For the first time in memory, federal workers in February know what kind of a pay raise they will get next January: a 4.2 percent increase.

An early warning of the next raise is important because the rent, mortgages and alimony payments of many federal workers are keyed to their short-range earning capacity.

Unless the nation is still at war or in a national economic emergency in August, the 1992 raise will be considered pre-approved by Congress and the White House, thanks to the new federal pay law.

At this time last year, the president set a 3.6 percent raise, and Congress, as usual, balked. After months of political wrangling over the budget, Congress prevailed and the raise was upgraded to a 4.1 percent increase. The raise was effective last month, and most workers got it in this month's first paycheck.

The new system eliminates the suspense and introduces what is supposed to be a fairer and more orderly procedure. It ties general federal raises to private-sector pay changes as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The amount set will be the designated raise for the following year.

In addition, there will be geographic pay adjustments in future years, and the president will retain the authority to grant special cost-of-living adjustments (of up to 8 percent) to cities where the government is having recruiting and retention problems.

This year, New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco got the full 8 percent adjustments on top of the 4.1 percent general pay increase.

Local federal workers won't know until early next year if they qualify for special raises. But unless the war drags on or the economy plunges, workers know they can count on at least 4.2 percent in 1992.Scholarships, Loans

There have been lots of calls about college scholarships for children of federal workers and emergency loans or grants to federal workers. The funds are provided for, or arranged by, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund.

The fund is not a federal agency, but rather a charitable group supported by money pledged by workers through the Combined Federal Campaign.

For a copy of the fund's brochure and scholarship information, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope (don't forget to use a 29-cent stamp) to FEEA, Suite 200, 8441 W. Bowles Ave., Littleton, Colo. 80123.

In addition, some postal and federal unions have scholarships for members and their children. If you belong to a union, check its scholarship programs. Lump-Sum Taxes

The U.S. Court of Appeals is considering Shomota v. U.S., which will determine whether thousands of retired federal workers will get more than $1 billion in federal tax refunds on lump-sum pension payments. The workers also are appealing the 10 percent surtax imposed on those who took a lump-sum payment before age 55.

A lower court ruled that the government acted properly in determining that most of the payments represent untaxed government contributions -- not the retirees' previously taxed contributions to the pension plan. It could be several years before the issue is settled in court. The case is being handled by the Washington law firm of Neill & Shaw.