Posted on Wednesday, 22nd October 2014 by

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According to John Church with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the 2015 COLA will be 1.7%. This is the low range of what many projected of between 1.7 to 2%. We updated our COLA charts this morning to reflect this change and we post all COLAs back to 1999.

If your annuity is $2,500 a month you can expect an increase of $35 per month or $420 per year! What will we spend this windfall on? Considering that our health care coverage is increasing an average of 3.2% in 2015 much if not all of the increase for many will go to pay our health care premiums. My wife and I subscribe to the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Basic plan which will increase to $321.67 per month, an additional $12.37 per month.

The 2015 COLA is .2% more than last year’s 1.5% and the same increase that we received in 2013. Unfortunately for working federal employees our COLA is .7% higher than what their pay raise is estimated to be.

FEHB Updates

Herb Casey, our Benefits and HR Forum Host, wrote an excellent article titled “It’s FEHB Open Season Time” that you will find informative. It mentions a number of things that you need to consider this year when selecting your 2015 plan. We are still waiting for all of the information to be released and will update our FEHB pages as soon as they are available. They have announced the 2015 FEHB premiums so you can begin to look at options and what you can expect to pay next year.

There are major issues to consider this year for many. For example, in our area, Blue Cross and Blue Shield has dropped UPMC physicians and hospitals from their preferred provider network. My wife uses UPMC facilities and doctors so we were initially concerned that we would have to change plans.

Fortunately the two parties entered into a reciprocal agreement and there are exceptions for Senior Care, under for what is termed Access for Vulnerable Populations, and for circumstances where a patient requires Continuation of Care. Anyone who is 65 and older will still be able to use UPMC doctors as preferred providers. If you have an existing condition at any age you will be able to remain with that physician and receive treatment for your care. The physicians under these circumstances will be considered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield to be in their network and UPMC has agreed to accept their negotiated fees.

Stay tuned for more information as it is released. Open season is fast approaching, November 10, 2014 – December 8, 2014, and there is a lot to consider.

Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

Visit our other informative sites

The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages

 

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    Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION, WELLNESS / HEALTH

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    Posted on Friday, 17th October 2014 by

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    Open Season for Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) is just around the corner. Open Season runs from the Monday of the second full workweek in November through the Monday of the second full workweek in December. This year Open Season is November 10, 2014 – December 8, 2014.

    Federal retirees and their surviving spouses retain their eligibility for FEHB health coverage at the same cost as current employees. In order to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement, you must be entitled to retire on an immediate annuity under a retirement system for civilian employees (including the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) + 10 retirement) and must have been continuously enrolled (or covered as a family member) in any FEHB plan(s) for the 5 years of service immediately before the date your annuity starts, or for the full period(s) of service since your first opportunity to enroll (if less than 5 years). The 5 year requirement period can include the following: the time you are covered as a family member under another person’s FEHB enrollment; or the time you are covered under the Uniformed Services Health Benefits Program (also known as TRICARE) as long as you were covered under an FEHB enrollment at the time of your retirement.

    Below are some frequently asked questions regarding FEHB for retirees.

    What are the FEHB enrollment types? Self only and self and family. (Note: OPM plans to implement the self-plus-one option effective January 1, 2016)

    What do Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) retirees have to do to change health insurance coverage?
    During the annual Open Season, OPM sends Open Season material to all those enrolled in the FEHB plus those who have suspended their enrollments to enroll in a Medicare-sponsored plan approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), formerly the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) and to enroll in TRICARE. The package will include an explanation of benefit changes for the next year and your new premium rate, but will exclude the health plan brochure.

    • OPM provides Open Season Express, an operator supported toll-free telephone service for retirees to call to request brochures, health benefits satisfaction surveys, and make enrollment changes using telephone technology. The phone number is 1 (800) 332-9798. (The line will be open in early November.)
    • OPM also provides information on their healthcare insurance plan information website. (As of 10/16/2014, the site still has 2014 plan information.)

    When will my Open Season change to the new coverage be effective?

    The effective date of the Open Season change for annuitants is always January 1.

    I am retired but my spouse is a current Federal employee. I have carried our FEHB enrollment for the past several years. If I cancel my FEHB enrollment to be covered by my spouse’s FEHB enrollment, will I be able to enroll in a Self Only enrollment in the future?

    Yes, you will be able to reenroll in the future because you are canceling your enrollment to be covered by another FEHB enrollment.

    I am retired but my spouse is not. I want to drop out of the FEHB Program for a year or two because my spouse has good free coverage from her employer for the both of us. Will there be any penalty?

    Normally, such a cancellation would be permanent. Annuitants cannot re-enroll in the program except under very limited circumstances, such as to enroll in a Medicare-sponsored health plan or TRICARE. Do not drop out of the program unless you are sure of being able to re-enroll.

    I want to change my FEHB enrollment to an HMO but I don’t live or work in the Plan’s area as required by that particular plan’s brochure. Why can’t I enroll in it?

    Most health maintenance organizations (HMO) restrict enrollment to an area where its doctors and hospitals are accessible. Although some HMOs do not have restrictions on where you live or work, please recognize that if you later find it is inconvenient to get to a plan provider, you may have to wait until the next Open Season to change plans.

    How can I find out the amount of my FEHB premium?

    The premiums for the FEHB plan you are currently enrolled in are in the brochure you will receive from your plan during the annual Federal Benefits Open Season. In addition, you can check OPM’s site for 2015 FEHB Premiums. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has announced the average premium rate for people covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program will increase by 3.2 percent in 2015. That percentage is lower than last year’s increase of 3.7 percent. The average premium increase for the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) will be 1.7 percent for dental coverage and average premiums for vision benefits will increase by 1.5 percent.

    I made an Open Season enrollment change. If I have to go to the doctor after January 1, which plan do I contact?

    As a retiree, your new plan becomes effective on January 1.

    I am an annuitant. I changed my health insurance in Open Season and have not received an identification card even though it is late January. What can I do?

    First, call your plan. If they tell you they haven’t received the paperwork yet, you may contact OPM at 1-888-767-6738 or retire@opm.gov. Before contacting OPM, have your annuity information ready: your name, civil service annuity number (beginning with CSA or CSF), phone number and address, and information about your plan, such as the carrier enrollment code.

    My retirement annuity keeps deducting for my old health plan even though I’m not enrolled anymore. How can I get the deductions to stop?

    To verify your current health benefits plan, contact OPM’s Retirement Office at 1-888-767-6738 or retire@opm.gov.The phone lines are open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm (Eastern Standard Time). It is a busy phone number.

    I am a survivor annuitant. Can I change my FEHB plan?
    Yes, you can request an enrollment change during the Open Season.

    What is the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP)?

    The Federal Employee Dental and Vision Benefits Enhancement Act of 2004 authorizes OPM to establish arrangements under which supplemental dental and vision benefits are made available to Federal and U.S. Postal Service employees, retirees, and their eligible family members, and the law gives OPM broad contracting authority to leverage the purchasing power of Federal enrollees to provide comprehensive benefits with competitive premiums.

    How do the FEDVIP plans differ from the dental and vision benefits FEHB plans provide as part of the FEHB benefits package?

    FEHB and FEDVIP are separate programs. While some FEHB plans offer dental or vision benefits as part of their benefit package, only those carriers under contract to OPM are FEDVIP plans. FEDVIP plans offer comprehensive dental and vision benefits. FEDVIP is not part of the FEHB program, and it is different from any supplementary dental and vision product your FEHB plan may offer.

    Update on the Self Plus One option

    The effective date for the new Self Plus One enrollment type will be January 1, 2016. Therefore, the annual Open Season beginning on November 9, 2015 will include the Self Plus One enrollment type in the available enrollment choices. Unfortunately, this option won’t be available for another year. The Self Plus One enrollment type will cover the enrollee and one eligible family member.

    For more information on FEHB and the various plans, visit OPM’s FEHB site and Federal Retirement Net ’s site at http://www.federalretirement.net/fehb.htm .

    Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

    Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

    Visit our other informative sites

    The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

     

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      Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION, WELLNESS / HEALTH

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      Posted on Friday, 3rd October 2014 by

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      So, what do you do with the funds in your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) when you leave federal government service? You have two options. You can take a partial withdrawal which allows you to make a one-time-only withdrawal and leave the rest of your money in the TSP until a later date. You can also take a full withdrawal which allows you to withdraw all of the money from your TSP account. You can do it all at once (lump sum payment), over a period of time or you can purchase an annuity that will make payments to you for life. TSP allows you to choose any combination of these full withdrawal options. One of the full withdrawal options that few people know much about is the TSP Annuity option or “Life Annuity.”

      What is a Life Annuity:

      A life annuity is a monthly benefit paid to you for life. You are eligible to purchase a TSP life annuity if you are separated from Federal civilian employment or the uniformed services. You can withdraw all or part of your TSP account as a life annuity as long as the amount used to purchase it is $3,500 or more. If you have both a traditional and a Roth balance, the $3,500 minimum threshold applies to each balance separately. The TSP will purchase your annuity for you from its provider. The annuity provider is Metropolitan Life (MetLife). MetLife has been the provider for the TSP annuity program since it began in January 1988. No additional fees or commissions are charged, and your money is transferred to MetLife on a tax-deferred basis.

      Don’t confuse the TSP annuity with your retirement annuity that you receive when you retire as either a FERS or CSRS employee, or the retired pay that you receive as a member of the uniformed services.

      Types of Life Annuities:

      A life annuity provides guaranteed monthly payments for as long as you are alive. If you want a life annuity that pays benefits to a survivor, or joint annuitant, you have that option. If you want a guaranteed stream of payments for as long as you (or your joint annuitant) are alive, an annuity may be the right choice. You can use your entire account balance to purchase a life annuity, or you can use a portion of your account balance to purchase an annuity.

      The TSP, through its annuity provider, offers the following types of annuity options:

      • Single life annuity
      • Joint life annuity

      A Single life annuity is an annuity that provides monthly payments only to you as long as you live.

      A Joint life annuity is an annuity that provides monthly payments to you while you and the person with whom you choose to share your annuity (your “joint annuitant”) are alive. When you or your joint annuitant dies, monthly annuity payments will be made to the survivor for his or her lifetime. The amount of the payment while you and your joint annuitant are alive and the amount of the payment to the survivor depend on whether you choose a 100 percent or a 50 percent survivor annuity.

      If you choose an annuity that provides for a joint annuitant other than your spouse, the joint annuitant must be either a former spouse or someone with an insurable interest in you. This means that the person is financially dependent on you and could reasonably expect to derive financial benefit from your continued life.
      Two types of joint annuities are available:

      100 percent survivor annuity. The amount of the monthly annuity payment to the survivor is the same as the annuity payment made while both you and your joint annuitant are alive.

      50 percent survivor annuity. The amount of the monthly annuity payment to the survivor— whether the survivor is you or your joint annuitant — is cut in half (that is, cut to 50 percent) of the annuity payment made while both you and your joint annuitant are alive.
      If you name a joint annuitant other than your spouse who is more than 10 years younger than you, you must choose a joint life annuity with the 50 percent survivor benefit. The only exception is for a former spouse if required by a retirement benefits court order.

      Annuity Payment Options

      Once you have chosen either a single life or a joint life annuity, you must decide whether you want to receive level or increasing payments.

      Level payments. The amount of the monthly annuity payment remains the same from year to year. Thus, with a single life annuity, you receive the same monthly payment for as long as you live. With a joint life annuity, you receive the same monthly payment for as long as you and your joint annuitant are alive. The monthly payment to the survivor will depend on whether you have chosen a 100 percent survivor annuity or a 50 percent survivor annuity, but it will remain at the same level for the life of the survivor.

      Increasing payments. The amount of the monthly annuity payment can change each year on the anniversary date of the first payment. The amount of the change is based on the change in inflation, as measured by the consumer price index. Increases cannot exceed three percent per year, but monthly annuity payments cannot decrease. You cannot choose increasing payments when the joint annuitant is not your spouse.

      Additional Annuity Features That Allow for Beneficiaries

      There are two additional annuity features available: the cash refund feature and the 10-year certain feature.

      Cash refund. If you (and your joint annuitant, if applicable) die before the amount used to purchase your annuity has been paid out, the remaining amount will be paid to your beneficiary in a lump sum. This feature can be combined with either a single life or a joint life annuity, and with level or increasing payments.

      Ten-year certain. If you die before receiving annuity payments for a 10-year period, payments will continue to your beneficiary for the rest of the 10-year period. If you live beyond the 10-year period, you will continue to receive payments, but no payments will be made to a beneficiary when you die. This feature can be combined with a single life annuity with either level or increasing payments. It cannot be combined with a joint life annuity.

      How Your Annuity Is Taxed

      If you have a traditional (non-Roth) balance in your TSP account, the taxes on those contributions (and the earnings) are deferred until the money is paid to you. Therefore, the TSP annuity payments comprised of traditional (non-Roth) amounts will be taxed as ordinary income in the years when you receive them. If you have a Roth balance in your TSP account, those contributions were made after tax. Generally, the TSP annuity payments comprised of Roth contributions will not be taxed.

      Note: Your annuity payments are not subject to the IRS early withdrawal penalty, even if you are under age 55 when they begin.

      How Your Annuity is Calculated

      Your monthly payment is computed by the provider (MetLife) based on:

      • The amount of money you are using to purchase the annuity
      • Your age and life expectancy
      • Annuity features selected such as single/joint annuity and level/increasing payments
      • The annuity interest rate index. The interest rate index is 2.625% for annuities purchased in September and October 2014.

      Use the TSP’s retirement annuity calculator to estimate you monthly payments.

      Below are 2 examples for TSP single life annuities.

      Maria bought an annuity in July 2006 at 70, when the interest rate index was 5.625 percent. She used $500,000 to purchase a single life annuity with increasing payments and a cash refund. Her initial payment was $2,862 per month. Assuming Maria receives 3 percent annual inflation adjustments, her annuity will pay $3,735 in 2016.

      John bought an annuity in September 2014 at 70, when the interest rate index was 2.625 percent. He also used $500,000 to purchase a single life annuity with increasing payments and a cash refund. His initial payment was $2,400 per month. Assuming John receives 3 percent annual inflation adjustments, his annuity will pay $3,225 in 2024.

      As you can see, both invested the same amount with increasing payments and a cash refund. Because of the difference in the interest rate index in 2006 and 2014, John’s monthly annuity is $510 less than Maria’s annuity after 10 years.

      Advantages/Disadvantages of TSP Annuities

      Some advantages of a TSP Annuity are:

      • You receive a lifetime income.
      • If the interest rate index is high, you receive this rate for the life of your annuity.
      • You can protect your principal and allow for increasing payments.

      Some disadvantages of a TSP Annuity are:

      • Once purchased, you cannot make changes or stop annuity payments.
      • There could be little or no money left for your beneficiaries.
      • You can’t touch the money, once you’ve placed it in the annuity.
      • If the interest rate index is low, you receive this rate for the life of your annuity.

      You’re probably asking, what is the best thing to do. It may be better to wait and see what your needs are in retirement, basing the decision on the other sources of income (pensions, investments, job, etc.) you have. If you have enough income through these other sources, a TSP annuity may not be to your benefit. The TSP Annuity options give you a lot of flexibility with your future but your decision should be based on your situation.

      If you are interested in finding out more about a TSP life annuity, visit the Planning & Tools section of the TSP website http://www.tsp.gov. Also, TSP information can be found at http://www.federalretirement.net/tspconsiderations.htm.

      Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

      Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

      Visit our other informative sites

      The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

       

       

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        Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS

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        Posted on Wednesday, 24th September 2014 by

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        Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced on September 16, 2014 that the agency will resume the periodic mailing of Social Security Statements—once every five years for most workers– while encouraging everyone to create a secure my Social Security account to immediately access their Statement online, anytime. The Statement provides workers age 18 and older with important individualized information regarding their earnings, tax contributions, and estimates for future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits.

        Beginning in September, workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for a my Social Security account will receive the Statement in the mail about 3 months before their birthday. After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year. The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year

        I signed up for a personal Social Security account about a year ago on http://www.socialsecurity.gov and when I turned 65 this year I signed up for Medicare through their site. The site is easy to use and you can track your benefits and review and print out your personal Social Security and Earnings Statement any time, it looks just like the one they use to mail.

        Last week I received a notice from Social Security about my Medicare part B premiums that will start later this year. Medicare charges an income-related monthly adjustment to your part B premium for anyone earning over certain limits. Social Security uses your income tax statement from 2012 (two years back), for anyone applying in 2014. If you had capital gains, made a major withdrawal from your IRA or converted your THRIFT or other retirement account to a ROTH in 2012 your reported income may increase your Part B premiums. The adjustment is anywhere from $42 to $230.80 a month over the standard $104.90 monthly premium.

        If you receive an Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Notice this year, and your income in 2013 was sufficiently lower to either reduce or eliminate the monthly income adjustment , you can file a SSA-44 Medicare Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount-Life Changing Event form with Social Security. You have to take a copy of your 2013 IRS 1040 to your local office or send in a copy with the form to prove that your earnings were less in 2013.

        COLAs and the 2015 Pay Raise

        The COLA is projected to be anywhere from 1.7 to 2 percent or higher for 2015. You can view a listing of all COLAs since 1999 on our site. Right now it looks like federal employees will receive a 1% raise again next year. The Federal Reserve and the administration has kept interest rates artificially low to fund the government debt and in essence the lower rates create a significant burden and tax on workers and retirees alike. I wrote an article on this subject that you may find worth reading tilted, Size Matters, Especially in Retirement and since I wrote this things haven’t improved. Actually the middle class income has dropped even more.

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          Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE

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          Posted on Friday, 19th September 2014 by

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          During the first month of writing for FederalRetirement.net, I received a few questions on military buyback. I am surprised at the number of folks who either waited until right before their retirement or realized after they retired that they missed an opportunity to increase their annuities by paying their military service credit deposit. In general, the benefit of paying your military service credit deposit increases the number of years of civilian government service which increases your annuity. Paying it sooner versus later saves you money since you pay less interest. The topic of Credit for Military Service is very complex but I will explain some of the basics.

          What is Credit for Military Service? Typically, military service in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States is creditable for retirement purposes if it was active service, which ended under honorable conditions, and performed prior to your separation from civilian service for retirement. A reservist who has been called for active duty and/or active duty training may also receive credit. (NOTE: when you perform annual active duty training service during which you are on military leave with pay from a civilian position, the period is credited as civilian, not military, service.) The credit is for military service performed on or after January 1, 1957 (also referred to as Post-56).

          Should I buy back my military service? One question that often comes up is “Should I buy back my military service?” It depends. If your active military service is not already being used towards a military retirement, chances are that buying back your military service will benefit your federal retirement. It will increase the number of years of service used for your annuity calculation thereby increasing your annuity. Buying back military service is optional.

          How much will it cost me to buy back my military service? If you are a FERS employee, the military deposit is 3% of the basic pay earned during the post-1956 military service. If you are a CSRS employee, the military deposit is generally 7% except for the earnings from 1999 and 2000, when the deduction rates were 7.25% and 7.4% respectively. If you transferred to FERS and have a CSRS component, you continue to be under the CSRS military deposit rules for service performed before the transfer.

          Is Interest Due On The Military Deposit? It depends. If you pay your military deposit within two (2) years once you are hired, you will not owe interest. After that point, you will pay interest per year on the military deposit you owe. (Please note: Interest is charged at variable market rates. See OPM’s retirement site for the rates. )

          How Long Do I Have To Pay The Military Deposit? The sooner you pay the deposit the less interest you will have to pay. Sometimes, the interest that has accrued is 2 to 3 times more than the deposit owed. If you delay making the military deposit until you separate for retirement, the deposit must be made, in full, to your employing agency before OPM completes adjudication of the annuity.

          How Do I Pay The Military Deposit?

          Step 1. Complete the RI 20-97, Estimated Earnings during Military Service, for each branch of the military you served and mail it to the appropriate military finance center with a copy of all DD Forms 214.

          Step 2. Upon receipt of the estimated military earnings, complete the SF 3108 , Application to Make Service Credit Payment (for FERS) or SF 2803, Application to Make Service Credit Payment (for CSRS). Provide the application with the RI 20-97 and all DD form(s) 214 to the HR office of your employing agency.

          Step 3. Your HR office will review your package for accuracy, calculate an estimate of the amount of military deposit, applicable interest due and send you instructions for making payments. You can make a lump sum payment or partial payments.

          Step 4. Once your deposit has been paid in full, you will receive proof of payment from your human resources office. Your SF 50 will be updated to reflect a change in your Retirement Service Computation Date (SCD). Remember to keep copies of all documents pertaining to your military deposit payment.

          Although each agency has HR personnel who specialize in retirement benefits, I understand from some of you that those individuals are not always knowledgeable of the military buyback process. If you do not get answers to your questions, don’t despair. Continue to ask your agency’s HR retirement benefits professionals for help. In addition, there are retirement sites such as FederalRetirement.net and OPM.gov that provide useful information on this topic. You should also take a federal pre-retirement seminar at least five years before retiring to ensure that you take advantage of the military service credit deposit if it applies to you.

          Additional information on credit for military service and detailed information on creditable service is available on FederalRetirement.net. Also refer to Chapter 23- OPM Service Credit Payments for Post-1956 Military Service  and Chapter 22- Creditable Military Service.

          Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

          Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

          Visit our other informative sites

          The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

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            Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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            Posted on Friday, 12th September 2014 by

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            Hearing aid and implant wearers know only too well that their devices perform best when in close and quiet listening situations. However, listening may not be so easy when attempting to understand dialogue on the TV, over the phone, or when listening in noisy situations such as in the car, restaurants, or movie theaters and lecture halls. Although directional microphones are being used in hearing instruments to improve understanding in noise, the degree of improvement depends upon several factors including distance (how far you are from the sound source) and how much noise and/or reverberation is in the room, etc. To ensure that your hearing instruments meet your listening needs in all situations, it is important that they be equipped with wireless receivers. Currently there is no one “universal” wireless receiver. For now, wireless receivers can be of several types:

            1. Telecoil
            2. NFMI (Near Field Magnetic Induction)
            3. 2.4 GHz
            4. 900 MHz

            Telecoil

            A telecoil is a small circuit consisting of copper wire wrapped around a small permeable metal core. It is designed to function like an antenna for the pickup of electromagnetic signals sent from inductive devices such as room loops, neckloops, or hearing aid compatible phones. When the hearing instrument is set to “T” (telecoil mode), its microphone is turned off and the hearing aid is ready to pick up electromagnetic signals from the inductive devices mentioned above. Your hearing instrument also can be equipped with the M + T option, meaning the microphone (M) and the telecoil (T) can be activated simultaneously, thus allowing you to listen through a room loop or other device and continue to monitor the outside word (your own voice, a companion’s voice, etc) By using a telecoil with an assistive listening device such as a room loop, or a neckloop along with an FM or infrared receiver, you can hear better across distances than you can with your hearing aids alone.

            Using a telecoil with a hearing aid compatible phone can make it easier to understand speech in noise and prevent feedback, that annoying “eeeee” sound that can occur when you hold a phone up to your hearing aid.

            Although telecoils have been in use in the United States since 1947, they have recently enjoyed a renaissance due to the increasing popularity of loop systems. Many public places now have installed room loops as a way of providing hearing access to people with hearing loss. To read more about loops and the loop movement, go to this link: http://www.hearingloop.org/.

            Telecoils are inexpensive and can be installed inside of all brands of hearing instruments as long as they are large enough to accommodate the circuit. In my opinion, to achieve the most listening flexibility most hearing aid users (and all implant users) should use hearing instruments equipped with telecoils. While you may decide to use a different form of wireless technology to connect to the phone and to TV or your spouse, for now, telecoils are essential if you want to connect to wireless assistive listening devices (ALDs) used in public places such as lecture halls, convert halls and movie theaters. To read about these devices, go to this link: http://soundstrategy.com/content/technology-enhancement-media#alds.

            NFMI, 2.4 GHz, and 900 MHz

            NFMI, 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz are newer wireless receivers that are now installed in certain hearing aids and/or implants. They are used in conjunction with wireless transmitters and special devices called streamers. Streamer is just another name for what is really a transceiver. A transceiver both receivers and transmit a signal. It serves as a gateway between a wireless transmitter and the receiver inside of the hearing instrument. It’s job is to change one form of energy into another.

            NFMI Systems

            NFMI systems consist of a Bluetooth® transmitter, a Bluetooth® and NFMI transceiver (streamer), and a NFMI receiver built into the hearing instrument. The Bluetooth® transmitter may be located inside of a Bluetooth®-enabled phone or it may be plugged into the audio board of a TV or other device. It also may be in the form of a battery-powered microphone clipped to someone’s lapel. The Bluetooth® signal from the transmitter is sent to the streamer that you wear around your neck, hold in your hand, place in your pocket, or place upon a table. The streamer changes the Bluetooth® signal into a NFMI signal and re-broadcasts to your hearing instruments. The transmission/reception sequence looks like this:

            Bluetooth® Transmitter  -> Bluetooth®/NFMI Streamer -> Your NFMI-equipped Hearing Instruments

            NFMI systems require you to always have your streamer with you if you want to be connected to a Bluetooth® signal.

            2.4 GHz and 900 MHz Systems

            2.4 GHz and 900 MHz systems required that you use a streamer when using a Bluetooth® phone. However, they do not require the streamer when using their battery-powered microphones or plug-in 2.4 transmitters. For example, if you want to wirelessly listen to TV (or another sound source) at home, you simply plug a 2.4 Hz or 900 MHz transmitter into the audio panel of your TV. The transmitter then sends the TV signal across the room, directly to your 2.4 GHz or 900 MHz wireless hearing aids. In the same way, if your spouse uses a battery-powered 2.4 HZ or 900 MHz lapel microphone, his or her voice is sent directly to your hearing aids. However, if you want to use a Bluetooth®-enabled phone, then you must use a streamer that picks up the Bluetooth® signal and changes it to either 2.4 Hz or 900 MHz and then re-broadcasts that signal to your hearing instruments. Note: ReSound’s new 2.4 GHz LiNX™ hearing aids allow you to broadcast phone calls, face-time calls and media from an iPhone5®, iPad® or iPod touch® directly to the hearing aids. This system uses a type of 2.4 GHz technology with that is also called Bluetooth® Smart. It also works with ReSound’s TV transmitter and wireless microphone transmitters.

            For (1) TV (and other devices), (2) Bluetooth®-enabled phones, the transmission/reception sequences look like this:

            1. 2.4 GHz/ 900 MHz TV Transmitter -> 2.4GHz/ 900 MHz-equipped hearing instruments
            2. Bluetooth® phone -> Bluetooth®/2.4Hz/900 MHz streamer -> 2.4GHz/ 900 MHz-equipped hearing instruments

            With the new iPhone 2.4 Hz LiNX system, the transmission/reception sequence looks like this:

            iPhone 5 -> ReSound LiNX hearing aids

            Meeting “Near-field” and “Far-field” Listening Needs

            The environment in which we listen is called the sound field. It consists of close and far listening situations. When listening at close distances, such as when listening on the phone, watching TV, or conversing with one another, you are fairly close. As such, you are considered to be listening within the near-field. This is where the newer wireless systems like NFMI, 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz shine. As long as you have your transmitter and/or streamer with you, you can wirelessly pick up the signal of interest to you, even in challenging listening situations.

            IMPORTANT POINT! When listening in large venues such as classrooms, lecture halls, concert halls and movie theaters, you are engaging in far-field listening. In this situation, wireless systems will NOT solve your listening issues unless you have a telecoil circuit – either inside of your hearing instruments or inside of your wireless streamer.

            The newer wireless systems, especially the 2.4 GHz, are touted as being the most advanced due to their technology and the fact that you can go without a streamer when using the 2.4 GHz transmitters with TV (and other sound sources) and the portable microphone. However, it is not being used to broadcast in large venues.

            The only wireless transmission systems now being used in public areas are loop, FM and infrared transmission. These systems are mandated by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Loop systems require that you have a telecoil. This telecoil can be inside of your hearing instruments (as discussed above) or can be inside of a wireless streamer that you must purchase and bring with you to the venue.

            With loop systems, the electromagnetic energy sent from the loop installed in the room must be picked up by a telecoil. If inside of the hearing aid, then all you do is walk into the looped room, set your hearing instruments to telecoil mode and, voila!, you begin to hear. If you do not have telecoils but you own a streamer that contains a telecoil (not all streamers do), then the loop sends to the telecoil inside of the streamer and the streamer then re-broadcasts the signal to your hearing aids via NFMI, 2.4 GHz or 900 MHz. The transmission/reception sequences for using a room loop (1) with telecoils inside of your hearing instruments versus (2) inside of your streamer look like this:

            1. Loop transmitter -> Telecoils inside hearing instruments
            2. Loop Transmitter -> Telecoil-equipped streamer you bring with you -> wireless hearing aids

            If the room is equipped with an FM or infrared system, then you must wear an FM or infrared receiver that you borrow from the venue. If your hearing loss is mild, you can remove your hearing aids and use earphones with the FM or infrared receiver. If not, then you must borrow a neckloop from the venue and plug it into the receiver so that you can use it with your telecoils. This is necessary because the FM or infrared signal must be changed to an electromagnetic signal in order to be used by the telecoil. If you do not have telecoils inside of your hearing instruments, but you own a telecoil-equipped streamer, then you can position that inside of the FM/infrared receiver’s neckloop. This can be tricky (clunky), which is why it may make sense to be sure that your hearing instruments are equipped with telecoils.

            The transmission/reception sequences for using an FM or infrared receiver (1) with telecoils inside of your hearing instruments versus (2) inside of your streamer look like this:

            1. FM/infrared transmitter -> FM/infrared Receiver equipped with neckloop -> Telecoils inside hearing instruments
            2. FM/infrared transmitter -> Telecoil-equipped streamer placed within neckloop of borrowed FM/Infrared Receiver -> Wireless hearing aids

            Again, not all streamers have telecoils. So, before you decided on a wireless system, assess your near-field and far-field listening needs at home, at work and at play so that you can decide which way you want to go.

            My advice right now would be to follow Dennis Damp’s lead and consider a 2.4 GHz system for your near-field needs and be sure that your hearing aids also contain telecoils that are positioned vertically and programmed properly so that when you switch from microphone to telecoil mode the loudness and sound quality will be the same. You might also want to make sure that your hearing health care professional provides you with an M + T option. This will enable you to hear the target signal through the wireless system as well as the outside world. For example, you may want to monitor your own voice or hear comments from your companion. If, however, the room acoustics are bad and you just want to hear what is coming through the wireless system, then you can go to the “T-only (telecoil only)” mode. This is similar to what normal hearing folks to when they want to listen in private. For example, when my husband is watching his beloved Red Sox on TV and I want to be watching an art film on Amazon Prime on my iPad, I simply insert my noise-isolation earbuds and watch the movie in peace.

            Final Note

            After reading this, you might be wondering: “Why so many systems? Why so many ways to connect? There are many ways to approach the problem of hearing at a distance and in noise. And there is no legislation stipulating which way is the best (at least not yet). It is confusing, not only for you the consumer, but also for hearing health care professionals. Not everyone has the training necessary to help you assess your listening needs so that the best technology can be recommended that will meet these needs as well as your budget. What is needed is a universal way of connecting people to the various sounds that they need to hear. I’m not sure that this will happen in my lifetime, but be assured that there are people are working on it.

            Cynthia Compton-Conley Ph. D. is a Board Certified Doctor of Audiology, Professor of Audiology, Hearing Industry Consultant and Host of the Hearing Loss Help Forum. Dr.  Cynthia is a retired Professor of Audiology who taught in the graduate school at federally-funded Gallaudet University for 32 years and retired in the CSRS system.  In 2013 she founded Compton-Conley Consulting.

            Learn more about your benefits, employment opportunities, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

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            Limits of Liability and Disclaimer of Warranty

            We do not provide medical advice. This website and the information provided on this site are intended solely for consumer education. This website and its information services do not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing, or other professional health care practice and nothing contained in this website is or should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Do not disregard, avoid or delay obtaining medical advice from your physician or other qualified health care provider because of something you have read on this website.  While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in providing information on hearing loss and associated hearing enhancement or hearing protection technology, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the content of this forum and Website, replies to site visitor questions, or prepared articles, and they specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a physician or audiologist where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

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              Posted on Friday, 5th September 2014 by

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              How are you preparing for retirement? Are you the Ant or the grasshopper? My first article about a month ago provided 5 essential tips to be prepared like the ant. Based on feedback from a few friends that I shared the article with, all consider themselves ants. No one is a grasshopper or at least admits to it. Here are 5 additional tips as you prepare for your federal retirement.

              1. Remember to get credit for all creditable service.

              Creditable service is time that can be counted toward service required to qualify you for entitlement to retirement benefits. Your Official Personnel Folder must contain all creditable service (civilian and military). The most common is credit for military service. If you served in the military and now hold a civilian position, your military service time may apply toward your civil service retirement. You must pay any military service credit before you retire. Payment generally affects retirement eligibility and the amount of your retirement. You will be required to obtain your estimated earnings from the appropriate military finance center prior to starting the process.

              Also, there are other types of creditable service. If you were a federal civilian who paid into the retirement fund, separated and withdrew your contributions that’s considered creditable service. Creditable service also includes service for which a specific statue allows credit for service, such as the Peace Corps, employees of Gallaudet University or the District of Columbia Government. To obtain the amount owed for deposit or redeposit service, complete the form SF-2803 (CSRS) or SF-3108 (FERS), Application to Make Deposit Redeposit and submit it to your HR office. There are specific regulations in regards to these requests that your HR office should be able to provide guidance. For additional information click on the following link:

              (In addition, refer to 5 USC 8332 and Chapters 10, 12 and 20 of the CSRS/FERS Handbook for a list of all service that is creditable.)

              2. Understand Social Security

              If you are covered under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) you are not covered by Social Security. If you are in the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), you are covered by Social Security.

              If you have worked in jobs where you paid Social Security, you should ask for a form SSA-7004-PC, Request for Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement, from your local Social Security Office or contact their site to get your social security statement online. The Social Security Statement provides information on your future eligibility for Social Security benefits and estimates of these benefits at specified dates. These estimates do not reflect reductions for the Government Pension Offset (GPO) or the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

              The WEP primarily affects you if you earned a pension in any job where you did not pay Social Security taxes and you also worked in other jobs long enough to qualify for a Social Security retirement or disability benefit. The WEP can reduce, by up to 60 percent, the earned Social Security benefits of a CSRS federal worker (not a FERS-only employee).

              The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces your Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by an amount equal to two-thirds of your CSRS pension. For more information on Social Security refer to: http://www.federalretirement.net/social_security.

              3. Know your Medicare benefits

              Medicare is a Health Insurance Program for persons 65 years of age and older and some people with disabilities under 65 years of age. The decision to enroll in Medicare is yours. You can apply for Medicare benefits 3 months before you turn age 65. If you do not apply for one or more Parts of Medicare, you can still be covered under the FEHB Program.
              Medicare has four parts:

              • Part A (Hospital Insurance). In general, Part A covers hospital, skilled nursing facility and nursing home care. It also can cover hospice and home health service care. Most people do not have to pay for Part A. If you or your spouse worked for at least 10 years in Medicare-covered employment, you should be able to qualify for premium-free Part A insurance.
              • Part B (Medical Insurance). Medicare B covers services or supplies that are needed to diagnose or treat your medical condition. It also covers health care to prevent illness (like the flu) or detect illnesses at an early stage, when treatment is most likely to work best. Most people pay monthly for Part B. Generally, Part B premiums are withheld from your monthly Social Security check or your retirement check.
              • Part C (Medicare Advantage). If you are eligible for Medicare, you may have choices in how you get your health care. Medicare Advantage is the term used to describe the various health plan choices available to Medicare beneficiaries. These are health care choices like Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) and Preferred Provider Organization (PPOs). The monthly premium varies widely depending on your state and the private insurer you choose, as well as whether you choose an HMO or PPO for your Medicare Advantage coverage.
              • Part D (Medicare prescription drug coverage). Medicare D is optional. It provides insurance to help you pay for prescription drugs. There is a monthly premium for Part D coverage. Most Federal employees do not need to enroll in the Medicare drug program, since all Federal Employees Health Benefits Program plans have prescription drug benefits that are at least equal to the standard Medicare prescription drug coverage.

              For additional information on Medicare refer to: http://www.federalretirement.net/medicare.htm.

              4. Understand your Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) options:

              One of the key decisions you must make when you retire is what to do about your FEGLI coverage. Here are some things to remember.

              You can keep your basic life insurance in retirement if all of the following conditions are met:

              • You have coverage when you retire;
              • You have not converted coverage to an individual policy;
              • Your annuity begins within 30 days, (However if you are retiring under the Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) plus 10 provision of the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and you have postponed the commencing date of your annuity, health and life insurance coverage is suspended until your annuity begins), and,
              • You were insured for life insurance for the five years immediately preceding retirement or the full periods of service when coverage was available.

              You can keep your optional life insurance in retirement if all of the following conditions are met:

              • You are eligible to continue your basic coverage and you were covered by the optional life insurance for the five years immediately preceding retirement or the full periods of service when coverage was available, if less than five years.

              At the time you retire, you’ll have the choice of no reduction in coverage, a 50 percent reduction, or a 75 percent reduction. Until you are retired and 65, you’ll get basic FEGLI at the same cost. The coverage doesn’t begin to reduce until you are over 65 and retired. For additional information please see: http://www.federalretirement.net/fegli.htm.

              5. Assess your need for Long-Term Care

              Long term care is care that you need if you can no longer can perform everyday tasks by yourself due to a chronic illness, injury, disability or the aging process. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about 70% of people turning age 65 will need long term care services at some point in their lives. Federal and Postal employees and annuitants, active and retired members of the uniformed services, and qualified relatives can apply for this insurance. Certain medical conditions, or combinations of conditions, will prevent some people from being approved for coverage. Long-term care insurance rates are based on a person’s age when he or she applies. For more details, see http://www.federalretirement.net/fltcip.htm.

              How well are you preparing for your retirement? Even if you aren’t the ant in all aspects, find ways to prepare now.

              During the next few months, I will discuss a few of these retirement preparation tips in detail. If there are topics that you would like to see discussed, please let me know.

              Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

              Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

              Visit our other informative sites

              The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

               

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                Posted on Tuesday, 2nd September 2014 by

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                Planning your Safari

                We planned this trip with friends that we met on a cruise. I am not sure we would have ever taken on this adventure without their encouragement and information they gained from friends of theirs who had taken the same trip the year before. This was one travel destination that I dreamed of but thought it was financially impractical. I had only seen ads that read, “9 day African Safari’s for just $7,995 per person”. That price doesn’t include the airfare from the US either. I love to travel but I just couldn’t imagine finding an affordable safari. That price seemed to be an industry standard for 9 days on the savannah watching African wildlife. Meeting other travelers and sharing travel stories is a blessing if you have wanderlust. They share information on their travels about companies that are small, affordable and provide you with a quality experience. Some companies also extend additional discounts if you book a group of travelers together. We went on a 12 day Safari in Tanzania for around $5000 per person for a group of 8, including round trip airfare from Pittsburgh to Kilimanjaro Airport near Arusha, Tanzania.

                Companies that advertise through magazines and online and mail brochures drive up costs for safaris. Their lodging choices may be higher as well. Smaller companies tailor your safari to your interests and your budget. I didn’t have a problem with our mixture of luxury tented camps and lodges. The brochures for those companies include beautiful sunset vistas from a ridge overlooking the valley below as the sun is setting with a fire pit and plush furniture in the foreground. The Kirurumu Tented Camp we stayed at provided the same setting and a beautiful view of the Lake Manyara Valley.
                Safari game drive vehicles vary by regions. Open vehicles elevated on truck beds are the norm in southern Africa and rugged SUVs with pop up roofs are the norm in eastern Africa. To get the most out of your safari be sure to go with a guide. It would be quite easy to get lost without a guide most importantly. Without a guide you would probably drive by leopards or other animals that a guide knows best how to spot.

                All Inclusive Lodging

                The safari company will provide prices for your choice of lodging. The lowest price option is to camp. Your guide will carry the gear along with food and drinks. You’ll set up camp depending on your selected itinerary, i.e. moving daily or staying in two or three parks depending on the length of your safari. Luxury tented camps is a mix of permanent and mobile camps but may also include a lodge during your safari. You also have the choice of 5 star luxury lodging and camps. The following is based on my experience staying in luxury tented camps & lodges.

                Lodging is all inclusive with the exception of soft drinks and alcohol, the cost being reasonable, from $2 for soft drinks, $3 for beer and $20 for a bottle of wine. All meals are served in an open air dining area. Breakfast included eggs, cooked to order, bacon, fresh fruit, toast, coffee, juices and usually potatoes and/or other vegetables served either fresh or roasted. A box lunch was prepared by the camp or lodge and carried in the vehicle with a stop at a picnic area while out on a game drive. The box lunches were nearly always the same, a boiled egg, chicken, juice, assorted bread, crepes, and yogurt and with luck a cookie or chocolate. On four occasions we had a box breakfast and took a mid-day break with a hot lunch, which was a welcome treat.

                The dinners were amazing! I had expected to find myself eating goat or other items I couldn’t identify. In fact I had expected this would be the one vacation where I would lose a few pounds but the camps and lodges all served wonderful 4 course meals. They included some of the most delicious soups I have ever eaten: Green Banana Soup, Spinach Soup, a variety of Pumpkin Soups, and Butternut Squash Soup among them. A fresh salad made from local produce was next followed by the entrée consisting of 3 choices, lamb almost always being one, beef and a vegetarian choice. The entrees were usually accompanied by rice or potato and fresh vegetables. The desserts were more in line with European diets which translate to cakes that were somewhat dry, but tasty.

                Balloon Safari in the Serengeti

                Four members of our group signed up for a morning balloon safari which included champagne and an English Breakfast on the savannah following the hot air balloon ride. It was $500 per person at this writing. Expensive but a once in a lifetime opportunity and they did not cut corners at all. The fun part was the portable bathrooms set up facing away from the breakfast area. The “Loo with a View” had signs to indicate if they were in use. You could watch the zebras and wildebeest while using the loo.

                Bush Dinner

                You can arrange for a breakfast or evening bush dinner for additional cost. I don’t know what the charges are. Our safari company treated us with a bush dinner our last evening on safari. It was a wonderful treat sitting under the stars and a nearby Baobab tree enjoying a Serengeti Beer while enjoying the buffet dinner set up by the tented camp’s staff. It was a great ending to our safari. I recommend exploring this as an addition if it’s not cost prohibitive.

                Tips and Information if you book a Safari

                Paying: Your safari company will likely require international banking transfers for deposit and final payment of your trip. They may also require you to cover the cost of their fees. That will add as much as $70 to each transaction, $35 for your transfer and $35 for their bank to deposit the transfer. You can save $70 by paying for the entire trip when you book it, but I recommend buying insurance in case you have to cancel. They will only refund the final payment minus the deposit up to the time frame provided when you book the trip. Make sure you know what is refundable.

                License of Operator: Check www.tatotz.org for an operator license for companies in Tanzania. If you have a problem with the company they will also assist in a resolution. You can also ask the company to attach a file of their TALA (Tourist Agents Licensing Authority) license to email communication. This will confirm they have access to the national parks you plan to visit on safari.

                Immunizations: Those required for travel are most affordable at your local Department of Health. It is unlikely your health insurance will pay for them. Yellow Fever is not required in all African countries but is recommended in case of a flight change results in a landing at a country that does require it.

                Medical needs: Ask your doctor for a prescription for antibiotics in case you get traveler’s diarrhea. Take a variety of OTC drugs you might need while on safari. You can also purchase insurance for airlift to a hospital for less than $40 per person during your stay. Your tour operator can arrange it. You never know when you could get ill or have an accident requiring medical attention.

                Bathroom Breaks: Your safari guide will stop as often as the restrooms are convenient during your game drives. I recommend you use the facilities whether you feel the need or not.

                Currency: Check before you go. Tanzania accepts US Dollars in addition to the local Shillings. Take all denominations with you keeping in mind you will want smaller bills for tipping.

                Banking: There are some ATMs but they are also a magnet for crime. Visit a bank to exchange for local currency if possible.

                Credit Cards: Few businesses accept credit cards. Ask your tour operator about using credit cards at the lodges and camps on your schedule.

                Insects: Plan your trip according to how concerned you are with insect bites. If you go in the dry season the insects are minimal. You will need to take anti-malaria drugs per your specific prescription no matter when you go. Be sure to take insect repellent. Tsetse flies are not affected by repellents, you’re at their mercy and the bites are painful. Take along heavy socks, long sleeve shirts and pants to wear in areas where tsetse flies are active. Wet seasons are November, and February through April. Plan to visit a few months after the rainy season or just before the start of a rainy season to avoid insects. (Keep in mind the summer months are also the busiest and parks can be quite crowded, delaying entry.)

                Clothing: Take along light weight clothing, nylon is good. You can easily clean clothing while on safari. Light colored clothing is less attractive to tsetse flies.

                Other items to pack: Take along a twin sheet per person. The bed covers are feather beds and can be quite warm. The sheet will be better for sleeping. Also take a wash cloth as they are not usually provided.

                Water: The camps and your driver provide bottled water. Drink only bottled water, including when brushing your teeth. Be careful not to get water in your mouth when showering.

                Cell Phones: This was a surprise for a country with no electric or water supply outside of the larger cities, but they actually had cell phone service everywhere we went. And the service is fairly inexpensive. If you pick up a phone when you arrive or purchase an air time card to use a local’s cell phone you can communicate with family inexpensively.

                Battery Charging: The safari vehicles are equipped with an electric outlet so you can charge your camera batteries while on your game drive. This was very convenient and a must when staying at the mobile tented camps. Power there is limited to lights from solar power. Electric is available in the dining area while the generators are running in the evening during meals.

                In Addition to the National Parks you’ll visit on safari consider: Oldupai Gorge (sometimes called Olduvai Gorge, site of oldest humanoid fossils, and the museum), Maasi Tribal Village, Bush people & the Datoga Tribe near Lake Eyasi .

                I recommend the following lodging:

                • Kirurumu Tented Camp overlooking Lake Manyara. The camp is beautiful and the ride off the main road will prepare you for the trek to the Serengeti.
                • Roika Tarangire Tented Lodge. This camp has a swimming pool which elephants sometimes come to drink from. The dining area and bar is hotel quality.
                • Bougainvillea Safari Lodge is very nice, it has a pool and the grounds are beautifully landscaped. The food was very good here.
                • Kati Kati Tented Camps in Serengeti. The staff is wonderful and very accommodating at this mobile camp.

                Buy a travel book that covers the country you are visiting on safari and study it before you depart on your safari. I also recommend you take along a guide on African animals.

                Contacts:
                See Part One for additional information on a Safari vacation.
                For a price quote on an eastern Africa Safari, contact Magda, Flash Photography and Safaris at:
                flashsafaris@gmail.com

                Additional Information from online Blogs:
                http://kristinasafari.blogspot.com/
                http://southernafricatravel.com/blog/
                http://tropicalvalleysafaris.wordpress.com/
                http://www.safarigeek.com/

                Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary Analysis from a local adviser. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections. A sample analysis is available for your review. This service is not affiliated with www.federalretirement.net

                Learn more about your benefitsemployment, travel, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

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                The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances. Travel policies and packages are subject to change without notice. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact travel providers and hotels at the time of your bookings to confirm pricing, itinerary, and all costs. The comments and observations are limited to the author’s personal experience and your results may vary significantly. This article and replies to comments are not intended to substitute for professional travel services. Our reply is time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change.

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