Posted on Thursday, 13th August 2015 by

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Even if you think, like I did in 2004 when the last open season was offered, that you have sufficient coverage you may be surprised at what you discover. I wish I knew then what I know now about these attractive low cost options.

OPM recently announced that a 2016 Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) Open Season will be available to change your coverage starting September 1, 2016 through September 30, 2016. If you are approaching retirement this is an excellent time to take advantage of low cost insurance options that you may not have thought of when you first signed up. FEGLI rate changes will also take effect the first pay period beginning on or after January 1, 2016. Employees’ basic insurance premiums won’t change and most rates for Option A, B, and C will decrease. Rates will increase for older Option A, B and C age bands and the 50% reduction and the no reduction rates will increase for retirees.

Active federal employees can increase their coverage at any time however they must take a physical to qualify. They can also add coverage for Qualifying Life Events. The benefit of increasing coverage during an open season is that you aren’t required to take a physical. Unfortunately, retirees can’t increase their coverage even during an open season, they only have the option, at any time, to reduce their coverage.

The Federal Register announcement states , “Open Seasons are one method by which healthy individuals can be attracted to join and reduce the risk profile of the program. Some less healthy individuals may elect coverage during Open Seasons. To mitigate this risk, the effective date for employees in active pay status who make an Open Season election would be delayed one full year to October 1, 2017, subject to FEGLI law and regulation, including applicable pay and duty status requirements.”

Now is a good time for all participants to evaluate their insurance needs and to take advantage of low cost insurance FEGLI options for you and your family. Basic and Options A, and C are reasonable. Option B, multiples, can get very expensive as you age and many seek to replace B with lower cost private insurance providers. If you do this be sure to check out the insurance provider’s rating first.

CAUTION: Prior to my retirement, in my mid forties, I was approached by an insurance company that offered to beat the FEGLI rates. Their projections showed considerable cost savings as I aged and I decided to drop Option A, and the Family Part C Option. The insurance company, due to lower than projected interest rates, reduced the insurance coverage unless we agreed to more than double our premiums! Fortunately I kept Basic coverage which at age 65 is free if you elect the 75% reduction. Option A and C have similar features. You can add or increase Part C family coverage and the inexpensive Option A this open season if desired. Family coverage can be kept for as long as you need it. For more information on Basic, Part A, B, and C coverage read the article titled FEGLI Insurance Options (Part 2) – Options A, B & C.

In the above mentioned article I state,” After retirement you can’t increase coverage, you can only reduce your coverage. If you remotely think you or your spouse will need insurance it’s best to elect that coverage now and if you run into a bind down the road you can always reduce multiples or certain options altogether if desired. If you do decided to obtain quotes from private insurance companies for Part B alternatives consider keeping your Basic, Part A and C options. They may try to talk you into dropping all of your FEGLI coverage and they can be convincing. From my perspective the FEGLI insurance costs for Basic, A, and C are reasonable and depending on what you elect in retirement two of the three are FREE when you reach age 65.”

The last FEGLI Open Season was in 2004 and prior to that 1999. Open seasons are few and far between. Take the time NOW to evaluate your insurance needs and take advantage of this opportunity.

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

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

Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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    Posted on Wednesday, 5th August 2015 by

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    I was asked by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to be a guest speaker at their Washington DC headquarters on July 29th 2015. I discussed ways for employees to enhance their careers through the development and implementation of realistic and obtainable individual Development Plans (IDPs). In the afternoon I presented a similar program at the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to help launch their new Career Development Toolkit program for their Leadership and Employee Development (LED) team.

    I haven’t visited Washington DC for over a decade and things haven’t changed much since my last visit. The food was excellent, major construction projects everywhere, and the traffic as always a challenge. The people attending the sessions were attentive and interested and I met many new people and hopefully forged new friendships.

    One thing that has changed is how one navigates around the DC beltway and traffic in general. My taxi driver and booking agent’s author escort service used an app called WAZE that allows drivers in the area to share real-time traffic and road information that routes you around traffic jams and accidents in the area. You don’t have to watch the screen on your iphone, it gives you audio warnings and announces the route, turn by turn, around the traffic. You can find out more about this app on their web site at https://www.waze.com. My driver suggested that if you use WAZE it tends to deplete your phone’s battery resources rather quickly so use a car charger to keep your phone charged.

    The connection between career development and retirement is significant and can be life changing. The primary benefit of a career development plan is that viable and well thought out Individual Development Plans (IDPs) often lead to recognition, promotions, and Quality Within Grade (QWI) awards. Your annuity (retirement checks) are based on your high-3 average pay including locality pay and annual premiums for standby duty and availability if applicable. A well thought out plan offers many benefits including the potential for a substantial increase in your federal retirement annuity!

    Many IDPs also include a stint at regional or Washington DC headquarter offices especially towards the end of your active career. Regional offices and headquarters are typically in higher paying major metropolitan areas. These are high cost areas and the locality pay may be significantly higher than where you are currently working. For example, if you worked in a location under the Locality Rest of US (RUS) schedule a GS-14 step 4 makes $108,497 a year compared to $128,445 if you work in the San Francisco area. Your high three would increase dramatically. The cost of living would be higher however Uncle Sam does pay generous relocation allowances and your stay would only be for a few years to boost your high three annuity calculation.

    Other ways to increase your pension is to buy back your military time if you served in the armed forces of the United States. When you pay your military credit you are able to add your military time (years and months of service) to your pension (annuity) calculation that will increase your retirement check. If you are under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and eligible to collect social security (you paid into Social Security for at least 40 quarters) your annuity will be decreased at age 62 by the number of years that you served if you don’t buy back your military time. Many CSRS employees retire in their 50s and often work in the private sector where they will accumulate enough social security quarters to qualify. Also, if you don’t buy back your military time shortly after entering federal service you have to pay a significant interest penalty.

    A realistic and actionable career development plan has many benefits including those that you may not realize at the time such as a dramatically increased retirement annuity down the road. During my career, using the techniques I describe in Take Charge of Your Federal Career I earned two Quality Within Grades and numerous promotions. All resulting in a substantially higher retirement pension. All federal employees should consider initiating a career development plan and be aware and educated about their federal retirement benefits. They go hand in hand and you can lose substantial retirement funds if you aren’t prepared and don’t understand your options.

    Retiree Job Center Update

    If you intend to work in retirement for whatever reason check out our Jobs Center. Employers looking to recruit federal retirees and those soon to retire post job vacancies on our site. Recently Blue Square Resolutions posted a Help Desk Technician position for the New York area and Adams Consulting Group is looking for a Paralegal/Analyst-Class Action/ Securities or Anti-trust specialist. Visit our Job Board for complete details. Another recent posting is for an accountant / bookkeeper.

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

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

    Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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      Posted on Saturday, 4th July 2015 by

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      When a spouse is designated the beneficiary of a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account, the inherited account will be converted to the G-Fund upon notification of the death of the annuitant. The spousal beneficiary will be able to access and manage their inherited TSP account, select funds, and elect payouts just as before. No taxes would be due unless you withdraw funds or are required by age to take a minimum distribution.

      The TSP’s Death Benefits brochure states on page 11 that, “A beneficiary who is not a surviving spouse cannot retain a TSP account. The death benefit payment will be made directly to the beneficiary or to an ‘inherited’ IRA.” There are distinct benefits for non-spousal beneficiaries to have their inheritance transferred to an inherited IRA. When a death benefit is paid directly to a beneficiary they may be subject to a 20% mandatory federal income tax withholding and the entire amount will be taxable in the year it was inherited. This may create a significant tax burden, depending on the account balance, that can be deferred if the funds are transferred to an inherited IRA with a financial institution such as a brokerage house, financial planning firm, or mutual fund family.

      In my article titled Survivor’s Beware – The TSP Trap I discuss what a surviving spouse needs to consider before moving their funds to a private equity firm, precautions they should take, the advantages of the Thrift Savings Plan, the ease of managing their TSP account, and recommendations to safeguard their TSP assets with little to no market risk. These same considerations should be evaluated by retirees and those approaching retirement who are often approached by financial planners with recommendations to move their funds from the TSP to higher market risk investments. There are also some disadvantages to consider for inherited spousal TSP account holders that could negatively impact their heirs.

      I kept my TSP account in retirement because of the many TSP advantages that I discuss in the above mentioned article and in The TSP Advantage (Should I Stay or Go). I like the simplicity of the TSP, the lowest management fees in the industry, and the fact that the G-Fund has NO MARKET RISK and is paying a fair return, more than twice what the highest earning CDs are paying these days, 2.4% in 2014. When you consider the L-Income Fund, that has some market risk, pays close to twice what the G-Fund pays you can easily understand my reasoning.

      There is one significant exception to this analysis. According to the TSP, “If a beneficiary participant (Annuitant’s spouse) dies, the new beneficiary(ies) cannot continue to maintain the account in the TSP. Also, the death benefit cannot be transferred or rolled over into any type of IRA or plan.” If you are the surviving spouse and inherit your husband or wife’s TSP account your beneficiaries must claim the full amount as income the year that you die.

      TSP accounts, especially for FERS annuitants, can be hundreds of thousands of dollars and some exceed a million or more. Because your beneficiaries would have to claim all of that income the year it is inherited they could end up in the top tax bracket, depending on your account balance. The top tax bracket for 2015 of 39.6% starts at $413,200 for a single filer to $464,850 for a married couple filing jointly. If they were allowed to transfer the funds to an inherited IRA account they could spread out or defer payments for years.

      If you have a spousal TSP account, and want your beneficiaries to have the option to transfer their inheritance to an inherited IRA account when you die, you can transfer your TSP account to an IRA with either a financial planner, brokerage house, or mutual fund family. If you transfer to an IRA account your heirs can, if desired, transfer their share to an inherited IRA and won’t have to claim the entire amount the year of the inheritance.

      You can closely match TSP funds to private sector indexed funds with companies like Fidelity and Vanguard mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs). Indexed funds generally have very low management fees, far less than managed funds charge and ETFs mirror the performance of many indexed mutual funds and they are traded like stocks. These two companies are the giants of the mutual fund industry and will assist you with the transfer and recommend funds that closely match the TSP fund options with some exceptions.

      Most mutual fund families and brokerage houses can establish inherited IRAs for their clients however you need to be aware of front and back end loads (fees) that some mutual funds charge that can be as high as 5% or more. I don’t believe there are any mutual funds that can guarantee that your investment will never decrease in value like the TSP G-Fund does. However, there are many government bond fund options to choose from. You don’t have to invest in stocks or mutual funds. You can invest your funds in Certificates of Deposit, maintain a cash account, buy municipal bonds, U.S. Treasury bills, notes or bonds, corporate bonds of all types, or any other investment that you choose in an IRA.

      I left instructions with our estate plan advising my wife to eventually transfer her spousal TSP account to an IRA so that our children can elect to transfer their inheritance to an inherited IRA when she dies. Eventually I may consider transferring my TSP account to an IRA so that my wife will not have to deal with this when I die.

      My next article will discuss inherited IRAs and how they are established and function and a final article in this series will discuss indexed mutual fund alternatives to the various TSP funds.

      Related TSP Articles

      Retiree Job Center Update

      If you intend to work in retirement for whatever reason check out our Jobs Center. Employers looking to recruit federal retirees and those soon to retire post job vacancies on our site. Recently Adams Consulting Group, LLC posted three openings for a controller (head of finance), a project manager and project manager implementation software position all in Mineola, New York. Visit our Job Board for complete details. If you are approaching retirement or a recent retiree with a security clearance visit the Security Clearance jobs board to find lucrative employment opportunities.

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

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

      Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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        Posted on Thursday, 11th June 2015 by

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        Wow, going on eleven years retired and I’m still learning valuable life lessons! There are so many times in my life when I reflect back on certain events and realize the err of my ways or the good judgment that was made at the time with the knowledge at hand. The reflections that really stand out are the times that I could have, should have, made a different decision.

        Recently we had a fence installed in our back yard and they had to drill 54 fence posts. I was concerned about the installation for a number of reasons. First and foremost, you never know what’s underground especially when you have a lawn sprinkler system, drainage pipes, electrical runs for outside lighting and whatever else may be lurking underground. The Call One service, where the utilities come out and mark all of their lines, went smoothly and fortunately we didn’t have any gas, sewer, main power or water lines to deal with.

        I was fairly certain where one of our 4 inch PVC downspout drains was located in the back yard and advised the work crew where they needed to be cautious. When I told the crew chief that a 4 inch Schedule 40 drain pipe was probably about 24 inches below grade directly under a fence post location he stated that the dirt in that area hadn’t been disturbed and he thought otherwise. Even though I felt strongly that I was right, and after extending a 6 foot rod in the drain where the water existed the pipe and lining up the path the pipe would take, I let it go. Sure enough 20 or so inches below grade they broke the scheduled 40 drain pipe. The crew chief apologized and It took them several hours to dig out the area and repair the break.

        How often have you ignored the obvious because either someone else suggested otherwise or you just let it go because you felt it wasn’t worth arguing about or simply didn’t want to make waves? This situation happens a lot, especially with contractors, and I’ve dealt with them for many years yet I still find myself in these situations from time to time. When we know we are right we have to insist on what makes sense to us unless or until someone else can persuade us differently. Otherwise we lose if we stand by and just let things happen. Retirement and estate planning is like that, you have to take control, find the right answers and solutions you need to make retirement work for you and your family.

        I’ve been working with an attorney on and off for about a year to revise our estate plan’s wills and trusts. I thought it time to get a professional involved. Originally I drafted our family’s wills, trusts, and other documents using NOLO WillMaker Plus software in 2004. I ignored my gut feelings and initial reservations about our attorney’s proposed plans. After asking for numerous clarifications I deferred to his expertise. A huge and very costly mistake. Instead of making our plans easier to administer for my wife and heirs it ended up far too complex than I and my wife desired.

        The long and short of it is that if I don’t understand something I generally won’t proceed until I do and it seems the more I research and dig into the subject the more questions arise. The more questions you ask an attorney the bigger the bill! What should have been a fairly easy and straight forward plan, considering my wife and I have been married for going on 47 years became unwieldy.

        I suppose it’s like reading the fine print on a contract such as an insurance policy. If you don’t understand the intent you or your loved ones could suffer the consequences. For major things like this you shouldn’t leave things to chance.

        I don’t know why most attorneys insist on writing wills and trusts in 17th century language that only lawyers and professors understand! The Wills and Trusts that I completed in 2004 using NOLO’s WIllMaker Plus and their Revocable Trust software are written in everyday language and they provide summary documents for your estate executor, trustee, heirs, and/or administrator. The good news is that most can use NOLO’s software to draft wills, trusts, health directives, numerous estate documents, and various powers of attorney. The program explains the process and asks you questions. Your replies and expressed desires are used by the software program to write your will, estate documents, and a revocable trust if desired that is designed specifically in accordance with your State’s laws. If you have special situations such as owning a business, have a large estate, or your heirs have special needs it is suggested you hire an attorney to help you through the process. NOLO has a special offer for WillMaker Plus 2015 purchasers. They are including a free revocable trust program with your purchase.

        I am working with my attorney to revise our documents. If I’m not satisfied with the new proposals and additional costs I’ll have to look at other options or possibly go back to NOLO and do it on my own again. My main reason for going to an attorney in the first place was to handle the transition of my business upon my death and to simplify things for my wife and heirs when I’m gone. I discovered too late, after researching the subject, that a simple revision to my company’s operating agreement was all I needed for the business.

        Stop, Look & Listen

        I leaned over the years to research, observe, and listen first before proceeding. This approach has served me well over the years and saved me a lot aggravation. I did use this technique with our estate plans but somehow we got off track.

        Another technique I use to avoid making bad decisions is that when I feel that something isn’t right, question when or If I should proceed or am just emotionally charged, I don’t make an immediate decision. I sleep on it and revisit the matter at a later date when I’m refreshed and able to be truly objective.

        Rely on Your Partner

        I’ve learned over the years that my wife has tremendous insight. It has taken me a lifetime to truly appreciate my wife’s profound good sense and ability to see things that I’m too caught up with at the moment to appreciate. Use your partner as a sounding board and step back and understand the true intent of their concern without becoming defensive. Retirement is a two way street and your partner is impacted just as much as you are and they need to share in the decision making process and be an active participant.

        Approaching Retirement

        When approaching retirement employees are concerned about the best date to retire, how to maximize benefits, and if they can in fact afford to maintain their lifestyle in retirement. Retirees are faced with many decisions; when to take Social Security, sign up for Medicare, change our benefits, establish a will and living trust, and a number of other estate planning tasks such as power of attorney, health directives and so much more! It can be intimidating and confusing to say the least. We have to rely on others to provide succinct advice and counsel from those who we can trust and the key is to find someone trustworthy to help us through these hurdles. I call them hurdles because they can be difficult to navigate and much research is needed to make informed decisions or to find a competent advisor to help us along the way. This is why I launched www.federalretirement.net, a federal employee and annuitant’s retirement planning website and blog at http://www.fedretire.net prior to my retirement in 2005. I wasn’t able to find the information I needed to make informed retirement and benefit decisions and as I researched each facet of my pending retirement I posted what I learned, and continue to learn, on these sites.

        FEHB Discussion

        Recently Jackie, one of our newsletter subscribers, asked me why I have Blue Cross and Blue Shield Basic opposed to the Standard option. She is 62 and her husband is on her policy as well. Over the years she reviewed the Basic option but was concerned about the coverage compared to the Standard Option.

        This is just one of the many benefit’s decisions we have to make. I explained that my wife and I have had Blue Cross Blue Shield basic for years without any issues. Basic works more like an HMO with some co- pays and it is less confusing than Standard. The big difference between the two is that you have to use Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BC/BS) preferred providers with the Basic plan and they pay nothing if you decide to go to a physician that isn’t one of their providers. Over the years we have easily found and used their preferred providers and the vast majority of hospitals and physicians are already in the BC/BS nationwide network. Neither of us take prescription drugs so we didn’t need the 3 month mail supply feature that the standard option offers.

        Also, when you are age 65 and sign up for Medicare, BC/BS pays all co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles except for prescriptions. Medicare is our primary provider now that we are 65 and BC/BS is our secondary provider. Many at age 65 look for lower cost FEHB plans because at 65 you start paying for Medicare Part B; Part A is free. Here is more information on changing to a lower cost FEHB plan when you sign up for Medicare.

        Once you sign up for Medicare Part A and B Blue Cross and Blue Shield, along with most other FEHB plans, pay all co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles ─ except for prescription co-pays ─ because of the savings your FEHB plan receives by not being the primary provider.

        Please pass this article on to your friends and associates and I would appreciate any mention of our articles and web sites on your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts.

        Retiree Job Center Update

        If you intend to work in retirement for whatever reason check out our Jobs Center. Employers looking to recruit federal retirees and those soon to retire post job vacancies on our site. Recently THOR Solutions, LLC of Norfolk Virginia posted an opening for a Human Resource , Staffing and Recruiting Specialist. Visit our Job Board for complete details. Another recent posting is for an accountant / bookkeeper.

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

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

        Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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          Posted on Thursday, 28th May 2015 by

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          Many retirees and active federal employees have been waiting for this for some time now. Starting this fall you will be able to enroll in any of the FEHB health plans under the new Self Plus One rate schedule. This year’s annual open season begins November 9th and the new rates will be effective January 1, 2016.

          Self Plus One is a new enrollment type in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program that allows you to cover yourself and one eligible family member you designate to be covered. Starting in 2016, all FEHB plans (your health insurance plans) will offer a Self Only, a Self Plus One, and a Self and Family enrollment type. Employees and annuitants will be able to select a Self Plus One enrollment beginning in the 2015 Open Season.

           

          Self Plus One Health Insurance Election

          Self Plus One Health Insurance Election

          The Self Plus One option isn’t automatic. In other words if you are currently enrolled in a Self and Family option, and there are only two of you to be covered, you must change your enrollment during open season to the new Self Plus One option. There are other restrictions and additional guidance is available on OPM’s Self Plus One Special Initiatives page.

          The new plan information and premiums won’t be published until later this year. If you compare the savings from the Dental and Vision program in 2014 that has offered the Self Plus One option since its inception the average savings could be significant. For example, the Met Life Federal Dental Plan premium for rating area 1 Self Plus One was $17.38 in 2014 and their Standard Option Self and Family was $26.06. The Self Plus One premium was 33.3% lower than the Family option! Quite a savings especially for retirees that are living on a fixed income. My Blue Cross Blue Shield Basic Family option premium is $321.67. A 33% decrease would bring this down $106.15 to $215.52. This decrease would cover most retirees Medicare Part B premiums except for those who have income adjusted Part B premiums.

          We won’t know the actual savings for several months and the savings could be more or less than what the Dental and Vision programs offer.

          Retiree Employment Update

          Many job opportunities are available for retirees − and those planning to retire − to earn additional income in retirement. Many retirees work full or part time, for many reasons; social, financial, and to keep active. Federal retirees can go back to work in the private sector without any impact on their federal annuity or benefits. Our Jobs Board offers free job postings to companies that are looking for highly qualified, reliable, and skilled federal employees approaching retirement and active federal retirees. We have several new jobs listed for accountants and bookkeepers, financial officer and data manager. Visit our Jobs Board frequently to check out new listings in your area. The job postings are geo targeted to your search location.

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

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

          Visit our other informative sites

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

           

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            Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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            Posted on Saturday, 16th May 2015 by

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            I received a call from the wife of a friend who passed away recently. She was concerned about her options after being notified by the TSP that her husband’s account was converted to the G Fund upon his death. She was approached by a financial planner that suggested she transfer her husband’s TSP account to them and they would manage it for her. Her husband was an astute investor and knew the ins and outs of the stock market and personally managed all of their investments.

            Before considering moving your TSP to a financial planner read Have You Considered Hiring A Financial Planner that discusses the pros and cons that are involved with such a move. A financial planning firm will often charge 1.65% a year of your total account value or more to actively manage your funds. For example, if you have $300,000 in your TSP account, and transferred it to a financial planning firm, they would charge you $4,950 a year, with a 1.65% annual fee, for their services plus individual fund management fees and in some cases transaction fees. The TSP would have charged you $87 in 2014, .029% for that same amount, and they have no transaction fees! They only charged 29 cents per thousand dollars in your account in 2014. The financial planning firm would have to achieve much higher gains to offset their fees. Typically, higher gains often come from higher risk investments.

            Often when a spouse who managed the finances for the family dies the surviving spouse is unsure how to manage the inherited account without risking the principle. This is why a financial plan and estate plan are so important. Not just for annuitants but for all federal employees as well. How would your family cope and survive if something tragic happens to you! I have always been a planner and enjoy the process because it creates order out of potential chaos.

             

            Financial Planning

            Financial Planning

            A survivor is vulnerable at the time of loss and for many months thereafter. My suggestion to a surviving spouse is to not make any major financial decisions for at least 6 months or more to give you time to grieve and to deal with all of the issues that must be taken care of at the time.

            The TSP is one of the lowest cost plans available anywhere and it can be easy to manage especially for retirees where they, for the most part, want to conserve and not risk their life savings. The G-Fund has NO MARKET RISK and Uncle Sam guarantees that the G-Fund will never decrease in value unlike all other funds. A recent article that I wrote titled The TSP Advantage (Should I Stay or Go) outlines the advantages of the THRIFT Plan including their extremely low management fees that average 29 cents per thousand dollars invested, by far the lowest fees available anywhere.

            The disadvantage of bond funds in general right now is their low rate of return and the fact that once the Federal Reserve starts to increase interest rates bond funds typically decrease in value. That won’t happen with the G-Fund since it is guaranteed not to decrease in value as noted above. When you compare the G-Fund to any Certificate of Deposit (CD) or most other bond funds it’s rate of return is higher than most would expect. In 2014 the G-Fund averaged 2.4%, the same year it was difficult finding a CD that paid anywhere near 1% unless you tied up your money for 3 to 5 years. So far in 2015, January through April, the G-Fund has averaged .64% well on its way to earning 2% again this year. Your account will never decrease in value if you retain 100% of your account in the G-Fund.

            The problem with keeping everything in the G-Fund is that, for the most part, it won’t keep up with inflation long term. There is another option for annuitants that many select, the L-Income fund. This fund is designed to achieve a low level of growth with a high emphasis on preservation of assets. Unlike the other four L Funds, the L Income Fund’s asset allocation does not change quarterly. However, like the other funds, it is rebalanced daily to maintain the following target investment mix:

            • 74% G Fund (Government Bonds)
            • 6% F Fund (Fixed Income)
            • 12% C Fund (S&P Index)
            • 3% S Fund (Small Cap)
            • 5% I Fund (International)

            The L Income fund averaged 3.77% in 2014 compared to 2.4% for the G Fund and for the past 12 months it has earned 3.98%. There is market risk to 26% of your total investment and the trade off for that risk is a higher yield overall as long as the market doesn’t tank again like it did in 2008 and 2009. The key to determining if you can tolerate the risk is whether or not you need the funds now to live on and when you anticipate taking withdrawals to maintain your lifestyle in retirement.

            There are TSP options to consider with your THRIFT plan and the more you know about it the better prepared you will be when the funds are needed. Explore your options carefully and take time to understand exactly what impact your decisions will have on your account balance, the bottom line.

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

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

            Visit our other informative sites

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

             

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

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              Posted on Wednesday, 29th April 2015 by

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              Up until recently the only way you could obtain a federal retirement ID Card, officially referred to as a “Retirement Services Reference Card,” was to call OPM and request a copy. They would send it in the mail and you would receive it in 5 to 7 business days. Recently OPM Services Online added a Retirement Services Reference Card printout function to their service. My card was damaged and instead of calling OPM I simply signed on to OPM Services Online and printed out a new copy. It only took 5 minutes. Here is a screen shot of my card with my name and ID number removed.

              When I first printed the card it was too small. My print scale was set at 70%. If you reduce the size of your prints be sure to change it back to 100% before printing your card.

               

              Retiree ID Card

              Retiree ID Card

               

              Herb Casey, one of our quest writers, wrote a comprehensive article titled “Connect to OPM Retirement Services Online” that walks you through the site and explains how to get connected. I use this service to printout my 1099-R income tax form at the end of the year. It is sent in the mail but I like to get a jump on my taxes and it is available online and easy to print out. It is often difficult getting through to OPM’s retirement hot line so I use this service whenever I can to change allotments, print out annuity statements and verification of your FEGLI insurance coverage, and other features.

              Hearing is Believing

              In my article titled “Did You Hear That? A fitting End to a Frustrating Problem” I discuss how it is difficult for many, especially retirees – older folks, to hear the TV clearly and the solution I discovered. Basically I purchased wireless capable hearing aids through Costco and a TV streamer that sends the TV sound direct to your hearing aids. The TV streamer works fine however the downside is that it drains the hearing aid batteries to the point that I was changing the batteries every other day! Also the fidelity of the streamer isn’t nearly as good as what a headset provides.

              While researching alternatives online I discovered a sound solution. The web site 4homespeakers.com, a division of JMJ Supply LLC, specializes in the sale and support of wireless speakers, headphones, and hearing impaired devices. They tailor systems to provide a vast array of unique options to suit all of your hearing needs and more. I purchased their RCSA RF Wireless TV Speaker and Headphone Combo about six months ago and my wife and I use it daily. This package offers a wireless 900 MHZ transmitter system that allows you to hear the audio up to 150 feet away from the source. You get a headset with cradle and a small tower speaker for $129.99, now on sale for $79.99. I like the option of having the wireless speaker and headset for my wife and I. If you have dexterity or poor eyesight issues you may want to upgrade to a system with a charging base that you just set the headsets into and they automatically charge. With the system we have, that’s currently on sale, you have to plug in a small charging cable to the headset from the headphone cradle and the connection may be difficult to make if you have sight or dexterity issues.

               

              Headphone & Speaker System

              Headphone & Speaker System

              The system we have, one of many they have available at very reasonable prices, is suited to our needs. My wife uses the headphones and I often use the speaker that is small enough to sit on an end table or on the floor by your chair. You plug the headset cradle into your TV’s audio out RCA jack and it drives both speaker and headset. If you don’t have a RCA audio out jack on your TV they have an analog to digital converter that connects your headset to the Toslink output and another options will connect your audio through a HDMI output. The converters are not included with the package. Check your TV to confirm what connection options you have before ordering. Their tech support can walk you through the setup if you are having problems.

              Our TV has an RCA jack and it works fine as long as you turn up your TV audio so that the audio out of the RCA jack is sufficient to power the remote headset and speaker. When you plug in your headset to the RCA jack your TV speakers are turned off.

              If you need two headsets or prefer separate small speakers at multiple locations they offer that as well. You will also find high fidelity options available that some prefer. I also purchased a RCA audio splitter that allows us to use two headsets if desired. The reason I ordered the headset and speaker combination is that I can turn off my speaker and read in the same room that my wife is watching TV without distractions. Another benefit of having a speaker is that when both of us have headsets on we can’t hear the phone or doorbell ring.

              Check out their site to see what options are best for you. They have numerous videos that demonstrate how each system operates and connects to your TV.

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

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

              Visit our other informative sites

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

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

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                Posted on Monday, 6th April 2015 by

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                In one of my previous articles titled Have You Considered Hiring a Financial Advisor  I discussed professional investment assistance and the advantages and costs associated with hiring a financial advisor.  This article focuses on the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP),  its benefits,  and their very low management fees compared to other funds.  It also introduces you to various options that you have available within your TSP to grow and manage your retirement nest egg.

                Many retirees contemplate moving their TSP to other vendors that promise a more diverse basket of fund options, higher returns, and the ability to purchase individual securities.  Those who take the leap and leave need to be aware of the risks and costs involved beforehand.

                After retirement federal annuitants can transfer all or a part of their TSP account to a professional financial management firm or to a self managed retirement account with companies like Fidelity and Vanguard where many more investment options are available. They can open a retirement account for you and assist with transferring all or a part of your TSP to a brokerage account where you can purchase any mutual fund, stock, ETF, and bond if desired.  If you elect to do this be sure to have your TSP funds transferred direct to the new retirement account otherwise the transfer would be considered taxable by the IRS.

                Federal employees can also make an age-based in-service withdrawal anytime after they reach age 59½ as long as they are an active civilian federal employee or a member of the uniformed services. Some use the age based withdrawal option to transfer a part of their TSP to a private retirement account that they can personally manage or to a financial planner to compare their performance and services.  A word of caution here; a friend of mine used an age-based withdrawal to pay for his daughter’s wedding and was surprised at the amount that was withheld for federal taxes.  If you withdraw the funds for personal use the entire amount will be taxable in the year withdrawn.

                I have my company’s retirement account at Fidelity and the advantage for me is that I can pick and choose from a broad spectrum of investments.  My account is set up like any other brokerage account except it is tax deferred until I start withdrawing at age 70 ½. I actively manage my account and Fidelity only charges $7.95 a trade.

                If you are an experienced investor, understand sound investment principles, and are willing to study and follow the market wherever it takes you, this may be the way to go.  Others, with limited investment experience or lack the time needed to personally manage their account could move funds to a fee based financial advisor that manages their accounts for them.

                I’m not a professional investor however I did write a primer titled Dollars and Sense, Safe Investment Strategies for Small Investors back in the 1980s. The book was based on my personal investment strategies and I’ve always leaned towards a very conservative approach to all things financial.  I have a personal interest in the TSP because I’ve invested in the THRIFT Plan from its inception in the 1980s. Even as a CSRS employee I was able to contribute 5% and over time, without any matching funds, my TSP account grew appreciably.  I retired ten years ago and elected over the years to keep my TSP fund intact for a myriad of reasons.

                TSP Advantages

                To start with the TSP funds have possibly the lowest management fees available. They charged .029% for all fund families, 2.9 basis points according to the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.  Expressed another way, this means that expenses charged to each TSP account in 2014 were approximately 29 cents per $1,000 of investment or only $29 for each $100,000 in your account. Indexed funds typically have the lowest management fees and in the private sector they average .15% or $1.50 per $1,000 invested according to a recent article in Money Magazine;  five times more than what the TSP charges.  It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find lower fees than what the TSP offers. Stock funds average expenses are .90%, considerably higher than indexed funds and if you buy funds with front end loads you could pay as high as 5% or more just for this one time charge.

                Expenses and fees matter and can make a significant dent in your long term savings. For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission in their report titled “How Fees and Expenses Affect Your Investment Portfolio” reports that a 1% annual fee reduces an initial $100,000 portfolio, that earns an average of 4% a year over 20 years, by nearly $30,000! In this example the account would be worth $210,000 with a .25% annual fee to just under $180,000 with a 1% annual fee.

                If you transferred your account to a financial planning firm you would more than likely add another 1% to 1.65% for asset management to fully managed accounts plus transactions fees in certain cases on top of the fund fees that would further reduce your gains.  Managed account fees often start at or above 1.65% of the first $500,000 invested or an additional $1,650 per $100,000 in your account each year plus fund fees.  Financial advisors actively manage your accounts and they strive to beat the market averages which if successful can significantly offset their management fees.  The key is finding a firm with a sound track record that can provide the services you need and the investment results you desire.

                TSP Funds

                TSP participants generally would like to have more fund choices.  I too would like to see a few specialty funds and value funds added.  However, I believe the TSP only requires a little tweaking down the road.  Federal employees and annuitants can research all of the funds in their account online at http://www.tsp.gov including the performance of each fund. There are also no transactions fees when you elect to rebalance your account or simply switch to a different fund allocation.

                The TSP funds are not the typical mutual fund even though the C, F, I, and S index funds are currently managed by Blackrock and similar to their mutual fund offerings.  The G Fund assets are managed internally by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.  The G Fund is invested in nonmarketable U.S. Treasury securities that are guaranteed by the U.S. Government and the G Fund will not lose money.

                The C Fund is designed to match the performance of the S&P 500 while the F Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, a broad index representing the U.S. bond market.  The I Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Morgan Stanley Capital International EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index. The Small Cap S Fund’s objective is to match the performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market Index, a broad market index made up of stocks of U.S. companies not included in the S&P 500 Index. The C, F, I and S funds are trust funds that are regulated by the Comptroller of the Currency, not by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and therefore do not have ticker symbols.

                The F and C Fund assets are held in separate accounts and the S and I Fund assets are invested in Collective Funds. These trust funds are comprised of investments by tax-exempt institutions like the TSP, such as pension plans and endowments. Investing collectively in this way can be advantageous because it reduces trading costs. The securities held in these commingled funds are held in trust and they are not assets of BlackRock, nor can they be used to meet the financial obligations of BlackRock.

                The Life Cycle funds are a combination of the primary funds mentioned above and they are adjusted to a more conservative mix as you approach the life cycle target date. These funds are good for those who are uncomfortable with making investment choices and when they time out you end up in the Income Fund which is about 75% invested in the G Fund. You still maintain a mix of the other funds to hopefully beat inflation and still grow your funds for when they are needed.

                TSP Annuity Conversions

                According to the Thrift Savings Board, “When you are ready to withdraw all of the money from your TSP account, you can do it all at once, over a period of time, or you can purchase an annuity that will make payments to you for life. For maximum flexibility, you can choose any combination of these full withdrawal options.”

                The Life Annuity option can provide an additional monthly payment to you and your spouse for life if desired and there are many variations to consider. Visit the TSP Life Annuity online guide to learn more about all of the options available and to use their income calculator to help you determine if a Life Annuity is right for you. Before converting to a life annuity through the TSP you may wish to compare offers from other providers first and to do that you really have to read the fine print on the offers. There can be substantial differences between providers.

                Before abandoning the TSP ship know why and where you are heading and if the destination you are targeting will be able to perform to your expectations.  Your TSP account can be a significant portion of your total retirement, especially for FERS employees. We all need to be good stewards of our TSP funds to achieve a secure and sound financial retirement.  Personally, I take my time with major financial decisions and try things out on a smaller scale first. For example, if I was considering moving my account to a personally managed retirement account or to a financial planning firm I would only transfer a portion, maybe 25 to 50% tops, and give it a year or more to compare the results.

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

                 

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

                Visit our other informative sites

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

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