1 INTRODUCTION TO FEDERAL GOVERNMENT BENEFITS By: Edward J. Barrett Overview According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), there are 1,831,719 federal employees in the United States, and the average salary of the federal employee increased from $66,000 in 2006 to $76,586 in 2010 (latest data available). The average age of the federal employee is 47 years of age with 16.3 years of service, and by 2016, an estimated 900,000 will be eligible to retire. In fact, by the end of fiscal 2012, OPM projects 241,428 federal employees will retire. Extending the time frame to 10 years, one out of every three federal employees is expected to retire by This presents a great opportunity to financial advisors who become knowledgeable in the specific retirement programs made available to federal employees. Background There are two primary types of retirement programs for federal employees, depending on the date of their employment. They are: The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), and The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). For all federal employees who were hired prior to 1984, they are part of the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). By law, Federal employees covered by CSRS are excluded from Social Security coverage and do not pay Social Security (Federal Insurance Contributions Act or FICA) payroll taxes, nor are they credited for their government employment as part of the Social Security system. The only benefit they will receive for their employment is the CSRS benefit. Federal employees hired after January 1, 1984, became part of a new plan called the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). These federal employees will be covered by both the FERS program and the Social Security system. In other words, federal employees hired after January 1, 1984, will receive benefits from both the FERS and from Social Security. Existing federal employees who were already working for the federal government on January 1, 1984 were given a choice. They could either remain in the CSRS program or join the new FERS program. If they did change to the FERS program, their years of service under the CSRS were credited to the FERS program. The rules for both systems are quite similar, and both are administered by the federal government s Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Both the CSRS and the FERS programs are funded by a combination of automatic payroll deductions from the federal employee and by contributions made by the employing federal agency (discussed below).
2 Under either the CSRS or the FERS, a federal employee can receive benefits if disabled, takes early retirement, provides for a survivor, takes a lump sum retirement amount instead of a monthly annuity, and participates in a special savings program, called the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). However, eligibility and benefit amounts under the CSRS and the FERS programs are determined in a very different manner from each other and from the way Social Security is determined. Let s now review each separately, beginning with CSRS. CSRS Retirement Benefits The Civil Service Retirement Act, which became effective on August 1, 1920, established a retirement system for certain federal employees. The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) is a defined benefit, contributory retirement system (see Table 1). Federal employees share in the expense of the annuities to which they become entitled. At the present time, with some exceptions, Federal employees contribute 7 percent of their basic pay to CSRS, Congressional employees contribute 7.5 percent, and Members contribute a combined 8 percent of their basic pay to CSRS and Social Security while the employing agency pays those percentage rates to the Retirement Fund (see Table 1). Table 1 CSRS Retirement Overview Classification Benefits Employee Contributions Thrift Savings Plan Generally, all federal and postal employees hired before 1984 (unless they opted for FERS coverage in one of the open seasons in 1987 or 1998) Annuity offering guaranteed lifetime retirement income with a survivor benefit annuity option Regular Employees: 7.0% to CSRS Retirement & Disability Trust Fund 1.45% to Medicare There is no contribution to Social Security Special Employee Groups: (law enforcement, firefighters, air traffic controllers) 7.5% to CSRS Retirement & Disability Trust Fund 1.45% to Medicare There is no contribution to Social Security CSRS employees can contribute up to $17,000 (in 2012) of basic pay per year. There are no matching contributions to the TSP from the government for CSRS employees.
3 Eligibility There are five categories of benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Eligibility is based on age and the number of years of creditable service and any other special requirements. In addition, as a federal employee, he/she must have served in a position subject to CSRS coverage for one of the last two years before retirement (the 1 out of 2 rule ). If he/she meets one of the sets of requirements listed in Table 2, he/she is eligible for a voluntary immediate annuity retirement benefit. An immediate annuity is one that begins within 30 days after their separation. Now let s review each of the five categories. They are: Optional. If the federal employee leaves federal service before he/she meets the age and service requirements for an immediate retirement benefit, he/she may be eligible for deferred retirement benefits. To be eligible, he/she must have at least 5 years of creditable civilian service and be age 62. Special Optional. If the federal employee leaves federal service before he/she meets the age and service requirements for an immediate retirement benefit, he/she may be eligible for deferred retirement benefits. To be eligible, he/she must have at least 20 years of creditable civilian service and be age 55, or 25 years of creditable civilian service at any age. Early Optional. Special Requirements: The federal employee must retire under special provisions for air traffic controllers or law enforcement and firefighter personnel. Air traffic controllers can also retire at any age with 25 years of service as an air traffic controller. Discontinued Service. Special Requirements. The federal employee s agency must be undergoing a major reorganization, reduction-in-force, or transfer of function determined by the Office of Personnel Management. The federal employee s annuity is reduced if he/she is under age 55. Disability. Special Requirements. The federal employee s separation is involuntary and not a removal for misconduct or delinquency. Any age with a minimum of 5 years of creditable service Table 2 CSRS Retirement Types for Regular EE s Type of CSRS Retirement Optional Voluntary No age reduction Immediate Annuity Early Optional Min. Age Any age* 50 Min Years of Service Special Requirements None The government agency must be undergoing a major reorganization, reduction inforce (RIF), or transfer of function determined by the OPM*
4 Discontinued Service Any age* 50* Disability Any age 5 Their separation is involuntary and not a removal for misconduct or delinquency. Must be disabled for useful and efficient service in current position and any other vacant position at the same grade or pay level within commuting area and current agency for which he/she is qualified** Deferred 62 5 Must have left retirement contributions in the fund. Annuity is reduced if under age 55. ** Application must be prior to retirement or within one year of separation, except in cases of mental incompetence. Source: OPM RI 83-1 CSRS Civilian Service Creditable service under CSRS usually includes the following: Federal covered service, that is, service in which the federal employee s pay is subject to CSRS retirement deductions, such as service under a career or career conditional appointment, Federal service where the federal employee s pay is not subject to retirement deductions, such as, service under a temporary appointment, service for which a specific statue allows credit or allows credit for the service, such as: o Peace Corps enrollment o Certain pre-1969 National Guard technician service Service for which a specific statute allows the federal employee to be subject to CSRS deductions during his/her employment with a specified entity or under a specific program or type of appointment, such as: o If he/she were an employee of Gallaudet University or D.C. Government, or he/she received assignments under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, or were employed serving as full-time officers or employees of an employee organization. CSRS Military Service As a general rule, military service in the Armed Forces of the United States is creditable for retirement purposes if it was active service terminated under honorable conditions, and performed prior to separation from civilian service for retirement. Service Performed Before 1957: Creditable without deposit Service Performed on or after January 1, 1957: Normally creditable for Social Security benefits at age 62 a deposit may be due to credit the service. If first employed before October 1, 1982, he/she can either: o Make a 7 percent deposit for post-1956 military service, thereby avoiding a reduction in his/her annuity at age 62, or
5 o Not make the deposit and have annuity reduced at age 62 if they are then eligible for Social Security benefits. If first hired by the Federal Government on or after October1, 1982, he/she must: o Make the deposit or receive no credit at all for military service, including eligibility to retire. Military deposits include interest unless they are paid within a grace period. Payments must be made to employing agency before he/she separates. They cannot be paid to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. FERS Retirement Benefits Congress created the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) in 1986, and it became effective on January 1, Since that time, new Federal civilian employees who have retirement coverage are covered by FERS. FERS is a retirement plan that provides benefits from three different sources (see Table 3): A Basic Benefit Plan, Social Security, and The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Two of the three parts of FERS (Social Security and the TSP) can go with the federal employee, as a federal employee to their next job, if he/she leaves the Federal Government before retirement. The Basic Benefit and Social Security parts of FERS require the federal employee to pay his/her share each pay period. The Federal agency for which he/she is employed withholds the cost of the Basic Benefit and Social Security from their pay as payroll deductions. The Federal agency pays its part too. Then, after he/she retires, they receive annuity payments each month for the rest of their life. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which is part of FERS, is an account that the federal agency the federal employee is employed with automatically sets up for him/her. Each pay period the federal agency deposits into his/her account an amount equal to 1% of their basic pay for the pay period. As a federal employee, he/she can also make their own contributions to his/her TSP account and their agency will also make a matching contribution. These contributions are taxdeferred. The Thrift Savings Plan is administered by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. The TSP was replaced by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) for Federal employees who first entered covered service on and after January 1, 1987.
6 Table 3 FERS Retirement Overview Classification Benefits Employee Contributions Thrift Savings Plan Generally, all federal and postal employees hired after January 1, 1984 (or CSRS covered employees who opted for FERS coverage in one of the open seasons in 1987 or 1998) Annuity offering guaranteed lifetime retirement income with a survivor benefit annuity option Regular Employees: 0.8% to FERS Retirement & Disability Trust Fund 1.45% to Medicare 4.2% of the first $110,100 of wages (in 2012) to Social Security Special Employee Groups: (law enforcement, firefighters, air traffic controllers) 1.30% to FERS Retirement & Disability Trust Fund 1.45% to Medicare 4.2% of the first $110,100 of wages (in 2012) to Social Security FERS employees can contribute up to $17,000 (in 2012) of basic pay per year. The government automatically contributes 1% of his/her basic pay to the TSP; up to 5% of basic pay depending on the amount of the their contribution. Eligibility There are four categories of benefits in the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) Basic Benefit Plan. Eligibility is determined by the federal employee s age and number of years of creditable service. In some cases, he/she must have reached the Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) to receive retirement benefits. Table 4 shows how a federal employee figures his/her Minimum Retirement Age under FERS. Table 4 FERS Minimum Retirement Age by Year of Birth The following chart shows when a Federal employee reaches his/her MRA, depending on the year they were born. Year of Birth MRA Before and 2 months and 4 months and 6 months and 8 months and 10 months
7 and 2 months and 4 months and 6 months and 8 months and 10 months 1970 and after 57 Source: Retirement Information and Services, Now, let s review each of the four FERS benefit categories. They are: Immediate Retirement: An immediate retirement benefit is one that starts within 30 days from the date the federal employee stops working. If, the federal employee meets one of the following sets of age and service requirements, he/she is entitled to an immediate retirement benefit: Age Years of Service MRA 30 MRA 10 If the federal employee retires at the MRA with at least 10, but less than 30 years of service, his/her benefit will be reduced by 5 percent a year for each year he/she is under 62, unless he/she has 20 years of service and his/her benefit starts when they reach age 60 or later. Early Retirement: The early retirement benefit is available in certain involuntary separation cases and in cases of voluntary separations during a major reorganization or reduction in force. To be eligible, the federal employee must meet the following requirements: Age Years of Service Any Age 25 Deferred Retirement: Refers to delayed payment of benefit until criteria are met, as follows: If the federal employee leaves Federal service before he/she meets the age and service requirements for an immediate retirement benefit, he/she may be eligible for deferred retirement benefits. To be eligible, he/she must have completed at least 5 years of creditable civilian service. The federal employee may receive benefits when he/she reaches one of the following ages: Age Years of Service 62 5 MRA 30 MRA 10
8 If the Federal employee retires at the MRA with at least 10, but less than 30 years of service, their benefit will be reduced by 5 percent a year for each year they are under 62, unless they have 20 years of service and their benefit starts when they reach age 60 or later. Disability Retirement: Disability Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) Annuity Requirements. Age Any Age Years of Service 18 months Special Requirements: The federal employee must have become disabled, while employed in a position subject to FERS, because of a disease or injury, for useful and efficient service in his/her current position. The disability must be expected to last at least one year. The federal employee s agency must certify that it is unable to accommodate his/her disabling medical condition in their present position and that it has considered him/her for any vacant position in the same agency at the same grade/pay level, within the same commuting area, for which he/she is qualified for reassignment. FERS Creditable Service Creditable service under FERS usually includes-federal covered service, that is, service in which the federal employee s pay is subject to CSRS retirement deductions, such as service under a career or career conditional appointment, Federal service performed before 1989, where the federal employee s pay is not subject to retirement deductions, such as, service under a temporary appointment, as long as a deposit is paid. There are a few exceptions to the rule that the service must have been performed before The only exceptions are: U.S. Senate Child Care Center service Peace Corps/VISTA service Service under the Foreign Service Pension System (FSPS) Service performed before 12/31/90 with the Democratic or Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee or the Democratic or Republican National Congressional Committee, and Service with the Library of Congress Child Development Center prior to 12/21/00. Deposit: A deposit is the payment of the retirement deductions, plus interest that would have been withheld from the federal employee s pay if he/she had been covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) during a period of employment when retirement deductions were not withheld from his/her salary. Federal employees are not required to make this type of payment.
9 FERS Military Service As a general rule, military service in the Armed Forces of the United States is creditable for retirement purposes if it was active service terminated under honorable conditions, and performed prior to separation from civilian service for retirement. Service Performed Before creditable without deposit Service Performed on or after January 1, a deposit must be paid to credit the service to establish title to an annuity or to compute your client s annuity Exception for service members with a portion of their FERS annuity computed under CSRS rules- if a service member s military service was performed before the effective date of his/her FERS coverage; the military service will be credited under CSRS rules. FERS Benefits Payable As a federal employee, his/her Basic Annuity is computed based on their length of service and high-3 average salary. To determine the federal employee s length of service for computation, he/she will add all of their periods of creditable service, then eliminate any fractional part of a month from the total. A federal employee s high-3 average pay is the highest average basic pay he/she earned during any 3 consecutive years of service. These three years are usually the federal employee s final three years of service, but can be an earlier period, if his/her basic pay was higher during that period. A federal employee s basic pay is the basic salary he/she earned for his/her position as a federal employee. It includes increases to his/her salary for which retirement deductions are withheld, such as shift rates. It does not include payments for overtime, bonuses, etc. (If his/her total service as a federal employee was less than 3 years, their average salary was figured by averaging their basic pay during all of their periods of creditable federal service.) Table 5 shows how the basic FERS annuity formula is calculated for a non-disability retirement. Table 5 FERS Basic Annuity Formula Under age 62 at Separation for Retirement Or Age 62 or Older With Less than 20 Years of Service Age 62 or Older at Separation With 20 or More Years of Service 1 percent of Federal employee s high-3 average salary for each year of service 1.1 percent of Federal employee s high 3- average salary for each year of service.
10 As a federal employee, benefits will be computed differently, if he/she retired under one of the provisions below: Special Provisions for Air Traffic Controllers, Firefighters, Law Enforcement Officers, Capitol Police, Supreme Court Police, or Nuclear Materials Couriers 1.7% of their high-3 average salary multiplied by their years of service which do not exceed 20, Plus 1% of their high-3 average salary multiplied by their service exceeding 20 years Member of Congress or Congressional Employee (or any combination of the two) Must have at least 5 years of service as Member and/or Congressional Employee 1.7% of their high-3 average salary multiplied by their years of service as a Member of Congress or Congressional Employee which do not exceed 20, plus 1% of their high-3 average salary multiplied by their years of other service About the Author: Edward J. Barrett CFP, ChFC, CLU, CEBS, RPA, CRPC, began his career in the financial and insurance services back in 1978 with IDS Financial Services, becoming a leading financial Advisor and top district sales manager in Boston, Massachusetts. Mr. Barrett is a qualifying member of the Million Dollar Round Table, Qualifying Member Court of the Table and Top of the Table producer. He holds the Certified Financial Planner designation CFP, Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS), Retirement Planning Associate (RPA), and the Certified Retirement Planning Consultant (CRPC).
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