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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Same Song and Dance

Welcome to 2010, two years ahead of the apocalyse according to the Mayan calendar. But not to worry. We have our own version of apocalyptic worry to deal with.

Another story of PERS' worrisome behavior is worth repeating. I've received several emails from people who retired on December 1, 2009. Recall that this was the last retirement date before PERS rolled out the new mortality tables on January 1, 2010. The new tables change the methodology used to compute the mortality factors and these methods reduce benefits slightly across the board. In any case, these readers planned their retirements around the implementation of the new tables. In at least two cases that I'm aware of, potential retirees submitted their paperwork in plenty of time to meet the December 1 deadline. In both cases, the members received notification after December 1 that there were issues with their lengths of service. In both cases there had been brief breaks-in-service in the past that had just been discovered at the time of the retirement audit. In both cases, members were under 55 and were going out under the 30 year provision. In both cases, their lengths of service were reduced by several months, putting one right on the cusp of not being able to retire.

There is a moral to this story. About two years before planning to retire, YOU should do an audit of your years of service. If you've worked for only one PERS employer, this is easy to do. You need only check with the personnel office to find out whether there are any breaks recorded in your personnel file. If you've worked for multiple PERS employers, then you need to do this for all of them. It is a pain, but is absolutely necessary if you are planning to take a 30 year-and-out retirement and are under 55 years of age. Even if you are a Money Match retiree, you MUST be 55 if you don't have 30 years. This is especially a woman's issue if you've taken time out for child birth etc. Prior to FMLA, these leaves may have been recorded as breaks-in-service and you may not even be aware. A good time to perform this audit would be following receipt of your annual benefit statement in May about two years before retirement.

If you depend on PERS to notify you in a timely manner about deficiencies or discrepancies in your service time, you could find yourself in a situation where you've already given up your job on the expectation that you have sufficient time to meet retirement requirements. That would be a terrible, if not catastrophic, error about which you can do little.

So, make this your New Year's resolution to audit that service time to make sure there are no surprises waiting for you at the end. Otherwise, it will be the same old song and dance at PERS, with you sitting on the sidelines without a partner.

Happy New Year.

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