1 year before you separate for retirement:

To ensure that your agency has enough time to perform the tasks necessary to process your retirement and get everything over to OPM in a timely manner, ask your agency retirement office when they prefer you to submit your retirement application.  Various agencies, depending upon several factors, may want more time than others.  If you want your retirement pay on time, then submit your application for retirement to your agency in the timeframe they recommend.  Most agencies request that you submit your application 2 to 4 months prior to your date of retirement.

Some agencies require more time than others because they only have 30 days from the date of your separation to get everything processed through payroll and over to OPM.  That should be plenty of time, although some agencies have been known to “drag their feet” on this requirement.  OPM can’t pay you if your agency is still holding onto your retirement paperwork.

When you submit your retirement application, pull out a calendar and ask your agency retirement officer when you might expect the following so you can mark your calendar accordingly:

-final Summary of Federal Service (including date of retirement) for your review & signature

-final estimate of Federal benefits (based on the elections you made with your retirement application)

-when will you receive a copy of your Retirement personnel action (SF-50)?

-when will you get your last agency paycheck (direct deposit)?

-when can you expect to receive lump-sum payment for any unused annual leave?

-will you receive a letter from your agency payroll office when they forward your application to OPM?  If so, when?

-when might you expect to receive a letter from OPM (providing you with your Civil Service Annuitant (CSA) # and welcoming you to retirement)?  A good agency retirement officer will know the answer to this question.

-when might you expect to receive your first retirement payment from OPM?

-based on your retirement case, service history, & other factors that I mentioned in my recent article, how long does your agency retirement officer expect that OPM will keep you in interim retirement pay status?

Document the actual dates/timeframes that you receive these items and once your annuity has been finalized by OPM and you receive your retirement booklet from OPM outlining your retirement benefits, contact your agency retirement officer and let him/her know how everything went so they can continue to provide realistic expectations for the next round of retirement applicants.

Some of the answers to the questions above will be exact dates that your agency retirement officer can provide, and other answers might be estimated time frames on when to expect something.  Regardless, if you don’t receive something in the timeframe provided, that’s when you want to contact either your agency retirement officer or OPM to find out what’s going on.  What is the hold-up?  You don’t want to wait until you have been retired a couple of months (without any retirement income) to call and find out that your agency is still sitting on your retirement paperwork for some reason!

For example, your payroll office cannot forward your retirement application & individual retirement record to OPM until your Retirement SF-50 has been processed.  So if you don’t get a copy of the Retirement SF-50 in the timeframe prescribed by your retirement officer, then that would be the time to pick up the phone and ask what’s happening with your retirement… not 3 months later when you find out your retirement officer transferred to a different agency and neglected to properly hand off your application to another retirement officer.

This is an extreme example of negligence, but trust me when I say that this sort of thing happens on occasion.  You just don’t want it to happen to you!  As long as you get what you’re expecting in the time frames you’re expecting, you should be fine.  But how do you know what to expect unless you ask the folks who have been processing your agency retirements?  That’s why I suggest having this sort of conversation with your agency retirement officer when you submit your application for retirement.  Let them give you the list of things & time frames to expect in retirement so you’re not “in the dark” once you separate from Federal service.

If you haven’t received the letter from OPM (with your CSA#), then your agency retirement officer would be your initial POC for assistance with anything you haven’t received yet (including your lump sum payment for any unused annual leave).  You want to be sure that you have the appropriate agency contact information before you separate.  But once you receive the letter from OPM and you have your CSA#, then that means OPM has your retirement package and they would be your POC for any retirement related questions or concerns you have from that point forward.

I know this article was a bit lengthy, but I believe it was necessary to explain all of the things people can and should do during their Federal careers to avoid delays in the processing of their future retirements.  As you can see, there are many things an employee can do, but you can’t do everything.  There are some things that are just out of your control.

You can’t do anything about the thousands of retirements that OPM will be processing each month for years to come.  Unless you are an agency director, you can’t do much about the understaffing that many agencies are dealing with in Human Resources or retirement offices.  But you can do the things that I outlined in this article.  Doing these things can help you to avoid the majority of the issues that cause retirement processing delays.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you as you continue to plan for your future retirement from Federal service.