The OPM Retirement Process Timeline – What You Should Know

OPM Process Timeline

There’s always one big question that pops up in a person’s mind when they begin planning for retirement: 

“How much time do I have left?” 

However, for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) employees, this timeline is relatively set in stone. 

So how long does OPM take to process a retirement application? Why are some months slower processing than other months? And how can you prepare yourself best for the federal retirement process overall?

This article will walk you through it. 

How Long Does OPM Take to Process Federal Employees’ Retirement Applications?

It’s not always easy to say precisely how long each individual’s retirement process will take. For processing retirement applications, it can easily vary from month to month. This happens for multiple reasons. 

In the case of federal retirement, even something as simple as your level of employee status can affect this timeliness. For example, some employees can be replaced within two weeks, but other employees cannot. Critical employees can take months or even years to replace.

According to the US Office of Personnel Management, “Retirement Services strives to complete retirement claims within sixty days. If we need additional information from you or your former employing agency, however, your claim could take longer to process.”

OPM goes on to explain that Retirement Services can take longer if:

  • You have special circumstances that affect your retirement claim (such as a specific retirement law, court order, etc.).
  • You need to make a benefit election that they must have decided before processing.
  • Your former employing agency needs to be contacted for additional information.

Because of this, it is important to have most of the information you’ll need ready to submit ahead of time. By doing this, you can effectively streamline your retirement application. 

Why Are Some Months Slower With Processing Than Others?

The typical time for OPM processing is about 60 days, but taking up to 90 days is not uncommon, either. The federal government retirement processing times can be backlogged up to tens of thousands of applications at any given time. This surge of completed applications seeking processing can alter the timeline significantly.

OPM averages 25,000 retirement applications per month, but that number can vary quite a bit. Because of this, submitting your application during a month where there are fewer submissions can result in yours being processed faster. Of course, since there’s no way to know when surges and backlogs will occur, it’s always best to get started early.

OPM, however, does have a monthly updated chart of their rolling average processing times from the past two years that you can review to better prepare yourself for the current timeline. 

When this was published, the average processing time for the past three months (July, August, September of 2021) was above 90 days – consistently.

How Can I Prepare Myself Best For Completing My Retirement Application?

There are many factors to consider when planning retirement, so it’s never too early to begin the process. OPM recommends “planning [for the retirement process] several years before the date you have set for retirement so that you will know what is required to continue certain benefits into retirement.”

Some information that may need to be completed years before considering your retirement includes the disposition of your Thrift Savings Plan and filling out your Social Security benefits information. If not done, these could affect the benefits you’re eligible for once you retire.

Possibly the most important thing to know when making your retirement plans, however, is that your health and life insurance may end if you haven’t carried them for at least five years before you retire. If you haven’t done this, you may be ineligible to continue them.

OPM Pre-Retirement Processing

It’s essential to know the necessary information before retirement processing. Here are a few key points to keep in mind.

  1. Choose Your Retirement Date – If you haven’t yet chosen a retirement date, you should do so. When you select a date, your benefits can be estimated based on the date you’ve chosen.
  1. Know Your Maximum Benefit – Knowing your maximum benefit allowance can be helpful in the planning process. The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) annuity is capped at 80 percent of your average salary. 

This does exclude your sick leave that hasn’t been used, but it can be altered by other factors such as fewer years of service, computed annuity, and contributions.

  1. Collect All Necessary Information – Make sure to thoroughly read the application and gather all necessary information for your specific retirement situation. Read the requirements of CSRS SF-2801 or FERS SF-3107

Also, make sure that you have Notification of Personnel Action Form SF-50 from OPM. If you find yourself needing other supplemental documentation, such as the form for selecting a beneficiary, check the list of standard forms here or contact a planner.

OPM Post-Retirement Processing

Once you’ve submitted your application and are in the processing stage, you may have some questions. Here are some answers to consider.

  1. When Will I Get My First Retirement Payment? – In most cases, as soon as OPM gets all of your retirement records, they provide payments to you. These payments are representative of a portion of your final benefit. OPM usually pays this to you on the first business day following the month of your retirement.
  1. Will I Get Paid for My Unused Annual Leave? – The short answer is yes. You will be paid for any unused annual leave you have at the point of retirement. 
  1. Is There a Way to Speed Up My Retirement Application Processing Time? – Although there are no guarantees, the best way to make sure your application is processed quickly is to ensure you have all necessary documents collected, corrected, and completed in advance in an Official Personnel Folder. 

If you submit this folder and paperwork early, the payroll offices will be able to move swiftly and complete their side of processing before your retirement date.

Conclusion

Preparing yourself for retirement doesn’t have to be an exhausting, dragged-out process—especially if you start planning early and thoroughly.

The most important thing to remember is that the timeline has many factors that can be avoided with proper planning. However, some cannot be controlled, such as surges in applications or your replaceability. 

You can give yourself the best chance to be fully prepared and processed as quickly as possible by requesting a retirement kit from one of our planners, which also helps avoid mistakes that could delay the process.

If, at this point, you’re still unclear on what to do or how to prepare for your retirement application process, we recommend you connect with a dedicated retirement planner who can help you throughout the process.

At Federal Benefit Advisory, our planners are experts in federal retirement, and their sole purpose is to help you retire comfortably and securely. Reach out today to get started with your federal retirement

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