How To Quickly Prepare for Retirement Sponsored By:Leslie Kathryn Hollingsworth

Retirement from service takes a lot of work. Most retirement experts advocate that pre-retirees should start making serious plans for the big day at least a year before they retire. However, retirement jumps on some people. This process comes in different forms. For some, it comes in the form of a reduction-in-force (RIF). For others, it is something more benign. 

Agencies sometimes offer employees the chance to retire earlier than expected. These offers often come with a “buyout.” Personal reasons, such as sudden health crises for workers or their loved ones, could also inform the decision to retire early from their work. Whatever the reason for early retirement is, it may drastically reduce the preparation time for retirement. 

If you have only a few months or less before retirement, prudent use of your time will save you a lot of stress. Here are ways to make the best use of this short time: 

• Invest in pre-retirement seminars: Some agencies offer pre-retirement seminars at no cost to workers, but others do not. If your agency does not offer such a seminar, ensure you invest in one yourself. You can choose a reputable private counseling firm that offers such seminars. Some agencies even pay for these private seminars. 

• Visit your agency’s benefits counselor: Your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) will contain all the information about your service, which will influence the benefits you get after retirement from your work. Check for years of federal employment, including military service where applicable, pay-adjustment dates, beneficiaries, health benefits, and life insurance coverage. If you find any inaccuracies, take them up, and discuss them with your agency immediately. 

• Ensure that the intended retirement date is right for you: If you retire too early, you might lose out on some benefits. So it is essential to make sure that you meet all age and service requirements for retirement before you do so. Also, ensure that you will not lose out on health benefits or life insurance coverage if you choose to leave service early. 

• Check out your retirement annuity: You might not be able to get an exact amount, but you will receive a close estimate. This estimate will allow you to plan your post-retirement finances properly. FERS employees also need to check an estimate of their Special Retirement Supplement. 

Additional Information: There are some factors that can impact your annuity. One such factor is deposits owed for a prior period of service (military or civilian). The other is redeposits for civilian service for employees who left federal service and received a refund for their retirement deductions. Employees who wish to make deposits or redeposits can download Standard Form 2803 (for CSRS employees) or Standard Form 3108 (for FERS employees) at www.opm.gov. Both forms are available under Standard Forms on the Forms page on the website.  

Another factor that can impact employees’ annuities is military retired pay. The rule is that ex-service members have to waive the payment and make the required deposit to reflect the period in their civilian service annuity calculation. However, some employees can receive the military retired pay and their civilian annuity without each affecting the other, though this is very rare. This process also requires a deposit. In addition, employees eligible for or already receiving reserve retired pay shouldn't worry about reductions. They will automatically receive both payments. 

Debts owed to an agency can also impact your annuity. If this applies to your situation, ensure you agree on a repayment schedule. If you do not do so, your annuity will be used to offset the debt, and this may affect you in the long run.

Lastly, if you have a court order to pay a part of your annuity to a former spouse, you should find out how the payment will affect your retirement benefits. 

As soon as you have cleared everything mentioned above, the next step is to fill out the retirement application form. These forms, SF 2801 (for CSRS employees) and SF 3107 (for FERS employees), are also available on www.opm.gov. After filling out the form, make a copy that you would keep for yourself while the original goes to your benefits counselor. Now, you are ready to retire. 

There are some steps your agency has to take too. These steps will be detailed in a future article. 

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