Buyout bait: Tart or tasty?

Tuesday - 11/1/2011, 2:00am EDT

Would you buy a car you really don't need — maybe can't really afford — just because the dealer was offering a rebate or special discount? Maybe not.

So would you quit your job for a one-shot offer and a 0.3 percent raise?

But that's what some federal workers, maybe lots of them, will be doing if they decide to retire this month for the wrong reasons.

Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of feds will get offers of a $25,000 buyout (before deductions) and/or early retirement. Some agencies are offering them right now. Others will do so. In all cases, the decision turnaround-time will be short. Workers must agree to the buyout (VSIP) or early out (VERA) in a short period of time. And they must also to agree to be off the payroll quickly. To get the most bang for their buck, agencies want the buyouts to happen fast. It could even jumpstart the retirement exodus that's been building — but not actually happening — over the last dozen years.

If you are sick of the commute, tired of your job, irritated by the dullard in the next cubicle or have other things to do — like travel, have fun and sleep in late — the buyouts and early-outs are the icing on the cake. But if you like/need your job, and the 2012 retiree COLA (and a buyout) are the tipping point, think twice.

Judging from the calls and e-mails we are getting from feds, many of them say they will retire this month or next if they can get the January COLA. That increase, which is official, will be to cash in on the 3.6 percent cost of living adjustment that goes into effect in December for federal annuitants. The COLA, payable in January checks, will be 3.6 percent for persons retired under the CSRS system and 2.6 percent for those under the FERS program. Military retirees and people who get Social Security will also get the 3.6 percent increase. If you get two (or all three) of those benefits, you will get three raises. But...

Because the COLA is for people who have been retired — not who are about to retire — it is pro-rated on a monthly basis. Bottom line: If you retire this month you will get only 1/12th of the COLA, or about 0.3 percent. Do the math (because I can't)...

The average CSRS annuity for people retiring this year is about $2,899 per month. The average retirement benefit for those under the FERS system is $1,051 per month. After two years without a COLA, the 3.6 percent (CSRS) or 2.6 percent (FERS) COLA is a goodly amount. If your health insurance premiums are going up, that will be a big help. If they are decreasing, even better.

But if you retire this month your 2012 COLA will only be 0.3 percent. If you retire in December, there will not be any COLA.

Social Security

Thousands of Social Security employees hit the bricks yesterday for a lunchtime informational picketing exercise called by the American Federation of Government Employees. Workers — on their lunch breaks — alerted the public that potential budget cuts and furloughs could mean longer lag times in processing claims and benefit disputes. The union says workers at 130 offices, from Alaska to North Carolina, took part in the campaign.

Calling Congress

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees wants members to call their senators and representatives Wednesday to protest the federal pay freeze and threats to future retiree COLAs. President Joe Beaudoin says NARFE has set up a special toll free number members can use to call their elected officials.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

If you keep chocolate long enough, it starts to develop a fuzzy white growth. But don't worry, it's not mold, it's a patch of fat or sugar that comes to the surface of the candy bar because of changes in temperature and humidity, Slate reports. A candy bar can usually last for at least a year because its high sugar content and low moisture prevents bacterial growth.


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