When it comes to retirement, planning is everything. If possible, it should begin well ahead of the date you plan to retire. However, if you are offered a “buyout” or there’s a reduction in force in the offing, use whatever time you have to plan ahead. A little time, wisely spent, can produce a big payoff.

Regardless of how much you have before retirement, your first step should be to sign up for a preretirement counseling seminar at your agency. Most agencies and their field activities hold these seminars periodically, with more sessions scheduled when buyouts and RIFs are imminent.

If your organization doesn’t provide a preretirement course at a time convenient for you to attend (or even offer one), consider enrolling in a course offered by an outside firm. In some cases, your agency will pay for it.

Your next step is to meet with your agency’s benefits counselor to go through your official personnel folder (OPF) and make sure that it includes complete documentation of all your federal employment (including any military service), the effective dates of each adjustment to your pay, and records of your health benefits and life insurance coverage, plus any designations of beneficiaries you may have filed.

If your OPF is accurate, ask your benefits counselor to verify when you will be eligible to retire and whether you will be able to carry your health and life insurance into retirement.

Next ask for an estimate of your potential retirement annuity. If you owe any deposits or redeposits, you can ask your benefits counselor to show you the effect of making or not making the payment. Then if you want to make a deposit or redeposit, you can ask the counselor to tell you how to do it.

If you had a period of active duty service in the armed forces (or are or will be receiving reserve retired pay), you'll need to assess the impact of making or not making a deposit to get credit for that time in your annuity. On the other hand, if you are (or will be) receiving military retired pay, you may have to make a deposit to get credit for that time and, at retirement, waive that pay.

Finally, if you owe any money to your agency, you'll want to arrange a repayment schedule so that your annuity is not offset in order to recoup the debt.

When you have set your retirement date, you’ll need to ask your benefits counselor for two copies of the necessary retirement forms. You’ll fill one out for your counselor and one for yourself. Your counselor will review the forms and contact you to clear up any questions or problems that may arise.

Once the paperwork is done and you’ve confirmed your retirement date, you can relax and start enjoying the time that remains.