Delivered on: Friday, January 20, 2023
Getting Your “Docs” in a Row
How to get yourself organized before leaving federal service
- DOCUMENTS: address complicated service history to ensure your service record is accurate
- AMOUNTS OWED: identify any special service that required money to be paid to get credit (for eligibility and for the calculation of your pension)
- COPIES & ACCESS: secure copies of critical documents that you’ll lose access to upon leaving service
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Transcript of Episode:
Hello and welcome everyone to today’s FedImpact webinar on “Getting Your Docs in a Row.” Gosh, we work with a lot of federal employees who are about ready to leave federal service, and you might be a little bit surprised at how hard it might be to get organized if you don’t have a plan.
Today’s topic, of course, is on top of mind for so many people who are on their way out the door, but a lot of the topics that we’re going to be talking about today or the tips that we’re going to share can really be done at any time. You don’t have to wait until you’re leaving federal service to do this.
We’ve got a wide variety of different types of folks registered today. Some of you are about ready to walk out the door. Others of you, retirement might be a lofty goal way down the road, but we’re happy to have all of you here with us.
Now, our support team is standing by to answer any questions that are submitted in the Q & A area. Just because of the sheer volume of people on today’s session and all of our webinar sessions, it’s difficult of course to answer all of these questions verbally. So if you do have a question, please put it in the Q & A area right in the webinar portal, and we will do our very best to make sure we’re getting all of the questions answered.
The only thing that we ask in these sessions is that the questions that you’re asking pertain to today’s material. Again, just by sheer volume, it is really difficult when we get a lot of questions that don’t have anything to do with the actual topic at hand and it becomes difficult to keep up with all of them. So do us that favor and we will be sure to get your questions answered.
Now, the handouts for today’s session, they’re available for download right now. You can either go next to the Q &A area where it says “handouts.” You should see a little red dot that will indicate there’s a new handout available for you. You’re able to download that right away. If for some reason you don’t see that, you can look to the bottom of your screen and you should see a link to today’s handouts as well.
Now, like we do in all of these sessions, this session is being recorded. We will give instructions on how to get the replay. It will all be sent to you in the next couple of days. Obviously, we’re on Friday right now, and so chances are Monday that replay will go out to you. If we can get it out a little bit sooner, we certainly will. Of course, stay till the end because you guys know at the end is when we announce our next webinar and we’ve got a fun one for next month.
I’m Chris Kowalik, the founder of ProFeds. I’m always so excited to be able to do these sessions because we get to do a deeper dive (or maybe just a little bit different of a perspective) of steps that feds should be taking as they approach that retirement window than we’re able to do in some of our other methods of delivery, like our workshops. We can’t go quite into this depth on this type of topic in our normal full-day session because of course we have all of the other topics to have to talk about. So sessions like this are a lot of fun for me to be able to deliver.
Like I mentioned, getting your docs in a row, how to get yourself organized before leaving federal service. We can’t just drop retirement papers and walk out the door. It’s not that simple. And so today’s session is going to be all about how do we get everything organized, specifically on the federal side. There’s going to be a lot that you’re going to need to organize on the private side as well, but from a federal employee perspective, we want to make sure to get this right.
Our agenda today, we’re going to talk about documents. We of course want to make sure that you’ve addressed any complicated service history to ensure that your record is accurate.
We’re going to talk briefly about amounts that you might owe. If there’s any special type of service that you’ve had, that money needs to be paid for you to be able to get credit for it. We of course want to make sure you’re getting all the credit you can as long as it’s financially reasonable to do so.
Next we’ll talk about copies and access. So sometimes we leave a job and we forget like, “Oh gosh, I no longer have access to those things.” So we want to make certain that you know what those things are in advance so that you can be ready.
Now, of course, what this webinar will not cover, we are not going to be able to show you every different type of HR portal that allows you to access all of the documents we’re going to talk about today. All of these different agencies have different contracts with different private providers to give you different levels of access to different systems.
So some of you have HR Navigator, some of you have GRB, those of you with DFAS, there’s all sorts of different types of payroll processors and access that agencies can grant. And so it would be wildly inefficient for us to go through all of those, but we’re going to stay a little bit higher level to be able to hit the salient points. And then you are going to really need to figure out where at the local level you need to be accessing what we’re talking about today.
Official Personnel File
Let’s start with the most straightforward of all of our suggestions today, and that is your official personnel file. Now, most of you refer to this as your eOPF, which is your electronic official personnel file because that’s the one that you’re able to access through the portals that your agency grants you access to.
So when we think about your OPF or your eOPF, we want to make sure that you download or print a copy of your entire eOPF. So you’re going to log in through your agency’s access point, wherever that might be. If you don’t know, you need to contact your personnel office, any place you’d go to for retirement purposes. And again, every agency’s organized a little bit differently, but your agency would’ve granted you some sort of access to a system that will be the gateway to your official personnel file.
When you get in there, you’re going to select My eOPF and then My eOPF Print Folder. And that’s going to allow you to select all the different types of documents that would be in your eOPF and be able to either print them in hard copy or save them to soft copy.
If you struggle with accessing this, if the screen doesn’t look right, if it’s not giving you what you think you should be getting, so you have those technical aspects that you’re challenged with on your eOPF, please email email@example.com. Now, these are not the people to talk to where you say, “Well, where’s this document?” Or, “What does this mean? Can I get credit for that service?” That’s not these guys. These are the IT guys.
So here’s the deal, as much as I love saving paper, when it comes to things like your official personnel file, I really prefer these be printed. And you can save a soft copy too, to a thumb drive or your computer, whatever that might be. Of course, your personal computer because it does you no good to save it to your government computer.
The reason I like the printed version of this is because if you’re ever not available, say you die or you’re in the hospital, your family, unless they have the password and know how to get to or even that it exists on your computer, they’re not going to be able to access the file.
On the contrary, if you print this and put this document in a safe spot, like a fire box, maybe a safety deposit box, wherever your family would know to look for it if they needed to access something, then we’re not worried about passwords and access for your family.
All right, so that’s it on the eOPF. We’re going to get into a little bit more complicated of a section next with respect to your service history and credit for that service.
Service History & Credit
When we think about your federal service, it would stand to reason that you think that anytime you worked for the federal government that that time automatically counts, but that’s not at all how this works. We want to ensure that all of your federal service is listed in your OPF, and then you want to confirm that you get credit for it.
And when we talk about “credit” with respect to retirement purposes, we’re talking about does that piece of service help you to be eligible to retire? The age and service year requirement that you have to be eligible to retire from federal service, does it count for that? And then on top of that, does it also count in the calculation of your pension? Because we know the longer you serve, the higher your pension is because all of those years and months of service are being included.
So again, the vast majority of your federal service probably counts for retirement purposes, but if there are those little pieces that end up affecting your eligibility to retire or what you think you’re getting in your pension, that’s probably not starting retirement off on a good foot.
The way you’re going to figure that out is to submit a document called the Certified Summary of Federal Service. Now, the form number is different between CSRS and FERS. When you open up the document, if you Google SF-2801 or the SF-3107, even if you put this dash one, this addendum portion in what you’re searching for, what’s going to pop up is the Application for Immediate Retirement.
I am not suggesting that you complete that part just yet. If you’ll go to the respective pages, either at pages 17 and 18 for CSRS or pages 9 and 10 for FERS, you will see just those two pages that are a standalone document, again, the Certified Summary of Federal Service.
This document you submit to your agency, you’re not really filling out anything other than your identifying information, your name, that type of thing, but your agency is the one who completes all of the form and returns it back to you. We’re going to get a little bit more into that here in a second.
But I want to share with you that a lot of HR departments don’t love doing this work, and they oftentimes kick these requests back to employees to say, “This document is part of the retirement application, and since you are not retiring, we are not doing this document for you yet.”
But I want to arm all of you with a very important piece of the instruction that’s on the front of this document. It says that this document is used to accompany the application for immediate retirement, and this form can also be used for retirement counseling purposes or to respond to an employee’s request for a record of creditable service.
Guys, it’s right on the form, you are allowed to request this to get ahead of the game and make sure there are no surprises when you step into retirement. So please do yourself a favor, advocate for yourself. And you don’t have to be ugly about it, but there is great value in you having the confidence that you actually can retire when you think because you are eligible to do so based on your service history, but that you also have a good understanding of what your pension is going to be. And the only way to know that is to know what service counts.
Submit this document. Again, you’re only going to fill out some basic identifying information. Your agency’s going to complete the vast majority of this document for you. So they’re going to complete the certified summary. Your first step when you get that back is to verify that all the time that you ever worked as a federal employee is listed on that form. If there’s any piece that’s not, please notify your agency right away to get it fixed.
Now, something I don’t have here on this slide, but I suppose is worth mentioning, is when you get that document back from your agency, at the very bottom of page two, it’s going to ask for your signature. And what that signature indicates is that you believe that what your agency provided to you is true and complete. So don’t sign it if there’s something that’s missing. This is your chance to correct the record. And there might be a lot of digging that you’ll need to do to prove other pieces of service, but it’s worth it in the end.
Now, the second step after you get this document back from your agency is to look through it and identify any pieces of service that say next to it, deposit owed or refunded. We’re going to need to look for that specific language because that tells us there’s a piece of service that may not fully count for retirement purposes. You might not get credit towards your eligibility to retire, that’s having the correct number of years and age to be able to retire, and it might also affect the amount of the pension that you receive.
This is a great starting point, especially for those of you who have had some wonky service out there where you bounced around to lots of different agencies, you had some intern time, you went to the post office and worked as a rural carrier for a little while, then you came over to an executive level agency, and then you popped around a bunch of times until you landed where you’re at. That is the perfect example of why these Certified Summaries are so very important.
Now, if you identify any of those deposits owed or refunded service, you might need to make a payment for some of that service. We want to make certain that when you do, you save the receipt or any record of payment, like if your agency provides a letter that says paid in full, we want to make certain that you keep a copy of that.
So that includes payment for non-deduction service, which is a temporary position where you’re not contributing to the retirement system (or no deductions are being taken from your pay for retirement purposes). Typically, this happens at the very beginning of someone’s career.
Refunded service would be where you were contributing to the retirement system, but you left federal service thinking you were never coming back, and you took a refund of the contributions that you had made to either CSRS or FERS, not TSP, but to the retirement system itself.
And then of course, military service. Although this is technically federal service, because of course the military is at the federal level, it is not naturally part of your federal service. It is a separate component, but you can get credit for some or all of your military service. And so I’m not going to be able to get into the details of these pieces here on today’s webinar, but it is important that we have a good history of your federal service so that we get this right.
If you plan to make a deposit, so making any of these payments that we’re talking about, you must do so before you leave federal service. Don’t assume that you’re going to get a final chance by OPM or that someone’s going to knock on your door and ask, “Are you sure that you don’t want to make this deposit?” You need to do this before you leave federal service, nice and clean, retirement package goes to OPM correct and complete. All right, so that’s it on that.
Next up, let’s talk about some healthcare matters. So for those of you who have a flexible spending account, this is where you have some pre-tax money that you’ve intentionally set aside that the government allows you to pay for qualified medical expenses without having to pay tax on that money.
These are really cool vehicles. I have the FSA, myself, my husband’s a federal employee. It’s a pretty sweet deal. But when you get close to retirement, you better use all of that money that’s in the FSA because the moment that you retire, you forfeit the remaining balance that’s in your FSA. You don’t have until the end of the year. It is as of that day. So go out and buy all the band-aids and rubbing alcohol and neosporin or whatever it is that you feel like you need. Do not let that money go to waste.
Next step, if you have a disabled child, you need to make certain that you’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure that they retain your FEHB coverage after you die. You’re going to do that by verifying that the required medical certificate, that’s what OPM calls this, that this medical certificate that is acknowledging your child’s disability and when it occurred, and that it will keep them from being able to provide for themselves, so they’re incapable of self-support, you have to make sure that that document is in your electronic Official Personnel File.
And please keep a copy for your family. If they can’t get into your computer, if they can’t get into the thumb drive with a password-protected document, none of that stuff matters to them. They can’t get what they need. So please keep a printed copy so that your family can access it.
Imagine a situation where you pass away, your eligible child, your disabled child is fighting to be able to keep FEHB without any of the documentation that you should have had. Documents get lost in the government all the time, all the time, even electronic ones.
So make sure you have a copy so that you don’t have to have, it won’t even be you, that someone will have to step up to the plate to be able to get a new medical certificate that will likely delay care in the meantime when your disabled child actually needs it. So just do them a favor, make sure all of this is squared away and that someone in your family knows where to find this document.
All right, next up on a healthcare matter, if you are over the age of 65 when you retire from federal service, you are going to need a special form from your agency that tells Medicare that you had employer-sponsored health insurance. Again, this is only needed for people over the age of 65 because of course, that’s when you’re supposed to enroll in Medicare if you want it.
So in order to make sure there’s no hiccups with Medicare, your agency should complete this form called the CMS-L564. This document is your agency’s way of telling Medicare that if you enroll in Part B, and let’s say you’re 68 when you retire from federal service, you’d normally have a penalty to enroll in Part B that late.
But because you are still enrolled in an employer-sponsored health insurance while you are working and you later enroll in Medicare Part B, you will not have a penalty, but you have to have that form. You have to have that completed form by your agency so that Medicare will let you off the hook for your penalty. No sense in paying penalties when we don’t need to. This is a document that’s difficult to get after you’ve already left federal service, so please make certain that you have a copy of this.
All right, next up are retirement documents themselves. So with retirement documents, you want to make certain to keep a final copy of all of those documents that were submitted to your agency in your retirement package.
That is the actual retirement application. You will have additional documents like your life insurance continuation of coverage election. That is you telling the Office of Personnel Management what coverage you wish to keep, if any of your FEGLI and documents like your tax withholding form. So anything you are providing to your agency in order to start that ball rolling to be able to retire, you want to make sure to retain a copy. Don’t just give the form you filled out to your agency to process. Make a copy first.
In addition to this, make sure to keep a copy of the benefits or the annuity estimate that your agency provided to you as they were doing the retirement counseling. Hopefully your agency’s doing the retirement counseling. I know some skimp on that, but most of the time you’re at least able to generate an annuity estimate likely from the systems that your agency allows you access to.
It is important to keep a copy of this estimate because you never know why you’re going to need it. Let’s say the Office of Personnel Management gives you back a pension number that’s completely off what your agency suggested that you are entitled to, what they ran in your estimate. You have to know what to go fight for, and if you have no recollection of any of this data, it’s going to be a very hard fight for you.
Another reason that having an annuity estimate would be valuable to you is, let’s say you’re planning to move, buy a property, do anything that requires proof of your income, having an annuity estimate in that interim period will be very helpful for a lender to be able to see because good luck trying to get an estimate from an agency you no longer work for. Just have a copy, keep it.
It’s not the gospel, it’s not the actual thing, that’s why it’s called an estimate, but at least it gives some of the basic data that you would need to fight for yourself if OPM comes back and is low balling you on what you think you’re supposed to get, or to be able to provide to a lender if you are looking to be able to perhaps qualify for a new loan, for instance.
All right, next up, retaining access. It’s great to know documents exist. It’s really frustrating to not know how to get them after you left federal service. So let’s talk about and really think through all of the access that you have to documents based solely on your ability to log into government computers. You’re not going to have that access anymore once you no longer work for the federal government, so that CAC card doesn’t do you any good.
I want to give the TSP as an example here. If you forget your TSP password, you’re trying to log in, maybe you need some money, you want to change something, how you’re invested, whatever, whatever it might be, in order to reset your password, you’re going to have to get two-factor authentication. So they’re going to send a code to either your cell phone or your email address.
But if you have your two-factor authentication settings that list your government email or your government cell number, you are complete toast. It will be painful to get your password reset with the TSP. So just think about those little things. I know once I say it out loud, you’re like, “Oh. Well yeah, of course, I should update those.” But how many people leave federal service and don’t update them, and then they really, really regret it?
Next subsection here are purely administrative matters. Not to say they’re not important, but in the administrative bucket here. You want to think about the email account that you’ve likely had for many, many years, maybe even many decades, and think about all of the important things that are in there that you have the right to be able to keep. I’m not suggesting that you keep sensitive information or you forward it to yourself to another email. We’re not looking to get anybody in trouble.
But maybe you sent something to yourself that was personal in nature because you needed something printed or you were sharing something with a friend of yours, and so you sent it to your government email and then forward it on. Whatever it might be, if there’s something in those emails that you feel is important that you don’t have another way to be able to get, consider forwarding or printing those so that you have them.
Next up that global directory of emails and phone numbers and all that of your colleagues and any agency points of contact that you may need to reach after leaving federal service. Well, guess what? You’re not going to have access to that. So if you want to know how to reach your colleagues, you have to save their email addresses.
And I know this sounds so silly that we’re even talking about this, but we’ve become so accustomed to the fact that we open up an email, we begin to compose the “to” section and everybody just populates right in there because we’ve emailed them many times. But once we’re no longer in that email system, we’re not going to know any of those email addresses.
And of course, phone numbers are a little bit different of a deal, but make sure that if you’re looking to keep in contact with those folks or certainly any agency points of contact from an administrative standpoint that you may need to reach after you leave service, please make a note of those so that you’re not left high and dry.
Lastly, on the administrative matters on this slide is download any training certificates or anything that you may need for future employment or your “I love me” wall, or your “I love me” book whatever that might look like, because again, might be difficult to find those things if you didn’t save them before you leave.
Last but certainly not least, please ensure that all of your beneficiaries are updated to include your current wishes. Please do not step into retirement without your beneficiaries updated. You can find all of the forms and the instructions at FedImpact.com/beneficiaries.
We have all four of the forms that you’ll need. There’s five forms on the page. There’s a CSRS and FERS version of one document, and then all the rest are the same regardless of which retirement system that you are in. But please go complete those documents. [UPDATE: Beneficiary documents have recently been modified to combine CSRS and FERS]
The only one that you’re not able to do just by filling out a true paper form document is the TSP. Back in June, they changed the way in which TSP beneficiaries can be made, and so you are going to have to log into tsp.gov to do that, but please take the time to do that.
I’ll be honest, I work with a lot of widows and widows of federal employees, and it is really, really heartbreaking to meet with them and have to share the news that there was an outdated beneficiary still on file, a former spouse, for instance. If we have a blended family, that becomes even more challenging. So please take the time to update these and then keep a copy of them in a safe place.
Now, TSP beneficiaries have been very challenging this year. I shared this on one of our webinars about the goat rope that happened in TSP here this past summer. This was a mess. My husband’s a fed. TSP beneficiaries, the primary was me, the secondary was our trust, and I stayed on as the primary, which was good, but our trust fell off, and so we had to go back in and revise that. So please make certain that those beneficiaries are up-to-date and keep a copy.
And listen, guys, I know we’re talking about the time that we’re stepping into retirement and getting prepared for all of that, but please don’t wait to update beneficiaries until you retire. Do it now, and then, heck, do it again before you retire, depending on how long from now it is. But always double-checking, is what I want to see happen, is that what I actually did on paper? And is it still on file? Did something happen? Because again, documents get lost, systems like TSP do weird things where they drop off beneficiaries. So having those signed (and any verification that you get from your agency or the TSP, for instance, that a beneficiary has been updated), keep a copy of that in a safe place so that if something goes wonky after you’re gone, your family has a fighting chance to be able to make it right.
All right, that is it for today’s session. I want to do a quick wrap up here. Of course, you guys know we do retirement training. This particular session that we did today is predicated on the idea that eventually you’re going to leave federal service, and we’re also making an assumption in our material today that you’ve done the work to get the math right to step into retirement. It’s one thing to have all of your documents, it’s another thing to know that all the math shakes out.
So if you need to double-check your retirement math, I beg of you, please get to one of our workshops. We do in-person training. There is no cost for you to attend. We’re going to cover all of the federal benefits topics (your pension, survivor benefits, the special retirement supplements, social security, life insurance, health insurance, long-term care insurance, and of course, the Thrift Savings Plan).
We have to make sure that you don’t have a huge retirement math problem when you step into that phase of your life, or you will regret it. So our job is to help you make sense of all of these numbers and make certain that all of your ducks are in a row, not just your docs.
So you can see all of the details of any of the retirement workshops that we have available in your local area by going to FedImpact.com/attend. So you’ll see any of our workshops that are currently open for registration.
Next up, handouts and replays. So the handouts, if you’re still listening today and you want to download today’s handouts, you can do so right here from the webinar portal, or we will email the link to the replay along with the handouts here in the next couple of days.
All right, our next webinar in the month of love in February is “Your TSP: Love it or Leave it?” February 24th, 1pm Central. This session is all about helping feds to understand their often complicated relationship with the TSP and deciding if a breakup is in their future.
So I want full transparency here, we are not here to bash the TSP, but we’re also not here to defend it. I want to be able to be really straight with you guys on things that we observe that federal employees experience when they step into retirement with respect to the TSP, so that you can make a decision for yourself, whether you’re willing to live with that and play by those rules, or if you want a different path.
And it doesn’t matter to me which path you take, I need to make certain that you understand what’s ahead on your journey. That’ll be a fun session. I’m just going to lay it all out on the line. I hope you’ll join us. You can sign up for that session at FedImpact.com/webinar, which is the exact same place that you signed up for today’s session.
And if you’ve got some friends who maybe haven’t heard messages quite like this, maybe they’re super rah-rah on the TSP, or they dog the TSP all the time and can’t see the other side, this is going to be a pretty balanced approach to the TSP. Not throwing any punches, but I just want to be really direct on how this actually works in retirement. So certainly hope to see you on next month’s webinar, February 24th, 1pm Central.
Well, that’s it for today, guys. I really try to keep these right at about 30 minutes. Sometimes I struggle a little bit more than others. But again, I hope that you will join us at a workshop nearby. If you’ve not already attended, or maybe you need a little bit of a refresher, you can find all of our open workshops at FedImpact.com/attend. And to sign up for next month’s webinar on “Your TSP: Love it or Leave it?” you can go to FedImpact.com/webinar.
Thanks so much for joining us. We’ll see you next month.