Get the Most From Your FERS Retirement [2022]

Ultimate-Guide-to-FERS-Retirement

One advantage of working for the federal government is the security of knowing that you’ll be taken care of in your old age. Federal civilian employees are guaranteed robust retirement coverage under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), but the system can be hard to navigate.

If you are scratching your head trying to understand FERS retirement, don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. This guide will explore the ins and outs of the Federal Employees Retirement System, including the minimum retirement age, retirement benefits, and how it compares to legacy systems.

What is FERS Retirement?

The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) provides retirement coverage for all federal civilian employees. FERS is a hybrid system combining the defined benefits of a traditional pension and contributions similar to a 401(k) plan used in private companies.

FERS vs. CSRS

There are currently two co-existing retirement systems for federal employees: The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).

The CSRS is the original retirement plan for non-military federal government workers created in 1920. It works like a traditional pension. Regular payroll deductions are saved and disbursed as annuity payments when a federal employee retires.

The CSRS retirement benefits are intended to completely cover the expenses of a retired federal employee in old age and ensure roughly the same standard of living they enjoyed while in federal service. The retirement annuity is subject to an annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) pegged to inflation. See What the FERS COLA increase is in 2023!

FERS CSRS Retirement account differences

Over the 20th century, rising life expectancy began to strain the retirement system, so the federal government decided to create a new system combining multiple retirement benefit sources. The Federal Employees Retirement System was launched in the mid-1980s.

All new federal civilian employees have enrolled automatically in FERS retirement, but some retired federal employees continue to receive annuity payments under the Civil Service Retirement System.

See the federal pay raise for 2023

FERS Benefit Sources

The FERS retirement plan is a mixed system that combines a defined basic benefit plan with contribution-based retirement benefits. FERS benefits come from three different sources. Let’s explore each one in depth.

Fers benefit sources image of all three

Basic Benefit Plan

The Basic Benefit Plan works similarly to a traditional defined-benefit pension. The agency automatically sets aside a portion of a federal employee’s paycheck each pay period.

In addition to these routine payroll deductions, the agency pays a set amount. In retirement, the employee will receive monthly annuity payments based on their highest pay and years of creditable service.

Social Security

A portion of FERS retirement comes from social security benefits. In addition to payroll deductions for the Basic Benefit Plan, the agency withholds a standard social security deduction every pay period.

Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)

FERS retirement also includes the federal government equivalent of a 401(k) called a Thrift Savings Plan(TSP). New federal civilian employees are automatically enrolled in the plan, and a percentage of the employee’s basic pay is automatically placed into the TSP account each month. The agency pays a matching contribution if you pay at least 5 percent.

Calculating the FERS Basic Benefit

Your FERS basic benefit annuity is calculated according to your basic pay and years of creditable service. The “high-3” method is used, meaning the three highest years of salary are averaged.

In most cases, this is the average of your three final years of service, and it’s generally equal to your salary at your final pay grade.

FERS Basic Benefit Formula

Most federal employees under the FERS retirement system will receive annuity payments monthly based on the following formula:

AgeFormula
Under Age 62 at Separation for Retirement, OR Age 62 or Older With Less Than 20 Years of Service1 percent of your high-3 average salary for each year of service
Age 62 or Older at Separation With 20 or More Years of Service1.1 percent of your high-3 average salary for each year of service

Basic Benefit for Special Classes of Federal Employees

To support retention and recruitment, provisions in federal law award additional retirement benefits to the following categories of federal employees:

  • US Marshalls and other federal law enforcement officers
  • Air Traffic Controllers
  • Capitol Police
  • Supreme Court Police
  • Nuclear Materials Couriers
  • Firefighters
  • Members of Congress and congressional employees with at least five years of service

The basic benefit for these groups is calculated by multiplying 1.7% times years of creditable service for the first 20 years plus an additional 1% for each year after.

How the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) Works

The Thrift Savings Plan is a retirement investment account similar to a 401(k) you can take to your next job if you leave federal service. Each federal employee can set aside a certain amount of their monthly salary and put it into their choice of investment vehicles that vary in risk and return.

Contribution Rate

Tsp investing can make a big difference

When hired at a federal agency, you’re automatically enrolled in a tax-deferred Thrift Savings Plan account at the default contribution rate of 5 percent. This means that 5 percent of your paycheck will be withheld, and the agency will deposit it in your TSP account.

You can increase and lower your contributions or stop them altogether, but you only qualify for matching contributions if your contribution rate is at least 5 percent.

Investment Options

The TSP allows federal employees to customize their portfolios by choosing from a set of individual investment funds that have different levels of risk:

This low-risk fund consists of government securities with a guaranteed yield of around 2% over 10 years. While a G Fund won’t lose value, there is a high risk it will not keep pace with inflation.

This fund’s value fluctuates with movements in the bond market. In the long term, the F Fund has the potential for higher yields than short-term government securities, but there are additional risks from the bond market, inflation, and credit defaults in the underlying bonds.

This fund allows investors to benefit from equity ownership in large US companies, including blue-chip stocks like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon. Benchmarked to the S&P 500 Index, The C Fund has higher risk than the F and G funds, but the 10-year average yield is nearly 12 percent.

This fund provides equity ownership in small-to-mid-sized US companies. It’s tied to the Dow Jones U.S. Completion TSM, so investors are subject to market risks. The average 10-year yield is around 10 percent.

includes stocks of companies outside the United States. It is pegged to the MSCI EAFE Index. The I Fund is riskier than others because of fluctuations in exchange rates and the potential volatility of global markets. Its average 10-year yield is around 4 percent.

A Lifecycle fund is a diversified mixture of G, F, C, S, and I funds. There are 10 types of L Funds mix and match these investment options in varying proportions to achieve a long-term or short-term investment objective.

FERS Retirement Eligibility and Minimum Retirement Age

In most cases, you must meet the minimum retirement age (MRA) and spend a specified amount of time working for the federal government before you can begin receiving FERS retirement benefits. Consult the chart below to find out what your minimum retirement age is:

If you were bornYour MRA is
Before 194855
In 194855 and 2 months
In 194955 and 4 months
In 195055 and 6 months
In 195155 and 8 months
In 195255 and 10 months
In 1953-196456
In 196556 and 2 months
In 196656 and 4 months
In 196756 and 6 months
In 196856 and 8 months
In 196956 and 10 months
In 1970 and after57

To be eligible to receive an immediate retirement benefit that begins 30 days after your last day on the job, you must meet the minimum criteria for age and years of creditable service:

AgeYears of Service
625
6020
MRA30
MRA10

Those who retire at the minimum retirement age of more than 10 but fewer than 30 years of service will not receive full benefits until they turn 62. The benefit is reduced by 5 percent for each year under 62.

Disability Retirement

If you have suffered a disabling injury or illness while working, you may be eligible for disability retirement at any age, provided that you meet the following conditions:

  • You have worked at least 18 months
  • Your disability is expected to last one year or more
  • Your agency is unable to accommodate your disabling condition
  • Your disabling condition prevents you from effectively working in your current position

Summary

The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) provides retirement coverage for all new federal civilian employees. Every federal employee hired after 1983 is automatically covered by the FERS retirement plan. Congress created FERS in the 1980s to replace the Civil Service Retirement System.

FERS benefits have three sources: Basic Benefit Plan, Thrift Savings Plan, and Social Security. The basic benefit and social security are withheld automatically and paid out as a fixed annuity, while employees can manage their contributions and retirement investments under the TSP. Consult the website of the Office of Personnel Management for more information.

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