Suppose somebody offered you $15,000, $30,000 or $90,000 to take a reduced lifetime pension if you would retire this month. Would you take it?

That is the situation facing retirement-age federal workers who -- if the current budget agreement becomes law -- will lose the chance to take lump-sum pension payments at the end of the month.

How popular is the option? Seventy-six of every 100 retirees take it.

It represents the total amount of money each paid into the federal pension fund -- about 7 percent of lifetime salary -- while working.

For Washington area retirees, the lump sum averages about $32,000. But it can be worth as much as $95,000 for longtime, high-income retirees. For most people, it represents the biggest chunk of money ever dangled before them.

But there are drawbacks. Most of the lump-sum payment (85 to 95 percent) is taxed by the federal government and your home state. If you are under age 55, you will pay an additional 10 percent early-retirement penalty. And, of course, taking the lump sum reduces your inflation-indexed pension for life.

Some financial planners say that people retiring before age 55 should take the lump-sum payment even with the early-retirement surtax. This assumes the retiree can and will invest the money wisely and that he or she will move into another job that maintains or improves current income.

For people between ages 55 and 65, the lump sum can be a close call. The take-it-or-leave-it decision hangs on age, life expectancy, plans and whether the retiree can handle, financially and emotionally, the monthly annuity reduction that goes with the lump-sum payment.

Retirees 65 and older who take the lump sum usually have the biggest reduction in monthly pensions. For that reason, many experts say it is often unwise for older retirees to take their lumps. But each case is different. What's right for people in your car pool isn't necessarily the wise thing for you to do.

At noon tomorrow on WNTR radio (1050 AM), financial planners Paul Yurachek and David Cohen discuss the lump sum benefit. Virginia Politics

Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) and his Democratic opponent in the November election, Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr., will speak at Tuesday's meeting of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees. It starts at 1:30 p.m. at Alexandria's Lee Senior Center. Call 703-549-0996. Health Insurance Shopping

NARFE's Maryland Federation of chapters and Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.) are sponsoring statewide health insurance seminars. Insurance specialist Gordon Brown and officials of the Office of Personnel Management will be at sessions set for Oct. 18 (Oxon Hill), Oct. 19 (Urbana), Nov. 1 (Indian Head), Nov. 2 (Baltimore), Nov. 9 (La Plata), Nov. 13 (Salisbury), Nov. 14 (Chesterton), Nov. 15 (Bowie), Nov. 26 (at 7:30 p.m. in the Montgomery County Council chamber) and Dec. 3 (at 10 a.m. at Armory Place in Silver Spring.) Nonmembers and workers from Virginia and the District are invited. For details, call Martin Wish at 301-649-1979.