What to know before taking a buyout

Friday - 1/13/2012, 6:24pm EST

Tammy Flanagan, senior benefits director, National Institute of Transition Planning

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You could call it a buyout bonanza in the federal government.

This week, alone, the Internal Revenue Service, the Agriculture Department, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Transportation Security Administration, have all offered employees buyouts or early retirements.

But deciding to take the buyout can be a wrenching decision and largely depends on an employee's individual circumstances.

Tammy Flanagan, the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning, joined In Depth with Francis Rose to discuss the pros and cons of taking a buyout.

Echoes of the 1990s

Flanagan said the current flurry of buyout and early-out activity reminds her of a similar period in the 1990s. But, "we're in a little bit different world today," she said, citing the economy and the number of employees, who are now covered by the Federal Employee Retirement System.

"So, I think we're going to have a lot more employees really giving this consideration," she added. "But, also [there] may be not the same job opportunities for someone who's looking to start a second career."

In a lot of cases, a buyout can be a "painless way to leave federal service," Flanagan said. Essentially, you're being paid to lose your job. And for some, the $25,000 payment can be a jumping-off point to start a new career, she said.

An opportunity for some

"You have an opportunity to leave the government possibly as much as five to 10 years earlier than you had planned, which is a much younger age to start a second career, if that's what you had wanted to do," Flanagan said.

And most who take the buyout will take their lifetime health and life-insurance coverage, their basic annuity benefits and their Thrift Savings Plan with them into their new career, she added.

"But don't jump the gun too fast," she cautioned, "because your retirement after only maybe 25 or 20 years or service might not be enough to retire comfortably."

In other words, you may have to start looking for a new career.

VERAs and VSIPs

Just how much you get determines on what exactly you're offered — and what you're eligible for.

The official name for a buyout is a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment, or VSIP. This is "just an agency's way of giving a further incentive to get employees to consider leaving," Flanagan said.

They are often offered in conjunction with early retirements, or a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority, also known as VERA.

To be eligible for early retirement, an employee must be at least 50 years old with 20 years of service. Employees with 25 years of service can be younger than 50 and still be eligible for a VERA.

Both buyouts and early retirements offer the same general benefit: Usually, a $25,000 payment, which, after taxes, rounds out to about $16,000-$17,000.

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