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Posted on Wednesday, 3rd October 2018 by

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The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently announced that the average 2019 total premiums for current non-Postal employees and retirees enrolled in plans under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program will increase 1.3 percent, the lowest increase since the 1996 plan year.

Under the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP), the overall average premium for dental plans will increase by 1.2 percent, while the overall average premium for vision plans will decrease by 2.8 percent.

The Federal Benefits Open Season begins November 12 and ends December 10, 2018. This is the time to review your plan choices and make changes to your FEHB and FEDVIP coverage for the upcoming benefit year that begins January 1, 2019. Federal employees may also use Open Season to elect to make pre-tax contributions to health care and/or dependent care flexible spending accounts under the Federal Flexible Spending Account Program (FSAFEDS).

Starting this year, all FEHB carriers may offer three plan options of any plan type. Overall, the FEHB Program will offer 265 health plan choices in 2019. The actual number of choices available to any given enrollee will be lower and will vary by geographic location.

Even though OPM will not have plan brochures available for several weeks some of the providers already have information available online for their plans. Blue Cross and Blue Shield FFS is offering a third option this year, their Focus plans. You can compare all of the Blue Cross plans online. The Focus Plans generally have higher out-of-pocket and annual deductibles for members than their other plans. The monthly costs are approximately 30% less expensive than their Basic Plan. For example, if you enrolled in their Self + 1 Basic Plan (113) the monthly costs would be $369.56 compared to just $247.55 for the new FOCUS Self + 1 plan (133).  The premium for their Basic Self + 1 plan monthly premium decreased by $2.76 per month for 2019.

GEHA also has their plan information posted online.  Their Self + 1 Standard Plan (316) monthly premium increased to $273.83, up $17.91 for 2019.

OPM’s Plan Comparison Tool can help enrollees shop for coverage and will contain 2019 plan information beginning the first full week of November.

Changes for 2019 include expanded availability of telehealth services, enhanced chronic condition management, and improved incentives for FEHB enrollees who have enrolled in Medicare Part B. In addition, OPM removed a limit on the amount of premiums that High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) could contribute to an enrollee’s tax-advantaged savings account. As a result, more than one-third of HDHPs will make more money available to enrollees for qualified medical expenses.

Starting with this year’s Open Season, OPM is allowing certain TRICARE-eligible members of the uniformed services and their families to enroll in FEDVIP. Uniformed services retirees and their families may enroll in a FEDVIP dental plan. Uniformed services retirees and their families, as well as active duty family members, can enroll in a FEDVIP vision plan if they have also enrolled in a TRICARE health plan. More information is available at TRICARE.BENEFEDS.com.

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

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

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

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

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    Posted on Friday, 28th September 2018 by

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    I grew up in Wilkinsburg, the Town of Churches. A bustling small town nesseled on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA. In my youth Wilkinsburg was a vibrant community and great place to raise children.  We had a Woolworth’s and Murphy’s Five and Dime store, the Rolland Movie Theater, Faller’s Furniture, the Penn-Lincoln Hotel, John’s Laundry where my sister worked, and many restaurants including the Penn-Wood Grill, two Isaly’s Dairy Stores, and specialty shops of every kind.

     

    The Rolland Theater is in the background & Penn-Wood Grill to the right.
    (Wilkinsburg Historical Society Photo)

    In my pre-teens my friends and I would forage for pop bottles to return to the grocery store; 5 cents for the quart bottles and 2 cents for a 12-ounce bottle. A quart bottle was a prized possession. The older kids threw the bottles into thorn bushes just to watch us gingerly pull them out.  I earned a lot of cuts and scrapes in those days.

    If I lucked out, I would find enough bottles for the 25 cents admission to Rolland Theater’s Saturday matinee, plus 10 cents for a bag of popcorn. Today, our generation, is accused of polluting the environment, yet we used paper bags at the grocery story, cotton diapers were washed daily, returned pop and milk bottles to the store for the deposit, darned socks, mended clothes, and our soft drinks, straws, and coffee cups were made with paper! We weren’t a throwaway society then; TVs, radios, and appliances were repaired, not thrown in the garbage heap.  What generation is truly environmentally conscious?

    My mother was an elevator operator at the Shields Building on the corner of Ross and Wood Street; yes, an elevator operator, one of many lost crafts today. The carriage had a sliding metal mesh screen and ornate brass lever that you manually operated to move up or down. You had to stop it at just the right time or you would have to step up or down to exit.  My mother stopped it, without fail, at exactly the right spot each and every time. If I shut my eyes, I can see my mom at the controls, conversing with building tenants.

     

    (Wilkinsburg Historical Society Photo 1966)

    My first full time job was with R. Bruce Miller & Associates on the 4th floor of the Shields building. My mother talked Mr. Miller into interviewing me for a drafting position and I started work before I graduated. I stayed with them until I received my draft notice and joined the Airforce. I have many happy memories from those days.

     

    First Full Time Job (Dennis V. Damp 1968)

    In the 1960’s there wasn’t a vacant store front on Penn Avenue, today not only are store fronts vacant many buildings were torn down years ago.  Me and my friends could walk anywhere back then, and it was a safe environment for kids and adults alike.  We could ride the trolley for 10 cents or take a train to downtown Pittsburgh.  I don’t recall any drive by shootings, home invasions, drug overdoses, or gang warfare back then.

    Prior to touring my old high school, I drove through town and discovered the apartments where my mother and I resided were demolished along with many landmarks. The roads that I walked to school on were littered with abandoned boarded up buildings, and in some places the weeds towered over the yards extending to the street, crowding out the sidewalks. I vividly recall walking those routes every day for years.

     

    Wilkinsburg High School (Dennis Damp 9/15/2018)

    The 4-story high school was built in 1911 and the exterior is striking to say the least. The many steps made it a challenge for some to navigate, including myself. The 12-foot-high ceilings, long dark hallways, brown tile floors, and wood trim seemed surreal and in stark contrast to schools today. You could see the many building modifications made over the years to modernize, including open cable raceways hung high towards the hallway ceilings to route automation cables and power to classrooms.

     

    Hallway With Raceway Modification (Dennis Damp 9/15/2018)

    In my youth I remember walking these corridors which included the boy’s gymnasium, swimming pool, personal interactions with friends, and several exceptional teachers including Mr. Sheffler. My graduating class had over 300, while the last class to graduate numbered 25! The rumor is that the school will be torn down soon and the high school students in town are now bussed miles away to another municipality.

     

    Glass and Tile school flooring. (Dennis Damp 9/15/2018)
    (You can see through the glass from the lower floor!)

    The school is a metaphor for the community. The beautifully ornate iron stair railings are painted over many times, including the wood handrails that when you grab them they grab you back!  I visited one of the rest rooms and it hadn’t changed since my school days; same fixtures, stalls, etc. Everywhere you looked I saw shadows of the past. Once a proud and venerable institution now relegated to the wrecking ball.

     

    School Stairwell (Dennis Damp 9/15/2018)

    High school was full of cherished memories, good friends, and enjoyable school activities for most. My high school days were just a little different. I was there half a day, attending trade school for civil construction technology in the mornings throughout my junior and senior year. A training option they should use more of today.

    I had little time to socialize or participate in school activities. Fortunately, I found a job at age 15 with Isaly’s on Penn Avenue. When I wasn’t working I was courting Mary, my wife of 49 years this November. Yet, I had friends like John, Chuck, Ernie, Clerence, Georgian, Joeanne, Judy, Barbara, and many others. I worked with Georgian’s mother at Isalys. Georgian and her sister visited the store often and we all would joke around during their visit. Life was busy but good.

    You can see why people attend their high school reunions. We reestablish old friendships, share what has transpired in each other’s lives, and compare life then and now. You also learn about those who couldn’t attend, and ponder where others ended up.

    Unfortunately, many small towns have suffered the same consequence. The NAFTA agreement shut down most of this country’s manufacturing, leading to abandoned buildings and blight. My mother worked at an envelope factory in town that has long since closed its doors. The workers were laid off without any golden parachutes. After that, mom went to work at the diaper laundry only to be laid off when disposable diapers became the rage. Global markets with their low wage rates put many others out of work and residents had to flee to the suburbs and other locations leaving only the shell of a city behind. Our textile mills, furniture manufacturers, steel and most others were literally sent packing.

    When you buy an old house, people often say that it has good bones and has the potential to be restored to its former self. Hopefully, this will happen to our small towns. I still see potential in Wilkinsburg. There is new a housing development on South Trenton were I once lived. We rented an attic apartment on South Trenton with no central heat in the 1960s. It had a gas heater in the living room, if you could call it that. The building was demolished to make way for this development.

     

    The Yingling Mansion (Erin McClain Studio)

    The 28-room 112-year-old Yingling Mansion on Wood Street was transformed into a showplace for local designers in 2018. The Wilkinsburg Central Development Corporation has developed extensive plans to rejuvenate the town.  I can only pray their plans bear fruit. It’s a daunting task and I wish the best for my home town.

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

    Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

    Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

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

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      Posted on Friday, 21st September 2018 by

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      I presented a briefing last week for the Employee’s Retirement Club at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week at the invitation of the group’s chairperson, Esther Wang. We discussed a number of topics including FEGLI, Long Term Care, and Medicare signup. There was some confusion about the ability to defer Part B premiums if your spouse continues to work and you both are covered under a FEHB plan. Fortunately, one of the participants was able to provide clarification based on her research.

       

       

      When I turned 65 my wife was already retired therefore I immediately signed up for Medicare parts A and B. I didn’t have the option to defer Part B because my business is a single owner LLC and does not offer health insurance. My wife and I are covered under my FEHB enrollment.

      If you are still working and have health coverage from your employer your spouse can defer signing up for Part B and sign up later without penalty per the Medicare Booklet, page 19.

      According to Medicare, you will not pay a penalty “as long as you’re eligible for and enroll during a Special Enrollment Period. If you wait to enroll in Part B because you or your spouse are working and have group health coverage through an employer or union based on this current employment, you can enroll during a Special Enrollment Period. You can sign up for Part B during one of these times:

      • Any time you’re still covered by an employer or union group health plan, through your or your spouse’s current or active employment
      • During the 8-month period that begins the month after the employer or union group health plan coverage ends, or when the employment ends (whichever is first)”

      The Part B Medicare premium for those signing up for the first time in 2018 will be $134 a month.  However, some people who get Social Security will pay less than this amount. Use OPM form 2809 to document that you and your spouse are covered by an FEHB plan if you do decide to defer enrollment and discuss this with your agency’s retirement counselor or HR department.

      One of the primary reasons people decide to defer signing up for Medicare Part B is due to the income adjusted amount individuals must pay if their total income is over certain limits. According to Medicare, if your modified adjusted gross income as reported on your IRS tax return from 2 years ago is above a certain amount, you’ll pay the standard premium amount and an Income Monthly Adjusted Amount, also known as the IRMAA. IRMAA is an extra charge added to your premium.”

      Note: The 2019 IRMAA costs have not been published yet, view the 2018 premiums online. We will publish the 2019 rates as soon as they are released.

      For example, if in 2018 you sign up for Medicare Part B and your Joint income was above $170,000 up to $214,000 as reported on your 2016 tax return your Medicare Part B premium would be $187.50 per person.  Your modified adjusted income includes most of your income without any exemptions. The top rate for incomes above $320,000 is $428.60 for joint fillers.

      Those subjected to these higher rates may find it advantageous to defer signing up until their working spouse retires.

      Here is a list of articles that I wrote about sighing up for Medicare that you may find helpful. It includes an in-depth discussion on this subject:

      There are distinct advantages to signing up for Part B since most FEHB providers pay all of the coinsurance, deductibles and copayments when Medicare is your primary provider. Take your time deciding on what direction you will take, there is much to consider and the impact on your finances can be significant if you make the wrong decision for your circumstances.

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

      Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

      Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

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

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

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        Posted on Sunday, 16th September 2018 by

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        The 2018 FEHB open season will run from November 11 through December 10, 2018.  Each year Open Season runs from the Monday of the second full workweek in November through the Monday of the second full workweek in December. Health care service providers are required to submit benefit and rate proposals for the contract term beginning January 1, 2019 on or before May 31, 2018. OPM generally completes negotiations in August so we should have updates and new rates shortly. When they are published I will send out a message to all subscribers.

        OPM encourages all carriers to thoroughly evaluate options every year with a focus on improving affordability, reducing costs, improving the quality of care, and protecting the health of their enrolled populations. Any proposed benefit enhancements must be offset by proposed reductions so that premiums are not increased due to benefit changes.

        Premium increases are inevitable for most participants. At least we can look forward to a COLA increase of 3% or higher next year that may be enough to offset any healthcare premium increases.  Thankfully, Uncle Sam covers approximately 75% of our health plan costs for federal civil service employees and 90% for Postal employees.

        Retirees can Connect to FEHB Open Season Online to review brochures, pricing and submit changes starting in early November. You can actually chat with a Customer Service Representative using their “Live Help” feature.

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

        Retiree Jobs Update

        Employers continue to recruit federal retirees and those soon to retire. A number of companies post job vacancies on our Jobs Board and you will find listings for part- and full-time positions at locations across the country.  Those with security clearances also have many opportunities to consider.

        The good news for anyone that wants to work is that “For Hire” signs are posted everywhere today. With an unemployment rate of 3.9% the country is at full employment. The only way for companies to find more candidates is to attract those who voluntarily stopped working, including retirees. Wages are also increasing so that is good news for anyone interested in supplementing their retirement income.

        According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate refers to “the labor force as a percent of the civilian noninstitutional population.” Basically, it is the total number of people available to work as a percentage of the total population. In August 2018, it was down to 62.7 percent. Those who aren’t working are either going to school or retired for the most part. Family responsibilities also keep others out of the labor force.

        Many CSRS retirees do not collect Social Security because they haven’t worked a minimum of 40 quarters (10 years) paying into the Social Security system.  Most CSRS retirees paid into Social Security at least for a few years and if you served in the military all of your active duty time counts towards your 40 quarters. You may find it advantageous to return to work at least until you have the minimum needed to apply for Social Security benefits.

        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.

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

        Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

        Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

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

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          Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE

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          Posted on Friday, 7th September 2018 by

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          Fortunately, Federal employees are able to determine where they stand financially before retiring. When you evaluate your Thrift Savings, civil service annuity, social security and other savings and investment accounts you will discover the reality of retirement for you and your family. Will you have enough to not only live comfortably but to achieve your retirement goals?

           

           

          Thanks to our annuities federal employees tend to fair better than most and this safety net offers us greater flexibility in retirement. Federal retirees may not need to withdraw as much from their retirement accounts to make ends meet as do those without pensions in the private sector.

          The key to a successful retirement is having the funds necessary to pay your bills and maintain a comfortable life style. Retirees with sufficient savings and resources can relocate to escape high taxes or severe winter weather, travel extensively, pursue hobbies, start small businesses, and everything in between. Retirement can be anything you imagined if you have the resources to make it happen.

          Most federal employees contribute to their Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) to maximize their retirement savings and those over 50 can and should contribute even more.  The younger you are the more risk you can tolerate because you have decades to recover. Plus, while in a recession your TSP contributions take advantage of dollar cost averaging, buying more shares at lower prices if you stay the course.

          One of the reasons why federal employee’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) accounts are often less than anticipated is that many panic when the market drops and transfer everything to the TSP’s government bond (G fund). They lose the advantage of dollar cost averaging.  If you don’t take the time to learn basic investment principles investment decisions are often based on panic or gut feelings.

          I worked with an individual who would transfer from the S&P 500 Index (C Fund) to the (G Fund) whenever the market dropped substantially. Then, after the market recovered and was near the top he moved everything to the (C Fund) only to watch it drop again!  If he would have kept a good portion in the C, Small Cap S, and International I Funds during the downturns and dollar cost averaged when the market went down, he could have retired with a significantly higher TSP balance.

          The TSP’s target date (L Funds) are a good option for those uncomfortable with making investing decisions. These target date funds are adjusted every quarter to a more conservative fund mix as you approach your target retirement date. The L Income Fund is the most conservative of this group and focuses on capital preservation while providing a small exposure to the TSP’s riskier assets (C, S, and I Funds) in order to reduce inflation’s effect on your purchasing power. It’s important to note that it’s impossible to time the market and often if we try we lose out long term.

          This is where the dilemma arises for retirees.  We don’t have time on our side and if you need income from your investments, risk of loss is a potential game changer. Plus, the current bull market is mature, just over 10 years running and the good times don’t last forever. It is said that bull markets don’t die of old age. However, interest rate increases, deteriorating stock market fundamentals, international tensions, political turmoil, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, technological changes or disruption all factor into the equation and can topple a stampeding bull market in its tracks.

          During the last major financial crisis the S&P 500 dropped 57% from it’s high in 2007 to its low in 2009! It took the S&P approximately 14 months to hit its low and almost 6 years to recover to its previous high.

          If you have sufficient assets for retirement and a healthy annuity there are ways to reduce investment risk and minimize retirement account fluctuations.  Thankfully, our annuity and Social Security payments are adjusted for inflation with annual Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs).  However, our TSP and other investment accounts only grow through distributed dividends and capital gains.

          So, how much is enough for you and yours to live on in retirement?  Can you withstand, or more importantly afford, to have your investments decline significantly during a major recession?

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

          When markets go up investors are exuberant yet when they fall we tend to have second thoughts and struggle with the decision to sell at a loss or hold out for a comeback.  As I write this article the market indexes on August 28th 2018 are at an all-time high and many pundits are proclaiming more highs to come.

          What to do?

          It isn’t a matter of what is coming down the road as much as your ability to accept or at least tolerate a loss with minimal disruption to your life.  In life we constantly accept loss, the loss of a loved one for example.  The fact is that we can avoid financial loses to a certain extent if we plan properly and that can make all of the difference to YOUR world down the road.

          A financial planner will often ask who are you investing for to determine the amount of risk to take with your retirement portfolio. In other words, they want to know if you will need your TSP and other retirement accounts to live on or are you investing for your heirs.  If you reply “heirs,” they typically recommend a more aggressive growth portfolio. I question this because no matter who will eventually receive the assets I still don’t want to see what I worked a lifetime accumulating decrease 50% or more during a major recession or worse.  Secondly, if my heirs inherit during a market downturn they may be enticed to sell out and not wait for a recovery because they need the funds now or simply don’t trust the market enough to stay invested.

          The older I get the more conservative I become with my TSP and other retirement accounts. Currently my TSP is invested 100% in the L Income Fund and I’ve adjusted my other retirement accounts to better weather a market correction that will inevitably come at some point in time. I don’t have decades to wait out a downturn, and market corrections can last for extended periods.  Plus, I don’t want my heirs to inherit a dramatically reduced portfolio during a down market.

          I wrote several articles on ways to evaluate your personal situation and reduce market risk that may help you decide what is best for your situation.

          I read an interesting article not long ago written by a retired finance magazine editor that struck home.  She decided on a course many in her field discourage, getting out of the market for the most part. After a thorough financial evaluation she determined she had sufficient funds and income to support her retirement with minimal stock market risk and worry. Instead of common stocks, she placed her funds in U.S. Treasuries, municipal bonds, short duration investment grade bond funds, and other fixed income investments. The yields were sufficient to still grow her account marginally and hopefully ahead of, or at least match, the inflation rate.

          I haven’t gone that far but she has a point, especially for those who don’t have a fixed annuity to fall back on. She knows what her expenses are, how much she must withdraw each year, and can’t afford to suffer a significant loss through a market correction. Sure, she has Social Security which is inflation adjusted but Social Security was never meant to be your only source of retirement income.

          This is a good time to evaluate where you stand, what you are invested in, and how much risk you are willing to take. It’s a personal decision and the time and effort you put into the process will help you avoid a potential funds shortfall when you may need it most.

          If you need assistance seek out the services of a competent financial adviser to help you evaluate your personal situation. I attended several seminars offered by Hefren-Tillotson, a financial planning firm headquartered in the Pittsburgh area, several years ago and found them very informative. They will compile a free comprehensive Master Plan upon request for local area residents. There is no obligation for the review and if you are in the Pittsburgh area register for one of their free seminars. They also broadcast a weekly Sunday radio show, “Your Money & You” on KDKA radio from 9 to 11 am that you will find informative. Jim Meredith, executive vice president and ranked by Barron’s as one of the Top 100 Independent Wealth Advisors in America, provides a market overview each week and then answers questions from callers. Check with financial planners in your local area to find similar services and programs.

          Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

          Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

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

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            Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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            Posted on Friday, 17th August 2018 by

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            I’m always looking for ways to economize and cut expenses from utility costs to investment managements fees and everything in between. Typically, I look for lower utility supplier rates and always, ALWAYS, sign up for fixed rate deals only. I also annotate on my utilities file back cover the start and ending dates for each service and the agreed upon rates.

            Recently I got caught by surprise. My electric bill two months ago was higher than usual. I rationalized that it was the hot weather and due to higher air conditioning costs. I was busy at the time and unfortunately didn’t take the time to investigate further.

             

             

            This month my electric bill was $500, more than double my usual summer bill, and I knew immediately something was wrong. After reviewing the statement, I discovered the power supplier had increased our kilowatt/hour (KWh) rate from 6.39 cents to 17.3 cents! I changed my supplier back in February and their customer service representative advised me that my rate would be fixed for 1 year and that I could cancel or transfer at any time.

            I called the supplier and they said I signed up for a variable rate and the low introductory rate was for the first month! Duquesne Light, our local power provider, is only charging 7.96 cents per KWH and I advised the supplier that I was overcharged. Their representative said there was nothing she could do other than immediately return supplier services to Duquesne Light. However, she could not adjust my prior bills. I told her that I would be filing a formal compliant with the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission and their charges, more than double the cost of my power provider, was unacceptable and a form of highway robbery.

            During the conversation I was polite and focused on the facts; the high cost per KWh, a fixed rate for 12 months not one, and my intent to file a complaint. The customer service representative said she would initiate an internal investigation and we ended our conversation.

            A half hour later I received a call from the supplier’s investigator. She was friendly, seemed concerned, and ask me to explain the situation again to her. By the end of the conversation she agreed to refund $395, all of the charges above the original 6.30 cents per KWh. This was only four days ago and the check arrived, much to my surprise, today.

            It pays to complain, especially when you were possibly misinformed by a company’s agent or by misleading advertising. The initial savings from switching can be 10 to 15 percent or higher if you can locate a fixed rate supplier that services your area. However, if you forget to transfer to a lower provider after the agreement ends you will generally be stuck with higher costs.
            The ability to switch utility suppliers also applies to natural gas in Pennsylvania and I signed an agreement with another gas supplier last January for a one-year period. They sent a confirmation letter which guaranteed the cost of .299 per therm for a one-year period. Currently Columbia gas, our gas provider, is charging .30830 per therm so we are slightly ahead of the game.

            The electric supplier salesmen that I originally talked to last February assured me that future rates would be competitive with Duquesne Light. That was not the case and fortunately I was able to get a refund. In the future, I intend to be more diligent before changing utility suppliers and may just use my providers for the supply side too unless prices just get out of hand. If you do change electric and gas suppliers review your bills each month to ensure they are charging you the agreed upon rates.

            Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

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

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

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              Posted on Friday, 3rd August 2018 by

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              Recently, Greg asked, “how important is it to attend a retirement briefing or not?” He and his wife intend to travel the country for several years after leaving federal service.

              I developed my retirement planning website because I attended two agency sponsored retirement seminars and came back with more questions than answers. That being said, that doesn’t mean I didn’t benefit from our personnel office’s retirement counselor briefings. They provided valuable benefit information, introduced me to the retirement application process, and outlined available options. After attending a briefing research and use all available resources to ensure you make the right decisions when you complete your retirement application. Retirement briefings along with your personal research will help you get it right the first time.

               

               

              For information about specific retirement benefits search www.federalretirement.net and review our retirement planning article index to find guidance for just about any subject. Use other valuable sources such as OPM’s online retirement services and columnists like Tammy Flanagan who explains even the most complex issues in language that all can understand. Tammy’s recent article titled 13 things to Know About Your Annuity Option is an excellent example of how she drills down to the essential elements of an issue.

              I receive numerous requests to provide one-on-one personal retirement planning counseling. Even though I manage a fulltime business including 10 internet properties, and just completed my 27th book, I make time to answer questions I receive from my site visitors and newsletter subscribers. There isn’t enough time in a day, especially when you add in family and our three beautiful grandchildren, for me to provide personal counselling services. Fortunately, there are options available for those needing one-on-one counseling and assistance.

              A number of organizations provide fee-for-service retirement planning consulting, conduct on-site retirement seminars, offer comprehensive retirement planning reports, and/or host webinars that can answer even your most demanding questions. I’ll list several here:

              • Request a comprehensive 27-page Federal Retirement Report™ for $79 that evaluates your retirement benefits including FEGLI options and TSP investments, retirement eligibility, and annuity projections. They include a 1-hour, one-on-one, personal consultation with their federal retirement specialist to review your Report with you. This service comes with a 100% money back guarantee if not completely satisfied.
              • Retire Federal and Tammy Flanagan, their Principal Retirement Specialist, provide personalized federal employee retirement training and counselling on a fee for service basis. Tammy is a consummate professional that has worked in the federal retirement arena for many years and is well known for her expertise in this area. They also offer on-site retirement planning seminars.
              • Divorce consulting – If you are anticipating a divorce or currently in divorce proceedings talk to Ann Ozuna, our Divorce Forum Host. Ann works with employees/retirees and their lawyers on divorce matters such as dividing federal retirement, survivor benefits, and the Thrift Savings Plan. Here are two of Ann’s articles that you will find helpful if you are in this situation:
              • For those that would like to advance in their careers consider contacting CareerPro Global. Barbara Adams, the owner, has spent a lifetime working with federal employees to prepare a professional application package. Their services can dramatically improve your chances for promotions and thereby increasing your high-3 average pay that is used to calculate your retirement annuity. They also offer fee for service career counselling.

              The more time and preparation that you devote to retirement planning the better off you will be when you finally walk out the door. Retirement planning can be compared to taking a journey. Greg and his wife plan to sell all of their belongings and travel the country when he retires. When you plan an extensive trip, you do your research; find the right motor home, select your destinations carefully, and project your income and expenses for the adventure. You don’t generally leave things to chance, you plan to make it a successful and safe journey.

              Retirement planning uses the same process. You explore your options making sure you leave nothing on the table, project your expenses against income in retirement and so much more. You make the right benefit elections so you don’t jeopardize you and your family’s well-being and you must take your time to do it right.

              If you don’t understand how a retirement benefit will affect you and your family reach out to your HR retirement specialist first, search our web site for answers and if necessary contact services such as those mentioned above to find the answer before making the election. A successful and financially secure retirement depends on making the right decisions to protect you and your family. Unfortunately, you can’t change many of your benefit elections after your retirement application is processed by OPM.

              Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

              Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

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

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                Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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                Posted on Friday, 20th July 2018 by

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                MY daughter and her husband recently applied for a passport. They took their birth certificates and required photos with them to the meeting. Unfortunately, the Post Office wouldn’t accept their birth certificates, they were told they were copies and originals or certificates reissued by the appropriate state vital records office were required.

                It’s important to have vital records available when needed such as an official marriage license to apply for survivor’s benefits or a service member’s DD-214 record to receive burial benefits for a deceased veteran. Now is a good time to review the records you have on hand and to take the necessary actions to either replace lost documents or obtain official copies for future use.

                It’s frustrating when confronted with a lost or stolen document or when discovering the documents you have are unacceptable copies. Even today, with so much information online, everything from driver registration and Medicare cards to marriage certificates and passports must be readily available. If you find documents missing take the following actions to replace them now and when they arrive store them somewhere safe. Either in a fireproof home safe, at your lawyer’s office, or in your bank’s safety deposit box.

                Birth Certificates, Marriage Licenses, and Divorce Records

                These documents are used to obtain benefits, apply for passports, and for other purposes. Those born in the United States must contact the vital records office in the state where they were born to obtain a new birth certificate. The vital records office will provide official replacements for a small fee. If you intend to apply for a passport or will need your birth certificate for some other purpose in the near future start the process as soon as possible. It can take several weeks or longer for your replacement to arrive. Use the following web site to find the appropriate office:

                Note: The government site listed above will direct you to your State’s vital records office and website. Many states allow you to complete an online form, print it out and send it in with the fee or even pay online in some cases. However, you will need to supply them with forms of identification such as a valid government photo ID or driver’s license. If you don’t have a photo ID you must supply two alternative forms of identification that you will find listed on the application.

                You will have to provide additional information when requesting marriage licenses and divorce records including date of the wedding or divorce, full names of both parties, and the county and city where it took place. These documents are filed at county offices initially by the minister or official that presided over the event. In my case I was married while serving on active duty and returned home to marry my childhood sweetheart. Since we flew to Mississippi several days after the ceremony, I never received a copy from the county. Our priest gave us a religious wedding certificate the day of the wedding. I need to request an official copy for our records.

                If you lost any of these documents contact your state’s vital records office. Generally, with a divorce you can get a copy of the divorce certificate from your State’s vital statistics office. A divorce certificate can be used to change your name on a driver’s license. To obtain a copy of a divorce decree, often needed when someone applies for Social Security Benefits based on an ex-spouse’s record, you must obtain a copy from the county clerk’s office in the city where you filed for a divorce.

                Passports

                You will need an official birth certificate and valid photo ID to apply for a passport along with a closeup headshot photo. To locate a facility near you use the State Department’s Passport Facility Search Page.

                If your passport is lost or stolen you can report the loss and apply for a replacement by contacting the State Department. It’s important to notify the State Department immediately to report the loss either online, by email, or phone. Regardless of which method you use to report the loss you must fill out a DS-64 (Statement Regarding Lost or Stolen Passport) if you require a replacement. The DS-64 form must be submitted with your DS-11 Application for a new U.S. Passport.

                There are times when you need your replacement passport expedited for emergencies and for upcoming travel over the next two to six weeks. You can apply in person at designated locations nationwide to file for expedited service.

                Military Discharge DD-214 Forms

                The DD-214 form verifies military service and they are needed when applying for benefits and for other purposes. I recently used a copy of my DD-214 form to receive a $400 military discount when I purchased a new Kia Soul recently and had to take it into Lowes to have my service record added to their rewards program. Lowe’s gives all military members and honorably discharged veterans a 10% across the board discount on all purchases. It is also needed if a veteran applies for a VA loan or at the time of death to take advantage of the VA’s generous death benefits. When I was discharged from active duty in Topeka, Kansas they advised us to file the document at the local court house, which I did.

                To obtain a copy of your DD-214 record you will have to contact the Federal Records Center or if you filed a copy at the city court house where you were discharged you can contact them for a copy. It is good to have several copies available. I’ve used mine many times over the years.

                Social Security and Medicare Cards

                In today’s world the Social Security Card still has its uses. Some States ask for your card when applying for a driver’s license. If you should lose your card Social Security will replace it at no cost and you may be able to obtain a replacement online, depending on the state you reside in, at www.ssa.gov. You will need an active Social Security online account to request a replacement or you can file a Form SS-5 at your local Social Security office in your area.

                Today, a child’s Social Security number is applied for at birth. When our two children were born in the 1970s that wasn’t the practice. They didn’t apply for their card until they started to work. The Social Security web site is user friendly and it is easy to set up an account. With an account you can review your detailed Summary of Benefits and work record, apply for benefits, and search their site for needed information about your benefits. Setup your account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. I’ll be collecting benefits when I reach my 70th birthday and the sign up is automatic since I filed and suspended my SS benefits when my wife turned 66 so she could collect my higher spousal benefit. All I have to do is add my bank account information so they know where to send the monthly check.

                If you just lost your Medicare card, new ones are on the way. The original cards listed our social security number on the card with an appropriate prefix identify the program we are on. Medicare is no longer using Social Security numbers so if you haven’t already received the new one, a new card should arrive shortly. My wife and I received our new cards last month.

                To request a replacement for a lost or stolen Medicare card log on to your Social Security account. There is a box on the right side of the screen with options, select “Replacement Documents” then select “Mail My Replacement Card.” It typically takes 30 days to receive your new card. If you need it now for a doctor’s appointment you can request a “Benefits Verification Letter” that Medicare providers will accept until your new card arrives.

                Car License Plates

                This happened to me several years ago when I was 700 miles away from home in South Carolina. It was spring break in Myrtle Beach and college kids stole a number of license plates off of the parked cars at our hotel. The Canadians who lost a plate still had one remaining to make it home, they require two plates on their cars, front and back. I contacted AAA immediately and they could not help and couldn’t provide any guidance on how to proceed!

                I reported the theft to the local police and they issued me a letter that I could use if stopped on the trip home. We weren’t going home for several weeks and during the fist day I was stopped twice. Fortunately, I contacted my car dealer back home that I recently purchased the car from, they sent a new plate overnight and didn’t even charge me for it. Upon returning home I researched the replacement license plate process and published http://www.stolenplates.com to provide others with the guidance they needed to replace a stolen or lost license plate. If your plate is lost or stolen follow the guidance on my site to fast track a replacement.

                Additional Document Replacements

                There are many other valuable documents that you may need to replace such as property records, insurance policies, paper savings bonds, vehicle titles and so much more. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) publishes a comprehensive Fact Sheet titled “Replacing Lost Documents” that you will find helpful.

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

                Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

                Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

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

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

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