Helping Federal Employees and Annuitants Understand Their Benefits


CSRS & FERS 20 Year Retirement Eligibility

LEO, FF, ATC & NWC Early Retirement System


Updated 12/21/2019

A special 20-year retirement system was created for certain designated positions which require employees to meet vigorous physical demands. Because of the physical demands, this retirement system allows employees to retire sooner, with just 20 years of service. It also includes a mandatory retirement when the employee reaches a designated age or years of service.


Eligibility to retire under the special 20-year provision depends on the both the retirement system (CSRS or FERS) and the position.

Positions covered under the 20-year retirement system

  • Law Enforcement Officers (LEO)
  • Firefighters (FF)
  • Air Traffic Controllers (ATC)
  • Nuclear Weapons Couriers (NWC)


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Unsure of your retirement coverage? 

Check Block 30 of your Notification of Personnel action, SF-50.  If you are covered under the special retirement system, the retirement code will be either:

  • 6 – CSRS Special
  • E – CSRS Offset Special
  • M – FERS Special

 Eligibility Requirements Menu


CSRS Eligibility (LEO, FF & NWC)


CSRS Retirement Eligibility

Law Enforcement Officers (LEO),  Firefighters (FF), and Nuclear Weapons Couriers (NWC)

Years of Service



Note: You must have 3 years primary coverage first, followed by secondary coverage with no break.


Helpful Links:

FERS Eligibility (LEO, FF & NWC)


FERS Retirement Eligibility

Law Enforcement Officers (LEO),  Firefighters (FF), and Nuclear Weapons Couriers (NWC)


Years of Service



Any Age

25 (at least 3 years primary)

Note: You must have 3 years primary coverage first, followed by secondary coverage with no break.


Helpful Links:

CSRS & FERS Eligibility (ATC)



CSRS and FERS Eligibility

Air Traffic Controllers (ATC)


Years of Service



Any Age



Annuity Computations (FERS & CSRS)

  • CSRS Retirement Annuity Formula:
    2.5 percent X High-3 Average Salary X 20 Years of LEO Service plus 2 percent X High-3 Average Salary X Additional years of creditable service exceeding 20 years (LEO & non-LEO), including military deposit service.
  • FERS Retirement Annuity Formula:
    1.7 percent X High-3 Average Salary X 20 Years of LEO Service plus 1 percent X High-3 Average Salary X Additional years of creditable service exceeding 20 years (LEO & non-LEO), including military deposit service. A retiree annuity supplement is payable before age 62 in addition to the basic annuity.

CSRS/FERS Retirement Deductions

Under both CSRS and FERS, the payroll deductions for CSRS/FERS are ½ percent more than for regular federal employees.  Under the special provisions for FERS, the payroll deduction is 1.3% and for CSRS, the payroll deduction is 7.5%.

Mandatory Separations

To meet the goal of maintaining a young and vigorous work force, a mandatory separation provision applies to these positions. Employees must be separated when they meet specific age and service requirements.  The law does allow departmental agency heads to waive mandatory retirement when it is in the public interest.


Mandatory Retirement



Years of Service








Employees without 20 years of covered service at age 56 or 57, are separated at the end of the month in which they attain 20 years of covered service.  If an employee is no longer in a position under the special retirement provisions, the mandatory separation provisions do not apply.

Maximum Entry Age

The law also allows federal agencies to establish maximum entry age of 36 or 37, which allows the employee to attain the 20 years of service before the mandatory retirement age.

Primary/Secondary Positions

To be eligible for the 20-year retirement, LEO/FF/NWC employees must occupy a “primary” position for 3 or more years and move directly to the secondary position by reassignment, promotion or change to lower grade. The primary position information is not applicable to ATC positions. Primary and secondary positions are defined as:

Primary position means a position whose work is directly connected with:

  • Controlling and extinguishing fires or maintaining and using firefighter apparatus and equipment or
  • Investigating, apprehending, or detaining individuals suspected or convicted of offenses against the criminal laws of the United States or
  • Transporting, and providing armed escort and protection during transit of nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons components, strategic quantities of special nuclear materials or other materials related to national security.

Secondary position is usually consider a natural successor position from a primary position, but may not have the same physical requirements.  The secondary position must:

  • Be in the same field as the primary position;
  • Be in an organization having a LEO/FF/NWC mission; and
  • Is either a supervisor of the primary positions or in an administrative position for which experience in the primary position is a mandatory requirement.  

General Considerations

  • Leaving Federal Service: If you leave federal service or change to a non-covered position before attaining 20 years under the special retirement provisions, your federal service is fully credited as if it was under the regular CSRS or FERS retirement system. You will not be eligible for a refund of the additional contributions made under the special retirement provisions.  (Note: Review OPM's Special Retirement Handook, Chapter 46 for more details) 
    • If you do not complete at least 20 years of creditable service under the “special” retirement coverage:
      • Your retirement will only be computed as if you were under the regular retirement system.  This basically reduces the computation for the 20 years from 34% of your high three salary to 20% of your high three.
      • You will not be able to receive any refund of the additional LEO contributions you have made.
      • If you complete the 20 years under a special retirement, you will lock in the option to retire earlier than employees under the regular retirement system.  This can be like always having an “Early Out” option.  
      • You may want to consider staying in the LEO position until you have at least 20 years of coverage, thus locking in the special coverage computation and then changing to a higher paying, non-LEO position.  
  • Credit for Military Service: Military service, even if it is in the same career field, is not creditable toward the 20 years of service. If you make a deposit for your military service, the military service is added as if the years were normal FERS or CSRS. For example, for a FERS employee the military service is computed as: 1 percent X High-3 Average Salary X Additional years of creditable military service.
  • TSP Considerations: The special 20-year retirement system is a fantastic opportunity; however, if you are planning to retire with 20 years of service, you only have 20 years to build your TSP savings.   TSP is considered a large percentage of a FERS retirement.  Start saving early and maximize your contributions whenever possible. 

What to do When You Retire Early


Many retire early to pursue another career, explore hobbies, travel, or to learn a new interesting skill. Federal employees that do retire early consider going back to school to finish a degree that they started years ago or to explore areas of interest; everything from archeology, general sciences, engineering, and IT. Others simply want to remove themselves from the intense environment they were working in and need a BREAK!

There are many job opportunities for skilled federal retirees and we have a comprehensive jobs board on this site that will help you find other, less stressful, employment in all areas. The nice thing about an early federal retirement is that you have a safety net that most will never have in their lives, a FEDERAL ANNUITY, health care and FEGLI insurance.

OPM Handbooks and Reference


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