For any readers who are applying for a federal (FERS) retirement pension/annuity, I want to discuss the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). OPM is the federal agency in charge of processing a federal retiree’s retirement application. What follows is my federal retirement application process with OPM.
The Federal Retirement Application Nightmare
I left federal government service after 21 total years, but before I was eligible to apply for my retirement pension/annuity. My Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) is 56, and I retired at 52. Nonetheless, under applicable government rules, I could
Given the above, five months after I turned 56. I mailed my federal retirement application to OPM for processing. I sent my application via USPS Priority Mail on May 30, 2018. USPS notified me that OPM received my application on June 1, 2018.
The months crept by and I heard nothing from OPM. I knew I was supposed to receive a claim number, but I never got one from OPM. My annuity start date was supposed to be August 1, 2018. On August 20, 2018, I called OPM’s customer service number. The rep told me there was no evidence that OPM had logged my application and that it was probably “lost in the mail.” I told her that USPS showed that my application had been delivered on June 1. The rep advised me to resend my application package, which I did on August 21, 2018. Because the August 1, 2018 start date for my annuity had come and gone, I changed the start date to January 1, 2019. I thought that would give OPM plenty of time to process my retirement application.
A week passed. On August 30, 2018, I get a letter from OPM providing me with a claim number and stating that OPM received my application on August 23. I called OPM again. After listening to the “hold” music for 20 mins, I spoke to a rep. This rep advised me that OPM had logged in my first application. I asked her about my second application, and she said that it would be “merged” with my first. She also stated it would take 9-15 weeks for me to receive my annuity payment.
The Federal Retirement Processing Nightmare
Legal Review & Audits
Months go by, and I hear nothing. In mid-December (15 weeks since I last spoke to OPM), I emailed OPM asking about my retirement application. OPM responded that my application was awaiting assignment to a processor. In mid-January 2019, I call OPM again and ask if my application has been assigned to anyone. During this phone call, the rep tells me that my application was in DC for “legal review.” We discuss what that meant, and she tells me that – because I included copies of my divorce decrees – a paralegal in DC had to review the documents. I mentally kick myself for including too much information. This rep also told me that the total application processing time was actually three to six months. She thought that I should receive my retirement check in February 2019.
February passes. Crickets.
On February 28, 2019, I call OPM again. The rep states that my application completed a second audit and, as of February 22, 2019, was in “Branch 3.” I ask her what that meant. She stated that this was good news – that my application had been cleared for payment. She indicated that I would receive my retirement annuity in the next two weeks, if not sooner.
Two weeks pass, and still nothing. On March 13, 2019, I call OPM for an update. I asked the rep to explain the federal retirement processing steps that OPM uses.
OPM Processing Steps
- Retirement Development
- Retirement Prep
- Adjudication (I guess this is where the processor begins the work of calculating the annuity)
- DC – the application goes to a paralegal in DC to review any court orders
- Audit – a senior specialist looks over the processor’s work and notes any corrections
- Adjudication – if there are no corrections, I guess the processor releases the file for payment, but if there are more corrections…
- 2nd Audit
The Specifics of My Application Processing
In my case, there were two audits, and my retirement package was returned to Adjudication/Branch 3 on February 22, 2019. Payment is typically processed in two weeks, but (of course), my payment is taking longer.
The rep told me that once the processor approves payment, I would receive a letter. I advised her that I was heading out of town for a while. She asked me for an email since OPM had none in its system. I provided her with my email. (Of course, I wondered why my email address was not already in the OPM system, since (1) I provided it on my application and (2) I had emailed them in the past. She did not know.) The rep stated OPM would send me an automatic email giving me the relevant annuity information.
On March 18, 2019, I received an email from my bank informing me that I had a deposit to my account. I checked and it’s my annuity to date. Based on the amount I received, it’s about $4k larger than I expected. It is also clear that OPM began my annuity on August 1, 2018. I assume my second application was either not processed or “lost in the mail.” Of course, I never got an email telling me that my payment was processed. I expect I’ll get the OPM calculations sometime next week.
My federal retirement application process with OPM took almost 10 months. Because I am a deferred retiree, I did not receive interim payments. So, if you are a deferred annuity applicant, be forewarned and budget accordingly!