FERS Retirement Timeline: What to Expect from OPM

It takes OPM a long time to process a federal employee’s retirement application. What should you expect, and how long does it usually take?

Thinking of retiring from your job as a federal worker? Congratulations! You’ve put in a long career of public service, and now it’s time to reap the rewards of that great benefits package you’ve heard so much about over the course of your career.

Unfortunately, you do have to jump through some hoops to complete the retirement process and receive your pension. It’s a time-consuming process — and if you’re not careful, an expensive one. The truth is that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has a lot of paperwork to get through, and you won’t get your full retirement payments until they review it all.

Though OPM’s stated goal is to process retirement paperwork within 60 days, it often takes longer. Since the pandemic, the average processing time has been more like 90 days for retirees.

Why does it take so long? There are a lot of moving parts.

Your Retirement Paperwork Timeline

Submitting your FERS retirement application is only the beginning. First, your department’s personnel office will have you sign off on several documents and begin the work of verifying your service — something that can take extra time if any documentation is missing. They also transfer your life insurance (FEGLI) and health insurance (FEHB) enrollment to the OPM.

Then it’s the payroll office’s turn. When they receive your paperwork from personnel, they authorize your final paycheck and your payout of unused annual leave. They also forward records of your salary, retirement contributions, and service history to the OPM.

Once OPM finally has your full paperwork packages from these other departments, they provide you a civil service claim number to keep track of everything. And then you wait for them to review your eligibility, calculate your annuity, and — finally! — send you that check.

So how long does all of this take? Here’s the general timeline as it stands today:

  • Day 1: Your retirement date. Congratulations! Throw away your alarm clock and start those hobbies you’ve been dreaming about.
  • Day 30: TSP funds available for withdrawal. The payroll office will let TSP know you’re retiring automatically, and you should be able to access these savings without penalty within 30 days of retirement.
  • Day 30-45: Annual leave lump sum payment sent. It takes at least two full pay periods after your retirement date to process this payment, and often up to six weeks to receive it. This is the responsibility of the payroll department.
  • Day 45-70: OPM sends first retirement letters. Somewhere between six and 10 weeks after your retirement date, OPM will send you your Civilian ServiceAnnuity Number (CSA#), which you will need any time you contact them in the future. They will later send a letter with an online password for you to use to set up future communication.
  • Day 45-70: OPM sends interim retirement check. After you receive your first letters, you’ll get your first annuity check — but this will only be for 60-80% of your expected annuity. This is just to tide you over while they process the paperwork and should get to you within six to 10 weeks of your retirement date as well.
  • Day 90-120: OPM sends your full retirement check. Once they finally get through your paperwork, OPM cuts you a check for the full amount of your annuity. This catches you up on what you were owed from the interim check, minus insurance and taxes. It can take three to six months for this full check to arrive.

Worth repeating: It can take up to six months before you receive your full retirement benefits. Because of this, it may be helpful to file your paperwork 60-90 days prior to your retirement date.

It’s also a good idea to have a financial plan in place to cover you while you wait for your annuity to kick in. You don’t want to fall into the OPM trap of using credit cards to get by for those months, so consider working with a financial planner to come up with a solid strategy to get you through this period.

Other Things to Remember

Although your life and health insurance premiums will eventually be deducted from your full retirement check and your coverage will continue as you await OPM processing, not all of your benefits will be covered automatically during the transition period.

If you have additional FEDVIP Dental/Vision coverage or LTCFEDS Long Term Care insurance, you’ll need to contact those providers directly to make payments while you wait for your full retirement check to be processed.

Likewise, any personal allotments you have set up through payroll will stop once you retire. You can resume these through the OPM once your final retirement check is processed.

Finally, you will no longer be able to contribute to a Flexible SavingsAccount (FSA) once you retire. However, you can still access any remaining balance to get reimbursed for qualified expenses you made before your retirement date.

Important Retirement Contacts for Federal Employees

If you find that your retirement process is delayed past the dates on the timeline above, you’ll want to get proactive to find out what’s happening. You’ll also want to make sure you contact the right department for each issue you face:

The Bottom Line

Retirement planning for federal employees can feel overwhelming, but if you start early, you can make sure your paperwork is flawless for easier processing. You’ll also need to make sure you have a plan to cover your expenses while you wait for the OPM to process your paperwork and send that first full check.

We’re here to help! We’re experts in the federal retirement system and can help you develop a wealth management plan that will let you enjoy your first days of retirement instead of running to the mailbox every day to look for that check. Get in touch to get started today.

About the Author

Neal Thompson is the founder of Federal Retirement Services and is recognized as one of the premier retirement planning advisors for federal employees. He has conducted countless retirement training workshops to help federal workers covered by CSRS or FERS get the most out of their retirement.