Posted on Friday, 19th September 2014 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do I Pay The Military Deposit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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    Posted on Friday, 12th September 2014 by

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

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

    Telecoil

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

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

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

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

    NFMI, 2.4 GHz, and 900 MHz

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

    NFMI Systems

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

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

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

    2.4 GHz and 900 MHz Systems

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

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

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

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

    iPhone 5 -> ReSound LiNX hearing aids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Final Note

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

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

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

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    Limits of Liability and Disclaimer of Warranty

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

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      Posted in LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, WELLNESS / HEALTH

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      Posted on Friday, 5th September 2014 by

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

      1. Remember to get credit for all creditable service.

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

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

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

      2. Understand Social Security

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

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

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

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

      3. Know your Medicare benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      5. Assess your need for Long-Term Care

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

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

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

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

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

      Visit our other informative sites

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

       

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

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        Posted on Tuesday, 2nd September 2014 by

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        Planning your Safari

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

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

        All Inclusive Lodging

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

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

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

        Balloon Safari in the Serengeti

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

        Bush Dinner

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

        Tips and Information if you book a Safari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        I recommend the following lodging:

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Visit our other informative sites

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        Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

        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 on Friday, 22nd August 2014 by

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          If you know of someone approaching age 65 or younger and signing up for Medicare send them a link to this article. It provides the information that federal employees and retirees need to consider before they sign up.

          If you are already collecting Social Security benefits you will be automatically signed up for Medicare three months before your 65th birthday. You can opt out of Part B coverage if desired. For those who are not collecting Social Security at age 65, you have to apply either online or you can visit your local Social Security office. If you don’t sign up for Part B when first eligible you face a 10% penalty for each year you delay enrollment.

          When you sign up for Medicare you have two options to consider. Medicare A (hospital insurance) doesn’t require a monthly premium for most because they paid Medicare taxes while employed. If you don’t receive Part A premium-free, you must pay up to $426 monthly. Thankfully federal employees pay Medicare tax so your hospital Part A does not require premiums when you retire and apply for benefits.

          Part B (medical insurance) requires a monthly premium that is based on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI). The standard premium for 2014 is $104.90 for individuals with an income of $85,000 or less or for a couple filing jointly earning $170,000 or less. There are five premium rates based on your income with the highest premium currently at $335.70 per month.

          Signing up for Part A makes sense for most and OPM recommends you sign up because you already paid for this coverage while working through your Medicare taxes. Whether or not you take Part B medical coverage is up to the individual. Our FEHB plans continue to cover medical insurance even if you elect not to apply for Part B coverage. My article titled “What to Consider Before Enrolling in Medicare Part B” discusses your options and how your FEHB program works either way.

          If you aren’t collecting Social Security you have a 7 month window starting three months before your 65th birthday to apply without a penalty. I decided to apply in the 7th month because I converted one of our retirement accounts to a ROTH two years ago. Part B Medicare premiums are based on your income and Social Security uses income from 2 years back to determine your Part B premium. When you convert to a ROTH the total amount of the conversion is included as income for that year. I thought that if I applied later in the year Social Security might have received my 2013 income information from the IRS to use for the Part B premium calculation. Another reason for waiting is that I won’t have to pay Part B premiums until November or December since it takes three months to process a Medicare application.

          Signing up only for Medicare online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov was easy especially if you already have an online account set up. It took me about 20 minutes, only because I read several of their notices about the program first. I signed in and clicked on the “Help Center,” then clicked on “Apply For Medicare” to start a new application. If you are only applying for Medicare, and not for your Social Security benefits, you only fill out 3 blocks of data. They issue you a Re-Entry number in case you can’t complete the form in one sitting and you will receive a confirmation number as well to check the status of your application online.

          You will receive a determination letter from Social Security concerning the status of your application and it will list your monthly part B premium. Since you are not currently collecting Social Security benefits, in this case, you will be billed every three months for your premiums. After you apply for Social Security benefits your premiums will be deducted from your monthly payment.

          If your Part B premium was based on higher income from 2012 you can file a Form SSA-44 (Medicare Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount – Life Cycle Changing Event Form) to reduce your Part B premiums. Basically, you have to take this form and a copy of your 2013 income tax return to your local Social Security office. If your income in 2013 is in a lower Part B payment bracket they will adjust your premium accordingly. Small business owners with decreasing current year revenue can also submit this same form with supporting documentation, such as previous year and year to date profit and loss statements, to support and justify a lower Part B premium.

          The advantages for most FEHB participants is that your deductable, coinsurance, and copayments are waived by your plan when you sign up for Medicare A & B. If you only elect Part A (hospital coverage) Medicare will be your primary insurer for hospital care and your FEHB plan will remain primary for medical expenses. Another advantage for Part B participants is that you can go to any doctor that accepts Medicare. Blue Cross Blue Shield basic FEHB members are limited to doctors within their provider network. However, if you have to go to an out-of-network provider that accepts Medicare, Medicare will cover the visit. In this case, Blue Cross Blue Shield will not cover any of the coinsurance or copayment since you went out of network.

          The following resources provide links to the four part series I wrote about Medicare enrollment last year. If you know of anyone approaching 65 send them a link to this article to help them make informed benefit decisions.

          Additional Resources:

          Next on my agenda is to file for Social Security benefits at age 66 next year. I’m not sure if I’ll file or file and suspend just so my wife can collect my higher spousal benefit. If I file and suspend my benefit will increase about 8% a year until I start collecting, possibly at age 70.

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

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            Posted on Thursday, 14th August 2014 by

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            On August 8, 2014, the guidance allowing a “Phased Retirement” option for federal employees was published by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Under this option, federal employees eligible for retirement can work half-time while receiving partial retirement benefits before they fully retire. According to Katherine Archuleta, OPM Director, “Phased Retirement offers an innovative alternative to traditional retirement for the 21st century workforce.” Below are important details of this new benefit.

            What are the features of Phased Retirement?

            As a phased retiree you:

            1. Work half-time per pay period.
            2. Receive half of your retirement annuity. If you enter into phased retirement, you will have your annuity payments calculated twice – once when you enter into phased retirement and again when you fully retire.
            3. Spend at least 20% of working time mentoring co-workers to pass on your knowledge and skills. United States Postal Service workers are exempt from this requirement.
            4. Are treated as a part-time employee for most employment purposes, including leave and pay. You continue to receive the full contribution from the government under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB).
            5. Can fully retire at any time; conversely, you can return to a full-time work schedule with your agency’s approval.

            Your agency has broad discretion in deciding how to implement phased retirement, including which jobs are eligible for it, defining mentoring activities and determining how long an employee can remain in the program.

            When does Phased Retirement start?

            Phased Retirement regulations are effective November 6, 2014.

            Who is eligible for Phased Retirement?

            Participation is voluntary and requires the mutual consent of both you and your agency. In order to participate, you must have been employed on a full-time basis for the preceding three years. You must be eligible for immediate retirement under Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).

            Who isn’t eligible for Phased Retirement?

            Employees subject to mandatory retirement such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, nuclear materials couriers, air traffic controllers, some Customs and Border Protection officers, or members of the Capitol Police or Supreme Court police are not eligible for phased retirement. Also, non-CSRS and non-FERS employees such as those in the Foreign Service retirement system aren’t able to participate.

            How do I apply?

            If you are interested, the first thing to do is check with your manager and /or your Human Resources office. If you are eligible, you will need to fill out an application. Once your agency approves it, OPM will process it beginning November 6, 2014. If you change your mind after applying, you can withdraw your application before it becomes effective but not afterwards.

            Can I make a military service credit deposit?

            If you desire to make a military service credit deposit for military service performed, it must be made prior to entering phased retirement status. A military service credit deposit for military service performed prior to an individual’s entry into phased retirement status cannot be made after the effective date of phased employment and the commencing date of phased retirement annuity.

            How will my retirement benefits be affected if I participate?

            Your annuity will be computed as if you are fully retired. (Unused sick leave is not credited as creditable time serviced.) Half of the computed annuity amount will be payable during phased retirement. There is no reduction for survivor benefits from the phased annuity. You will keep accruing additional service credit toward your final annuity.

            If you are under FERS and not eligible for Social Security you will not get the FERS supplement. That supplement pays traditional FERS retirees who are not yet 62 the amount they would have gotten from Social Security if they had been eligible.

            You do not receive a lump-sum annual leave payment until you fully retire from the agency.

            Can I change my mind and return to full-time work?

            With your agency’s approval you can return to full time work in the agency. The phased retirement annuity would terminate. You would become ineligible for phased retirement in the future.

            What happens at the end of Phased Retirement when I fully retire?

            Once you fully retire, the annuity is recalculated to take the additional working time into account with the time in phased retirement treated as part-time service. Survivor benefit elections would be made at that time. The annuity will be more than if you had fully retired before you started phased retirement but less than if you had worked full time.
            Phased Retirement is a creative retirement option that appears to be worth considering if you’re looking for a way to test out the “retirement waters” before jumping in. You get the ability to transition into retirement by working half-time, get half your annuity and help your agency in mentoring junior workers.

            References:

            Section 100121 of Public Law 112-141, the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” or “MAP-21,” approved on July 6, 2012.
            Federal Register – Phased Retirement- A Rule by the Office of Personnel Management (August 8, 2014)

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

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

            Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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              Posted on Thursday, 7th August 2014 by

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              I discovered four years ago that my hearing loss was significant enough to warrant wearing hearing aids. I purchased my first set, a Starkey model,  from the audiology department that is located in the same office as my Otolaryngologist . An otolaryngologists diagnoses and manages diseases of the ears, nose, and throat.

              They did improve my hearing and for the first time in years I could hear rain on the roof and locust in the summer but I still had difficulty hearing TV programs, movies, and discerning speech. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch movies or TV series because I missed most of the dialog and it was frustrating to say the least.  I also would find it difficult hearing conversations and was constantly asking family and friends to repeat what they said.

              I scheduled several follow-up meetings with my doctor to have my ears checked plus visited the audiology department for assistance. They recommended bring in the aids for recurrent cleanings and I asked them several times to readjust the aids which didn’t resolve the problem.

              I wrote about my hearing problem initially and received a helpful reply from Dr. Cynthia Compton-Conley who suggested many ways to improve my hearing including activating closed caption through our cable company. This year Cynthia joined with us to host our Hearing Loss Help Forum and she is helping many find relief.  Her article tilted How To Manage Your Own Hearing Health Care is required reading for anyone who is experiencing hearing problems.

              One of my hearing aids recently failed and I had to pay $250 to have it reconditioned. Several months later the other aid began to act up so I decided to search for hearing aids that would better serve my needs.  I  have Blue Cross and Blue Shield basic family FEHB insurance and they now cover up to $2,500 for hearing aids every three years.  They do not have preferred providers for hearing aid purchases so you can use whichever vendor suits you best.

              After visiting my doctor and the audiologist that I purchased my first hearings aids from I decided to explore other options and followed Doctor Compton-Conley’s advise.  She recommended a number of tests for my condition.

              I first visited Costco to discuss their options and also set up an appointment with a provider that promised savings of over 50% on name brand models.  When I went in for the hearing test from the discount seller there wasn’t a sound proof booth. They used a standard head set and the room was very noisy, I could hear traffic outside and others talking in an adjacent office. I should have walked out immediately when I discovered they didn’t have a sound proof booth, they charged $75 for the hearing test. They only offered two models ranging in price from $2,900 to $4,000 for the pair! Nothing like they promised.

              I ended up at Costco. They offered many name brands including Rexton, Resound, Phonak, and Benafon. Not only was the hearing test FREE but it was one of the most comprehensive hearing tests I ever took and I’ve taken many over the years, especially early on in the military. The test was over an hour long and they use the most advanced technology including open headsets that go direct into each ear. They were able to do all of the tests recommended by Dr. Compton-Conley and they explained everything in great detail.

              I purchased their Kirkland Signature 5.0 brand (made by Resound ) for $1899 including a remote, 25 batteries, carry case, and more. It comes with an extensive warranty even loss protection. If you lose the hearing aids they will replace them one time and you get unlimited service and follow-up visits at no additional cost. When the hearing aids arrived Jean Hanson, their local hearing aid dispenser, spent over an hour fitting them making sure they properly worked to my satisfaction and she really took her time with the “Real Ear” test that is necessary to ensure a proper fit and level adjustments.

              I also purchased their TV streamer that pairs direct to your wireless capable hearing aids. This was not covered by my  insurance however the cost was well worth it. The new hearing aids far exceeded my expectations and I was able to hear conversations clearly and even understand the dialog on most TV programs. My wife noticed immediate improvement and I no longer had to run into the room next door to ask Mary what she had just said.  My hearing improved tremendously. I don’t know if it was the hearing aid brand change or that Costco’s hearing center specialist properly fitted my hearing aids. It is probably a combination of both plus newer technology for the new models.  Overall I have to say that Costco’s hearing center personnel are professional, explain the pros and cons of various models, and base their recommendation on the severity of your hearing impairment rather than on simply what you want to pay for your aids.  Their prices beat all of the competition and I contacted at least four providers before deciding to buy from Costco’s hearing center.

              The TV streamer is unbelievable. For the first time in many years I can hear about every word no matter from what venue; TV shows, movies, cable, and DVDs. The streamer hooks direct to the optical audio source on your TV and you simply pair your hearing aids to the TV streamer one time and your done. It took me 5 minutes to hook it up and pair my hearing aids to the device. You also have the option to connect it to either an analog or headphone mini-jack if that is what your TV has available. Now my wife is asking me what they said especially when the show has foreign actors or they have heavy accents.

              I was also impressed with the Blue Cross Blue Shield funding and reimbursement process.  At first I was apprehensive about buying from Costco because they don’t submit your claim to your insurance company. You have to pay in advance and submit a claim form.  I submitted the claim on July 9th and received the check for the full amount on August 2nd, several days before picking up my new hearing aids.

              If you have Blue Cross Blue Shield you can download their claim from direct from their  web site at www.fepblue.org.  Click on “Benefits + Services” from the top menu bar and then click on “Form Library” in the left column on this page.  Select the “Claim Form” on this page, it is a PDF file that you can fill in for most parts on your computer before printing it out. Several of the fields have to be entered by pen including the enrollment code and identification number.  After completing the form send it to the office in your state.  You will find the address for your state located in the right column on the “Form Library” page.

              You have to include the following codes, that Costco provides, on your claim form. I included them under item six of their claim form below the providers name:

              • CPT Procedure Code
              • Diagnosis Code
              • NPI
              • Product Code

              I also attached the following documentation:

              • The Costco itemized bill
              • My doctor’s confirmation of my need for hearing aids
              • A copy of the Costco hearing test

              Overall you can’t beat our FEHB program and Blue Cross Blue Shield covers up to $2,500 for hearing aids. Many providers cover much less. This is one reason why I switched back to Blue Cross Blue Shield last open season.

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

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

              Visit our other informative sites

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

               

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                Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, WELLNESS / HEALTH

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                Posted on Friday, 1st August 2014 by

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                I’m sure all of you remember Aesop’s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper.  Briefly, it’s about the ant that toiled through the summer to store food for the winter.  The grasshopper hopped about and sung to its heart’s content.  He had plenty to eat and didn’t see a need to work hard to store food.  Once the winter came, the ant had plenty of food stored but the grasshopper had nothing to eat.  The moral of the story is “Prepare today for tomorrow.”  Although you may not be in the “Spring” or “Summer” of your career, it’s never too late to continue preparing and providing for retirement. Most of us can expect to live well into our 70s and 80s so being prepared is a necessity.

                Federal retirement benefits unlike many retirement benefits in the private sector are generous and allow us to prepare much like the ant for a nice retirement.

                Below are 5 essential tips as you prepare for your retirement.

                1) Review your Official Personnel Folder: You must review your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) to verify all of your civilian and military service.  If any of the records are missing, contact your HR office and obtain any missing records.

                2) CSRS or FERS? – Understand your Retirement System:    Thereare two retirement systems in the civilian Federal Government which provide retirement, disability and survivor benefits for most civilian employees.   The simplest and oldest (since 1920) is the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).  It is a defined benefit retirement system with employees contributing 7 ½ to 8 %.  Employees don’t pay Social Security taxes but pay Medicare tax. The annuity can’t exceed 80% of your high-3 average salary.  The minimum retirement age (MRA) is 55 if you have at least 30 years of service.

                Federal employees hired in 1984 or later are covered by the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) which replaced CSRS.  FERS is a three tiered system consisting of a smaller defined basic pension, Social Security and Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) which is similar to a 401k. Employees under FERS are covered by full Social Security Taxes.  Employees pay the pension benefit (.8% before 2013 or 3.1% starting in 2013 ) and Social Security ( 6.2%) through payroll deductions.  Under the TSP portion, the US government automatically deposits an amount of 1.0% of your pay to TSP.  The minimum retirement age is 55 if you were born before 1948, 56 if you were born between 1953 and 1964 and 57 for those born in 1970 or later.

                Both FERS and CSRS allow retirement with an unreduced pension at the age of 60 for employees with 20 or more years of service and at the age of 62 for employees with at least 5 years of service.

                3) Contribute to the Thrift Savings Plan: The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a tax-deferred retirement savings and investment plan similar to the 401(k) plans provided by many employers in the private sector. In 2014, employees covered under either CSRS or FERS can contribute up to $17,500 to the TSP. Employees aged 50 and older can contribute an additional $5,500 to the TSP. Employees under FERS receive employer matching contributions of up to 5% of pay from their federal agency by which they are employed. (If you’re covered under FERS, you should definitely be contributing at least 5% of your salary since the government is matching it!)    Federal workers covered by CSRS also can contribute to the TSP, but receive no matching contributions.

                4) Mange Your Sick and Annual Leave: Whether you are covered by CSRS or FERS, you’ll receive a lump sum payment for any unused annual leave you have to your credit when you retire. That time can’t be used to increase your length of service or calculate your high-3 salary, but comes to you in the form of a cash payment.  Many employees save their annual leave hours before retiring to get the biggest payment possible. The lump sum minus taxes normally is paid between 60 to 120 days after you retire.  You’ll need to check with your agency and not OPM, since your agency is responsible for paying the lump sum payment.

                Federal employees are not compensated for their unused sick leave. But when you retire, the balance of your sick leave is converted to months and days of service and added to the length of service used to compute your retirement benefits. For employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), credit toward the annuity computation will be based on the full sick leave balance at retirement. Under the Federal Employees Retirement System, only half the sick leave balance will be credited for employees who retire before Jan. 1, 2014.  100 percent is credited for employees who retire beginning January 1, 2014.

                5) Have Enough Years in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHB): One of the great benefits that Federal retirees have is the ability to continue health insurance coverage into retirement. Many private sector employers do not allow their employees to carry their health insurance into retirement.   Generally, to continue health insurance coverage, you must be covered by a FEHB insurance for five years immediately before retiring when you retire.  A few more tidbits: If you are a Federal annuitant enrolled in the FEHB Program and decide to cancel your enrollment, you can’t re-enroll and if you die, your survivors will not have FEHB.

                Aesop’s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper should be an inspiration to each of us in helping us prepare for our retirement.  It’s never too late!!  If you need help, seek it out.  Take a pre-retirement seminar to understand your retirement benefits. In addition, there is information  available online and through your HR office. Visit OPM’s site (http://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/) and (http://www.federalretirement.net) for in-depth information on the federal retirement benefits discussed above.

                My next article will provide 5 more tips regarding your benefits that are essential in preparing for retirement.

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

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

                Visit our other informative sites

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

                 

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