By: Ray Kirk, Ph.D., Federal Benefits Specialist
Published: October 2023
“What happens next?” and “When do I start getting my annuity payments?”.
These are two questions frequently asked by employees nearing retirement and recently retired employees. This article will explain the steps in the retirement application process and estimated timelines.
OPM recently posted a Retirement Quick Guide designed to help you better understand the next steps after retirement. The graphic below from OPM lays out the key steps and average time for processing a retirement application.
Process at a Glance
The process involves three organizations: your agency HR, your payroll office, and OPM. Your application package moves from one to the next in order. OPM does not start any action to process your application until your HR and payroll offices have completed their tasks—in fact OPM doesn’t even know you are retired until your application is received at their Retirement Operations Center from your payroll office.
After you have separated for retirement, your agency forwards your retirement package to payroll. Your payroll office processes your final paycheck, makes the lump-sum payment for any unused annual leave, closes out your records and forwards the package to OPM. Payroll offices usually complete these actions within 30-45 days after you have retired.
When your retirement package is received from payroll, OPM assigns a Retirement Claim number (CSA number), issues your first interim payment, and provides access information for Services Online. Interim pay is a portion (usually 60-80%) of your final annuity payment. You will receive interim pay each month until OPM completes processing your case. Typically, OPM will start interim pay status within two weeks after the application package is received at OPM. Services Online allows you to manage many aspects of your annuity account online throughout your retirement. While OPM is processing your application, Services Online provides updates on the progress of your case.
When OPM completes the review and calculation of your benefits, they will issue an adjustment payment to make up the difference between your interim payments and the final amount of your annuity. You will receive an Annuity Statement and a personalized retirement booklet. The Annuity Statement is similar to the Leave and Earnings Statements you are used to receiving while you were an employee. It provides details on your total monthly annuity and the deductions such as taxes and insurance premiums being withheld. The personalized retirement booklet summarizes the factors that went into the calculation of your annuity such as: total length of service, unused sick leave used in the calculation, your average high-3 salary, health and life insurance coverage, and survivor elections. The booklet also contains useful information on how to contact OPM if you have any questions or issues with your annuity in the future.
Missing documents and forms and incomplete or incorrect information on your retirement application are the major reasons processing is delayed. Carefully reviewing your application and the application checklist will help avoid those problems. Court orders, such as a divorce decree or property settlement, will also delay application processing since they require additional steps and review.
When the process is complete, you will be placed on the annuity roll and will start receiving regular monthly annuity payments. Once your regular payments begin you can rely on having your annuity payment at your financial institution on the first business day of every month.
Dr. Ray Kirk is a retired Federal employee with over 40 years of Federal Service, 34 years of which were with the Office of Personnel Management. He was the Manager of the Benefit Officers Training and Development in Retirement Services for the last 12 years of his career. Dr. Kirk is a member of the Certified Retirement Counselor® Board of Standards and Policy Development. Dr. Kirk has been a Federal Benefits instructor with NITP since January 2014.
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