Posted on Sunday, 12th February 2017 by

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The saying that “It’s Never Too Late” doesn’t apply to certain aspects of retirement and estate planning. I can attest first hand to this; my father died when I was one and my mother, at age 37, was left with 4 small children of which I was the youngest. My father died without life insurance and my mother was left to raise us during the hard times ahead.

Final arrangements are a necessary part of everyone’s estate plan yet it is the one facet of the plan that many neglect… UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE! Now is the time to put pen to paper and let your loved ones know your wishes and determine what services you desire when that time comes. Another critical aspect of pre-planning for federal employees and annuitants is that It will help your surviving spouse and family members retain their benefits, reduce their health care costs, and cash in your FEGLI life insurance.

Pre-planning Steps

  • Identify an interment site (cemetery)
    • Purchase a plot, crypt, or elect cremation
  • Selecting a funeral home
    • Funeral Director to prepare a “Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected”
    • Prepare a Funeral Planning Record
  • Payment options
    • Prepay or,
    • Pay with an insurance policy
    • Identify funds to be used for payment
  • Report Death to OPM (Procedures & Form)
    • Confirm FEHB changed from Self Plus One to Self Only if appropriate
  • Report Death to FEGLI (Procedures & Form)

I started planning our final arrangements when we updated our estate plans several years ago. I should have completed this task long before; you never know what’s just around the corner. Our estate plan included all of the essentials except for detailed final arrangements; what funeral home we would use, services desired, and other necessary details.

What brought the subject up was an out of town trip.  We passed the National Cemetery where we originally planned to be buried. Burial is free for veterans and their spouses and it was a natural choice for us. I wrote an article about Final Arrangements and the National Cemeteries that you may find informative. My wife was concerned that the National Cemetery was too far from home for her to visit.

Identify an interment site (cemetery)

Use the following resources to find a suitable location:

I researched local cemeteries in early 2014 and upon our return home we purchased a crypt in a cemetery only three miles from our home. We received a substantial pre-construction discount with a no interest loan from the Catholic Cemeteries Association. The association also offered a prepaid funeral plan that we used to compare prices at local funeral homes. Catholic cemeteries now accept all faiths.

I compared standard grave burials to crypt interment. With a grave you have to pay for the plot, a headstone which can cost up to $5,000 or more, a vault, and have the grave excavated and filled in. The cost for a crypt in a mausoleum, especially with a pre-need and/or pre-construction discount, wasn’t much more and everything is included with the purchase.

Selecting a funeral home

I contacted three local funeral homes and requested copies of their General Price List. Most, if not all,  funeral homes will provide price lists upon request. I visited two on the list and we discussed options, services, and they answered my many questions. Each provided a detailed Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected.” The statements included the total cost for all of the essential services, casket, viewing duration, up to required clothing that we desired. We selected the funeral home best suited to our needs and prepared a Funeral Planning Record for them to hold on file until notified of a death.

The costs listed on their statement are only good for 30 days. Prices generally increase over time. The good thing is that you have exactly what services you desire on paper so there won’t be any confusion at the time of death.

Pre-planning helps loved ones cope at a very difficult time and lets them know exactly what the deceased desired and how to pay for it. The Funeral Planning Record lists all of the important information the funeral director needs when the time comes. It lists your name, address, birth date, church affiliation, marriage information, family members, and so much more. The information is used for many purposes including writing an obituary and notifying Social Security and Medicare. They also ask for a copy of a veteran’s DD-214 and coordinate VA benefits. If desired you can also write a draft obituary and include it in the record.

All funeral directors provide a Funeral Planning Record for you to complete. However, most funeral homes aren’t automated to the point where you can enter this information into a database or on a fill-in PDF form. I converted the Funeral Planning Record to a Microsoft Word document because I don’t like to manually fill in forms. Keep a copy with your estate plan or include it in a Funeral Arrangement file like I did for my wife and children. All they have to do is take a copy with my DD-214 form, I placed a copy in the file, to the funeral home when they go to finalize arrangements and sign the forms. It’s best to review your final arrangements with your children or heirs so they know what to expect.

Payment options

The average cost of a funeral today is just over $7,000 and then you have to add thousands more for the cemetery plot and headstone or a crypt. Cost is the major reason why cremation has become so popular now accounting for almost 50% of all burials.

  • Pay with an insurance policy using a “Funeral Home Assignment”
  • Prepay in advance with a Final Arrangement insurance policy
  • Pay with estate assets at time of death

Funeral homes typically allow 30 days for payment after a funeral and they will have death certificates within 2 to 3 days from the date of death. You will need to send a copy of the death certificate to the insurance companies to have them release funds.  You can elect to have the insurance company pay the funeral home direct for their services and the remainder will be sent to the beneficiary. This is called a Funeral Home Assignment and FEGLI allows this. I advised my wife to do this with my FEGLI policy.

If you have sufficient savings the costs can be paid from estate assets or from the surviving spouse’s accounts at the time of death.

Many funeral homes offer prepayment plans using a final arrangement insurance policy. These policies require a lump sum payment to the insurer for the total amount listed on the funeral home’s Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected contract. The insurance policy earns dividends that take care of any additional costs at the time of death. If you decide to use this option check the AmBest insurance ratings for the company. According to AM Best, “A Best’s Credit Rating provides a forward-looking independent and objective opinion of the insurer’s creditworthiness.” You have to register to use their free service.

Another more desirable option, if you don’t have sufficient insurance, is to set aside the amount specified and place it into an interest bearing savings account or a Certificate of Deposit (CD) that has a low early withdrawal penalty. Let it grow there to cover future cost increases. Place a copy of the CD or a note about the savings account in your Funeral Arrangement file and advise your heirs so they will know where the funds are located.

Reporting a Death to OPM (Procedures & Forms)

This is a critical and time sensitive issue for annuitants and survivor annuitants. You must report the death of an annuitant or survivor annuitant to OPM and complete an Application for Death Benefits shortly after the death. Reporting the death to OPM will stop the annuitant’s payment and start the survivor’s reduced payment. They should also contact the surviving spouse about reducing their FEHB coverage from a family or self-plus one plan to a self only plan that will substantially reduce the surviving spouse’s monthly premium.

Three Ways to Contact OPM:

Call, it may take a number of tries to get through. Call early in the morning and just keep redialing until you get through. Long waits are typical.

  1. Telephone at 1-888-767-6738 —hours of operation are 7:40 A.M. until 5:00 P.M (Eastern Time)
  2. Send email: retire@opm.gov (Don’t send confidential info by email)
  3. Report a death to OPM online

All payments received from OPM after the annuitant’s date of death must be returned to the Treasury Department. 

Complete an SF-2800 “Application for Death Benefits” for CSRS annuitants or a SF-3104 and SF-3104B forms for FERS annuitants. OPM will send a package for the survivor to complete.  I downloaded and completed the SF-2800 (Application For Death Benefits) form in advance for my wife and added sticky green arrow markers where my wife will have to enter my date of death, sign and date. This form must be sent to OPM along with a copy of the death certificate and marriage license. I advised my wife to check with OPM to make sure the form I completed is still valid, it was last revised on November 2011. I included a copy of our marriage license in the file attached to this draft form.  Send it to the Office of Personnel Management, P.O. Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017-0045.

You will need the following information when reporting a death to OPM and FEGLI:

  • Deceased CSA Number:
  • Retirement System: CSRS or FERS
  • Copy of death certificate (Funeral home will have death certificates within 2 days of the death.)
  • Copy of marriage certificate (Attached to the SF-2800 or 3104 form in folder)
  • SSN:
  • Date of Birth:
  • Health Benefit Enrollment Code at time of death:
  • Spouse’s birth date:
  • Spouse’s SSN:
  • Spouses Date of Marriage:
  • Address & Phone Number:

Reporting a Death to Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) by MET LIFE:  Call FEGLI (1-800-633-4542) to report the death and complete their Form FE-6 Claim For Death Benefits form. I also downloaded this form and completed it in advance and added sticky green arrow markers where my wife will have to enter my date of death, sign and date. If you should decide to do this your survivor should call and ask FEGLI if the form you completed, the current one was revised December 2016, is still current. If a newer form is available have them send a copy or downloaded it from the Internet. Attach a copy of the death certificate.  Send this completed form to OFEGLI, PO Box 6080, Scranton, PA 18505. This address is in the instructions with the form.

FEGLI will pay for the funeral costs and send the difference to the surviving spouse or designated beneficiaries if desired. The funeral home will have you sign a document, a Funeral Home Assignment letter, agreeing to this and provide a copy to attach to the FE-6 form. You must check YES in Part F authorizing them to pay the funeral home direct.

The time spent preparing your final arrangements will make it much easier on your family and friends. Take the necessary steps to prepare your final arrangements now. I feel relieved now that I’ve done what was needed to help my wife and children when that time comes and I hope that time is far, far away! If you decide to put this task off, print this article and keep it in your retirement or estate planning folder for future reference.

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

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, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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    Posted on Friday, 27th January 2017 by

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    OPM issued a “Benefits Administration Letter,” number 16-102, announcing that “effective immediately, we will not accept corrections (scratch-outs, white-outs, line-outs, or any other type of correction actions) in the named Sections on the following forms. New forms must be completed in lieu of any alterations to previously entered information.”

    A manually corrected retirement application could delay disbursement of the applicant’s annuity and lump sum payments. Most of the new forms are PDF and the information can be reentered on your desk or laptop computers. Unfortunately, in many cases,  you can’t save completed fill-in forms.  Don’t manually line out or correct the noted sections on the following list of forms:

    Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) Forms

    • CSRS Immediate Retirement Application, SF 2801: Section F- Annuity Election
    • CSRS Immediate Retirement Application, SF 2801-2: Spouse’s Consent to Survivor Election
    • CSRS Deferred Application OPM Form 1496A: Section C- Annuity Election
    • CSRS Deferred Application OPM Form 1496A: Schedule A- Election of Former Spouse Survivor Annuity or Combination Current/Former Spouse Annuity
    • CSRS Deferred Application OPM Form 1496A: Schedule B- Spouse’s Consent to Survivor Election
    • Designation of Beneficiary SF 2808 (CSRS) Sections B and C

    Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) Forms

    • FERS Immediate Retirement Application, SF 3107: Section D- Annuity Election;
    • FERS Immediate Retirement Application, SF 3107-2: Spouse’s Consent to Survivor Election
    • Application for Deferred/Postponed Retirement FERS, RI 92-19: Section F-Annuity Election
    • Application for Deferred/Postponed Retirement FERS, RI 92-19: Schedule A-Spouse’s Consent to Survivor Election
    • Designation of Beneficiary SF 3102 (FERS): Sections B and C

    Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Forms

    • Continuation of Life Insurance Coverage (SF 2818): Items 7-14
    • Designation of Beneficiary for FEGLI (SF 2823): Sections B, C, and D

    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

    Be Sociable, Share!

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

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      Posted on Wednesday, 18th January 2017 by

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      Normally, federal annuitants don’t received their 1099R Tax Forms until the end of January or the beginning of February by regular mail. If you are registered to use OPM’s Retirement Services Website your 1099 R is now available for download. I visited the site on January 18, 2016 and was able to download my copy that I will use for my 2016 tax return. I’ve been visiting the site each day to see when it would first be available.

      To get a head start on your taxes visit OPM’s web site and download a copy. You must be registered to use the site. If you aren’t registered read the article titled “Connect to OPM’s Online Services” to understand the registration process and sign up. It doesn’t take long however you may have to wait for your password to be sent via regular US mail and that can take several weeks. If you haven’t signed up yet do it now. The site offers retired federal employees many helpful options such as changing your direct deposit information, address changes, 1099 R copies, and much more.

      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

      Be Sociable, Share!

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

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        Posted on Friday, 13th January 2017 by

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        Moving is always stressful no matter if you are working or retired. My wife and I moved 11 times since we first married 47 years ago! Each move had its own unique issues that we had to handle at different times in our lives.  If you are retired there are a number of actions that you must take to maintain your federal retirement benefits and it helps to have a checklist to walk you through the process. Registering for OPM’s Online services can assist you with this process. You can take care of a number of key issues there including changing your mailing address and direct deposit information, and change your state tax withholding if applicable. It only takes a few minutes online.

        If you are planning a move keep a copy of the following checklist to help you along the way.  Forward this article to others that you know are planning a move.

        Moving Checklist

        Prior to Moving

        • Do you need to change banks? If your current financial institution doesn’t have branches in your new area establish an account with a local bank.
        • FEHB (Health Care Benefits) Does your current plan provide coverage at your new home? If you have an HMO or other local plan you will probably have to change plans. The nationwide plans such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield and GEHA will travel with you and provide benefits anywhere you live stateside.
        • Dental and Vision Care Coverage in New Area – Visit BENEFEDS to confirm that your current Dental and Vision plans are available in the new area. It should be noted that premiums are based on where you live in some situations such as dental care.
        • Review OPM’s Benefit Guides for Federal Retirees for additional guidance.
        • Does the state you are moving to tax federal annuities? If so, you can specify the dollar amount of State tax you want withheld from your monthly payments. The withholding must be in whole dollars. The minimum amount OPM can withhold for State income tax is $5. Use Services Online to start, change, or stop the State tax withheld from your annuity payment. You can also Contact OPM to change your withholding amount. If you write, your letter should include your claim number and the monthly amount in dollars you want withheld. If you do not know the monthly amount you want withheld, contact your State tax office for information or assistance.
        • General Items
          • If you keep your current cell phone number, confirm with your carrier that when dialing 911 you will contact emergency services at your new location. Here is more information about 911 wireless services for cell phones from the FCC.
          • Download a copy of our FREE Retiree’s Master Contact List that provides phone numbers for most benefit areas.
          • Confirm that your utilities at your new home are transferred to your name and the utilities at the address you are leaving are either terminated or transferred to the new owner or renter.
          • Initiate a mail forwarding, a Change of Address Request, at your local Post Office or visit USPS.com to forward your mail for the next 12 months. There is no fee for this service.

        After Moving

        • Change your mailing address for the following:
          • Postal Service, the USPS will forward your mail for one year to your new location
          • Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
          • Social Security and Medicare (Phone numbers are listed on our Retire’s Master Contact List)
          • Credit cards
          • Financial Institutions including TSP
          • Insurance companies, etc
          • Loans
        • Contact OPM to change your direct deposit information so that your annuity will be sent to your new bank account. You can do this using their online services if you are a registered user or call their phone number.  Your bank can also submit a Form 1199 A Form by mail or fax to OPM.
        • Change your FEHB plan if your current plan doesn’t cover the area you moved to. Contact OPM at 1-888-767-6738. Provide them with the following information:
          • CSA Number
          • Statement that you moved outside the current health benefit plan’s service area
          • Name of the new health benefit plan you identified prior to moving
          • Provide the three-digit enrollment code for your new FEHB plan
        • Visit BENEFED to change your dental and/or vision plans that you identified before moving.

        (OPM) Office of Personnel Management (Retirement Support Site)

        Retirees can call toll free 1-888-767-6738, TTY: 855-887-4957 weekdays between 7:40 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) Friday or email questions to retire@opm.gov anytime to ask questions or request assistance with their personal retirement issues.

        NOTE: There line is frequently busy, call early or late in the day to get through and you must have your retirement claim number or Social Security number available. When I get a busy signal I hang up and immediately click on speed dial to call again. I keep doing this until I get connected. I often have a 20 to 40 minute or longer wait when I call. OPM advises that “the internet is not a secure environment for transmitting personal information via email.” Replies via email typically take 15 days or more.

        Web Address: http://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/

        Mailing Address:

        U.S. Office of Personnel Management
        Retirement Operations Center
        Post Office Box 45
        Boyers, PA 16017

        Download our FREE Retiree’s Master Contact List and keep a copy with your retirement paperwork.

        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, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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          Posted on Friday, 16th December 2016 by

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          We published the new 2017 Excel Leave Chart back in late October. Since then a few of our site visitors were only able to open the Excel chart in protected mode and couldn’t enter data. If your spreadsheet opens in protected view click the “enable editing” button in the yellow bar at the top of the form. However, if you don’t see the enable editing button you may have an older version of Excel. To remedy this we published two versions of the spreadsheet, one with an xls and the newer xlsx extensions.  Visit our Leave Chart Page for more information and for the links to both versions of the form.

          A Microsoft Office consulting firm advised me that If both versions open in protected view the protected view status is a result of security settings on your agency’s LAN and network. Some agencies increase their security settings to lock out certain documents based on the parameters the IT specialist selects. We do include several hyperlinks in our forms to link users to additional supporting information such as the sick leave conversion chart and that may be the cause. If you have this problem when opening the form I suggest talking with your IT people to have them allow the form to pass without restrictions.

          Please share the downloaded 2017 leave chart with everyone in your organization. The chart tracks all leave balances and you are able to annotate your work schedule on the chart as well.

          2017 Employee Raise Increased

          The 2017 pay raise was announced on August 31, 2016 and included an across-the-board pay increases of 1.0 percent plus a .6% locality pay adjustment. Fortunately congress and the president decided in November to increase the federal employee’s raise to match the military service’s 2.1% increase due to improving economic circumstances. The pay raise will take effect on the first applicable pay period beginning on or after January 1, 2017. The pay tables for 2017 will be posted as soon as they are released by OPM, sometime in late December. This is substantially more than the retiree’s and Social Security COLA of just .3% for 2017!

          Then and Now

          When young, in your twenties and thirties, most think little of mortality or what lies ahead 30 or more years down the road. We’re young, full of life and unlimited possibilities. I was consolidating my files recently and came across a March 1985 employee list for the Pittsburgh FAA organization I worked for, the Pittsburgh System Maintenance Office (SMO). Of the 109 employees on the list only three are still employed and after this month, that number decreases to two. The two that remain both have over 40 years service, one with 42 plus years! The two still standing could retire at any time.

          As I peruse the list I can see the faces of the many friends and associates that I worked with and recall significant events in our lives at the time and since. In 1985 my career was just starting to take off and I landed my first supervisory position that year. I was a young 35 year old working hard to raise a young family and struggling with what all of us go trough in those early years; uncertainty, expectations, and hopefully gaining the wisdom and knowledge to continue growing in our careers and relationships.

          Time hasn’t faded my memories and as I look at each name on the list I can vividly see their faces as if it was still 1985!  Going down the list many are not only retired but traveled now to the  inevitable conclusion of all of our lives, the next horizon.

          Life is short and time passes by so fast that many put off retirement planning until it is too late to make meaningful corrections and financial contributions to ensure a rewarding life after work. For those still  working it isn’t too late to ensure life after retirement is affordable and rewarding. Explore our retirement planning site to learn about your retirement benefits, financial, and estate planning moves that can help you and your loved ones best prepare for life after work.

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

           Retiree Jobs Update

          Employers recruiting federal retirees and those soon to retire post job vacancies on our Jobs Board. A good number of new part and full time listings were posted recently. One company is looking for a retired Federal Human Resources/Trainer to conduct CSRS and FERS trainings throughout the U.S.  Federal Staffing Resources is hiring three retired professionals to work in North Carolina. Other positions are for various positions including several work from home options.

          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

          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, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS

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            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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