Posted on Saturday, 18th November 2017 by

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The TSP Modernization Act (H.R. 3031) was signed by the President November 17, 2017.  This update, one of the first since the TSP was established, provides users with additional options to manage their invested funds, including the ability to make multiple post-separation partial withdrawals and to make multiple in-service age-based withdrawals once the participant has reached the age of 59 ½.

Under this bill many additional options will be available making it more attractive for TSP participants to keep their funds in the TSP after retiring. Dr. Donna Day, a new contributor to our retirement planning site, summarized the changes in an article she wrote on November 8, 2017 titled Proposed Additional Withdrawal Options for TSP Participants.”

Currently, upon separation from Federal services, if an account is vested and has more than $200, the entire account can remain in the TSP until the year following the year the participant turns 70 ½. A participant has two options for withdrawing, either partial or full withdrawals. A partial withdrawal allows participants to make a one-time-only withdrawal and leave the remaining balance until a later date. A full withdrawal can occur by taking the funds all at once, over a period of time, or through a purchased annuity that will pay the participant over the remainder of their life. Once a separated participant makes an election, the election cannot be changed. Age-based in-service withdrawals occur once the participant has reached age 59 ½ and is an active Federal employee. Currently, a participant may only take one age-based in-service withdrawal during the time they are actively employed. Taking an in-service withdrawal prohibits the participant from taking a post-separation partial withdrawal.

These changes won’t go into effect immediately. The Executive Director of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has up to two years to establish the necessary regulations to carry out the amendments prescribed in HR 3031. We will add the new options to our TSP pages coincident with the release of the new regulations by the executive director.

Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

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 adviser. 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 in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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    Posted on Wednesday, 8th November 2017 by

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    Thrift Savings Plan contributors may see more flexibility when it comes to making withdrawals from their TSP as part of their retirement plan. The TSP Modernization Act will allow multiple-age based and post-separation withdrawals from their TSP accounts; the bill has gone to the Senate for a vote. The TSP Modernization Act of 2017 (H.R. 3031) was passed by the House of Representatives providing long overdue flexibility surrounding Thrift Savings Plan participants. This bill offers greater control for retirement planning. Introduced by Representatives Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), and Mark Meadows (R-NC), the Act provides additional withdrawals and offers quarterly or annual payments throughout the year.

    Specifically, if the current version of the bill is passed, participants can:

    – Make multiple age-based and post-separation withdrawals

    – Revise timing and amounts of periodic payments

    – Choose to combine partial withdrawals or annuity with periodic payments (Smith, 2017)

    Currently TSP participants are limited to only one withdrawal from their TSP account while in federal service upon reaching the age of 59 1/2 and those leaving federal service could only make one withdrawal as a portion of their  balance in their TSP account. Also, the current system has many restrictions which forced participants to transfer monies from their TSP. However, if the new bill is passed participants will enjoy additional opportunities and financial independence before and during their retirements, which will also encourage them to keep their money invested in their TSP account (Klement, 2017).

    Overall, the bill provides greater flexibility to federal employees by giving TSP recipients additional access to their funds for a longer period. This will enable many participants to reap the benefits similar to those throughout private industry after federal service.  Many federal employees and annuitants were frustrated with the system and withdrew their funds from the TSP, rolling them into more expensive private sector plans. Now, however, the proposed increased flexibility and additional opportunities put TSP participants back in the driver’s seat to better manage their long-term financial future.

    The Act was also supported by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board and a myriad of government employee organizations like the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). All feel that the TSP’s current regulation were not effectively meeting the needs of a current, yet changing workforce. The changes, however, are much needed improvements as well as providing an incentive for participants to keep money in the TSP in the first place (Bradford, 2017).“I’m proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation, which will help modernize the federal government’s thrift savings plan by aligning it with current practices for private-sector 401(k)’s,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. “I thank ranking member Cummings and Chairman meadows for the important work that will give TSP participants more flexibility in making withdrawals from their accounts” (Burr, 2017).

    Update (11-8-2017)

    The Senate unanimously passed the bill and forwarded it to the the President for signature on November 8, 2017.  TSP participants won’t see plan changes until the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board finishes writing the new withdrawal guidelines. This should be completed by early February of 2018.

    References:

    Bradford, K. (2017). TSP modernization bill introduced in house. Retrieved from:http://www.pionline.com/article/20170623/ONLINE/170629897/tsp-modernization-bill-introduced-in-house

    Burr, J. (2017).  House passes TSP modernization act. Retrieved from:

    https://www.federaltimes.com/management/2017/10/12/house-passes-tsp-modernization-act/

    Klement, J. (2017). NARFE applauds house passage of TSP modernization act. Retrieved from:

    http://www.narfe.org/home/articles.cfm?ID=4280

    Smith, I. (2017). House passes TSP Modernization Act. Retrieved from: https://www.fedsmith.com/2017/10/11/house-passes-tsp-modernization-act/

    White, E. (2017). House passes bill to give TSP participants more withdrawal options. Retrieved from: https://federalnewsradio.com/federal-newscast/2017/10/house-passes-bill-to-give-tsp-participants-more-withdrawal-options/

    Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

    Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

    Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

    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 adviser. 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 in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS

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      Posted on Wednesday, 1st November 2017 by

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      In the past, retirement was perceived as an end of an era… sitting in your rocking chair watching life pass you by. Not as a launching pad to new and exciting vistas. Many that retired in the mid to late 1900s were simply worn out from working too hard and making too little. They suffered through the great depression and when they retired most didn’t have the energy or health to move on, they settled for whatever came their way and faded into the sunset. There were many exceptions to this and you can find examples of those who used retirement to launch new and exciting careers during the worst of times.

      Fortunately, today things are different. We have support systems such as Social Security and Medicare for all those who need it, our advanced health care system has extended our lives and made it feasible for us to continue on as we age gracefully. Generally our generation is healthier, more secure, and able to stay active far longer than at any other time in history and with continued improvements in health care who knows how long lives will be extended. Plus, federal employees have the additional benefit of receiving a fixed annuity and are able to retire at age 55 and earlier under certain circumstances.

      Life After Retirement will feature annuitants that have developed successful businesses in retirement. There are many who have the talent, interest, and motivation to do the same but just don’t know how to get started or simply fear the unknown. The people we feature have made the transition and may be able to pave the way for others to achieve their dreams.

      We encourage federal retirees that have embarked on new careers to contact us. Your journey may help others realize they too can develop successful businesses based on their hobbies and interests. This first installment of this series will begin with my friend Randy Baldwin, a retired FAA employee who owns and operates Just Write Laser Engraving and its associated web site, www.justwritelaser.com. His company offers laser engraving, etching, marking, and personalization of a vast variety of unique and special products. He is very insightful about not only his business but the business of being retired.

       

      Randy Baldwin

      Randy had an extensive government career before becoming an entrepreneur. He first served on active duty with the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s and after discharge landed a civil service wage grade position with the U.S Navy. He accepted a GS-9 electronics technician position with the FAA in 1971 remaining with that agency until he retired on December 31, 2004 at the GS-14 pay grade. We featured Randy in an article titled Electronics Technician Positions in Federal Government for our federal career exploration blog.

      He began his entrepreneurial journey 18 months before retiring when he was working in downtown Washington D.C. Randy’s hobby was wood working and while still employed with the FAA he attended a demonstration of a laser machine that did inlay work. Randy states, “I had no prior experience in this area but there was an inkling of an idea for a laser engraving business.”

      Randy states, “I started my business from scratch, in my garage and on a shoestring budget. The first six years I was able to move into a show room in downtown Farmville, NC. Today, I have three full time employees that work for me, and this company has nothing to do with what I did in the FAA”.  He states, ” there is insecurity in not knowing where the next job will come from, it was safer working for the government.” Randy has so much work and repeat customers today however it took him years to build the company to a point where he has continuous business.

       

      Just Write Laser Engraving Store Front

      His company  laser engraves ornate plaques, awards, mugs, wall tributes, and Christmas ornaments. They have the capability to provide each branch of the federal government and military service commemorative gifts and also hosts a National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) general store. The store sells hats, shirts, name badges, coffee mugs and other items. NARFE members have to sign in on the NARFE web site at http://www.narfe.org to purchase items. To log in enter your last name and NARFE membership number (located on the address label of your monthly NARFE magazine), then select the general store tab to view their catalog. The general store is located under the RESOURCE LIBRARY on their home page.

      His business is an official vendor for the Navy Exchange System. They are linked to the Navy Exchange website and you can order from anywhere in the world. Randy states that, The Navy Exchange is a retail store chain owned and operated by the United States Navy under the Navy Exchange Service Command. The Navy Exchange offers goods and services to active military, retirees, and certain civilians on Navy installations in the United States, overseas Navy bases, and aboard Navy ships. The Navy Exchange is a type of base exchange, but is separate from the others.” All honorably discharged veterans are now able to purchase from all of the military exchanges online and tax free effective this month.

      Randy explains, “There is a big advantage to being able to retire comfortably, and that enables you to start a business. Over 90% of new businesses fail in the first three years, because they did not have enough capital for expenses or salary”.

      Mr. Baldwin is always doing research and problem solving and is never bored. He is focused on his business, feels relaxed, and finds it very enjoyable.

      He is also able to include the family in certain business activities. Every other year NARFE has a convention and the last one was in Reno, NV. He packed up his truck, took his wife, and they were able to combine working the convention, along with a wonderful three-week vacation.

      Randy suggests, “retire so that you can do everything you want to do and enjoy doing it. Whatever you decide to do, be the best that you can possibly be. Learn all you can about it. Get firsthand knowledge from others about doing the same thing. I did that by driving 200 miles from my home and talking to a local engraver.”

      Randy further states, “don’t let fear stop you, for it is really easy to be scared. I didn’t know anything about laser engraving when I first started. Talk to people about what it is you want to do to get a better understanding about what you are doing and modify it to what you need”. His most important advice is “never stop learning.”

      Visit their web site listed below to view and order products. Randy and his staff make unique commemorative gifts for all occasions and will work with you to design the gift you desire. He made a very special gift for me many years ago when he first started one of his businesses that I cherish to this day. My father passed away when I was one and a half years old and the only thing I had of his was a set of tools. The hammer head broke away from the handle and I didn’t want to throw it away. Randy made me 3 wood pen and pencil sets from my dads hammer handle!  I gave a set to my brother and mine is displayed in my study and I use it for special occasions.

      Here is their contact information:

      Phone: 252-353-4005
      Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Just.Write.Laser
      Web Site: http:/www.justwritelaser.com

      You can see many of their products on their Facebook pages and read testimonials from satisfied customers.

      Resources you can use to start your small business:

      Credits

      Coauthored by Dennis Damp and Betty Boyd, Ms Boyd also conducted the interview.

      Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your 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

      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 adviser. 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 in EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS

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        Posted on Thursday, 19th October 2017 by

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        Many annuitants change to a lower cost FEHB plan because most plans waive the majority of the deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance payments when you sign up for Medicare Part A & B.

        One of our newsletter subscribers contacted me about the change to Blue Cross Blue Shield Basic for 2018.  The FepBlue.org site states, “If you have the Basic Option, you can get a $600 Medicare Reimbursement Account (RMA) if you have Medicare Part A and B. You must use this account to pay your Medicare Part B premium. Each member on your contract with Medicare Part A and B is eligible to earn $600. ”  That’s $1200 a year for a Self Plus One enrollment when both have Medicare! To obtain the reimbursement you must provide proof that you paid Medicare premiums in 2018 by submitting copies of your Social Security Checks, bank or COLA statements, or canceled checks.

        Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide additional information about the RMA accounts later this month. I called their information number and the representative said they hadn’t published the specifics yet.

        The Advantage of Signing Up for Medicare

        When you sign up for Medicare they become your primary provider while your FEHB plan becomes the secondary. Medicare pays first and then your FEHB plan pays a portion if not all of the remaining bill for you. Most FEHB plans pass on those cost savings to their members by waving many of your deductibles, copayments and coinsurance requirements.

        This time of the year those 65 or older receive many offers in the mail and on TV and social media for Medicare Supplement Plans. When you sign up for a Medicare Supplement Plan your only option is to cancel your FEHB plan, you can’t suspend coverage. I wrote two articles,  CAUTION – Don’t Lose Your FEHB Coverage and FEHB Suspensions that discuss the severe consequences a number of our readers suffered by doing so. The suspension article provides a detailed list of things you must know before making this move. Many Medicare Supplement Plan brokers don’t understand the FEHB program and end up selling you a product that doesn’t provide the comprehensive coverage you now have. If you know of anyone considering leaving the FEHB program forward this article to them.

        Here are links to two provider’s Medicare Brochures:

        This summary compares the 2018 premiums, significant changes, and discusses what to expect when you sign up for Medicare A & B. There are many other plans to consider. I used these two nationwide providers because BCBS has the most subscribers and GEHA has one of the lowest premiums for their standard plan.  You should also use OPM’s Compare Plans tool that will be available soon for 2018.

        Costs

        The GEHA Standard Self Plus One Plan charges $255.92 monthly, $3,071.41 a year while the BCBS Basic Self Plus One Plan charges $372.32 monthly, $4,467.84 a year; $1,396.43 more than the GEHA plan. However, if both members in the BCBS plan have Medicare A & B and establish a RMA account their annual costs decrease to $3,267.84, just $196.43 more than the annual GEHA costs.

        There are other costs to consider. For example, you will find that BCBS Basic limits deductibles, copayment, and coinsurance waivers for Medicare enrollees to in network providers while GEHA Standard includes waivers for both in and out of network providers according to page 106 of their brochure plus they pay doctor visit copayments. According to the BCBS 2018 Pamphlet, page 146, You must use Preferred Providers in order to receive benefits” for the Basic plan and on page 142 it states, “Under basic option we will waive copayments and coinsurance for care received from covered professional and facility providers.” Here is where it does get complicated. When you are enrolled in Medicare you can go to any provider. Just be aware that some plans may not waive deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance fees for out of network providers and that can be expensive. Check Section 9 of your FEHB plan brochure to verify coverage.

        Medicare Part B Premiums add to your monthly healthcare costs which for 2017 was as low as $134 to as high as $428.60 due to Medicare’s Part B income adjusted premiums.  Many paid less than the $134 last year, approximately $109, due to the hold harmless clause that prohibits Medicare premium increases when COLAs are very low. To qualify for the lowest Part B premium those filing an individual tax return must have a Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) of $85,000 or less and married couples $170,000 or less.  Gross Income (GI) is calculated before MAGI. Gross Income (GI) is total income earned through wages, dividends, interests, royalty and rental, business income, capital gains, and others. MAGI is calculated by adding back certain deductions such as tax free municipal bond and student loan interest, tuition, rental loss and IRA contributions to name a few.

        Total monthly health care premiums for those on Medicare and enrolled in the Self Plus One plans featured in this article are listed below:

        • BCBS Basic ($372.32) GEHA Standard ($255.92)
        • FEDVIP – Vision & Dental Coverage (Varies depending on plan)
        • Medicare Part B ($134 per person for those without an income adjustment)
        • FLTCIP – Long Term Care (Varies considerably depending on plan)

        For a Self Plus One enrollment the total cost for coverage would be $372.32 for BCBS, $134 times 2 or $268), plus the cost of your FEDVIP and FLTCIP. I pay $50 a month for FEDVIP plus $165 for FLTCIP for my wife and I. Here is what you would pay monthly using my cost for FEDVIP and FLTCIP assuming both signed up for Medicare B:

        • BCBS – ($372.32 + $268 + $50 + $165 = $855.32)
        • GEHA – ($255.92 + $268 + $50 + $165 = $738.92)

        If BCBS members apply for and receive $600 each per year under a Medicare Reimbursement Account (MRA) their adjusted monthly costs would be reduced to $755.32.

        My wife and I elected to retain our original long term care policy and accepted the major reduction in coverage last year. We each pay around $80 per month. Many feds pay considerably more for their long term care premiums.

        2018 Major Changes

        BCBS Changes

        • The significant change for BCBS Basic is the $600 Medicare reimbursement account (MRA).
        • When Medicare Part B is primary, your copayment for Tier 1 (generic) anti-hypertensive drugs obtained through the Mail Service Prescription Drug Program is now $5. Previously, your copayment for the Mail Service Prescription Drug Program was $20. (See page 106.)
        • Your copayment for Tier 2 preferred brand-name asthma drugs obtained at a Preferred retail pharmacy is now $35 for each purchase of up to a 30-day supply ($105 copayment for a 90-day supply). Previously, your copayment was $50 for each purchase of up to a 30-day supply ($150 copayment for 90-day supply). (See page 106.)
        • There are a number of other prescription drug changes for various tiers. (See page 16.)
        • Other changes are listed on page 16 of the brochure for the Basic plan and changes for the BCBS Standard and Basic plans are listed on page 17.

        GEHA Changes

        • When you are enrolled in the Standard Option, your external hearing aid benefit has increased to $2,500 per person every three years if you are an adult, or $2,500 annually for your child up to age 22. See page 44. BCBS offers the same reimbursement.
        • GEHA will begin using the Advanced Control Specialty Formulary (ACSF) which may reduce your out of pocket costs but will limit your options for filling medication because they require step-therapy and adherence to a strict formulary. The ACSF requires you to use a preferred specialty drug before using a non-preferred specialty drug. The ACSF may change quarterly. Please see Section 5(f) Prescription benefits, page 78, for additional information concerning the ACSF.
        • There are a number of prescription drug changes for various tiers. (See page 15.)
        • Other changes are listed on page 15 of the brochure.

        For a complete list of changes for both plans review section 2 of each brochure. Here are links to the two PDF files:

        Observation

        Most federal annuitants are hesitant to sign up for Medicare Part B due to the additional cost and what appears to be duplicate coverage. I personally know a number of retirees that are now paying large copayments and coinsurance fees because they didn’t sign up for Medicare Part B at age 65. In one instance, Pat the wife of a man I worked with for many years, is now in her late 70s. At age 65 her husband decided not to sign them up for part B. Pat called me 6 months ago asking if it was too late to sign up for Part B. She required full body scans that she was paying a $1700 copayment each time she had the scan done. She was also paying other high coinsurance fees.

        Pat could still sign up however for each year she delayed signing up Medicare charges a 10% penalty and in her case it would have cost her 140% more for her coverage, over twice what a person that signs up for Part B at age 65.

        If you review coinsurance and copayment costs within your current FEHB plan you can see where the costs could be prohibitive for major medical problems. For example, in the GEHA Standard Plan those who don’t have Part B would have to pay a $15 copayment for a PPO primary care physician visit; a $30 copayment to see a specialist for covered office visits and 15% of other covered professional services including X-ray and lab.  If the service is provided by a Non-PPO the member has to pay 35% of covered professional services.  If your procedure is at a Non-PPO and costs $5,000 you would be required to pay the first $350 deductable and then an additional $1,750, your 35% share of the costs. With Part B these fees are waived. Reference page 125 of the 2018 GEHA Plan Brochure.

        Summary

        There are advantages to researching your FEHB plan benefits when enrolled in Medicare. One of the advantages of the GEHA Standard Plan when compared to the BCBS Basic Plan is the fact that with Medicare A & B GEHA benefits are the same whether or not your provider is in their network. There are many other considerations to take into account when signing up for any plan. Those who use a large number of prescription drugs must review reimbursements to see which plan will cover the most and if you need special procedures ensure the provider you select offers the services you need. There is more to your selection than meets the eye. Take your time this open season to thoroughly review your options and costs.

        Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your 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

        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 adviser. 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 in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, ESTATE PLANNING, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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          Posted on Monday, 9th October 2017 by

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          Open season runs from November 13 through December 11 of this year however some providers already have their 2018 plan brochures available. GEHA sent me an email message listing a summary  of plan changes for 2018 and a link to their 2018 brochure! You can view the GEHA 2018 Brochure on their site and save a copy to your hard drive.  My wife and I are enrolled in the GEHA nationwide Standard Self + One plan and the monthly premium increased $5.02 to $255.92, a  2% increase over last year’s premium. All plan 2018 FEHB Premiums were published by OPM last week.  I selected the GEHA plan a year before turning age 65 to take advantage of their low rates and because GEHA waives the majority of deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance when you sign up for Medicare. Since turning 65 my wife and I haven’t paid any of these charges for our doctors visits or medical procedures.

          One of the significant changes to my GEHA standard plan in 2018 is their increased coverage for hearing aids, they now pay $2,500 every three years for new ones. I’m waiting to get a new pair until early 2018 when the increased coverage kicks in.  This is enough to cover good quality hearing aids from most vendors. I’ve been buying mine from Costco and am satisfied with their aids, costs and service. If I hadn’t had GEHA’s early release 2018 brochure I would have purchased my new aids this month. It’s a good idea to review you 2018 plan brochure as early as possible so you know what to expect and understand the changes that may have been made to your benefits.

          For comparison here are a few nationwide non-postal Self Plus One Basic Plan rates for 2018. Each entry includes the plan name, number, 2018 monthly costs, and the change from last year.

          • GEHA Standard (316) $255.92 +$5.02
          • Blue Cross and Blue Shield Basic (113) $372.32 +15.60
          • MHBP Value (416) $294.43 -12.26
          • AWPA CDHP (476) $304.93 +10.31
          • NALC CDHP (326) $251.06 No Change
          • View All Plan Rates for 2018

          If you will be signing up for Medicare soon read the following articles that explain how Medicare and the FEHB work together. You can also visit our site for general Medicare guidance. Many federal retirees that enroll in Medicare look for a lower cost plan to offset their Part B premiums. Plus, many of the FEHB plans waive most of the deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance when Medicare is your primary healthcare provider.

          I checked the Blue Cross Site however their 2018 brochures weren’t available on the date I posted this article. If you have Blue Cross and Blue Shield visit their Brochures and Forms Page to obtain a copy of their 2018 brochure. It should be available shortly. You can visit your provider’s site to obtain a copy of their 2018 brochure when released. Provider websites are listed in their brochures. OPM will post links to all plans by State, possibly later this month or at the latest in early December.

          At a minimum I review plan brochures of interest for the following:

          • Section 1 – How the plan works
          • Section 2 – Plan changes for upcoming year
          • Section 5(f) – Prescription Drugs
          • Section 5 – Benefits (Review sections of interest)
          • Section 9 – Coordinating benefits with Medicare
          • Summary of Benefits charts at the back of each brochure
          • New rates – back cover of brochure

          Take your time this open season to ensure you have the medical coverage needed for you and your family.  If you make the wrong decision or neglect to review plan changes you could end up paying considerable out-of-pocket costs in 2018.  Our FEHB plans, from my perspective, are superior to what many private companies provide.

          One of our site visitors works for a large corporation. After the previous administration implemented the Affordable Care Act (AFC) his company only provided employees with one option, a high deductable plan. Each time anyone in his family goes to the doctor he pays a $100 copayment. His wife recently went in for blood work and the copayment was $430 and when he took both of his toddlers to the doctors his copayment was $260. Every time he has anything done he pays huge deductibles and copayments. Prior to the AFC his monthly insurance premium was only $275 for family coverage and he had $25 copayments for most visits! He does have a health savings account but it doesn’t cover much of his yearly expenses.

          Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your 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

          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 adviser. 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 Wednesday, 4th October 2017 by

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            FEHB Premium Increases

            The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced today that the overall average increase in total premiums for the 2018 Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program will rise by an average of four percent. The new 2018 Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) rates were published on October 4th. View the 2018 rates to determine your new monthly or biweekly rates. I’ll publish a comprehensive review of the rate and plan changes next week.

            FEMA Disaster Relief Jobs

            FEMA still requires assistance for the many natural disasters they responded to this year.  They need help processing disaster loan applications, specialists such as legal assistants, lawyers, paralegals, loan specialists, program support specialists, call center operators, customer service representatives, IT specialists, and admin support positions to assist those impacted by the storms. Federal retirees that apply should request a waiver during the application process of the general requirement that requires an offset between salary and annuity when reemployed by the federal government.  We posted an article titled FEMA Hurricane Disaster Jobs about these positions on our federal jobs board last week. You can review current Temporary FEMA Job Listings on USAJobs.gov and visit FEMA’s Temporary Employment Page for more information and directions on how to apply.

            Visit our Jobs Board for more employment opportunities for retired federal employees. 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.

            TRICARE Changes

            There are a number of changes to the military TRICARE program starting January 1, 2018 including TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra will become the new TRICARE Select plan. If you have TRICARE coverage review all of the changes at the TRICARE website.

            TSP Alert Follow-up

            I received a number of questions about the TSP program after my last article was published and I prepared a list of links to answer the many questions our readers have about the TSP program, especially what to do when you retire.

            One of our site visitors and newsletter subscribers wrote to thank us for saving their children significant future tax liabilities. Don had recently read the article I wrote titled, TSP- Ways to Safeguard Your Heirs Inheritance. He said, “Thank you again for the wonderful work you do and for saving our family from what could have been a horrible mistake in our future financial planning, damaging our children’s economic future.”

            The following links to our website, the official TSP site, and my articles will answer many of your TSP questions:

            Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your 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

            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 adviser. 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 in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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              Posted on Monday, 18th September 2017 by

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              The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (OIEA) and Broker-Dealer Task Force issued an investor alert this summer warning the more than 5 million Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) participants, and investors in other federal government employee retirement plans, that investment scam artists may pretend to be affiliated with a government agency.

              Legitimate companies will mention they aren’t affiliated with the government on their website, blog, email or mailed flyer. I advise site visitors on our about and contact pages that we are not affiliated with any federal entity and that is sound business practices. I further advise our site visitors and email newsletter subscribers to check with their personnel office or with OPM for retirees because benefit and TSP rules and regulations or processes change.

              According to the SEC, “Federal government agencies, including the SEC, do not endorse or sponsor any particular securities, issuers, products, services, professional credentials, firms, or individuals.”  

              If someone offers you an investment opportunity and claims any affiliation with the federal government, the SEC suggests that you follow these tips:

              • Do not trust any contact information or a website provided by someone contacting you with an investment idea when that person claims to be affiliated with the government, the TSP, or government retirement plans.
              • According to the agency that administers the TSP, the TSP will never contact you by email, telephone, or mail asking you to provide sensitive personal information such as your account number, Social Security number, password, or PIN.
              • You can confirm that a seller is not affiliated with a government agency by contacting the agency directly or calling the SEC’s toll-free investor assistance line at (800) 732-0330.
              • Always be cautious about providing personal information to anyone you do not personally know.

              It goes without saying that the above tips apply in most situations. For example, I receive many unsolicited calls both personal and for business, and I’m put on alert the minute they ask for personal information. I refuse to provide any personal information unless I have an established relationship with them and even then I’m cautious.

              I receive many solicitations by phone asking for contributions and I’m sure some of the calls, if not the majority, actually come from a valid charity or political party. Even if I’ve given them funds in the past, such as any of the major charities, I refuse to contribute to their cause over the phone. How does anyone know who is really on the other end of the call. If I decide to contribute I ask them to send their request through the mail. When I receive the mailing I can then check to ensure it  has come from a legitimate source.

              The SEC recently brought an enforcement action against a group that fraudulently induced federal employees to roll over funds from their TSP accounts into privately issued variable annuities. The defendants allegedly failed to disclose that this “option” involved investing with a third party that had no government affiliation.

              Online Data Breaches (Caution)

              Today we must proceed with caution for many reasons. Recently, the credit reporting firm Equifax reported a major data breach that could potentially affect 143 million US consumers. Considering that the  population of the United States is around 324 million this data breach could end up affecting 44 percent of the population!

              Equifax reported the data included names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses and some driver’s license numbers!  As many as 209,000 U.S. credit card numbers were also obtained, in addition to certain other information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers.

              It seems that computer system security breaches are commonplace today to the point that when we hear about them it’s almost matter of fact.  These security failures can put our finances at risk and there are things we can all do to protect ourselves short of cutting the automation cord altogether. I’ve often commented on the fact that we are all too connected today and reliant on automation.

              I’ve started to change all of our passwords, and there are many. Passwords for our bank and investment accounts, first and foremost. I’m reviewing our bank, credit card, and investment reports closely looking for anomalies, small unrecognized transactions that would normally be passed over during a review.

              Many think of account security breaches as events where the criminals wipe out your account overnight and you wake up BROKE! That isn’t generally the case. What I understand happens is the culprits review your account and look for average charges. For example, if your average charge is $35 they process one or two each month for that amount realizing we are all busy and generally won’t notice the small average charges. If they do this to 1 million accounts just think of the huge amount they collect monthly! Review your account statements and if you suspect anything call the credit card company immediately and have them send out a new card and deactivate the old number.

              There are a number of excellent articles out there on how to protect yourself including Your Guide to Surviving the Equifax Data Breach (CNET). It provides a five step process to follow.

              Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your 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

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

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                Posted on Sunday, 3rd September 2017 by

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                The Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Open season runs from November 13 through December 11 of this year. The 2018 provider brochures should be uploaded soon and when they are released we will present a summary of the 2018 FEHB open season changes and premium increases. Hopefully, the premiums won’t skyrocket like they have and are in the private exchanges.

                The vast majority of active federal employees and annuitants appreciate their FEHB coverage. It’s important to choose plans that cover your current and anticipated healthcare needs for the upcoming year. During an open season it’s easy to just let it ride as they say. It’s working for me now so why put time and energy into researching other plans!  A normal response considering how hectic life is today.

                In preparation for this open season take time to contemplate you and your family’s overall health for the upcoming year. Will the kids need braces or other dental procedures like root canals and dentures that come with high coinsurance, deductable, and copayments? Are you or your spouse scheduled for a major surgical procedure that your current provider doesn’t cover sufficiently? Are hearing aids in your future? If so the coverage between providers is huge! Some pay next to nothing while others pay the entire $2,000 or more in costs. My GEHA FEHB provider increased their hearing aid payments from $500 every 3 years to $2,000 last year.

                Each plan brochure provides a Summary of Benefits behind the Index in the back of the guide for a quick comparison. Then turn to Section 5 (Benefits). Review and compare needed services between providers. For example, in the 2017 GEHA guide, hearing services are listed on page 44. They list what they will pay and the services covered. Look for plans that provide the most overall coverage in the areas needed. For those turning 65 and on Medicare, Medicare becomes your primary healthcare provider, review what your FEHB plan covers in Section 9 of each brochure. Often times if you sign up for Medicare Part A and B your FEHB plans cover the majority of your deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Don’t let the size of the booklets intimidate you. All provider brochures are required to use the same outline and format.

                Lots of questions and if you don’t have sufficient coverage you and your family could suffer financially.  This is especially true for those turning 65 and signing up for Medicare, a few missteps here can be catastrophic as I explained in previous articles.

                Now is a good time to make a cursory list of what healthcare services you anticipate needing in 2018. I know this sound simplistic; how can anyone know what illness or disease will impact their family. There are practical considerations, are your children approaching the age when braces are needed? If you are younger and anticipating starting a family you will need excellent maternity care or possibly fertility treatments that not all providers offer. if you are approaching retirement or retired, typically the older you are the more you need comprehensive medical services. I can attest to that first hand. If you or a family member have a known medical condition or your family’s medical history points in that direction it would be good to have the services needed available and affordable.

                The new plan brochures will be available within the next month or so. Order copies or review them on line to compare costs and services. A little effort now could save you and your family money and aggravation next year.

                Qualifying Life Events

                It’s important to know that outside of open season, you can enroll in the FEHB Program, change your enrollment, change to Self Only or cancel coverage only in connection with certain qualifying life events (QLEs).  The primary QLEs that permit enrollment or change in enrollment are:

                A change in family status:

                • Marriage
                • Birth or adoption of a child
                • Acquisition of a foster child
                • Legal separation
                • Divorce, and
                • Death of a spouse or dependent

                If any of these events happen in your life contact OPM to initiate the appropriate changes. There are certain time limits such as annuitants have 60 days to change their FEHB coverage after a move and there are other considerations. Review the article titled Qualifying Life Events – Don’t Lose Your Benefits to learn more about making FEHB changes due to a qualifying life event.

                Other events that impact your FEHB coverage include electing to go on leave without pay, being called up for active duty, OWCP status, turning age 65, etc. There are lots of things to consider, explore the impact of any changes you make to ensure you don’t lose coverage prematurely especially when you become eligible for Medicare at age 65.  Review CAUTION – Don’t Lose Your FEHB Coverage that discusses the pitfalls you must avoid when selecting Medicare plans. OPM also provides QLE details for each event on their web site.

                Observations

                Automation does tend to make many things easier. However, … that benefit comes with a learning curve, software updates, and constant contact and availability through iphones, email, and tons of social media in the foreground instead of the background of our lives where it belongs. Everywhere you go everyone is on their cell phones and tablets and these devices have invaded our homes as well.

                Can’t be too far from our iphone, got to review Facebook every hour to see who is doing what and where!

                It is disturbing when you are talking to someone and they are either reading their messages or typing like crazy on their iphone and you seem to be the distraction! Sometimes you just long for the days when you had a house phone and nothing else. When you simply turned on the TV and it came on instead of having to reboot it or wait for a smart TV software update to load. I vividly recall those peaceful times.

                Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your 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

                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 adviser. 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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