Civil Service Retirement System Basics

The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) originated in 1920 and since then has provided retirement, disability and survivor benefits for most civilian employees in the federal government. Prior to that time, many civilian employees in the federal government simply worked until they died because there was no means of support for them if they were to quit their jobs.

Over time, the Civil Service Retirement System has become a progressive element in the personnel management system. Benefits have continued to evolve. They are now financed by both employee and government contributions to the retirement fund, and provide benefits based on length of service and the average salary over the highest three years of pay.

How Federal Employee Annuities Are Computed

Your basic annuity is computed based on your length of service (which includes unused sick leave if you retire on an immediate annuity) and high-3 average pay. To determine your length of service for computation, add all your periods of creditable service, and the period represented by your unused sick leave, then eliminate from the total any fractional part of a month. Your high-3 average pay is the highest average basic pay you earned during any 3 consecutive years of service. Generally, your basic annuity cannot be more than 80 percent of your high-3 average pay, unless the amount over 80 percent is due to crediting your unused sick leave.

Your yearly basic annuity is computed by adding: (a) 1.5 percent of your high-3 average pay times service up to 5 years; (b) 1.75 percent of your high-3 pay times years of service over 5 and up to 10; and (c) 2 percent of your high-3 pay times years of service over 10.

Your basic annuity will be reduced if: (a) you retire before age 55 (unless you retire for disability or under the special provisions for law enforcement officers, air traffic controllers, and firefighters); (b) you didn’t make a deposit for service performed prior to October 1, 1982, during which no deductions were taken from your pay (non-deduction service after that date is not used in the computation of benefits if the deposit is not paid); (c) you didn’t make a redeposit of a refund for a period of service that ended before October 1, 1990; or (d) you provide for a survivor annuitant.

Your annuity will be increased periodically by cost-of-living increases that occur after you retire. Your initial cost-of-living increase will be prorated based on how long you have been retired when that cost-of-living increase is granted.


Credit for Military Service

As a general rule, military service in the Armed Forces of the United States is creditable for retirement purposes if it was active service terminated under honorable conditions, and performed prior to your separation from civilian service for retirement.  Military service performed on or after January 1, 1957 is normally creditable for Social Security benefits at age 62. Individuals first employed before October 1, 1982 have the option of either making a 7 percent deposit for post-1956 military service, thereby avoiding a reduction in their annuity at age 62, or not making the deposit and having their annuities reduced at age 62 if they are then eligible for Social Security benefits. Employees first hired by the federal government on or after October 1, 1982 must make the deposit or receive no credit at all, including eligibility to retire, for military service.


Disability Retirement

If you retire due to disability, you may be guaranteed a minimum annuity equal to the smaller of: (a) 40 percent of your high-3 average pay, or (b) the regular annuity obtained after increasing your service by the time between your retirement and your 60th birthday.  This guaranteed minimum applies if you are under age 60 when you retire and your earned annuity based on your actual service is less than this minimum.

There is an exception, however. The guaranteed minimum does not apply if you are receiving military retired pay and/or VA compensation in lieu of all or part of the military retired pay. However, if your earned annuity plus your military benefit (or compensation) is less than what it would have been under the guaranteed minimum, the annuity is increased to bring it up to that level.


If You Retire Before Age 55

If you voluntarily retire during a major reorganization, reduction-in-force, or transfer of function, or if you are involuntarily separated and are younger than 55, your basic annuity will be reduced by one-sixth of 1 percent for each full month you are under 55. There is no age reduction if you retire under the disability provision or under the special provisions for air traffic controllers, law enforcement officers, and firefighters.


If You Die in Service

If you die after 18 months of civilian service, your widow(er) will get an annuity, provided you were married for a total of 9 months. The 9-month requirement does not apply if your death is accidental or if there is a child of the marriage.

Generally, your widow(er) is entitled to 55 percent of the basic annuity earned by your creditable service and average salary. However, if it will produce a higher annuity, your widow(er) will receive 55 percent of the guaranteed minimum benefit described under Disability Retirement above.

If you have a former spouse from whom you were divorced after May 6, 1985, he or she may receive, by court order, all or a part of the annuity that your widow(er) would otherwise get.

Your unmarried children will also be entitled to annuities if you die in service. Their annuities will continue until they reach age 18 – or age 22 if they remain in school full-time. The annuity of a child who is incapable of self support because of a disability incurred before age 18 will continue indefinitely unless the child becomes capable of self support.


  • Posted August 6, 2014 Brenda Cobb 1:53 pm

    What happens to my Sick leave balance at retirement?

  • Posted January 22, 2015 Douglas Bateman 7:46 am

    When you retire and your x-spouse has remarried is he or she entitled to any of your retirement?

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