Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS)

What Is the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS)?

The Civil Service Retirement System is a system that provided retirement, disability, and survivor benefits for most U.S. civilian service employees working for the federal government. It was replaced in 1987 by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), but employees who were originally set up through the CSRS still receive their benefits through that program, unless they were hired after 1983.

  • The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) is a pension plan for federal employees created in 1920.
  • CSRS provides a generous lifetime annuity to civil servants after retirement, based on their age, average salary, and years of service.
  • In 1987, Congress created the Federal Employees Retirement System to replace CSRS.
  • All new federal employees receive their benefits from FERS.
  • FERS offers a smaller annuity than CSRS, but it can be supplemented with social security, which CSRS employees are not eligible for.

Understanding the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS)

CSRS was created in 1920, with the goal of offering government employees a retirement benefit comparable to the pensions that were offered in the private sector. Career civil servants were eligible for a generous lifetime annuity, calculated based on their age and the length of their service.

However, CSRS preceded the establishment of social security as a default retirement benefit for all Americans. When the Social Security Administration was set up in 1935, federal employees were ineligible for benefits, because of the annuity they received under CSRS.

This was changed in 1986, when President Reagan established the Federal Employees Retirement System. This was a new retirement plan, intended to cover all federal employees hired after 1983. Although the benefits were smaller than those offered by CSRS, these employees were also eligible for social security benefits, as well as a matching contribution to a federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).

All civil servants hired prior to 1983 were given the option of switching over to the FERS system. The only remaining employees covered by CSRS are those who chose not to switch. As of 2020, they account for about 4% of all federal employees.

Types of Retirement Under CSRS

The CSRS provides five types of benefits for retired employees: disability, optional, discontinued service, or deferred retirement. Each of them has different conditions, but an employee is only eligible for benefits after five years of full-time service.

Optional Retirement

Optional retirement is available to civil servants who meet certain conditions relating to their age or length of service. There are three different combinations. An employee can retire at 55, provided they have served at least thirty years in the civil service, but a 60-year-old can retire with only 20 years of service. The minimum length of service is five years, allowing retirement after age 62.

Disability Retirement

Disability retirement is available to federal employees who become disabled in a manner that makes them unable to continue their service. In addition to the five-year minimum, these employees must also meet stringent requirements for medical documentation to prove disability.


The number of federal employees covered by CSRS as of 2020, according to FedWeek. The rest are all covered under the new plan, FERS.

Discontinued Service Retirement-Involuntary

This refers to individuals whose employment ends because their positions were eliminated or made redundant. In order to be eligible, the employee must have served at 25 years, or just 20 if they are at least 50 years old. In addition, their removal cannot be related to misconduct or delinquency.

Early Optional Retirement

This is available to employees whose agencies undergo a significant reorganization or reduction in force. This is available after 25 years of service, or 20 years if the employee is over 50. However, the employee's annuity is reduced if they retire before age 50.

Special Provision Retirement

This type of retirement is only available to certain specialized careers, such as Air Traffic Controllers, Capitol Police, or nuclear materials couriers. Employees in these careers are eligible for retirement after age 50 and at least twenty years of service. Air traffic controllers can retire earlier, if they have served at least 25 years.


CSRS was founded in 1920 to provide civil servants with a pension, similar to that enjoyed by private sector employees. Because the social security system had not yet been introduced, CSRS was intended to provide annuity payments to all government employees after the conclusion of their service.

The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) was launched in 1987 to replace CSRS. All federal employees hired after 1983 were automatically enrolled in the new plan, and those hired earlier were given the option to voluntarily change to FERS. Today, CSRS mainly serves the small number of federal employees hired before 1983 who chose not to enroll with FERS.

The main difference is that CSRS provides a larger benefit than FERS, but deducts a larger share of the employee's paycheck. CSRS employees pay 7% of their salary into the Civil Service Retirement fund, while FERS employees pay up to 4.4%, depending on their date of hire. Although the FERS benefit is less generous than CSRS, these employees also receive a 5% matching contribution to their TSP.

What Is the Average CSRS Pension?

The average CSRS benefit is about $4,000 per month, according to Fedweek, or $48,000 on an annual basis. The median benefit is $42,000 per year.

Is CSRS a Lifetime Annuity?

The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) offers a lifetime annuity, meaning that payments will continue as long as the beneficiary is alive. Upon their death, the beneficiary's heirs may be eligible for a lump-sum payment equivalent to the unpaid remainder of their pension.

How Many CSRS Employees Are Left?

As of 2020, about 4% of federal employees were enrolled in CSRS, a figure equivalent to about 100,000 workers. Almost all of them are above age 55. This number will continue to decline as more federal employees retire.

How Much Is the CSRS Death Benefit?

The Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) provides a survivor benefit equivalent to 55% of the employee's unreduced annual benefit to the employee's surviving spouse or child. If the heirs are not eligible for survivor's benefits, they may receive a lump-sum payment equal to the employee's total contributions to their CSRS retirement plan.

Can CSRS Beneficiaries Collect Social Security?

Federal employees who chose to stay in CSRS do not have their paychecks deducted for social security, and they do not earn social security benefits through their federal employment. However, some CSRS employees may be eligible for other social security benefits, either through a spouse, or through other employment prior to their federal service.

Do CSRS Retirees Get Medicare?

Yes. All federal employees pay 1.45% of their gross income into Medicare, regardless of whether they are enrolled in CSRS or FERS. As a result, they are eligible for Medicare benefits, like any other retiree.

Article Sources
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  1. Office of Personnel Management. "Retirement Services." Accessed Feb. 5, 2022.

  2. FEDWeek. "Federal Retirement – CSRS and FERS." Accessed Feb. 5, 2022.

  3. Fedweek. "What It Takes to Be an Average Retiree." Accessed Feb. 5, 2022.

  4. Federal News Network. "Will Retirement Mean Lifetime Diet?" Accessed Feb. 5, 2022.

  5. Fedweek. "CSRS Employees Down to 4 Percent: Are You One?" Accessed Feb. 5, 2022.

  6. Office of Personnel Management. "Survivor's Benefits." Accessed Feb. 5, 2022.

  7. Social Security Administration. "Social Security Benefits for Federal Workers." Accessed Feb. 5, 2022.

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