Retiring? Get Counseling From the Postal Service

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(This article appeared in the Jan./Feb. 2004 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine)

John R. Smith, Director

Postal workers are retiring in greater numbers now than at any time in history.

Retirement benefits earned through federal employment often prove to be the most valuable part of a long-time worker’s compensation package. It almost goes without saying that retirement is one of the most important “events” in life. You should plan for it as if it were a beginning rather than an ending. And you should utilize whatever resources are available, including counseling from retirement specialists.

Your right to counseling for your post-postal-work life is spelled out in the Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM), Subsection 569 – General Retirement Information. The ELM states that field division general managers and postmasters are responsible for ensuring that retirement information and counseling are made available to employees in several ways.

NARECS Counseling

The National Retirement Counseling Systems (NARECS) provides employees who are close to retirement with transitional information, including:

  • Publications to guide an employee through the retirement decision.
  • Automatic semi-annual printouts of computer-generated annuity estimates for employees eligible for optional retirement. The printouts are produced twice a year, at the end of February and the end of August; and
  • Individual annuity estimates upon request.

Individual Counseling

The Postal Service is required to provide individual counseling on request. In cases where the counselor is available during the tour being worked by an employee seeking advice, the interview is “on the clock.” The interview is intended to:

  • Clarify the employee’s work and leave status up to the expected date of retirement;
  • Identify additional necessary documents, proofs, affidavits, etc.;
  • Clarify the advantages, if any, of “deposits” or “redeposits.” (These are payments an employee can make to avoid a reduction in his or her annuity for any time worked for the federal government or the District of Columbia but not covered by the Civil Service Retirement System.)
  • Provide information on alternative forms of retirement benefits; and
  • Provide basic annuity estimates to assist in decision-making. The retirement counselor requests individual annuity estimates from the Postal Data Center, in Minneapolis. These estimates are based on the employee’s requested date of and type of retirement (optional, disability or discontinued service).

Group Counseling

Although by no means a substitute for individual counseling sessions, the Postal Service also offers periodic retirement seminars for groups of employees. Installation heads are responsible for ensuring that at least one retirement counseling seminar is held each fiscal year for all employees within three years of optional retirement eligibility.

Roughly 15 hours are needed to adequately cover various retirement topics in group sessions, which typically are offered in as six to eight two-hour seminars. Your postmaster, installation head or personnel office should be able to advise you about the availability of both individual and group counseling.

Group counseling sessions may be held on USPS premises. The ELM states that “employees within 2 to 5 years of retirement age and employees actively considering retirement are encouraged to attend.” Participation in these group counseling sessions is voluntary, available to spouses, and off the clock.

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