journey: Health Insurance Issues
- Getting Ready to Retire at the End of the Year
- What to Expect if You’re Expecting to Retire Soon