Posted on Wednesday, 27th January 2016 by

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I typically purchase Intuit TurboTax Home & Business software in mid December each year to start working on our income taxes. I was able to download my Statement of Annuity Paid (1099 R Form) direct from OPM’s retirement services web site on January 17th!  Typically retirees receive these forms in the mail by the end of January.  You can also download duplicate 1099 R copies from OPM’s website if you should lose or misplace your copy.

Social Security Filing

Last week I filed for Social Security and immediately suspended so that my wife, who will soon be at full retirement age, could take a spousal benefit. We had to file by phone since we couldn’t get an appointment at our local Social Security office for several months, they were booked solid.  My wife’s monthly check will increase by almost 50%.  This file and suspend option won’t be available after April or early May of this year due to the changes in the law that took effect when the President signed HR-1314, the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.”

Because I was CSRS my wife’s benefit was reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).  Thankfully I have 25 substantial years of earnings to date so the reduction was about half as much as the typical CSRS retiree’s deduction. Actually, when I do sign up for benefits at age 70 I’ll have 28 or 29 substantial earnings years if I continue working and at that point my Social Security check will only be reduced by $41 to $82 a month. Also, if I continue to work and earn the substantial earnings amount or more, my wife’s benefit will increase 5% each year plus COLA increases until I turn 70 and start collecting Social Security.

Currently, most CSRS retirees have 20 or less substantial years of earnings and if you started collecting a benefit in 2015 your monthly Social Security check would have been reduced by $413. My Social Security statement shows my taxed Social Security Earnings back to 1965 and my first substantial year of earnings was in 1968 when substantial earnings were only $1,950 a year.  In 2015 substantial earnings are listed at $22,050.

Updates

Last week my iPhone 5 quit and the local Verizon store wasn’t able to fix it. They offered to sell me a new iPhone 6 or 6S for $27 a month added to my wireless phone bill.  They no longer offer two year contracts however you must either pay cash for a new phone or pay for it monthly for two years.

I decided to look around and Sams Club was offering a $350 Sam’s Club Gift Card if you purchased a new Samsung phone.  The Samsung phones were just too big to carry in my pocket. I told the sales clerk that I was happy with my iPhone 5 and the new phones didn’t have anything that I really wanted and was about to walk out. She then pulled out a new iPhone 5S and said that I could buy a new iPhone 5S for 99 cents if I signed up for a new 2 year contract.

The Sam’s clerk explained that the carriers eliminated two year contracts at their primary phone outlets. However, Sams and a few other sellers were permitted to continue offering them with specials like she offered me. I signed a new 2 year contract and paid 99 cents for my iPhone 5S that has finger print recognition and an improved camera especially for low light situations.  The sales clerk said that my phone bill would not increase except for a one-time $40 activation charge.

I called Verizon the next day to verify the transaction and discovered that my contract cost was about $20 a month more than what I was paying previously.  I thought the deal was too good to be true.  What the sales clerk didn’t tell me was that when you aren’t on a contract they reduce your line cost from $40 a month to $20 a month to keep you using their service. The agent said I was only using about .1 Megs of data monthly, much less than the 2 Megs I was paying for, and after giving me a 15% veteran’s discount my bill ended up being $5 a month more.

I discovered that once you go off contract, like I was, you have to call them to get the line reduction. Fortunately I called several days after my contract expired three months ago and reviewed my bill with them and at that time they dropped my line charge to $20. If your contract has expired call your wireless phone carrier and ask for a discount.

To get a veterans or military discount from Verizon Wireless you have to call and send them either a copy of your military ID or for veterans a copy of your DD 214 form. I scanned my DD 214 and sent it to them through their web site.

The long and short of it is that if the deal sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t the deal you thought it was.  In this case, without the military discount and reduction in Data costs, I would have paid $20 more monthly and could have purchased several phones for that price without going back on a two year contract.  Still, for $5 more each month I’m happy with my new iPhone 5S.

Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis. A sample analysis is available for your review. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment advisor. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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    Posted on Friday, 15th January 2016 by

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    As of January 1, 2016, FEGLI premiums for many options and age brackets changed due to actuarial adjustments. Annuitants that carried FEGLI coverage into retirement will receive a Notice of Annuity Adjustment showing the new rates.

    Most of the new FEGLI rates for Option A, B and C decrease. The older age band rates for Options A, B and C increase including retirees basic insurance rates with 50% reduction and the no reduction rates.

    If retirees elected the 75% reduction your premium is waived when you reach age 65. However, retirees that are 65 or older and didn’t elect a 75% reduction or ones that carried other FEGLI options into retirement for Family or multiples will still receive an adjustment notice. The new rates mostly impact the age brackets

    It’s important to note that you can reduce or cancel coverage at any time but annuitants cannot increase coverage, even during the upcoming open season scheduled for September 1, 2016 through September 30, 2016. If you elect to reduce or cancel all or any part of your FEGLI coverage, that election is irrevocable.

    The upcoming open season is an excellent time for active federal employees to evaluate their insurance needs and add to or modify their existing coverage. Linda Sherman wrote an article titled “A Life Insurance Check-up: Evaluating Your Insurance Needs” that can help you determine what coverage to carry.

    Some retirees opt not to carry FEGLI insurance into retirement. I personally would keep the basic at the 75% reduction as a minimum because at age 65 the premium is waived. There is also advantages to carrying Family and Option A as well because they are low cost and the family Option C does provide basic coverage for your spouse and dependents in retirement as well. The Part B multiples get very expensive as you age and there are lower cost options available if needed. Look closely at your options before deciding what is best for you and yours. Here are links to three articles that I wrote, before they announced the 2016 Open Season, on the FEGLI options that you may find helpful:

    Social Security Changes

    I mentioned in a recent article the changes made to Social Security’s file and suspend option this year for those at their full retirement age of 66. This option permits a higher earning spouse, that’s currently not receiving benefits, to file for benefits and immediately suspend them so their spouse can take a higher spousal benefit. This option allows a lower earning spouse to collect the higher earners benefit while the higher earner lets their benefit grow 8% a year until they apply up to age 70. Other changes are also discussed in the previous article that may impact you when filing for benefits this year.

    This option, under the new law, will no longer be available later this year. Our local Social Security office was so busy that we couldn’t get an appointment for several months and had to make a telephone appointment to file before the cutoff. If you are eligible for this option and considering applying call early for an appointment.

    Nice to Know

    I have an iPhone 5 and was having problems charging it for the past three months or so. I’m sure this problem could develop in just about any phone that you carry in your pocket or purse. Every time I plugged in the charger the connection was intermittent and I would often go back to find it hadn’t charged. Just by moving the connector to either side or by pushing it forcefully into the USB phone jack it would connect most times. I tried a new cord and charger and the problem persisted. I thought that I may have to replace the phone due to a defective phone jack.

    After closely inspecting the phone USB jack I discovered debris in the connector. I turned off the phone and used a tooth pick to gently remove what seemed to be more pocket lint than you could possibly imagine. After removing the lint the problem resolved and my phone now charges quickly and seems to hold the charge longer.

    If you have a cell phone charging problem look at your USB charging connector to see if there is lint buildup. Be careful not to damage the connector if you use a toothpick to dislodge the lint.

    Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis. A sample analysis is available for your review. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

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

    Visit our other informative sites

    Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment advisor. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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      Posted on Monday, 11th January 2016 by

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      Important Note: This article is not an investment recommendation and should not to be relied upon when making investment decisions – investors should conduct their own comprehensive research. Please read the Disclaimer at the end of this article.

      Each year I review our investments and rebalance funds as necessary to maintain a pre determined asset allocation. In 2015 the THRIFT Savings Plan (TSP) performed better than the market in general. The Dow closed at 17,425 in 2015 down from 17,823 in 2014 for a loss of 2.2% while the S&P was down .08% year to year. You can use the closing figures reported on YAHOO’s Historical Charts to track index performance for any period.

      The TSP C Fund gained 1.46% in 2015 while the G Fund was the TSP winner with a 2.04% gain followed by the L Income Fund with a 1.85% increase year to year. The S and I funds were losers with a 2.92% and .51% loss respectively. The G and L Income funds returns far exceeded any gains that we could have earned from a bank CD last year.

      I kept my TSP account in retirement because of their low fees and the fact that the G Fund is the only fund guaranteed not to decrease in value. I wrote several articles on the advantages of the THRIFT Plan last year including “The TSP Advantage – Should I Say or Go” and “Survivors Beware – The TSP Trap” that you may find informative. The G Fund purchases special issue government bonds that pay the long term treasury yield.

      Retirees are often advised to keep a good percentage of their savings in cash or cash equivalent investments such as savings accounts, certificates of deposits, bank money market accounts, U.S. Treasuries, Savings Bonds, investment grade bonds, or Municipal Bonds to maintain account balances and to provide a cushion during bad economic times.  Even some of the fallback investments such as bond funds can be risky today with increasing interest rates. As interest rates increase bond fund’s Net Asset Value (NAV) tends to decrease. A good example of this is the performance of the F Fund last year. Its yield was only .91% while over the past 10 years compounded yield was 4.89%. As interest rates rise bond fund yields tend to decrease in value because newly issued bonds have higher yields than the bonds held in the fund.  The G Fund isn’t nearly as sensitive to interest rates because the G Fund yield is determined by the rate paid for long term Treasuries.

      To determine what percentage of your investments to keep in safe and secure accounts you can use a factor of 110. Basically, you would subtract your age from 110 and that figure is how much to keep in equity stock and mutual fund investments. A person age 67, according to this formula, should have no more than 43 % of their assets in equities such as company stocks, Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), and mutual funds with 57% kept in secure FDIC insured CDs, savings accounts, Treasuries, Savings and Muni bonds for emergencies and to weather a market meltdown like we experienced in 2008. Many use a more conservative factor of 100 to determine how much to retain in cash and equities. With the 100 factor your age determines what percentage of your investments should be kept safe and secure.

      Retirees that receive a fixed annuity, like those in the federal workforce, often use the higher factor of 110 because of the added financial security an annuity provides. Retirees that don’t need to tap their retirement nest egg and can live comfortably off their annuity and Social Security checks often choose to keep higher percentages in dividend paying equities, ETFs, or mutual funds.

      I use my TSP account to cover a good portion of cash equivalent savings and invest in the L Income fund. The L Income invests approximately 75% in the G Fund and 25% in all of the other funds to give your assets a chance to keep up with and beat inflation when it returns. With the dramatic stock market sell off last week my TSP account balance hardly changed compared to private sector investments. It is reassuring to visit the TSP site and see that your funds balance remains fairly constant even during major market volatility. In 2008, during the stock market meltdown, the L Income Fund lost 5.09% compared to a 36.99% loss in the C Fund, 38% loss in the S fund and 42.43% loss in the I Fund. The F & G Funds were the winners that year with a 5.45% and 3.75% gains respectively.

      Over a 10 year period the L-Income Fund returns ranged from a low of -5.09% in 2008 to a high of 8.57% in 2009 while the C-Fund ranged from a low of -36.99% in 2008 to a high of 32.45% in 2013. The ten year average gain for the L Income fund is about half that of the C Fund. Retirees that can’t afford to wait years to recover from a major recession will find the L Income and G Funds safe havens for their critically needed cash. Younger workers and those retired that don’t need to tap their TSP funds can tolerate more risk. It all depends on your personal situation.

      Insurance Policy Review

      I purchased a whole life policy in 1973 from a large private insurance company shortly after being discharged from active duty. I received my annual premium notice and called them last week to discuss the possibility of converting it to a paid up policy since the annual dividend is more than my premium.   The policy’s death benefit and cash value has more than doubled over the years due to very generous dividends.

      I discovered that I could stop annual payments and convert the policy to paid up status. By taking this step the death benefit will increase approximately 10%! A good deal I thought until I asked the agent what dividends the policy is paying. The policy pays a guaranteed 4% annual dividend and the agent advised me that I could continue earning the full 4% and grow the death benefit for as long as I desired. I decided to keep the policy and pay the small premium at least until I turn 70. There are few opportunities to earn 4% a year today. If you have an older policy like mine, and you are 65 or older, you may be able to stop payments and convert your policy to paid up with an increased death benefit like they offered me.

      Retiree Employment Update

      Employers recruiting federal retirees and those soon to retire post job vacancies on our Jobs Center. Recently Adams Consulting Group, LLC posted an IT Audit VP position and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation advertised for a state park maintenance position.

      Private companies, contractors, and state government departments use our Jobs Board to hire skilled federal retirees for part and full time positions nationwide. Many opportunities exist for those looking to supplement their retirement income or to start a second career. We provide this free job listing service to companies that are seeking to hire experienced retired federal workers.

      Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis. A sample analysis is available for your review. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

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

      Visit our other informative sites

      Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of potential investment in securities of the companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment research of their own, including detailed review of the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment advisor. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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        Posted on Tuesday, 15th December 2015 by

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        I receive email messages from retirees and survivors each year that can’t find their CSA claim number and are uncertain as to what benefits they elected when they retired. At least once a year we receive a Notice of Annuity Adjustment, shortly after the new year starts, that provides abundant information for annuitants and their survivors. Any time your annuity payment is modified, for whatever reasons, OPM sends out a new notice outlining the change and the impact on your annuity. If a COLA is pending, you change an allotment, increase tax withholdings, or for example your long term insurance premium increases you will receive a Notice of Annuity Adjustment.

        This form offers a wealth of information for you and your family. It includes your Claim number, the amount withheld for each item deducted from your annuity payment, and your gross and net payment. This document also includes an Annual Notice of Survivor Annuity Election Rights and provides contact information for OPM including a recommendation to register and log on to their online services.

        I keep the Notice of Annuity Adjustments that I receive in my retirement folder and include a copy in our estate binder along with OPM’s annuity and FEGLI insurance verification forms that OPM sends out upon request. This is an important document and needs to be readily available if you or your survivor need to contact OPM or require clarification on your benefits.

        Open Season Final Comments

        I changed my enrollment to the GEHA Standard Self Plus One option this open season. Within three weeks of making the change I received our cards and an extensive welcome package outlining all of their services. They included an 8 page fold out comparing the Standard to High options with separate columns listing what you pay for each service area when you also have Medicare A and B. For those 65 and older with Medicare A and B there is little difference between the two options except for prescriptions. If you don’t use many prescriptions or are able to use generic drugs the Standard option may work well for you depending on your personal situation since you pay no deductibles, copayments or coinsurance for either plan option. The monthly high option self plus one premium is $496.51 compared to $241.25 for the Standard option, a savings of $255.26 per month. For those also enrolled in Medicare evaluate your prescription needs to determine if the additional $255.26 a month is worth the cost. Both Standard and High options have a prescription 90-day supply mail service program as well.

        Creature Comforts

        I’m constantly on my feet, going here and there, and can’t sit still for long. Over the years I’ve had foot problems and my knees aren’t in the best of shape either. My wife and I walk daily with our dog and throughout the day in the house. By the middle of the day my feet are tired and sore. Recently I discovered Sketchers GoWalk 3 soft sole slip on shoes that are extremely comfortable. Much of our home has hardwood or ceramic flooring and I was looking for a soft sole house shoe to cushion the beating my feet were taking on these hard surfaces. My wife was experiencing feet and shin pain and bought a pair of GoWalk 3 Sketchers and the pain went away. I bought a pair for the home and when you put them on you feel like you are walking on air. My feet and joint pain disappeared and the neuropathy that I’ve had for years isn’t as pronounced with these shoes. I purchased a lace up pair this week to wear outside and I’m impressed with the comfort and results. I no longer use inserts in my shoes, there isn’t a need since the Sketcher GoWalk 3 shoe seems to conform to your foot’s contour. If you are looking for a comfortable shoe check out the Sketcher GoWalk 3.

        Retiree Employment Update

        Employers recruiting federal retirees and those soon to retire post job vacancies on our Jobs Center. Recently Federal Staffing Resources posted several openings for three psychologists and a health educator that are needed in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Visit our Jobs Board for complete details.

        Private companies, contractors, and state government departments use our Jobs Board to hire skilled federal retirees for part and full time positions nationwide. Many opportunities exist for those looking to supplement their retirement income or to start a second career. We provide this free job listing service to companies that are seeking to hire experienced retired federal workers.

        Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis. A sample analysis is available for your review. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

        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 Sunday, 29th November 2015 by

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          On November 2, 2015 the President signed HR-1314, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.” This law eliminated the file and suspend option for most Social Security applicants and changed the restricted application rules. These filing strategies allowed couples to increase their lifetime total payout.

          If you are now at full retirement age and planning to file and suspend you have 180 days from the date the bill was signed to apply. My wife and I are planning to file and suspend this February. We will be in one of the last groups that will be allowed to take advantage of this strategy.

          Filing and suspending permits the higher earning spouse, at their full retirement age, to file for benefits and then immediately suspend them. The lower earning spouse then applies for and collects a higher spousal benefit. The lower earning spouse increases their monthly payment up to half of their spouse’s benefit and the person suspending their benefit increases their benefit 8% a year for those born after 1943 or later. The spouse that suspends their payment until age 70 would receive 132% of the monthly benefit for delaying collecting benefits for 48 months.

          Another option many used to only collect a spousal benefit, while their benefit continued to grow, was for one person to file a “restricted” application at full retirement age. This option will no longer be available for anyone turning 62 in 2016 or later and you must now apply for and claim all eligible benefits. They did allow an exception for anyone that will be 62 or older in 2015. A restricted application for a spousal benefit only will still be permitted for this group.

          If you are already enrolled in these options there is no change, you are grandfathered under the law. Neither of these two strategies can now be used if you were born on or after January 2, 1954.

          Other changes include initiatives to reduce fraud through the expansion of their Cooperative Disability Investigation Units and by implementing new and stronger penalties.

          Retiree Employment Update

          Employers recruiting federal retirees and those soon to retire post job vacancies on our Jobs Center. Recently Adams Consulting Group LLC in New York City posted two openings, one for a HR Payroll & Benefits Manager and another for Senior Accountant. Both pay 6 figure salaries. Visit our Jobs Board for complete details.

          Private companies, contractors, and state government departments use our Jobs Board to hire skilled federal retirees for part and full time positions nationwide. Many opportunities exist for those looking to supplement their retirement income or to start a second career. We provide this free job listing service to companies that are seeking to hire experienced retired federal workers.

          Update

          Government Executive Magazine published its final print issue this December. I’ve been a loyal subscriber and reader for over 30 years and thankfully it will continue to be available online. I sent Tom Shoop, their Executive Vice President, a note congratulating him on their transition to digital and thanked him for the services they continue to provide.

          They provide a wealth of information for anything and everything federal and I often mention Tammy Flanagan’s retirement planning articles on our web site and in my retirement planning column. To avoid missing an issue visit their subscription page to sign up for publications and newsletters of interest. They list four daily government news groups; Government Executive, Nextgov, Defense One, and Route Fifty. You will also find many other newsletters focusing on technology, government careers, and other related areas.

          Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis. A sample analysis is available for your review. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

          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 Wednesday, 18th November 2015 by

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            I received a number of messages from active federal employees that were not able to get into Employee Express to make FEHB plan changes. Retirees using OPM’s FEHB Open Season Online are getting through and able to request hard copies of brochures and make plan changes.

            Employee Express is managed by OPM and employees are able to review their payroll information and make necessary changes including to their health care enrollment. Unfortunately new cyber security patches and upgrades have slowed down the system especially during this open season where many are changing to the new Self Plus One option. Their new log-on interface has changed and they added security questions and many have not been able to get through to the help line. Some have reported wait times in excess of an hour. I understand that OPM has sent out emails to employees about these problems and they are working on the issue and have extended help desk hours.

            Fortunately, FEHB Open Season Online has worked well for me personally. Yesterday I signed in and changed my plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield Basic (BCBS) Self plus Family to the GEHA Standard Self Plus One option. This saves me $107 a month in premiums.  I received an immediate online confirmation that I printed for my records and when I signed back into the website the main page shows the pending change. My daughter works for the VA and didn’t have a problem processing her FEHB plan changes through their employee payroll system last week.

            I have one correction for my last article titled FEHB Self Plus One Clarification and Plan Comparison Tool where I compared BCBS to the GEHA program. Connie, one of our newsletter subscribers, wrote that GEHA does offer a prescription mail order program. If you look at page 116 of the GEHA booklet it does offer mail order for member (PPO) providers. I meant to say that a mail order program is available for GEHA member providers only. The plan comparison tool was a little confusing on this subject. It shows that a mail order program is available for PPO member pharmacies and not available for non-PPO member pharmacies. I believe in most cases enrollees will be able to find a member pharmacy in their area. Their mail order program is a good value and with their high option you pay less for your prescriptions. They also offer a three month prescription supply at local member pharmacies where others may only offer a 90 day supply through mail order.

            One of the other reasons that I changed to BCBS several years ago was that GEHA only provided $250 towards the purchase of hearing aids where BCBS allowed $2,000 or more. Today GEHA provides $1,000 for hearing aids every 5 years for their standard option and up to $2,000 for their high option. When I need hearing aids down the road I’ll switch to their high option for a year.

            There are many additional benefits when you are also enrolled in Medicare A and B. The GEHA plans waive all copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles except for pharmacy prescriptions. You are able to choose your own physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers as long as they accept Medicare, and you don’t need precertification for hospital stays or for certain procedures and tests such as MRIs and CT scans.

            Medicare announced the new 2016 premiums recently. Next year, the standard Part B premium will be $121.80 (or higher depending on your income). Most people who get Social Security benefits will continue to pay a Part B premium of $104.90 each month. You will pay a different premium amount in 2016 if:

            • You enroll in Part B for the first time in 2016.
            • You don’t get Social Security benefits.
            • You have Medicare and Medicaid, and Medicaid pays your premiums.
            • Your modified adjusted gross income as reported on your IRS tax return from 2 years ago is above a certain amount.

            If you are in 1 of these 4 groups your premiums will range from a low of $121.80 to as high as $389.80 a month based on your income. Medicare provides the new payment schedule on their web site.

            Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis. A sample analysis is available for your review. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

            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 in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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              Posted on Tuesday, 10th November 2015 by

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              This open season has created confusion for many especially issues concerning the new FEHB Self Plus One option.  OPM’s Open Season Health Benefits Guide has left many questioning whether or not they will leave their spouse without coverage when they die if they change to the Self Plus One option.  When I first discovered the discrepancy I called OPM and talked with Donna Douglas, an OPM customer service representative. She confirmed that your spouse will be covered if you are enrolled in a family plan or the self plus one option when the annuitant dies if the spouse is eligible for a survivor’s annuity. I received many email messages asking for the chapter and verse where this is stated so they will have it in writing.

              Since then I found OPM’s Benefit Administration Letter 15-209 issued on October 20 that states as follows, “For surviving family members to continue FEHB coverage after an employee’s or annuitant’s death, the enrollee must have been enrolled in Self Plus One or Self and Family at the time of death. If the enrollee was enrolled in Self and Family, at least one family member must be eligible for a survivor annuity. If the enrollee was enrolled in Self Plus One, the designated family member under the Self Plus One enrollment must be eligible for a survivor annuity. If the family member designated under Self Plus One is not eligible for a survivor annuity, the enrollment cannot continue and terminates on the last day of the pay period in which the enrollee dies.”

              This should clear this up for all. When an annuitant dies, his/her spouse will retain their FEHB coverage as long as the survivor is eligible for a survivor annuity.

              FEHB Plan Comparison Tool

              There is an easy and convenient way to compare FEHB plans including how each plan treats your enrollment if you sign up for Medicare Parts A and B. I used the FEHB Plan Comparison Tool available on OPM’s web site and found it to be very helpful. I discovered a few unique features using the comparison tool that I didn’t realize existed. Now that my wife and I are both enrolled in Medicare I wanted to know how each plan handled Medicare enrollees and the cost savings afforded by each.  I was pleasantly surprised to find this very information at the bottom of the comparison report that I ran.

              I compared four plans; Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Basic, GEHA Standard, MHBP Value Basic, and the APWU High Option plans. I currently have Blue Cross and Blue Shield Self & Family Basic.  The cost will be $348.29 for the Self Plus One Basic enrollment next year while the GEHA Standard premium is $241.25, a $107.04 monthly savings. The MHBP plan costs $303.65 and the APWU is $335.98. Cost alone is not the deciding factor. We have to evaluate each plan based on the desired health care coverage at the most affordable price.

              Prior to turning 65, I was enrolled in the GEHA Standard plan and changed because of the deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments. GEHA waives these fees for Medicare A and B enrollees. This information is provided in the comparison and you can confirm what each plan covers in detail for Medicare enrollees in Section 9, Coordinating benefits with Medicare, that’s published in each plan booklet.

              I called the GEHA plan help line and asked them specifically what my wife and I would not have to pay now that we are enrolled in Medicare. The agent confirmed that all coinsurance, copayments and deductibles were waived except for prescriptions. The other major GEHA plan feature is that unlike the BCBS Basic plan GEHA Standard covers both PPO and Non-PPO providers.  Of course there are other differences. The Standard GEHA plan limits the prescription mail order program to member only pharmacies similar to BCBS and others however there are  different payment limits as described in their brochures. Review each plan’s brochure thoroughly to determine what best meets your needs.

              The comparison tool is an excellent first step to selecting your 2016 coverage. It includes 60 rows of data for the plans compared and it highlights the key areas. After I selected two plans of interest I reviewed each plan brochure to reveal other differences. For example with the GEHA plan you have to get pre approval for some admissions to the hospital and for certain diagnostic tests.  The doctors and hospitals typically take care of the pre approval but GEHA recommends you follow up with the hospital and/or testing facility to ensure the approval was obtained.

              One of the major benefits of Medicare enrollment is that many FEHB plans waive all or some coinsurance, copayments, and deductibles since they become the secondary provider. It makes sense for Medicare enrollees to search for lower cost FEHB plans that do waive the most coinsurance, copayments, and deductibles to offset the cost of their Part B premiums. In my 4 plan comparison the only plan that waived ALL of these fees and out-of-pocket expenses was the GEHA plan. BCBS waived some.

              Selecting the right plan for you and yours is a very important personal choice that deserves your undivided attention this open season. The comparison I provided is only an example to show how the tool works.  Use the comparison tool and plan brochures to make the best decision for you and your family this year.

              2016 TRICARE Premium Increases

              TRICARE premiums for retires and military personnel that have adult children are scheduled to increase in 2016. The Department of Defense announced new TRICARE premiums for Young Adult Prime and Standard option for children ages 23-26. Premiums will increase to $228 per month for the Standard option and $306 for the Young Adult Prime option.

              Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis. A sample analysis is available for your review. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

              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, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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                Posted on Thursday, 5th November 2015 by

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                The 2016 plan brochures are now available online at OPM.  I ordered 6 plan brochures through OPM’s FEHB Open Season Online service on Monday. I requested hard copies so I can sit down and review them offline. You can also view them online. This year has generated many more questions due to the new Self Plus One option and the fact that health care costs are generally increasing while our annuities are decreasing due to inflation and no 2016 COLA. Even with escalating costs our FEHB Health Care Program is still an excellent benefit.

                A number of plans are dropping out of the program in 2016. You will have to select another plan if your plan is withdrawing from the FEHB program. Some Restricted Fee for Service plans, only open only to specific individuals, are not included in the 2016 guide. If you are enrolled in a restricted plan review the plan brochures for benefit and premium information.

                It was brought to my attention that on page two of this year’s Open Season Benefits Guide it states that your spouse can continue coverage after the annuitant dies only if you have self and family coverage. The brochure states “While you can cover your spouse on a family enrollment during your lifetime, in the event of your death, your spouse may continue enrollment in the FEHB Program as your survivor only if you are enrolled in self and family coverage at the time of death, and you elected to provide a survivor benefit for your spouse.”

                I called OPM and talked with Donna Douglas, an OPM customer service representative. She stated that the brochure needs to be updated and your spouse will be covered if you are enrolled in either a family plan or in the self plus one option when the annuitant dies and the spouse will automatically be switched to the self only option under your current plan.

                Nicholas, another newsletter reader stated that he couldn’t find where he could pay his FEHB plan premiums directly because next year his annuity will not be enough to continue premium deductions. He didn’t want to switch to a lower cost plan. According to OPM, “if your monthly annuity payment is less than the monthly premium for the plan you want, you may pay your premium directly. You can request information on electing this payment option through Open Season Online or Open Season Express”.

                Couples now enrolled in a family option are not automatically changed to the Self Plus One option. You must elect this new option if desired and make the change during open season. My previous articles titled FEHB Self Plus One – A Major Disappointment, and FEHB Cost Savings and our New 2016 Leave Chart provide additional information for the new Self Plus One option.

                Many of your questions will be answered in this year’s Open Season Health Benefit Guide that you will receive shortly or you can download a copy at https://retireefehb.opm.gov/Annuitant/ after you register. I downloaded my copy earlier this week.

                Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis. A sample analysis is available for your review. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

                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, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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