Posted on Sunday, 29th March 2015 by

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A step back in time awaits you in this seaside city on the Atlantic coast of Florida. Whenever I visit I always plan lunch or dinner at The Columbia Restaurant. It sits in the center of the old city and is a personal favorite. They offer sangrias made table side, the white is the best I have had anywhere made with a sparkling wine. The menu is specific for lunch or dinner so if you plan to visit check the menu to determine which menu best suits your desire. The old city is full of galleries, eateries and historic sites including museums and provides a view of early life in North America. There is likely to be something to peek your interest during your visit.

Saint Augustine is the oldest permanent settlement in the United States. Founded in 1565, it continues to provide a view of life in the early settlements created in the New World. The Spanish style fort, Castillo De San Marcos, protected the city and is a National Landmark maintained by the National Park Service. Tours are available daily before dark. Fort Matanzas also guarded the city from those approaching on the river and has tours by boat. St. Augustine’s lighthouse is also open and includes a museum. It is located south of the city on the coast. The old city includes the oldest standing one room school house which is open for tours. Mission of Nombre de Dios is the smallest church in America also located in the old city.

St. Augustine offers a variety of activities. The waterfront area includes walkways for a nice stroll along the coast past the marina and eateries of this seaside city and the opportunity to sit and enjoy the view on one of the many benches along the way.

Tour stands are situated throughout the city offering a diverse selection of tours. There are several guided walking tours of specific areas that offer an opportunity to learn about the history of the city. Ghost story tours abound and provide you with enough details that you can visit local establishments following your tour to see for yourself the spirits that visit, if you dare. Ponce De Leon believed he had found the fountain of youth and the nearby park includes a chance to see the fountain and perhaps restore a youthful perspective if nothing else during a visit there. Segway tours are also offered whether you want to soak in some local history or just try it for a fun ride. You can always enjoy spirits while you are looking for Spirits on the Haunted Pub tour. Pirates that preyed on these coastal waters are also featured on tours and at a local museum.

Special events are planned this year to celebrate the 450th anniversary of this quaint city. The main events to celebrate the 450th anniversary occur Labor Day weekend. Festivities include a Spanish Wine Festival, fireworks on the Matanzas River September 5th and Founders Day from September 4-7th includes several activities in the City. In the early evening you can observe the changing of the guard. Complete in 18th Century Spanish Soldier costume the St Augustine Garrison march from the old city to city hall. Visit the websites listed below for more detailed information.

Of course there are water activities throughout the year in St. Augustine including dolphin watching trips, Eco tours in kayaks, surf lesson camp, sunset cruises (complete with Christmas lights during the holiday season), sailing trips, speedboat tours, parasailing, ghost boat tour and of course sea fishing.

St. Augustine is located between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach Florida. It is also an easy day trip from Orlando if you are visiting theme parks. All in all it is a beautiful city full of history and charm. It is among my favorite seaside cities to visit.

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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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    Posted in LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, Travel

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    Posted on Saturday, 7th March 2015 by

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    The impact that our Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) has on our annuity is significant and without it retirees would find themselves doing with less as they age. Even though our COLAs don’t truly keep up with inflation as claimed we at least experience increases most years. If COLAs would have been paid in 2010 and 2011, like most years, our annuities would have been several percentage points higher today.

    Since I retired on December 31, 2004 my annuity has increased over 20% for an average increase of just over 2% a year during this period. Social Security reports that in 2005 the Average Wage was $35,448 and in 2014 wages increased to $44,888 and this mirrors our COLA increases.

    When I was discussing retirement with one of my uncles years ago he warned me about how his corporate annuity hadn’t increased in 20 plus years. My uncle worked in the banking industry and when he retired the annuity he received from his employer he thought generous. Over 20 years later, without any cost of living increases, they were struggling to keep up with the high cost of everything. Fortunately they received Social Security which did increase each year. Without COLAs we too would see our annuity’s buying power shrink dramatically in a few short years.

    My mother was born in 1914 and she told me that during the 1930s they could buy a complete meal at a restaurant including drinks for 35 cents! You can’t buy a cup of coffee for that today. Even at those prices my mother couldn’t afford to eat out. She was forced to quit school after sixth grade, along with her 5 sisters, and shortly thereafter went to work. Her first job paid $2.00 a week working 6 days a week as a maid for a couple in Pittsburgh. She and all of her sisters had to send most of their pay home to their father!

    We visited an antique store back in the 1970s and I picked up a copy of LIFE magazine for my birth month, May 1949. LIFE magazine was one of the premier publications back then and it was huge, 14 by 10 1/2 inches and a half inch thick. The ads are fascinating to read; GE radios starting at $19.95, console black and white TVs from $395 to $985, Lane Cedar Hope Chests for $49.95, razor with 10 blades in a case for 98 cents, watches for $2.50 to $4.95, TUMS 10 cents a pack, cameras $9.98, and they advertised dog food at as low as 8 cents a day.

    Some of the items on this 1949 list seem to contradict the premise that everything goes up over time. Today you can buy a 48 inch flat screen TV at Wal-Mart for $388 and we purchased a 60 inch SONY smart TV recently for under a $1,000. All well within the range of what you could buy black and white consoles for in 1949! TVs were just coming into the market and they were a luxury back then, very few homes, less than 1 %, had them. Here is a list of what things cost in 1949; compare them to today:

    • Average annual salary: $3,600
    • Average cost of a car: $1,650
    • Gas: 26 Cents a gallon
    • Average home: $14,500
    • Bread: 14 cents
    • Postage stamp: 3 cents
    • The DOW reached 200!

    Hopefully our COLAs will continue to provide the cushion everyone on a fixed income needs, more buying power as costs increase. Fortunately we also have the THRIFT plan to help grow our retirement funds. The L Income fund offers some growth while protecting most of your nest egg in the G Fund which is guaranteed never to decrease in value.

    The 2016 COLA may be lower than the 1.7% we received this year if trends continue. The October and November 2014 CPI-W figures were lower than the previous three month period. If the CPI-W continues to decrease our COLA will follow suit. Many factors contribute to the CPI-W. For example, wall street is contemplating that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates soon due to a heated up economy that can lead to inflation. That would be good news for the 2016 COLA.

    It’s too early to determine the actual impact and the trend could change for any number of reasons as we progress through the year. Because 2016 is a presidential election year my gut feeling is that we will receive a COLA, it just may not be as much as we would like or deserve.

    Update

    We are in the process of totally redesigning and upgrading our Federal Employees Retirement Planning web site. If you visit later this month don’t be surprised when you find a new and updated format. The new site is designed to display perfectly in all media from desk top computer, iPad, and tables to smart phones. Over 50% of all site traffic now comes from mobile devices.

    The new site will be much easier to read and navigate and we are also reviewing and updating content as we go along. Visit www.federalretirement.net later this month to check out the new format and functionality. Let us know what you think and your input is always welcomed. We use visitor submitted comments to keep our site up-to-date and focused on the true needs of our site users.

    We are still looking for a retired federal annuitant with an extensive background in HR and federal benefits to host our Benefits and HR Forum. If you are retired, enjoy writing about things that matter to federal employees and annuitants, would like to stay active and involved after leaving federal service, send an email to ddamp@aol.com and include your phone number. The person selected would also review and provide updates for our website.

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    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 Friday, 13th February 2015 by

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      Many are uncomfortable with investing and managing money in general. With the Federal Reserve intentionally keeping interests rates artificially near ZERO do we ladder CDs to make less than 1%, buy Treasuries with historically low yields, or invest in the market with its inherent risks? If we do invest in the market what stock and bond mix will not only preserve but grow out nest egg? If we are doing this on our own do we buy individual stocks and bonds or invest in indexed mutual or exchange traded funds that often have very low management fees.

      Up to 5 years ago many retirees were able to ladder CDs making 5% or more with 48 month or longer maturities. Also, for those in the TSP many kept large amounts in the safe G-Fund with good yields. Unfortunately those days are long gone and I’m not sure when, if ever, they will return.

      Often, one or the other spouse takes control of finances and manages investments for the family. If the person in control knows what he/she is doing, and has the time and energy to invest wisely, that often works fine as long as that person doesn’t take undue risks with your family’s life savings. I basically assumed this responsibility with my family and have done this for years. Even though I manage the investments I discuss options and strategies with my spouse to solicit her input and she is knowledgeable about all of our accounts.

      For situations where neither partner is knowledgeable about investments federal employees and annuitants often rely on the TSP Life Cycle Funds to steer them towards retirement. Annuitants often consider investing in the L Income fund, a conservative choice with the majority in the G-Fund yet enough in the other funds to provide some growth even in retirement. Of course, there are other investments that must be managed such as IRAs, private sector 401Ks, brokerage accounts, savings bonds, savings and money market accounts, and so on. Today, the very low rates of return are forcing many to choose higher yielding riskier investments than the typical FDIC covered or Treasury issues.

      The problem with having one person managing investments is that when that person becomes infirm or dies the surviving spouse is generally at a disadvantage. They will have to turn to another family member or financial adviser to help manage and preserve what has taken a life time to accumulate. Hence the need to establish a relationship with a knowledgeable financial adviser while both are alive and healthy.

      Walter Updegree writes for Money Magazine and in an article on this subject he advised, “when you need help with your finances, you want to find a pro who can balance your need for trustworthy advice with his or her need to make a living providing it.” This is so true, I’ve been researching adviser options for several years and if you aren’t careful you can lose a lot through high management fees, front end loads, and transaction fees. You also have to find a pro that takes the time to truly understand your goals and strives to achieve them without churning your account or focusing on certain investments excluding other more advantageous options.

      Many suggest using a registered investment advisor because they assume a fiduciary roll and are legally required to put your interests first in the relationship. Yet, I still am personally concerned because you are trusting a third party to manage your assets or at least a good portion of them. It is much harder to recover from a loss after retirement when most are on fixed incomes. One of the first questions an adviser typically asks is who you are investing for; yourself or your heirs. What this intimates is that more risk can be tolerated if you are investing longer term for heirs. Personally it seems a mute point, I don’t want to lose a significant portion of my investments no matter who I’m investing for even though, long-term, things may and I reemphasize MAY improve. Once you’ve accumulated a life time of savings I personally don’t want it to diminish significantly.

      Unlike many in the private sector federal employees have a substantial annuity to rely on in retirement. Add to that your TSP Savings, Social Security for all FERS employees and for many CSRS employees. When I first approached an adviser I informed him that I didn’t need someone to establish a plan for retirement, I was already there and able to live within our means. What I wanted was to set up an initial relationship with them so that when I’m not able to manage our accounts due to advanced age or death my wife and heirs can rely on them for assistance. I like to take things in baby steps, start small, learn about the new relationship, and then progress from there. If it works out I would transfer more responsibilities to them as I aged.

      The adviser we first met with discussed our situation and goals, and introduced us to an attorney to revise our wills and trusts. The first step. They also collected considerable data from us. Personally I don’t like giving out confidential information. Many federal employees, especially those who know they will be financially secure in retirement due to their annuities and other income sources, may be able to limit the information to account summaries and balances. If you need a plan to achieve financial security then you would have to provide the additional information.

      Most advisers request any and all information about every account, loan, asset, insurance policy, annuities, income from all sources, and much more including copies of income tax returns. In turn they offer to prepare a plan describing how, from their perspective, you can achieve financial independence in retirement. These plans are often free of charge and introduce you to the services they can provide to help you achieve your goals.

      Basically, they will offer several levels of support from traditional brokerage accounts, portfolio reviews with quarterly updates, asset management, advisory and managed accounts. All come with a cost of course. For example, the fees from one of the firms I contacted included trading fees for the traditional brokerage account, .25% of the account balance annually for quarterly portfolio reviews and recommendations, 1% of the account balance annually for up to $500,000 under their asset management program, 1.25% for advisory and 1.65% for managed accounts. The management fees decrease for larger invested amounts, the more they manage the lower percentage you pay them.

      I always consider the bottom line; how much is this going to cost me over my current costs. Remember what Mr. Updegree said earlier about finding a pro who can balance your need for advice with his or her need to make a living providing it. Yes, it is going to cost you more in most cases than what you are paying now to trade and manage your accounts personally. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it is something you have to contend with. It is always difficult making a decision to pay more. If your results are what your adviser projected and you expect, and you achieve the level of desired services, then the cost will be worth it and your time will be freed up to do other things.

      I discovered that not all brokerage accounts are alike. My brokerage firm charges $14.95 a trade and often the fee is waived due to trading activity. They also offer all trading options such as trailing stop loss orders and options trading. One of the financial planning firm’s brokerage commissions were 1% of the trade value. If you purchased 100 shares of say Apple at $124 a share the commission would be $124 for that trade! That is excessive by any standard considering that Fidelity only charges $7.95 a trade no matter what the dollar value of the transaction is. You may want to keep your trading account with your local brokerage firm if you are an active trader. If you don’t trade much it wouldn’t be a big issue and if you are only transferring stock from one brokerage account to the financial planner’s brokerage house there wouldn’t be any transfer fees in most cases.

      If you are considering hiring an adviser visit the SEC site to check out a brokerage firm, individual broker, investment adviser firm, or individual investment adviser. The SEC and FINRA provide abundant information on advisers and firms that you can use to start your search.

      When I was searching for an adviser I wanted one that could purchase any and all investments for my account not just one family of funds or investment options. Firms that offer limited selections may be more interested in selling you a product rather than providing sound investment advice.

      I also suggest asking the adviser, before sitting down with them, for an updated copy of their Part 2A Form ADV. The Form ADV is the uniform form used by investment advisers to register with both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and state securities authorities. The form consists of two parts. The second part requires investment advisers to prepare narrative brochures written in plain English that contain information such as the types of advisory services offered, the adviser’s fee schedule, disciplinary information, conflicts of interest, and the educational and business background of management and key advisory personnel of the adviser. The brochure is the primary disclosure document that investment advisers provide to their clients.

      If you are considering talking to a financial adviser contact several firms to compare options, costs and services before making a decision. The ADV forms will help you readily compare firms and advisers. Once you sign up stay in touch and monitor results to ensure they meet or exceed your expectations. If you start small, as they prove their worth you will feel comfortable expanding their role in managing your finances. It takes considerable due diligence to settle on an adviser. It’s a very personal decision and one that will hopefully make your life easier as they manage your investments in an ever changing world.

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      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, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE

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        Posted on Tuesday, 27th January 2015 by

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        1099-R Forms

        I like to complete my taxes as early as possible and often end up waiting for key documents such as our 1099-R form and various bank and investment forms. The online availability of most of these documents does save time. I visited OPM’s Services Online on January 22nd and was able to download my 1099-R annual annuity statement. You must call OPM at 1-888-767-6738 to register for access to this site.

        For those of you not yet retired the 1099-R form is equivalent to the W-2 form we received while still employed with a few key additions. It lists your gross annuity payment for the previous year, the taxable amount – not all of your annuity is taxable, federal income tax withheld, any state taxes if applicable plus it lists your insurance premiums that you paid.

        I receive many email messages each year at tax time asking how to get a replacement 1099-R form. It’s quite easy, especially if you have access to OPM’s services online. All you do is sign in and you can print out copies at any time. You can also call OPM to have one sent out. Everyone should be receiving their 1099-R in the mail shortly but if you don’t visit OPM’s web site or call to get a replacement.

        Tax Time – FREE Tax Prep Software

        I use Turbo Tax to complete my taxes for home and business and it makes the process easy and inexpensive. After using this program one time, each year thereafter, you simply import the general information from the previous year’s program and follow the questions they ask for each area of your return. They include a lot of support and you can electronically file your return. The software program is available at all of the office supply stores, online, Costco and Sam’s Clubs. I filed electronically for the first time last year and it is quick and easy and saves time.

        If you decide to try Turbo Tax be sure to get the correct program. The price ranges from FREE for first time filers and students to $79 for their Home and Business product. I always buy the Home and Business version, most would use the Premiere especially if you own a home, and have income from stocks and bonds. Here is a list of the four available versions:

        • Absolutely Zero (Free) – For first-time filers or students that want easy prep, print, and efile.
        • Deluxe – Use this program if you own a home, have charitable donations to deduct, and have high medical expenses
        • Premiere – If you sold stock, ESPP, bonds or mutual funds, want automatic cost basis calculations, and have rental property income and expenses
        • Home and Business – If you have profit or loss from a small or home business, have home office tax deductions and have small business asset depreciation

        Other programs are available from H&R Block and the government offers IRS Free File for those with an adjusted gross income in 2014 of $60,000 or less. Free File offers easy-to-use, brand-name software, tax prep and e-filing. You can even get help locating important tax credits.

        Updates

        We had a site visitor report a small problem with our FREE 2015 Leave & Schedule Excel Chart. One of the cells would not accept data. The cell was located on the schedule and it didn’t impact leave balances. We corrected this several weeks ago and the updated form is online. Please distribute this free excel leave and schedule chart to all in your organization. Keep the excel chart on your desktop and use it to track your schedule and leave throughout the year and to set target retirement dates that will provide maximum benefits when you leave.

        Employment Opportunity

        We are currently looking for a retired federal annuitant with an extensive background in HR and federal benefits to host one of our Benefits and HR Forums. If you are retired, enjoy writing about things that matter to federal employees and annuitants, and would like to stay active and involved after leaving federal service, send an email to ddamp@aol.com and include a short bio with phone number. As a Forum Host you will join our other experts contributing articles, replying to questions from our site visitors, and help to keep our site up-to-date.

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

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        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 Friday, 23rd January 2015 by

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          Please forward this article to everyone in your organization that is planning on retiring over the next five years and tag it for your Facebook and other social media pages.

          Once you retire you lose access to many online agency and government web sites that hold valuable information that you may need after you leave. Several recent retirees asked if they could still access their eOPF (electronic Official Personnel File) in retirement. Once you leave federal service all of your official documentation is forwarded to the National Records Center (NRC) to be archived with all those who retired before you. You can still access much of his information through written requests but it does take time, often months, for them to find, copy, and send you the information you may need. If you are already retired and need information that was in your personnel file contact the NRC for assistance.

          Access to your eOPF is often needed for those who wish to work for a contractor in retirement. The retiree may need critical information about their official training, duty stations, security clearances, pay, and positions held during their career for the detailed applications and resumes that contractors often require. If you are thinking about employment in retirement review your eOPF and obtain copies of promotions, details, training, and other pertinent information that you may need to provide your new employer, including security clearances that you may have held.

          If you had a job that required a security clearance within the past two years print out your security clearance authorization from your records. Federal employees that retire are often sought after by contractors that require their employees to have security clearances. If you had a security clearance with your agency before retiring visit the Security Clearance Center to explore lucrative and often high paying contractor employment opportunities.

          I also suggest that you keep a copy of your most recent employment application, the old SF-171, OF-612, or whatever application format your agency used that includes this critical information. Many retirees simply shred most of the paperwork they have at the office before walking out the door only to regret it down the road. I kept several of my old SF-171s that basically provided a comprehensive time line of my military and federal service. These documents provide a wealth of information, not only for future employment but to provide a history of our service for genealogy research or simply to provide to your heirs down the road. Sort of your own personal story of where you where when and what you were doing while you were there.

          Others have asked how to access the govtrip.com web site and their LES data, Leave and Earnings Statements, after retiring. You can’t access this information after you retire so take advantage of the access before you leave. You will have to find a suitable replacement for travel and as far as LES information goes use OPM’s Retirement Services Online that provides similar annuity payment statements, copies of your 1099R misc income tax forms, and benefit information for retirees. You will be able to access their online services after your retirement paperwork is processed.

          You will retain full access to your TSP account just as you did while still employed and you can go in and change allocations and check your balances daily if desired.

          When you select your retirement date be sure to review your eOPF and other agency/OPM sites prior to your departure to capture the information you may need after you leave.

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          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, EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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            Posted on Monday, 12th January 2015 by

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            This is a good time of year to look forward and decide on a path to take either towards retirement or to what you would like to accomplish while retired. It’s easy to let another year slide by without taking action – procrastinating – on a number of issues.

            Federal employees who are approaching retirement must start planning years in advance of their departure. Too many wait too long to start researching their benefits and selecting a realistic departure date. Retirees often see their retirement dreams languish as each year goes by. It has been over ten years since I retired and it seems like yesterday! Time flies by at a faster rate as we age and when we look in the rear view mirror many wonder what they missed along the way?

            Don’t let this happen to you. If you are thinking about retirement NOW is the time to start exploring your options, learning about the process, and evaluating whether or not you can financially afford to leave. Another very important aspect of retirement is what you will do when you get there.

            Retirees on the other hand are already there and if you are one of those wondering why you haven’t achieved what you set out to do take steps to get back on track.

            I’m not talking about making a New Year’s resolution, resolutions are too easy to break. What you need to establish is a plan. Write down your goals (take baby steps) and list the actions needed to achieve them. I discovered a long time ago that if you don’t write your plans down on paper, with specific actions to take along the way, you will easily forget about it and another year will pass you by.

            Your plan has to be realistic and achievable within the time and means available. Too often we start off setting unrealistic goals, get frustrated and abandon the plan.

            Most know when it’s time to retire or at least they are aware that things aren’t what they use to be and it’s time for a change. It takes courage to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life and your entire family as well. The only way to reduce the fear and stress is to address it head on and start researching retirement from your very personal perspective. You need to ask yourself the following questions:

            • Can I afford to retire?
            • What are my current expenses?
            • What is my total income from all sources?
              • Salary
              • Dividends / Interest Income
              • Investments
              • Social Security
              • Spouses income
              • Other
            • How much will my federal annuity be?
            • What will I do in retirement?

            We have a free report that you can download titled How to Be Financially Prepared When You Retire that includes a link to a free spreadsheet we developed to capture much of this information. Just taking this first step will help you get started.

            If you have a target retirement date or several tentative dates in mind request official annuity estimates from your HR department. They must provide you with this information.

            Don’t get overwhelmed if you are just getting started. There is a lot to consider but if you take it a step at a time you will find your way and discover the answers you need to make an informed decision. Visit our Federal Employees Retirement Planning Site for additional guidance, helpful reports, retirement forms, and much more.

            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 Monday, 5th January 2015 by

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              The article we published on Survivor’s Benefits stated that “Upon your death, the funds in your TSP account cannot remain in the TSP. Your account will have to be distributed to the beneficiary(ies) you indicate on Form TSP-3, Designation of Beneficiary.” This information is correct for non-spouse beneficiaries.

              When a spouse is determined to be a beneficiary of part or all of a civilian or uniformed services account, the TSP will establish a beneficiary participant account in the spouse’s name if the spouse’s inherited share is $200 or more. The entire balance of the beneficiary participant account will be invested in the Government Securities Investment (G) Fund until the spouse makes a different investment choice or chooses to withdraw the money. The money in a beneficiary participant account is not subject to Federal income tax withholding until it is withdrawn.

              This is an important distinction for widows and widowers and the G fund is a safe haven for your account considering that it is the only fund guaranteed never to decrease in value. I updated this information on our blog and on our website today. I suggest downloading the TSP Death Benefits Brochure and keep it with your retirement and or estate planning paperwork. You should also download their pamphlet titled “Important Tax Information About Thrift Savings Plan Death Benefit Payments.” The TSP suggests that, “This information may be helpful in developing instructions so that your spouse, executor, or other person knows what to expect.” I downloaded both today and added

              If you don’t submit a TSP-3 Designation of Beneficiary form the TSP will use the order of precedence required by law:

              1. To your spouse;
              2. If none, to your child or children equally, and to descendants of deceased children by representation;
              3. If none, to your parents equally or to the surviving parent

              Caution – By law, the TSP must pay your properly designated beneficiary(ies) under all circumstances. For example, if you designate your spouse as a beneficiary, that spouse will still be entitled to death benefits if you separate or divorce from that spouse or remarry and do not change your beneficiary designation. This is true even if the spouse you designated gave up all rights to your TSP account(s). Consequently, if your life situation changes, or if any of your beneficiaries change their addresses or other identifying information, you may want to file a new Designation of Beneficiary form that cancels or updates your current beneficiary designation. A properly completed and submitted Designation of Beneficiary form will automatically cancel or update any previous Designation of Beneficiary forms for your TSP account.

              There are many things to consider that if not handled properly could negatively impact your intended heirs. Review this information and include a copy of this article with your estate plans.

              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.

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              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, ESTATE PLANNING, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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                Posted on Friday, 2nd January 2015 by

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                Why It’s Difficult to Hear in Large Rooms

                If you experience difficulty understanding speech in public areas, you will be happy to learn that there are several technologies that can enhance your ability to hear in these venues. These technologies are free as they are mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Before discussing them, let’s back up for a moment and explain why you may need technologies other than your hearing aids or implants when listening in large rooms.

                Speech is a complex, fast-moving target. How audible it is at your ears depends on how loud the other person is talking (vocal effort) and how far away you happen to be from the person talking (the farther away you are from the talker or the loudspeaker, the softer the voice will be). It also changes in pitch depending upon gender/emotion and the various sounds uttered. Speech can be spoken in a quiet room or in a noisy room. In large rooms, even if there is no noise, speech will be smeared due to room reverberation (room echo) caused by sound bouncing off the hard surfaces of the (floor, ceiling, walls, furniture, etc). How well you hear and understand speech depends on all of these factors, as well as the exact degree, configuration (shape) and nature of your hearing difficulty.

                If fitted properly, today’s hearing aids and implants should provide you with sufficient audibility to hear speech in quiet, provided you are close to the talker. You may even hear fine in noise if you are close, your hearing aids/implants have directional microphones, and noise is spatially separated behind you. However, in large rooms (movie theaters, concert halls, lecture halls, etc), you are usually seated at a distance from the talker. Even if the room has a public address (PA) system, you may be seated too far from the loudspeaker(s). What happens in these spaces is that the talker’s voice bounces around as it is reflected off of the various surfaces of the room. This causes the microphones of your hearing aids/implants to pick up these reflections which cause speech to sound smeared and thus difficult to understand. You can try moving closer to the talker/loudspeaker(s), but that does not always help. In addition, may not be practical (or even possible) to move closer.

                How Large Area Assistive Listening Devices Can Help

                For listening situations where distance, noise, and/or reverberation make listening difficult, special large area Hearing Assistance Technology (HAT) – also known as Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) – can be used along with hearing aids/implants to provide sufficient audibility for maximal understanding/enjoyment of the desired signal. These systems serve as a wireless link or bridge between the sound source and the listener. Just as binoculars make a far away image appear larger and easier to see, ALDs function in much the same way. These binoculars for the ears™ pick up the desired signal at its source and, wirelessly send it directly to your ears, preserving its loudness and clarity despite noisy and/or reverberant surroundings. People who use large area assistive listening systems report their listening experiences to be almost magical.

                Figure 1 shows how large area wireless ALDs work via the “three Cs” principle: Catch, Carry, and Couple. A microphone catches the sound you want to hear at its source and changes it into electrical energy. In the case of a pre-recorded sound track, the sound is already in the form of an electrical signal. The electrical signal from the microphone or recording is then led to the room’s public address (PA) system’s amplifier/mixer. A wireless transmitter is then plugged into the output of the mixer. It is the wireless transmitter that broadcasts or carries the sound across the room to a receiver that you wear. The receiver is then coupled to your ear, hearing aid, or cochlear implant.

                Figure 1. How large area wireless ALDs work.

                radio waves

                There are three basic types of wireless systems in use in public areas today: (1) Infrared (IR) (2) FM, and (3) loop. IR and FM transmitters attach to the output stage of the room’s public address system mixer. They then broadcast an IR or FM radio wave across the room to wireless, battery-powered IR or FM receivers that you borrow from the venue.

                Infrared and FM Systems

                Figure 2 shows an example of how an IR or FM system might be used in a concert hall and how you might couple to the system. When you look at the box that entitled “AC-powered IR or FM Transmitter” remember that the system you will encounter in real life will be either an FM or an IR transmitter, not both. This figure is just for explanation purposes. Note that both hardwired and wireless microphones can be used to pick up voices and/or instruments. Also note that the system has loudspeakers.

                Figure 2. Example of an IR or FM system and how to couple to it.

                mixer-amps

                There are two ways you can use the IR or FM reliever. If you have enough hearing, you can use the receiver along with earphones (Figure 2-A). However, if you use hearing aids and/or implants equipped with telecoils, then you ask the venue to loan you a neckloop that you place around your neck and plug into the FM or IR receiver (Figure 2-B). You then turn on the IR or FM receiver and switch your hearing aids/implants to the telecoil mode. The neckloop takes the signal from the infrared or FM receiver and re-broadcasts it to your hearing aid/implant telecoil(s) where it eventually changed to sound (in the case of hearing aids) or electrical energy (in the case of implants). Important: If you have a wireless hearing aid that does not contain a telecoil but you use a personal streamer that DOES contain a telecoil, then you would place your streamer inside of the neckloop and activate the streamer’s telecoil (Figure 2-C).

                Loop Systems

                Loop systems have been around for many years but are enjoying a renaissance thanks to the efforts of the Hearing Loss Association of America and interested citizens who appreciate the ease of use that comes with this type of system. As with the infrared and FM systems, a public address system picks up the sound using a microphone or direct connection. Unlike the other two technologies, the transmitter in a loop system consists of a wire placed around the room (or a grid of wires placed under the carpet) and plugged into a second amplifier that plugs into the PA system’s main amplifier/mixer (see Figure 3). The wire placed around the room serves at the wireless transmitter because it sends electromagnetic energy throughout the room that is then picked up by a telecoil receiver located inside of your hearing aids, implants, streamer, or inside of a special receiver that you use without hearing aids (Figure 3-A, B, and C).

                Figure 3. Example of a large area loop system and how to couple to it.

                mixer amp 3

                If your hearing aids/implants are equipped with telecoils and the large area venues of your community are equipped with loop systems, then you will enjoy the convenience (and dignity) of being able to walk into the room, flip your hearing aids/implants to telecoil mode and hear. There is no need to borrow a receiver because, as shown in Figure 3-A, the telecoil in your hearing instrument IS your receiver. If your hearing aids do not have telecoils but you own a personal telecoil-equipped streamer, then you would activate it and wear it to receive the loop signal (Figure 3-B). If you do not have telecoils or if you do not own hearing aids, then you can borrow a loop receiver that you wear around your neck (or under your chin) with earphones (Figure 3-C).

                 Important Telecoil Options

                In order to get the most from your hearing aids or implants, you might want to see if your audiologist can fit you with a hearing instrument that not only provides you with telecoil (T-only) mode but also with a telecoil plus microphone (M + T) mode.

                Why is this important? Well, if you have a severe loss and are in the T-only mode, then you hear the sound coming through the large area ALD, but you will not be able to hear your own voice or the voice of your companion because your hearing aid/implant microphone is turned off when in the T-only mode.   When you cannot hear your own voice, you will tend to speak more loudly than normal, thus disrupting the other patrons. To have a conversation and monitor your voice, you will have to switch from T to M and then back again to T. However, if you have the M + T option, then you will be able to hear through the ALD and simultaneously through your environmental microphone. Thus you can monitor your voice, hear your companion and enjoy the show. If you have any feedback issues with this mode, then talk to your audiologist to see if adjustments need to be made.

                Final Notes

                There are pros and cons to each of the three systems. However, when installed and maintained properly all three systems sound great and can help you hear better in large rooms, provided that you know how to couple correctly. The advantage of loops is that you do not need to borrow a receiver, provided that you wear hearing aids or implants equipped with telecoils.

                Not all public areas are required to install large area listening systems. For example, houses of workshop are exempt from the law. But, this does not mean that your community should join together to raise funding for such a system.

                For large area solutions that require simultaneous two-way communication, language interpretation, team teaching, portability, encryption and many other features and applications, the Digi-Wave system is a great solution.

                With today’s technology there is no reason why you should not be able to go out on the town and enjoy a good movie or lecture.

                Additional Information:

                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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