Surf's up (maybe): Timing the retirement wave

Friday - 6/21/2013, 2:00am EDT

Speaking of surf's up, Senior Correspondent Mike Causey's on vacation today. The good news, for you, is that we've lined up a string of guest columnists — real-live current and former feds — to keep you informed. This one is from a Homeland Security worker in Cleveland:
We've been hearing for a dozen years about the upcoming federal retirement tsunami, when thousands of baby boomers with years of technical expertise leave the federal service for the golf courses and RV parks of retirement communities. For those of us "seasoned" baby boomers who qualify for retirement, when to retire can be a complex decision.

Retirements have been on the rise since 2009; in fact, OPM received nearly 111,000 retirement applications in fiscal year 2012. In January and February of 2013, OPM received 21 percent more retirement applications that it did in January and February of 2012. It isn't quite the predicted tsunami, but the increase does qualify as a wave.

And timing a wave can be tricky.

I grew up in the beach area of Los Angeles and often watched surfers catch the waves. Timing was crucial. Just as the wave was about to reach the surfers, they would point the surfboard toward the beach, pull their entire body up on the board, paddle with both arms until the wave lifted them, then stand and ride the board toward shore. They looked wonderfully graceful.

Such was not the case when, at the ages of eight and nine, my cousin and I chose to rent a surf mat (a heavy-duty inflatable mattress) to ride waves one afternoon. The tide moved us to where we couldn't touch the bottom of the ocean. Neither of us was a strong swimmer so we came up with the brilliant idea that one of us would do the arm motions and the other would kick our feet. This had the effect of spinning us around in circles. We were fortunate that the beach was protected by life guards, who ended up bringing the, by now, panicked little girls to shore.

In some respects, conditions are good to retire. There's not much point in hanging around for a better "high three". We've had no pay raise for three years and getting a salary increase in 2014 is pretty iffy. Mortgage rates are low for people who want to refinance or purchase a retirement home. Those experiencing furloughs are already living on a reduced income.

Some of my colleagues who retired planned well and are enjoying life. They are busy taking classes, traveling, visiting family and taking up new hobbies. I know others who retired only to find that they needed to take another job (at substantially less pay) in order to make ends meet.

I know people who have earned their maximum retirement benefit and continue to hang on, unwilling to pull the plug. One says she has not yet worked three years at the top of her grade (step 10). Another says that each year he works he can invest the maximum into the TSP. (He drives a 25 year-old car and lives in a one-bedroom apartment. How much does he need?)

I think we stay partially because of fear of the unknown. We know the horror stories of delays in processing our retirement applications. Some have waited more than a year before they received their full annuities and until then received as little as 40 percent of what they were owed.

I qualified for retirement last year. On paper. Once in a while I mentally project a retirement date. It never lasts. Something major in the house breaks; I need to buy a new car; the stock market didn't do as well as I'd hoped.

I've seen people who were ready to retire. They no longer had any tolerance for the normal push-me-pull-you movement of the bureaucracy. Everything made them mad.

I'm not there yet. For the most part, I still like the work that I do. And I still believe I can make a difference. Oh sure, I like to dream about retirement. But I keep seeing my cousin and me spinning around in circles.

I don't think I want to spend my retirement doing that." — Lenore Ort, CBP, Cleveland.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

Ever wonder where states and cities got their names from? Many of them come from the language of Native American tribes. For example, Ohio (my home state) means "Land of the Beautiful Rivers." Some states have very specific monikers. Alabama means "Land of the Thicket Clearers," and Illinois means "Land of the Those Who Speak Normally." Oh, and Chicago? It means "stink onions."

(Source: Slate)


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