How to Calculate Your 2012 COLA Payment

The COLA percentage amount for both FERS and CSRS was announced on October 19. OPM has issued official guidelines on how to calculate your COLA increase.

On October 19, a 3.6% COLA was announced for employees under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) who have had benefits for at least one year. Employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) will get a 2.6% COLA if they have had benefits for at least one year. OPM has issued official guidelines for how this will be applied to federal retirees.

The COLA is effective December 1, 2011 and is first reflected in the annuity payment dated January 3, 2012.

Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and FERS Special Cost-of-Living Adjustments are not provided until age 62, except for disability, survivor benefits, and other special provision retirements. FERS disability retirees get the adjustment, except when they are receiving a disability annuity based on 60 percent of their high-3 average salary. Also, under FERS, if you have a CSRS component, the component is subject to the CSRS COLA calculation. FERS survivors receive the FERS increase on their entire annuity, even where component service is involved.

To get the full COLA, a retiree or survivor annuity must have begun no later than December 31, 2010. If not, the increase is prorated under both plans. Prorated accounts receive one-twelfth of the increase for each month they received benefits. For example, if the benefit commenced November 30, 2011, the prorated COLA would be one-twelfth of the full COLA.

Under both plans, benefits are paid on the first business day of the month after the month in which they accrue. Benefits which accrue in December 2011 are payable on January 3, 2012.

So how do these prorated percentages break out for retirees? The tables below show examples for both CSRS and FERS as calculated by the Office of Personnel Management.


Month Annuity Began

Percentage Increase

December 2010 3.6%
January 2011 3.3%
February 2011 3.0%
March 2011 2.7%
April 2011 2.4%
May 2011 2.1%
June 2011 1.8%
July 2011 1.5%
August 2011 1.2%
September 2011 0.9%
October 2011 0.6%
November 2011 0.3%


Month Annuity Began

Percentage Increase

December 2010 2.6%
January 2011 2.4%
February 2011 2.2%
March 2011 2.0%
April 2011 1.7%
May 2011 1.5%
June 2011 1.3%
July 2011 1.1%
August 2011 0.9%
September 2011 0.7%
October 2011 0.4%
November 2011 0.2%

OPM provides a list of past COLA amounts if you want to see how they have performed over the last 40 years.

Still have questions? You can contact the Office of Personnel Management for more information.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.