Frequently Asked Questions - Guide to Retirement

When I decide to retire, how do I initiate the process? 

We recommend that you notify your Human Resources Department of your intent to retire first. These discussions should take place about 2 - 3 months prior to your expected retirement date, or as soon as you know you plan to retire.

Is “Phased Retirement” available if I am not ready to retire completely right now?

Yes, Policy HR29: Voluntary Phased Retirement Program highlights eligibility requirements and the procedure for phasing into retirement.

Will I have enough income to retire?

Before you decide to retire, you should contact your retirement plan administrator. If you participate in the State Employee’s Retirement System (SERS), you can contact them at (800) 633-5461. If you participate in TIAA, you can contact them at (866) 842-2173. Your plan administrator can provide assistance to prepare you for retirement by taking into account a variety of factors including your age, number of years of service, and savings.

We realize that many facing retirement underestimate their net retirement income by overlooking the fact that items currently deducted from the paycheck will no longer be withheld in retirement. Taking these withholding items into account can significantly increase your projected spendable income. For instance, in retirement, you will no longer have Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from your retirement checks. These two taxes amount to roughly 8% on income up to $106,800 annually, and 1.6% on incomes above that.

In addition, you also will not have unemployment insurance, long-term disability, parking, and likely life insurance withheld from your retirement checks. Another big deduction that will not occur with a retirement check is your SERS or TIAA monthly contribution, depending on which retirement plan you participate in. In Pennsylvania, retirees do not pay either state or local income tax on retirement income.

Will I receive a payment for my accumulated vacation or sick time?

Currently, Penn State's practice is to allow retiring staff to request the payout of unused vacation/sick time in the month of retirement or the month following.  For December retirements, all pay needs to occur in the same tax year, so the practice of allowing unused vacation/sick to be paid the month following retirement is only applicable for months other than December. 

Effective with June 2017 retirements all unused vacation/sick will be paid in the same month as the final paycheck.  

Sick time is paid at a rate of up to 12.5 or 17 days, based on your number of years of service. 

Deductions taken from a vacation and/or sick time payoff are limited to taxes only. However, if you are enrolled in a supplemental retirement program, the Long-Term Care benefit, or have other charity deductions (i.e. United Way), you will have a deduction taken from the final check. If you do not want these deductions, you will need to complete the appropriate paperwork to stop deductions.

Checks will be automatically deposited into your account that is set up currently with the payroll office.

What do I need to do when I become eligible for Medicare?

If you are retired prior to being Medicare eligible, you have remained in an “active employee” health plan. At the time you (or a covered dependent) become Medicare eligible, you will need to contact your local Social Security office to enroll in Medicare Parts A & B. This process should be done 2-3 months prior to turning age 65. You need to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B in order to participate in the Medicare-eligible health plan through the University. Please see socialsecurity.gov for details about Medicare and secure.ssa.gov for information about contacting your local Social Security office.  

In addition, you will receive a Freedom Blue Medicare plan packet from Highmark approximately 60 days prior to turning age 65. You will need to complete the application in the packet and return it to the Employee Benefits office in the enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope. Please be sure to include a copy of your Medicare card with the Freedom Blue application.

Note: You must be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B to be eligible for Medicare medical coverage through the University. Prescription drug coverage is included in the Freedom Blue PPO. You do not need to elect separate Medicare Part D drug coverage; the Medicare medical coverage through Penn State includes a comprehensive Part D prescription plan. If you enroll in a separate Part D drug plan, you will invalidate your Penn State coverage.

If you are an active employee at the time you become Medicare eligible (turning 65 in most cases), and you are not retiring at that time, you DO NOT want to enroll in Medicare Part B.  If you plan to enroll in the PPO Savings Plan (high-deductible health plan) with the Health Savings Account (HSA) at any time in the future as an active employee, you should also not enroll in Part A. IRS regulations prohibit anyone in Medicare Part A or B from owning a Health Savings Account.

The “active” health plan will continue to be your primary coverage while still an active employee. If your spouse is retired from their job, but you are still an active employee at Penn State and cover your spouse on your health plan, that individual would remain covered through the Penn State medical plan as their primary coverage and would not need to enroll in Medicare Part B until such time that you, the Penn State employee, chooses to retire. Once you decide to retire, at that time you need to contact your local social security office to enroll in Medicare Part B and/or Part A. This would apply to your spouse/same-sex domestic partner as well, if that person is Medicare eligible at the time of your retirement.

What happens to my Flexible Spending Account (FSA) after retirement?

Contributions to flexible spending accounts end at your retirement date; however, you are eligible for reimbursement for any expenses that were incurred on or before your retirement date. You have 90 days from the date of retirement to submit receipts for reimbursement.

Questions about the flexible spending account should be directed to Highmark, who is our FSA administrator, at 800-914-4384. You can also manage your FSA online at on Highmark's Website.

What happens to my Health Savings Account (HSA) after retirement?

Regardless of which health plan you are enrolled in at the time you retire, the funds in the HSA are yours to keep for future eligible expenses. All questions regarding using your HSA money after retirement should be directed to Highmark at 800-914-4384.

You may choose to keep the same plan in which you are currently enrolled into retirement, or you have the ability to switch plans at the time you retire. If you are Medicare eligible at the time you retire, you will need to enroll in Medicare Parts A & B and then be enrolled in the University's Medicare plan, Highmark Freedom Blue PPO.

Will I receive information about changes to my benefits after retirement?

Each October, you will receive updates on rate or coverage changes through mailing(s) to your home address or you can visit the retiree section of this website.

Retirees must continue making contributions to their health coverage in order to maintain your coverage. If you have a spouse who continues to work at the University, they cannot cover you on their medical coverage; however, they can elect to cover you on their dental and vision benefits. Individuals who have a Medicare-eligible spouse who works outside of Penn State and are covered with Penn State, do not have to enroll in Medicare until they retire from their own employer. 

Will I continue to have John Hancock Long-Term Care coverage after retirement?

Yes, your policy continues when you retire. You will be converted from a payroll deduction payment method to a “direct-bill” arrangement. Please be aware that your final paycheck may have a deduction for Long-Term Care, even though all other benefits are not typically deducted from your final check. Your coverage is portable and the benefits remain the same as when you were an active employee. Questions should be directed to John Hancock at 888-825-7232.

Will I be able to get my flu shot at University-sponsored faculty/staff flu vaccine clinics after retirement?

Once retired, your annual flu shot is covered through the medical plan by Highmark Blue Shield, rather than through the University-sponsored faculty/staff clinics. You should schedule your flu shot with your personal physician.

How do I update my address, marital/family status, and beneficiary designation with Penn State after retirement?

Contact the Employee Benefits office for any of these events. It is important that if you move or leave town for an extended period of time, you notify us of your address change to ensure accurate delivery of information. Address updates made with our office will also transfer to Highmark Blue Shield and Lifetime Benefits Solutions; however, you should notify other necessary University offices directly to ensure that they have your updated information.

When you add or remove a dependent from your medical insurance, please notify us as soon as possible, in order to ensure accuracy of your retiree medical insurance bill.

Changes to your beneficiaries can be made anytime using the change in beneficiary form.

If I do not qualify for medical coverage after retirement, what benefits do I have available to me?

If you do not meet the medical plan participation criteria, but meet the years of service criteria, you will be considered a Retiree, but will not carry the medical plan into retirement.