Posted on Wednesday, 30th November 2016 by

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About two years ago I purchased hearing aids from Costco and talked about the process in an article titled “Did You Hear That? A Fitting End to a Frustrating Problem.” The two hearing aids were only $1699.00 and my FEHB plan reimbursed me for the total amount. I had to have Costco send one of the hearing aids back to the manufacturer about a year after the purchase and I received a new replacement within a week. I purchased my hearing aids from Costco because of their reasonable prices, thorough and comprehensive hearing tests, and the fact that we travel and I can have them serviced at most Costco outlets nationwide.

We were on a fall vacation trip last month and one of my hearing aids failed. I took it to a local Costco in Myrtle Beach and they put a rush on the service. I had a new unit within three days. I still have a year on the full replacement warranty and after that if one fails they only charge $125 to have it sent back and serviced! Costco provides an additional one year warranty on the serviced unit; not bad. The first pair that I purchased through a local doctor’s office five years ago cost almost twice as much and after the original warranty was up they charged me $250 to refurbish a unit.

I also noticed that the Costco in Myrtle Beach employed three audiologists and they had three fully equipped sound booths in operation. Their hearing aid program seems to be growing. My FEHB GEHA plan covers $2,000 for new hearing aids every three years and I’ll be able to pick up a new pair next October.

The one thing I plan to do when I upgrade is get the more expensive aids. The next level up is $2,600 for the pair, I’ll have to pay anything over $2,000 but I believe it will be worth it.

Keeping Active

My wife and I both have a FITBIT One activity tracker that I first mentioned in the Lifestyle Update section of a recent article.  I’ve been using my FITBIT One since April of this year. A recent weekly report showed that I walked 77,824 steps, 35.69 miles, walked up a total of 66 flights of stairs, and burned 18,022 calories. This is about my average weekly activity. My wife always beats me by about 1,000 to 1,500 steps each day. From late April 2016, when I first purchased my tracker, through October 30, 2016 I walked 1,965,696 steps, 901 miles, climbed 1,938 floors, and walked a total of 790 miles!

An activity tracker encourages you to meet or exceed your daily target and if I see that I’ve been at my desk too long, I check my FITBIT and get up to work on other projects or start walking. During the winter months I walk on our treadmill and my wife walks in the house. She has a fixed daily routine that really racks up the miles.

Just getting up and stretching can make a difference. I keep a small squeezable ball at my side when watching TV and use it to do dynamic tension exercises. I try to keep active as much as possible, it’s too easy to put things off and become a couch potato.

Energy Saving Thermostat Installation

I like to talk about projects I’ve worked on that proved to be worthwhile and economical.  I called two HVAC companies for quotes to install a smart thermostat for my HVAC system this year. Our electric supplier was offering a $125 rebate if we replaced our existing thermostat with one of the four on their prequalified list. Both companies quoted prices to install the Carrier Cor thermostat; one estimate was $525 and the second $745! Santee Cooper, our electric supplier, listed four preapproved thermostats including the Nest Learning, Carrier Cor, Honeywell Lyric, and Bryant Housewise.

After researching several, the one that stood out for me was the Nest Learning model. I called the company with the low bid and asked them for a quote for the Nest installation. One of my primary concerns was that the NEST controls humidity levels in your home without having to install a dehumidifier plus I could control and monitor the new thermostat from anywhere with my iphone. The thermostat connects to your local Wi-Fi. It has a cool to dehumidify setting that kicks in if the humidity rises about 65%. You can also program the fan to run for a set time each day, I set ours to run for 60 minutes from 8:00 to 9:00 each morning to circulate air.

After waiting several days and no call back, I visited the NEST website and discovered just how easy it was to install the unit myself. They even provide a wiring diagram for your unit if you send them a picture of the thermostat mounting face plate. I purchased the NEST from Lowes for $249.95 and they gave me a 10% veteran’s discount. After the $125 rebate my total cost was around $150 including sales tax. This saved me over $400! It only took about an hour to change out the old thermostat. I could have done it quicker but took my time to reconfirm every step and connection plus I contacted tech support to help me connect the NEST to my Iphone app. A novice can easily install this thermostat.  They take you step-by-step through the process and even include a small screwdriver to disconnect the wiring after you turn off the power to your system. No other tools are needed and their installation video is excellent.

All in all, it’s a great thermostat. I can monitor and adjust my home’s temperature, humidity, and energy usage from my iphone. It also displays outside temperature and weather conditions.  I was about to close out this article until I read a black Friday ad featuring the NEST at Lowes for only $199. I purchase the nest for $249 two weeks ago. I took my receipt back to Lowes and they honored the lower price and credited my card for the difference! I ended up only paying just under $100 with all of the rebates…, quite a deal.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

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

Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

Visit our other informative sites

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

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    Posted in FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS

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    Posted on Thursday, 17th November 2016 by

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    Now that the 2016 FEHB Open Season is well on its way federal employees and annuitants have access to all of the information they need to make informed decisions. My wife and I are staying with our current plans. There were some minor changes and small premium increases so our decision is made. There is plenty of time remaining to review plans to ensure the coverage you need is available. Each plan brochure includes a summary of benefits located just after the index, and the last page of the brochure lists the bi-weekly and monthly premiums for all plan options. Fortunately, employees and retirees also have the opportunity to select supplemental dental and/or vision coverage. In addition, Federal employees can elect to participate in a tax-deferred Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for health care and/or dependent care.

    You don’t have to have hard copies of the plans to do a quick review. Simply download the 2017 Plan Brochures that OPM compiles on their site and review them on your desktop. I typically save an electronic pdf copy of all of the plans I review just to have them for future reference.

    A new FEHB benefit starts in 2017. All FEHB carriers now offer Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) benefits for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  All plans will offer clinically appropriate and medically necessary treatment for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2017. According to the Center for Disease Control, “A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.” The CDC estimates that about 1 in 68 children have been identified with ASD (or 14.6 per 1,000 8-year-olds).

    2017 Leave Chart Update

    We updated and released the new 2017 Excel Leave Charts last month. Several site visitors reported that the chart was in protected mode and they were unable to enter data. We researched the problem and sent those individuals Excel charts formatted with the newer xlsx extension.

    This chart can be placed on your desktop to track annual, sick, comp, and credit hour leave balances. Plus you can note your work schedule on the chart. It also helps those planning their retirement to target several retirement dates and maximize their annual leave balance that can be cashed in when you retire. Two versions of these charts are now available, the xls format for those who have older Microsoft Office versions and the xlsx version for newer applications. If you have a newer version of Excel use the xlsx file.  Users may also have to click the “enable editing” button at the top of the form in the yellow bar before inputting data.

    Retiree Jobs Update

    Employers recruiting federal retirees and those soon to retire post job vacancies on our Jobs Board. A good number of new listings were posted recently including part time jobs working at the aquarium in Newport, KY, Guest Experience Representatives for the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN, to Federal Benefits Educators that work from home and travel to conduct seminars for federal employees. Other positions are for mortgage underwriters and SCOM architects to name a few.

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

    Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

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

    Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

    Visit our other informative sites

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

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      Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, RETIREMENT CONCERNS

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      Posted on Saturday, 12th November 2016 by

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      Each year active federal employees and annuitants must obtain hard copies of plan brochures and general information about open season.  I review plan changes each year and confirm that our doctors and medical facilities are still on the provider list. OPM does send out an informative Open Season Health Benefits guide to all participants that discusses open season changes, sign up procedures, and available plans and costs for your area.  Federal employees can review and download copies of plan brochures from OPM, obtain brochures through their agency’s HR office, their office’s point of contact, or direct from FEHB providers.

      I register in November online at OPM’s FEHB Open Season Online to download the Open Season Health Benefits Guide and to request hard copies of plan brochures of interest.  This site is exclusively for retirees.  Retirees can also call the Open Season Express line at 1-800-332-9798 to request brochures or change enrollment.

      I was traveling at the beginning of November and when I went online to sign up, which you have to do each year, the sign up prompt asked for my CSA number. Fortunately, I had my Retirement Services Reference Card with me which lists my CSA number. If you can’t find your number you can use the email address that you listed on the service if you signed up the previous year.

      I requested several plan brochures to compare and typically request the lowest cost and highest cost plan brochures so that I can discuss the differences in my articles.  This year, like most, the premiums vary considerably between plans.  I downloaded the Open Season Health Benefits Guide for Pennsylvania. The monthly Non-Postal Premiums varied for a Self Plus One enrollment from a low of $206.03 for the NALC – Value Option (Nationwide Fee-For-Service Plan) to a high of $2,377.09 for the Aetna Open Access – High (HMO)!  I questioned the Aetna plan monthly premium so I reviewed their brochure online to confirm the cost.  I even reviewed the summary of benefits but couldn’t easily determine why the costs are so high.

      My wife and I are enrolled in the GEHA Standard Self Plus One plan that will cost us $250.90 per month in 2017. I changed to GEHA when I turned 65 several years ago because it is lower cost and Medicare is our primary coverage.  Also, GEHA covers both PPO and non PPO providers even in our low cost standard plan so we can go to about any doctor for the most part and still be covered.  GEHA has waived all copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles since enrolling in Medicare A and B except for prescription drugs.

      There were several changes to our plan including a change to the network of preferred hospitals and physicians in Pennsylvania from the HealthAmerica network to Aetna Signature Administrators.  GEHA updated their online provider’s search tool and I was able to confirm that all of our doctors and the hospital networks we use are on the list. The only one that fell through the crack was our dentist and I will call them early next week to see if he has been added yet.  This shouldn’t be an issue for us because we also have MetLife dental coverage and they covered most of our dental costs this past year. We intend to stay with our current plan.

      I’ve been with MetLife Dental for many years and they do cover a lot of the costs that GEHA doesn’t pick up. My wife had a root canal this year and it only cost her $250 much less than what it would have cost without the coverage.  She also had a tooth extraction that we didn’t pay any out-of-pocket expenses. The one thing I noticed is that my MetLife card is almost unreadable and I had to request a replacement from them last week.

      For those who have both Medicare and FEHB coverage for the most part Medicare becomes your primary provider. However, that being said, there are exceptions to this rule.  Bill, one of our readers, stated that in his case FEHB remained his primary provider.  According to Bill, “Your column states that when I retire, Medicare becomes my primary insurance and FEHB is secondary.  That is correct if I am the one carrying the insurance.  My wife and I elected to have her carry the insurance as an active federal employee when I retired to take advantage of the health savings plan.  Therefore, FEHB remains my primary with Medicare as secondary.” There are circumstances where this can be the case.

      Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

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

      Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

      Visit our other informative sites

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

       

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

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        Posted on Saturday, 29th October 2016 by

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        Everyone planning their retirement needs to know how much they will have to live on in retirement and how much their annuity and the surviving spouse’s benefit will grow over time. Unlike many private sector retirement plans, our annuities are adjusted annually – most years – with a COLA. I was at a family gathering 8 years ago, 2 years after I retired, and one of my uncles warned me to be careful in retirement. He retired from a regional bank 25 years prior and his monthly annuity was not inflation adjusted. It was a flat amount that he received for life. He and my aunt were subsisting on a small annuity and Social Security. The 42 year average COLA, from 1975 to through 2017, was 3.8%! Not bad considering so many private company plans provide no annual increase.

        I entered a 2016 annuity of $50,000 as an example on the chart and selected an average 2% growth rate. After 10 years the annuity grew to $60,949, the survivor’s benefit for CSRS is $37,082 in this example.  A 3% growth rate increased the amount over ten years to $67,195! Not bad. With interest rates projected to increase over the next few years and with corresponding inflation increases the 2 to 3 percent growth factor may prove to be appropriate.

        Frank Cullen, a retired FAA manager and friend, developed this spreadsheet. He used it when he was retiring to project his annuity and survivor’s benefit for a period of 40 years from the date he retired. Frank, a CSRS retiree, updates this spreadsheet for us and with a few minor adjustments you can adapt this to FERS as well. The Projected Annuity Calculator projects your annual and monthly annuity payment with survivor benefit, without survivor benefit, and the projected survivor annuity. The projections are based on your annuity at the time you retire and a selected growth rate (COLA). All COLAs for the past 42 years, back to 1975, are listed on the spreadsheet with the average 2, 3, 5, 10 and 42 year COLA factors that you can consider for your personal calculation.

        I used this spreadsheet when I retired and it proved accurate 10 years into my retirement. The 2% growth rate I used and the projections would have been right on had we not had 2 years without COLAs. The spreadsheet provides insight into how much a survivor’s annuity reduces your monthly benefit and what your spouse can expect to receive when the annuitant dies.

        With CSRS a full survivor’s annuity is 55% of the full annuity not 55% of what you were collecting as a couple.  A CSRS full survivor’s annuity costs you just under 10% of your monthly payment however the survivor’s annuity is calculated from the full annuity prior to the survivor’s reduction. Therefore, a CSRS surviving spouse can expect to receive about 61% of what the couple was receiving prior to the annuitant’s death.  Also, if an annuitant’s spouse dies, the annuitant would notify OPM and their annuity would be restored to the full amount that is listed on the spreadsheet. OPM does not refund any prior survivor annuity deductions when an annuitant’s spouse dies.

        For FERS employees the projected annuity without a survivor’s benefit will be the same; just enter your annuity estimate, enter your age, year of retirement, what you consider to be a realistic growth rate, and the spreadsheet will calculate your annuity for the next 40 years! The column reserved for your projected annuity with survivor benefits will be slightly lower since the maximum spousal benefit is 50% for FERS, not the 55% for CSRS. Also, the full FERS annuity will cost the retiree a little more because FERS employees pay 10% of their annuity for a full survivor’s benefit where CSRS pay just under 10%. FERS COLAs are also weighted and adjusted down when the COLA exceeds 2%.

        To determine what your initial retirement annuity will be request estimates from Human Resources for several target retirement dates. I requested at least a half dozen estimates two years before I retired. You can also calculate your estimated FERS annuity or CSRS annuity using the formulas we have available on or site.

        All you need to do is enter the appropriate values in the four highlighted cells.  The spreadsheet will do the rest for you.  The spreadsheet is locked except for the 4 highlighted entry cells.  This is to ensure that formulas are not inadvertently altered.  The form’s password is provided on the spreadsheet so those familiar with Excel can adapt the spreadsheet as desired.

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

        Excel Leave Chart Update

        One of our readers contacted me concerning the new 2017 Excel Leave Chart that I discussed last week. If you are not able to enter data into the form click “Enable Editing” at the top of the form. This should allow you to enter data.

        Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

        Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

        Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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          Posted on Sunday, 23rd October 2016 by

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          WOW! They finally approved a COLA increase.  It’s amazing how low they can go, .03 Percent for 2017. If your federal retirement annuity is $2,000 per month, you will see $6 more in your check. The average Social Security increase is $4 a month!  The Federal Reserve continues to keep interest rates so low that savers, especially retirees, earn very little on their savings. It feels like a prolonged attack against savers and retirees and those most vulnerable. Many retirees can’t invest in higher risk investments for fear of losing their life savings and ability to live comfortably in retirement. Each year many find their savings evaporate because they earn close to zero on their core savings and must withdraw from those accounts to pay for prescriptions, medical premiums, and essentials.

          Unfortunately many federal annuitants who also have Medicare B will find much higher premiums next year because they pay for their benefits direct, especially CSRS annuitants who may not be collecting Social Security. The hold harmless clause will protect most that now have Medicare premiums deducted from their Social Security payment each month. however, if you have an income adjusted premium or aren’t collecting Social Security and pay your Medicare premiums direct hold on to your hat, the increases are coming.

          It was announced last week that many who are enrolled in the Affordable Health Care program will see premium increases of up to 50% or higher! Nothing much affordable about that! Thankfully our FEHB premiums are only increasing an average of 4.4% in 2017.

          2017 Federal Employee’s Excel Leave Chart

          We published our new 2017 Federal Employee’s Leave Schedule last week. This spreadsheet tracks accumulated annual, sick, comp, and credit hours and federal employees can include their work schedule on this updated spreadsheet. Just keep it on your desktop and update as you use or earn leave. The new 2017 spreadsheet helps you maximize your annuity through prudent management of your annual and sick leave balances. You can also select the Best 2017 Retirement Date to maximize your annual leave lump sum payment.

          Last year several reported that the chart wasn’t calculating fractional hours correctly. The Total columns for each type of leave were not wide enough and rounded the hours up to whole numbers. The columns were widened in the new 2017 chart and fractional hours now calculate correctly. Forward the 2017 Leave Chart to all in your organization, we update this chart annually.

          Federal Employee’s Pay Raise and TSP Considerations

          Federal employees are projected to receive an across-the-board raise of 1 percent, with an additional 0.6 percent adjusted for locality pay in 2017. If you are planning to retire over the next 3 to 5 years FERS employees should consider increasing their TSP account contributions to the maximum amount allowed, $18,000 in 2016 plus an additional $6,000 in catch-up contributions for those over 50.  At the very least consider contributing at least half of each annual pay raise or step increase to your TSP account. If you are over 50 take advantage of the additional contributions.  TSP funds can be a real life saver for annuitants and it is generally recommended to fully fund your TSP account as soon as possible to build your retirement nest egg.

          CSRS employees may only contribute 5%  with no match however CSRS employees are permitted to contribute the additional $6,000 a year in catch-up contributions over age 50.

          • Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today if you would like 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

          Visit our other informative sites

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

           

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

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            Posted on Friday, 14th October 2016 by

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            I was fortunately able to get an early start on this year’s FEHB Open Season that runs from November 14 through December 12.  Last week’s column discussed the average 4.4% premium increase for 2017 and post card that GEHA sent about changes to my plan. I was able to download the GEHA 2017 plan brochure; well ahead of the November date that OPM will have them available. I also visited OPM’s Open Season Online site but they don’t allow registration until November. OPM’s Open Season Site for annuitant’s is very easy to use and allows retirees to request copies of plan brochures and you can initiate plan changes online.

             

            2016 FEHB Open Season

            2016 FEHB Open Season

            OPM released the 2017 premiums recently and many FEHB insurers now have plan brochures available.  You can download GEHA and Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) plan brochures direct from the providers now. Plan premiums didn’t increase significantly from last year. For example the BCBS  premium for Basic Self Plus One increased $8.43 to $356.72 per month. The GEHA Standard Self Plus One premium increased $9.65 to $250.90 per month.

            All plan brochures have a similar layout and index. I always review the Summary of Benefits section, that is typically available on the last few pages of each brochure, and then review the pricing and changes for the new year on the back cover. You will find changes to your 2017 coverage in Section 2 and for those age 65 or older and have Medicare as their primary provider review Section 9 which discusses coordinating benefits with Medicare.

            After reviewing Section 2 for my GEHA plan I discovered that my hearing aid benefit increased to $2,000 every three years from $1,000 every five years. A significant increase and sufficient to cover a new set of hearing aids without changing to their high option. The GEHA High Self Plus One option covers up to $2,500 every three years. It isn’t worth changing especially considering that the high option costs twice as much as the standard option that my wife and I have. If you elected to carry Medicare A and B when you turned 65 changing to a lower option FEHB plan may be prudent. That’s what my wife and I did after signing up for Medicare.

            A friend from work died in 2015 and his wife called me to find out about the new 2017 premiums. She heard that premiums were increasing dramatically. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case however she was upset that she will have to pay a $1,500 copayment for a MRI that she has scheduled. They didn’t sign up for Medicare B when they turned 65 because they considered it to be duplicate coverage. Now that she is 75 if she signed up for Medicare B her premium would be twice the standard due to the 10% a year penalty for not signing up at age 65.  One of the major advantages of having both A and B is that Medicare becomes your primary health care provider and most FEHB plans waive copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles except for prescriptions.

            Another concern that she had was that her THRIFT plan Minimum Required Distribution (MRD) is pushing her into a higher tax bracket and she had to pay a significant amount of taxes last year as a result. The increased taxes were due to two factors, she was filing as a single tax payer now and the MRDs added to her taxable income. For those still working the ROTH THRIFT option is attractive because even though you have to pay taxes on ROTH contributions you aren’t required to take MRDs at age 70 and a half plus all of you ROTH investment grows tax free. In other words all of the interest, dividends, and capital gains are tax free for all funds within your ROTH account.  I converted half of my business employment plan in 2011 to a ROTH so that we wouldn’t have to take minimum withdrawals at 70 1/2. Since converting to a ROTH the account has increased over 100% in the past 5 years. All of that increase is basically tax free.

            Best Date to Retire in 2017

            We updated our Best Date to Retire information recently and include links to Tammy Flanagan’s calendar with the best 2017 dates to retire dependent on your personal situation and desires. If you are considering leaving the best date is determined by your retirement plan, CSRS or FERS, and other factors.  Now is the time to request several retirement annuity estimates for desirable 2017 departure dates from your HR office and look closely at your finances to ensure you will be able to live comfortably on your annuity and other income. You also have to be emotionally prepared when you walk out the door.  It’s best to start planning as early as possible to give your self sufficient time to plan your exit.

            • Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today if you would like 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

            Visit our other informative sites

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

             

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

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              Posted on Thursday, 6th October 2016 by

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              OPM announced that the 2016 FEHB Open Season will run from November 14th through December 12 of this year. The 2017 plan rates were released early this year and the average FEHB premiums will increase by 4.4 percent. My wife and I are enrolled in the GEHA Standard Self Plus One plan and our premium increased $9.65 a month to $250.90, a 3.84 percent increase.

              Other news organizations are reporting a 6.2% increase however the OPM announcement specifically states the following, “The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced today that premiums for the 2017 Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program will rise by an average of 4.4 percent.” OPM’s announcement was published September 28.

              Provider brochures won’t be available until November however some carriers are sending out advance notices for significant changes. For example I received a post card from GEHA this week advising us that beginning next year Aetna Signature Administrators will replace Health America as the network of GEHA preferred hospitals and physicians in Pennsylvania. I have to determine if our doctors are included in the Aetna network. Because we have Medicare A and B, GEHA indicated that our benefits will not be affected by the network change because Medicare is our primary provider. In most instances we will receive the same benefits if we use providers in the GEHA network or out-of-network.

              This is one of the major reasons why I changed to GEHA Standard Self Plus One last year. It was the lowest cost, covers both in and out of network providers, and with Medicare A & B we have excellent coverage. My wife and I haven’t paid any copayments or coinsurance this year because we have Medicare A & B. The only down side to this is Medicare B premiums are income adjusted and if your income is over a certain limit your Medicare B premiums can triple for both you and your spouse. In 2016 Medicare B costs ranged from $121.80 per person with an income of $85,000 or less a year filing individually or to $170,000 for joint filers to as high as $389.80 a month for individual filers with incomes of $214,000 or less to $428,000 or more for joint filers! Quite an increase.

              Most don’t realize that Medicare B premiums are income adjusted and the adjustment is based on what they refer to as Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI): Income that is often not taxed on your income tax return. Income from tax free municipal bonds and other sources is included in the calculation. Also included in the calculation are capital gains, bank account interest, stock dividends, etc. Basically if you are fortunate to be earning income in retirement they penalize you and force you to pay more for the same coverage!

              I wrote several articles last year about Medicare A and B coverage that you might find helpful if you are turning 65 shortly. Visit our Medicare page to read more about this issue.

              Federal Retirement Report

              This report is available from RP & A Financial Strategies for FERS and CSRS employees and retirees located in the continental USA, Hawaii and Alaska. They provide a personalized 27-page written Federal Retirement Report™ customized to your specific situation that addresses all of the following points and more:

              • When you can retire
              • The best time to retire
              • The income you can expect in retirement vs. your current income
              • Identify the potential gaps in your income and teach you how you might close them
              • Your Survivor’s Benefits and costs; if you need them and alternatives
              • Your FEGLI benefits, costs, and alternatives
              • Your TSP account and withdrawal options after you leave
              • Your TSP account – what funds should you chose right now
              • How to know the right risk for you and what TSP funds match up

              They include a one hour, one-on-one, personal consultation with their federal retirement specialist. The costs are minimal, $79 with a 100% no questions asked money back guarantee. Review a sample report to see what you will receive in your personalized report.

              They also include at no additional charge the opportunity to have up to one additional one-hour, one-on-one, consultation with their CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. This is one of the most valuable features of your Federal Retirement Report™ and can put you on track, help you find clarity around your money and potentially help you achieve multiple financial goals sooner and with less risk.

              For additional information and to request your personal Federal Retirement Report™ submit a request today.

              Site Recognition

              Our federal jobs and career exploration site, FederalJobs.Net was listed by Jobs2Careers.com as one of the Best Government Jobs and Career Exploration Sites.

              We now provide detailed descriptions for each occupation, the total number employed and that work overseas, qualification requirements, and a list of hiring agencies. Direct links to the Office of Personnel Management’s USAJOBS databank are also included with links to geo targeted related private sector jobs. We also offer job searches by federal agency or occupational group plus we provide extensive information on all aspects of federal employment from an insider’s perspective.

              Our Job Search By Occupations page provides quick access to job listings through an extensive alphabetical index. When a site visitor clicks on a job title it takes them to an overview of the occupation that provides all of the information mentioned above with links to USAJOBS and related jobs in the private sector in their area. We also imbed interviews for occupations such as the one for Logistics Management Specialists GS-0346 jobs.

              We tie all of this into our Federal Jobs and Career Exploration Blog where we often interview active and retired federal employees and post the articles online. Our featured writers have a broad background in all things federal.

              • Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today if you would like 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

              Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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                Posted on Wednesday, 7th September 2016 by

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                Too often the feedback we receive, either solicited or given freely, at work and home is delivered with little tact and therefore ignored or disputed. I recently read an article in the Tribune Review titled Constructive Feedback Crucial for Career Progress,” by Chris Posti that provided excellent advice for anyone wishing to advance in their career. It also sheds a light on the subject for managers and supervisors that are often hesitant to provide succinct and timely feedback to their employees. If supervisors wait for the annual review to discuss performance issues it’s often too late and too little to be effective. Feedback is best if it is given tactfully and shortly after the project or performance in question was an issue.

                You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with retirement.” Actually a lot. Your annuity is based on your high three average salary and by listening to your supervisor’s feedback you could improve your chances for a future promotion, Quality Within Grade award, or possibly performance based pay increases that will result in a higher monthly retirement annuity down the road. Higher pay also increases your TSP contributions and so on and so on. Core compensation pay systems may offer performance based pay increases.

                I was awarded two Quality Within Grade (QWI) increases from two different mangers and numerous performance based core compensation pay increases during my career not to mention a number of promotions. All of which allowed me to retire comfortably at age 55 with 35 year’s service.

                If you don’t know what your supervisor expects from you or where you stand with him or her now is an ideal time to find out. It also helps to be open minded when you receive supervisory feedback. Whether or not it is constructive, ask for clarifications to determine what needs to improve and restate what you think they said to make sure you are both on the same track. Then, first and foremost, take actions to improve the results for your next project. Your initiative and motivation will be noticed.

                The key word in Chris’ column was “constructive.” It’s easy to criticize someone, it takes effort and thought to do it constructively. When I was a manager with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) I was on both ends of this process and there are many ways of providing helpful feedback. As an employee it is often difficult accepting input that questions how you are accomplishing a task or function. Yet, that feedback – if accepted – can literally change your life for the better. Also, it’s important to realize that feedback is based on a need to improve in something it isn’t necessarily a condemnation of your work. We all have areas that we can improve in.

                My first permanent staff position at the Pittsburgh Airway Facilities System Management Office (SMO) was in the training department. I would often write correspondence for Richard Fisher, the SMO manager at the time and more often than not my initial draft would be returned redlined with comments in the margins. This was before computers and word processors and I would have to manually retype the revised correspondence for Richard’s approval. In those days we used carbon copies! At first it wasn’t unusual for the second draft to be rejected and as time went on fewer drafts were returned. I admit that it was frustrating at times and I questioned the process. However, Richard’s feedback helped make me the writer I am today and after 26 books and thousands of articles I still find typos and errors in everything I write.

                A less astute manager would have simply said, “This memorandum isn’t acceptable – rewrite it!.” Does this sound familiar to anyone? The redline and comments were a form of mentoring (thoughtful and constructive feedback). Taking the time to do that helped me improve my writing skills and focus on the underlying issues that concerned my manager. He didn’t just throw it back on my desk with an exclamation point drawn on it.

                A smart manager provides the feedback, training, and guidance necessary to improve an employee’s performance for the benefit of the entire organization. Sure it takes time and effort, however that time and effort upfront makes life easier down the road. My manager could have simply rewrote the memorandum each time and gave it to his secretary to type. Then, during my annual review advised me that my writing skills were insufficient. If he would have done that he wouldn’t have been doing his job. If you don’t help your employees improve you are failing as a supervisor or manager.

                That being said, if after sending me constant revisions, and my rewrites continued to be rejected time after time; yes my performance would have been unacceptable. In this case a manager should look for training to improve that employees performance. That is why career development is such a key issue for an organization and if taken seriously can dramatically improve an organization’s performance. That is why I developed and launched www.fedcareerinfo.com, our Federal Employee’s Career Development Center. Federal employees, supervisors, and managers can use this free site to assess where they are at now, target positions, and complete a comprehensive career development plan using our free downloadable forms.

                After receiving several memorandum rejects I signed up for a report writing course at a local community college and put this on my career development plan. My immediate supervisor approved the additional training and the FAA paid 50% of my tuition as long as I maintained a C or better final grade.

                Chris suggests that, “to do it often, and in small bites makes it more palatable and an expected part of your routine.” I agree, when a fire starts to burn you want to put it out NOW, not wait until the entire structure is involved.

                Throughout my career I was able to use my writing skills to my and the agencies advantage. When computers were first coming into their own I purchased a Commodore 64 to replace my Vic 20 and completed many of my FAA reports on my home computer since we didn’t have anything comparable at work.

                This subject extends into retirement as well. How do you handle feedback from a spouse or significant others? Often times it may not be constructive due to the emotions, situation, or due to the personality of the provider. Issues such as these take even more tact because there isn’t a supervisor/employee relationship. Instead, you are both on an equal footing. This is where you have to consider the other’s unique personality and way they deal with issues.

                Active listening is the key. We often enter conversations with preconceived notions and tend to mentally block the others viewpoint and opinions because we already know what we want to do or the way we desire to proceed. This is where listening is so important yet so often ignored. I can attest first hand as to just how myopic one can become and yet how off track the outcome can be when you don’t truly listen to your partner and sincerely consider their opinions and feelings.

                Case in point. About four years before retiring we built a new home. My wife really didn’t want to move at the time. I convinced her to proceed. It was a new plan and we both wanted a first floor bedroom and laundry, a walkout basement with garages on the first floor, and a smaller maintainable yard. During the initial lot auction I didn’t get our first choice and I decided on what I thought to be the perfect lot. At the time there were just woods behind us and the builder assured us that the land would never be developed. My wife expressed her reservations suggesting that she thought others would eventually build there and the site wouldn’t accommodate first floor garages or a first floor bedroom.

                My wife and the salesmen suggested another lot up the street. I didn’t think it was a good selection because of the small hill behind it. We built the home on the lot I selected and sure enough 4 years later the owner of the land behind us sold to a developer. The lot my wife liked would have given us most of what we initially wanted and ended up being the perfect lot. The owner had the small hill leveled and they were able to put a two car attached garage on the property.

                I didn’t listen in this case and learned a valuable lesson. We’ve since moved to another home that we both agreed was the best for both of us.

                Feedback, often so feared, is actually good for you. You just need to know how to handle it and not take it as a personal attack. Success is built on many failures, and those who are not willing to try and possibly fail will never succeed.

                Long Term Care Update

                We have until September 30, 2016 to make any changes to our Long Term Care coverage before the higher rates kick in. I faxed my wife’s and my election forms this week. We both selected the Reduced Benefit to maintain our current premiums. After some research and much discussion we felt it the best selection for us. We will still each have just over a $200,000 lifetime benefit, about $194 a day, for three years. Our premiums are $71.56 and $76.67 each month respectively. My article titled Long Term Care – The Other Shoe Drops! talks about the increase and our options.

                Request a Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

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

                Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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