Retirement Myths: The "Magic 85" Formula

By on December 4, 2013 in Current Events, Retirement with 78 Comments

This article is part of a series dealing with common misconceptions about federal benefits and retirement.  These articles are written by John Grobe and Ehren Clovis.

Myth-conception:  You become eligible to retire whenever your age and length of service add up to the number 85.  This myth has been around for decades and is most prevelant among CSRS employees.  

Reality:  There has never been a “magic 85” formula.  This misconception likely grew out of one of the combinations of age and length of service that applies to CSRS employees.

How long ago was it that I heard an individual would become eligible for voluntary retirement when his/her age and length of service added up to 85?  It was so long ago that I had dark brown hair and was a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service in Hillside, Illinois.  I was let in on the secret of the “magic 85” by a long time letter carrier who would soon be reaching his magic 85.  In just a few months he would turn 55; coupled with his 30 years of service that gave him the magic number of 85 and he would become eligible for voluntary retirement.

There is not now, nor has there ever been, a magic 85 formula.  There are distinct criteria for retirement eligibility and most of them do not add up to 85.  The criteria for CSRS are:

  • Age 55 and 30 years of service.  Yes, this one adds up to 85 and is probably where the misconception got its start.
  • Age 60 and 20 years of service.  This one adds up to 80.
  • Age 62 and 5 years of service.  This one is only 67.

The criteria for FERS are only slightly different:

  • Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) and 30 years of service.  An individual’s MRA can be anywhere from 55 to 57; added together we get anywhere from 85 to 87.
  • Age 60 and 20 years of service.  This one adds up to 80.
  • Age 62 and 5 years of service.  This one is only 67.
  • MRA and 10 years of service.  There is a steep pension reduction with this choice, but it only adds up to 65 to 67.

The criteria for each of us will vary, depending on when we were hired.  What follows is an example for a FERS employee who was hired at a young age.

Date of Birth 11/04/1963 Service Computation Date 05/15/1988
Add required age                56 Add required service                30
11/04/2019 05/15/2018

This individual would become eligible to retire at the age of 56, using the MRA and 30 years of service criteria.  Below is an example for a FERS employee who was hired in the middle of their working life.

Date of Birth 11/04/1963 Service Computation Date 05/15/2000
Add required age                60 Add required service                20
11/04/2023 05/15/2020

 

Do you want to figure out when you will be eligible to retire?  Use the criteria listed earlier in this article and the blank chart below.  I bet the combination of age and length of service will not add up to 85 for most of you.

Date of Birth Service Computation Date
Add required age Add required service

 

John Grobe’s latest book, The Answer Book on Your Federal Employee Benefits, has just been released by LRP Publications. The book is written in an easy to understand question and answer format and covers all areas of federal benefits from the perspective of an employee at various stages of their career. Order your copy at shoplrp.com.

© 2016 John Grobe. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from John Grobe.

About the Author

John Grobe is President of Federal Career Experts, a consulting firm that specializes in federal retirement and career transition issues. He is also affiliated with TSP Safety Net. John retired from federal service after 25 years of progressively more responsible human resources positions. He is the author of Understanding the Federal Retirement Systems and Career Transition: A Guide for Federal Employees, both published by the Federal Management Institute. Federal Career Experts provides pre-retirement seminars for a wide variety of federal agencies.

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