How to Calculate Your FERS Pension and Disability Benefits
As a federal government employee, you have access to the Federal Employees Retirement System, also called FERS for short. This system includes a pension as well as disability retirement program.
What is Your High-3 Salary?
To determine your FERS pension and disability benefits, you’ll start by making a calculation that’s referred to as your high-3 salary. This is the highest average basic pay that you earned during any three consecutive years while working for the federal government.
Basic pay includes your base salary plus any salary increases you receive from which retirement deductions are withheld, as well as shift rates and locality pay. It doesn’t include overtime pay, bonuses, military pay, cash awards, holiday or travel pay, or cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). The amount of your basic pay is indicated on your Standard For 50 (SF50) and your Leave and Earnings Statement (LES).
For most federal government employees, the highest three years of basic pay are the last three years that they work. In this case, go back three years from the date of separation to determine the starting date for your high-3 salary calculation. If you have had breaks in service, the three years don’t have to be continuous — you can join two or more separate periods of service together.
For example, let’s say you plan to retire on April 1, 2021, and have worked for the federal government continuously since then. If the past three years were your highest earnings years of basic pay, the starting date for your high-3 salary calculation would be April 1, 2018. If your basic pay during these three years was $70,000, $75,000 and $80,000, then your high-3 salary would be $75,000.
Determining Your Pension and Disability Benefits
Once you’ve calculated your high-3 salary, you can determine the amount of your pension and disability benefits. The FERS pension calculation is as follows:
High-3 Salary x Years of Creditable Service x % Pension Multiplier = Annual FERS Pension
If you’re under age 62 on the date of separation or 62 years of age or over and have less than 20 years of federal service, your pension multiplier is 1%. Assuming a $75,000 high-3 salary, your annual FERS pension would be $14,250 with 19 years of service.
However, if you’re 62 years of age or over on the date of separation and have 20 or more years of federal service, your pension multiplier is 1.1%. Assuming a $75,000 high-3 salary, your annual FERS pension would be $16,500 with 20 years of service.
The pension multiplier is the same (1.1%) for the FERS disability calculation if you’re 62 years of age or over on the date of separation and have 20 or more years of federal service. But if you’re under 62 years of age when you begin receiving disability benefits, you will receive 60% of your high-3 average salary minus 100% of your Social Security benefit for any month when you’re entitled to receive Social Security benefits during the first 12 months. After this, you will
receive 40% of your high-3 average salary minus 60% of your Social Security benefit for any month when you’re entitled to receive Social Security benefits.
Once you turn 62, your benefit will be recomputed using an amount that essentially represents the benefit you would have received if you had continued working until the day before your 62nd birthday and then retired under FERS.
How to Increase Your Pension Benefits
The best way to increase your FERS pension benefit is to continue working past your earliest eligibility date for retirement if you’re able to do so. This will increase both your length of service and your high-3 salary.
Going back to our hypothetical example, let’s say this individual worked five years longer, giving him 25 years of eligible service. This also boosted his high-3 salary to $80,000, thus increasing his FERS annual pension benefit to $22,000.
Don’t miss this critical point: By working an extra five years, this individual increased his FERS annual pension benefit by $5,500. If he spends 20 years in retirement, this adds up to an additional $110,000 in pension payments.
Your decision about when to retire will have a lasting and long-term impact on your retirement finances. So give this careful thought and plan to spend time crunching some numbers before making a final decision. Book an introductory call or send us an email if you’d like to talk about your situation in more detail.