Long-time civil servants -- about 230,000 of them to be exact -- have a tough decision to make within the next two weeks. It is whether to take the money and run, or stick with Uncle Sam a few more years.
For about half the retirement-age people in government there is a financial incentive to retire by or on Feb. 29. For the others it would probably pay to work longer.
Some bureaucrats will be able to boost their lifetime annuities substantially if they go on the retirement rolls before March 1. That is when a new 6 percent COL (cost-of-living) raise goes into effect for federal retirees. The higher your grade, longer your service, the better immediate retirement looks.
Top federal pay has increased less -- on a percentage basis -- in recent years than it has for lower-level employes. In 1979, for example, federal executives got a 5.5 percent raise compared to a 7 percent increase for rank-and-file workers. Executives have also been subject to frequent pay freezes in recent years.
Many employes have reached the 42-year service mark. That is when they no longer boost their future pensions via longevity. They can increase annuities only if they get promotions or other pay raises. But the prospect of smaller raises at the top, of pay freezes and of limited promotions has many senior employes considering retirement.
Retirees get COL adjustments every six months. In September, 1979, they got a near record 6.9 percent boost -- to keep pace with inflation.
Persons retiring before March 1 will qualify for the new 6 percent COL adjustment. In addition, their annuities will be figured out by giving them either the value of added service over the past six months, or the value of the September, 1979 raise (of 6.9 percent), whichever is greater. That is a modified form of "reach back."
The reach-back means that a person retiring from government gets the full advantage of the last COL raise plus all future living cost adjustments.
It is complicated. And the situation varies with individuals, age, pay and length of service, not to mention each individual's financial situation and personal feelings about retirement. Nobody can advise you to retire. That is for you and your family to decide. But here are some examples that may help you in that decision. The Office of Personnel Management worked them up, showing the pros and cons of retiring by March 1. EXAMPLE 1: The employe earns the maximum career salary, $50,112.50. He or she has 42 years service. If that employe retired before March 1 the annuity would be $41,800 a year. If the individual retires one day later, on March 1, the annuity would be $40,600. The $1,200 difference money for retiring one day early. EXAMPLE 2: The employe is a Grade 13 at the top salary, $38,186. The employe has 30 years service. If that employe retires before March 1 the annuity will be $21,400. If the employe waits one more day, the annuity drops to $21,000. Not a big decline, but a significant amount over a lifetime of retirement. EXAMPLE 3: The same Grade 13 worker with 40 years service. The pre-March annuity would be worth $29,000. That same annuity later would be $28,400.
Personnel offices can work out the annuity difference for retirement-eligible workers. It will look good to some, and be almost meaningless for others.
Some workers on "saved pay" because of demotions may find incentives to retire now since future raises for them will be reduced. Grade 13 through 15 personnel who are being shifted to merit pay, and away from regular longevity raises, may also find that there is an advantage to retire. One worker called here Friday and said his annuity would be $31,300 if he retired before March but would drop to just over $29,000 if he left later.
Long-service employes who cannot add to their annuities because they are at the service-maximum may find retirement before March especially attractive.
President Carter has projected a 6.2 percent active pay raise for this October; 8 percent for 1981; 7.5 percent for 1982; 7 percent for 1983 and 6.5 percent for 1984. That is an annual increase much less than the current rate of inflation.
Retirees, on the other hand, are linked to the rate of inflation with twice yearly adjustments. The pay raise-retirement squeeze is causing many people to check their options. If you doubt it, check the number of people retiring from your agency this month.