fbpx

Posted on Friday, 12th July 2024 by

Print This Post Print This Post
Share

Either you’ve been retired for some time and realize life’s challenges have taken center stage or you are an astute employee planning your retirement well in advance, a smart move. What seemed insignificant health issues in our 40s, 50s and 60s now tests our physical and at times mental abilities as time marches on.

Most come to realize their limitations as age catches up with us and reality takes center stage.

Benefits of Downsizing

According to the National Association of Realtors, sellers aged 69 to 77 were the most likely to downsize their homes for the following reasons:

  • A smaller footprint to maintain and service
  • Fewer steps and trip hazards to contend with
  • Lower utility costs, real estate taxes, and insurance premiums
  • Improved cash flow and less financial stress
  • To be closer to family and friends

Many are overwhelmed by the process and procrastinate until it’s too late, others are proactive and explore their options well in advance of when they actually make their move.

The benefits can be out weighted by the added stress of getting this all done. However, it is essential in many cases just for health concerns, both emotional and physical. Another concern is that a surviving spouse won’t be able to handle the demands of a large home after the inevitable happens, that is one of my primary concerns.

To Move or Not to Move – That is the Question

Moving is a major life event and one not takin lightly. The stress and anxiety surrounding selling your existing home and a move leaves many distracted and sleep deprived, especially if you don’t identify and plan the many actions necessary to transport not only your belongings, but set up all the services needed at your new location. Then, you must decorate, hang blinds and/or curtains, paint, make needed improvements, change your address on all of your accounts, and so much more.

Thankfully, there are ways to ease into downsizing and reduce the stress with preplanning and forethought.

Decluttering – The First Step

Long before you start looking, it’s wise to go through your home, one room at a time and identify three categories for what you find: things to keep, giveaway, sell or donate. You will be amazed at what you and yours accumulated over the years and wonder where it all came from!

It’s too easy to hold on to what you have thinking I may need this down the road. If you gained or lost weight you have several sizes of cloths at the ready just in case you change direction AGAIN and go up or down on the scale.

When Mary and I sorted through our closets, I had work clothes I hadn’t worn in decades, outdated and out-of-style suits, shirts and pants that I finally sent to Goodwill for others to use. Mary found clothes with sales tags attached that were purchased years ago; they too were donated.  The suits I kept required minor alterations, a friend referred me to a local seamstress.

I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment as I went through our house, garage and garden shed eliminating the unnecessary, irrelevant, and outdated distractions in our lives. I had tools that I’ll never use again that I either offered them to my son and friends or donated the items to a local church for their annual sale.

If you have furniture that you don’t need contact one of a dozen charities including Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and others that may take it off your hands. Local municipal waste management companies often have large item days where you can put the items at the curb on certain days of the month.

You can also call 1-800 Got Junk (1-800-468-5865); they will haul away just about anything for a fee that you can’t dispose of otherwise. We used them to pick up an old treadmill, office furniture, and a 1920s pedal powered singer sewing machine. They do all of the heavy lifting.

Even if you don’t move, this is a necessary step in retirement. This first step helps heirs settle an estate and it’s best if the clutter is gone and you’ve already distributed or identified family members to receive heirlooms and special sentimental items. Plus, an uncluttered household provides a sense of relief to those still living.




What’s Available

Finding a suitable home in your desired location such as a master bedroom on the first floor or a ranch for one level living can be a challenge. Most homes are multilevel in the Pittsburgh, PA area due to hilly terrain, there aren’t many wide flat lots available to build ranches. Myrtle Beach in South Carolina is a different story, the majority of their new homes are one story which is great for retirees for obvious reasons.

You can visit www.realtor.com, www.zillow.com, or www.redfin.com to search their home listings using filters for the desired features, price range, and locations. Visit frequently so you don’t miss out on a new listing.

Your best bet is to work with a realtor who can set up searches with alerts for the type and price range of homes in your area. They are intimately familiar with the areas they service and may know of new or soon to be listed properties before others discover they are available. It’s a highly competitive market and homes in many areas with first floor master suites go fast and aren’t generally on the market for extended periods unless they are overpriced or in subpar condition.

One word of caution, if you find a new or existing home by searching listings online, select a local realtor to represent you. Don’t rely on the listing agent who represents the seller!

You need someone on your side to help you negotiate the sale, provide needed resources, and to research and answer any questions you may have about the area and transaction.

When to Start Your Search

After you settle on a location, price range, desired home style and features, the earlier you start your search the better. It can take a few months to years to find the ideal property that meets all of your expectations. This will give you time to declutter and organize for the pending move.

Compromise is a constant in the real estate market unless you build to your specifications. It’s difficult finding a home with all of the desired bells and whistles. Be prepared for upgrades and remodeling projects; it’s best to remodel before you move in. Once you occupy the premise, it’s difficult working around contractor’s schedules that can interrupt your days for months-on-end.

Summary

When you start out looking for one-floor-living or at least a first-floor master, stick to your guns. It’s easy to get side tracked and give up on your quest, especially when an attractive property and offer comes along.

If you decide to purchase a home without the primary features you desire, you will more than likely regret your decision years later. I’m proof of that, we did this in 2012, the property we purchased had everything we wanted except a first-floor master that we definitely need today.

My local realtor, Craig Lalama, is with Re/Max and covers South Western, PA. He sends notices of all new listings with a first-floor master that meets our criteria, a good realtor can keep you focused and on track.

My wife and I are self-proclaimed experts in moving and decluttering, we moved 11 times in our 55 years of marriage including several cross-country relocations.

What type of property or services you need can dramatically change over time. It helps to be realistic and anticipate some of the frailties that may limit the type of home and location you are willing to accept. Some seek out independent senior living or 55+ communities. A viable option with many benefits including social networks, activities, no outside maintenance, assisted care if needed, and much more.

If you take the plunge and decide to downsize, identify acceptable locations, determine the square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, and type of home you desire. Inventory your home furnishings and other contents to ensure they will fit in your new space.

Carol, a friend from work, recently moved to a one-bedroom apartment in a local retirement community. She had boxes piled up in her bedroom for months. She didn’t realize how small her new apartment was in comparison to the condo she previously owned.

Kiplinger’s article titled, How Retirees Can Downsize in Today’s Housing Market, can help you navigate the higher mortgage interest rate environment we are facing today.

If you decide to downsize, start slow and discuss your wishes and concerns with your family and friends. Declutter, identify where you want to relocate to, type of home and features, and contact a realtor to help you along the way.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

Disclaimer: The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, investment, and benefit information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties for assistance including OPM’s retirement center.

Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The information contained herein should not be considered investment advice and may not be suitable for your situation. 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.

Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION, WELLNESS / HEALTH

Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

Posted on Friday, 28th June 2024 by

Print This Post Print This Post
Share

Last year’s 3.2% COLA for Social Security and the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), and 2.4% for Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) dropped considerably from the 2023 COLA of 8.7% CSRS and 7.7% FERS. The highest in over 40 years. Costs continue to increase for most essentials.

The costs of all items have increased around 3.3 percent for the 12-month period ending in May of this year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The chart shows a 2 percent increase for food, but I find that hard to believe since my wife and I shop together, and the cost of many items keep creeping up.

This year our real estate taxes continued their upward climb along with our homeowner’s insurance that was almost half as much two years ago. Gasoline in Pittsburgh is averaging $3.71 a gallon, and this is the catalyst that is driving up costs of everything.

2025 COLA Estimated Increase

The 2025 COLA is calculated over the 12-month period from October 1, 2023, through September 30, 2024. The next three month’s CPI data will determine the amount of the next COLA and depends on the reported monthly inflation rates for these months, the last three months of this fiscal year.

If the US Inflation trend continues to decrease by -0.1% per month through 30 September 2024, Inflation will be at 2.9%, and at 2.6% by the end of 2024 according to Wilbert J Morell III, a retired Navy Engineering Project manager, that tracks these statistics.

Willbert predicts a 3.3% Inflation rate and the 2025 Social Security COLA to be from 2.3% to 2.9%: more likely 2.9%. He provided two other scenarios based on the path of inflation:

  • If the CPI-W remains constant through 30 September 2024, the 2025 COLA for Social Security and CSRS is predicted to be 2.2% and 2.0% for FERS.
  • If the CPI-W continues to decrease at the same -0.1% trend through 30 September 2024, the 2025 COLA for Social Security, CSRS, and FERS is predicted to be 2.0%.

If inflation increases due to any number of reasons, the 2025 COLA will be higher. Most media outlets are currently reporting anywhere from 2.2% to USA Today’s 3%. All projections are based on what the pundits perceive to be the rate of inflation over this period.

Retirement Processing Delays

OPM, as of May 2024, has an inventory of just over 14,000 claims to process. They received 6,751 claims in May and processed 8,793.

The good news is that OPM’s retirement claims processing times have steadily declined since 2022 from over 90 days to 60 days today.

Common Mistakes That Cause Delays

Any mistakes or omissions in your retirement application often cause delays. Common errors include:

  • Unsigned forms
  • Check that all forms are complete before submitting them.
  • Provide the correct contact information, not your work email and phone numbers.
  • Fill out a new one if you make a mistake, application forms with corrections such as cross-outs or white-out can cause delays.
  • Incomplete or incorrect SF 2818 FEGLI (Continuation of Life Insurance)
  • Missing health benefit information
  • Missing or incorrect marriage and spousal consent information
  • Missing or incorrect military service documentation

NOTE: Keep a copy of all forms submitted, you never know when one will come up missing or gets lost in the process. Plus, you’ll have a copy for your retirement folder that you can use to confirm assigned beneficiaries, and other insurance and benefit selections. Keep these copies with “Your Retirement Benefits (Blue Book)” that OPM sends you when your claim’s process is completed.




Preparing for Retirement, Start NOW!

The following list of articles will help anyone planning their exit to take the appropriate actions necessary to submit a timely retirement application:

Summary

A COLA around 3% is much better than the ZERO COLAs we received in 2010, 2011, and 2016. Yet, the cost-of-living adjustment is based on the previous year’s statistics; in effect we start out at a loss each year.

That being said, my annuity has almost doubled since I retired 20 years ago. Many in the private sector find themselves hard pressed to make ends meet 10 or 20 years after they retire.

When it comes to retirement planning, it’s best to start your plan long before you walk out the door. I attended several agency-sponsored retirement planning seminars before retiring that prompted more questions than answers. That’s why I developed and launched the Federal Employees Retirement Planning Guide website in 2004.

A site visitor remarked, “I spent 3 hours on the web looking for answers to questions concerning federal retirement. After a Google search yielded your address, it took only 20 minutes to find all of my answers! Thank you!!”

If you are contemplating retirement, start researching your benefit options early. There are many decisions to make, and most are irreversible after you leave. One example is life insurance, several low-cost options are well worth carrying into retirement even if NOW you think the coverage isn’t needed.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

Disclaimer: The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, investment, and benefit information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties for assistance including OPM’s retirement center.

Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The information contained herein should not be considered investment advice and may not be suitable for your situation. 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.

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

Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

Posted on Saturday, 15th June 2024 by

Print This Post Print This Post
Share

Your vote matters, annuitants, and those working with busy schedules or traveling may wish to vote remotely. You can request an absentee ballot or in many states like Pennsylvania vote-by-mail.

 

Applying for a Mail-in Ballot

The general election will be held on Tuesday, November 5 but voting begins early in many states. Visit www.vote.gov to register to vote if you haven’t already or contact your state’s election board for voting requirements and procedures. We can all help the upcoming election run smoothly by planning now for how we intend to vote.

Sign Up Now

The sooner you decide on what path you will take the better. We traveled for many years during the month of November and requested absentee ballots.

Even if you intend to vote at your local polling place this year, it may be prudent to sign up for voting by mail if available in your state. You never know what will transpire between now and the election that may prevent you from voting at the polls. I encourage all of my family members and friends to do the same.

The important and responsible thing to do is vote, regardless of the method used.

When voting by mail, you must follow the process precisely or your vote may be rejected. Pennsylvania’s voting process is outlined below; your state may have similar voting resources for you to use.

Voting by Mail

When voting by mail was first introduced, I was apprehensive about voter fraud and the potential for abuse. The Pennsylvania system requires voters to provide their driver’s license or state PennDOT ID card number. If they don’t have either, they require the last 4 digits of their Social Security number.

If you don’t have one of the documents listed above, you can provide a photocopy of one of the following IDs with your absentee or mail-in ballot application. The photocopy must show name, a photo, and an expiration date that is current.

  • Passport
  • Military ID (active duty and retired military ID may designate an expiration date that is indefinite). Military dependents’ ID must contain a current expiration date.
  • Employee photo identification issued by Federal, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania county, or Pennsylvania municipal government.
  • Photo identification issued by an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning.
  • Photo identification issued by a Pennsylvania care facility, including long-term care facilities, assisted living residences and personal care homes.

Reservations Linger

I do have reservations about the process in general and the identification required for voting-by-mail. Especially if a state allows illegal undocumented immigrants to apply for and receive a driver’s license.

Last September, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announced that the state will now automatically register eligible Pennsylvanians to vote when they obtain or renew identification cards and driver licenses. This is fine if you are a US citizen.

According to Pennsylvania’s DOT Secretary, Mike Carroll, “The issuance of driver’s license products to undocumented immigrants is something that the department supports, that I support, and the governor supports with safeguards necessary to make sure that folks that are issued those products are treated the same as folks that have a regular driver’s license,”

Carroll, focuses on issuing driver’s licenses to illegals and, “treating them the same as folks that have a regular driver’s license.” Shouldn’t the state be as concerned these same individuals are not automatically registered to vote? There is no mention of that in their statements!




Contradictions

All you need to apply for voting-by-mail in Pennsylvania is to have a DOT issued driver’s license. Another option is to have a Social Security card.

Every citizen should have a Social Security card; according to the Social Security Administration’s handbook, “If you are 12 or older and have never been assigned an SSN, you must apply in person for a Social Security card.

Today, most hospitals submit birth registration information to the state’s bureau of vital statistics, that agency electronically forwards the information to Social Security, which will automatically assign a number and mail out a card.

Acceptance of a photo ID issued by an accredited Pennsylvania or private institution of higher learning is problematic. Many foreigners attend universities in the state and their IDs don’t show citizenship status.

According to “A Guide to the Citizenship Section of the common Application,” College student IDs typically do not explicitly display citizenship status. It goes on to state that under the Federal Education and Privacy Act (FERPA) colleges aren’t permitted to disclose your citizenship status to anyone, including immigration authorities.”

You could also have non-resident aliens living in long term care or assisted living facilities that could potentially vote or have their votes harvested.

There should be revisions to the process to address these concerns and others. Plus, they don’t start counting mail-in ballots in some states until after the polls close on election day, delaying election results for days after an election.

That being said, I’m comfortable with the process enough to participate and encourage others to do the same.

Pennsylvania Voting

Register to vote: You can register to vote online, by mail, in person at your county voter registration office or at PennDOT and select other government agencies. If you’re not sure if you’ve already registered, check your registration status today.

The deadline to register to vote depends on your State. Don’t wait, if you haven’t registered to vote, DO IT NOW, well in advance of your state’s deadline. I checked my voter registration; they provide a lot of helpful information including your polling place, federal congressional district, and state district offices, to name a few.

Voting in person: You can vote in person at an assigned polling place near where you live, open 7 AM to 8 PM on Election Day, Tuesday, November 5. If your name is not in the voter roster, you may have the right to vote on a provisional ballot. Poll workers can assist if you have questions on Election Day.

Voting by mail:  All registered qualified voters may apply for a mail-in ballot. The deadline in Pennsylvania is late October, request a mail-in or absentee ballot Now. I sent my application March 20, 2024 for the primary and received a notice from the State that it was accepted. They will automatically send a mail-in ballet for the November election as well.

Ballots must be postmarked by 8 PM on Tuesday, November 5 for the Presidential election and received by your county election office by 5 PM on Friday, November 9. If you are concerned about USPS delays in delivering mail-in or absentee ballots, you can drop off your ballot at your county election office.

Summary

If you already submitted a mail-in or absentee ballot, you cannot vote at your polling place on Election Day. However, if you did not return your mail-in or absentee ballot and you want to vote in person, you have two options:

  1. Bring your ballot and the pre-addressed outer return envelope to your polling place to be voided. After you surrender your ballot and envelope and sign a declaration, you can then vote a regular ballot.
  2. If you don’t surrender your ballot and return envelope, you can only vote by provisional ballot at your polling place. Your county election board will then verify that you did not vote by mail before counting your provisional ballot.

Follow the directions carefully or your vote will not be counted. Including things like marking your ballot in blue or black pen, placing and sealing your ballot in the inner secrecy return envelope that says, “official ballot.” Seal the envelope, and sign and date where indicated.

The process can be confusing and be sure not to return your ballot in the wrong envelope and sign the secrecy envelope when you send it in. Read the instructions that come with your state’s mail-in voting application and follow the guidance provided when your ballot arrives.

YOUR VOTE MATTERS. Don’t assume your candidate is ahead and stay home or forget to mail your absentee or vote-by-mail ballot.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

Disclaimer: The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, investment, and benefit information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties for assistance including OPM’s retirement center.

Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The information contained herein should not be considered investment advice and may not be suitable for your situation. 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.

Tags: , , ,
Posted in LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

Posted on Sunday, 26th May 2024 by

Print This Post Print This Post
Share

I modified the lyrics from Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 song to emphasize a point. Walk don’t run to maintain and improve your health. Especially for the aged, a group that I am fully intrenched in at the time.

Walking on A Cloud – Asics Cumulus 25

Walking is an integral part of all we do, pre- and post-retirement and exercise is essential to the level tolerable and if recommended by your doctor.

This daily activity strengthens the heart, lowers blood sugar, eases joint pain, boosts our immune functions, increases energy, enhances mood, and extends life. For so simple an activity, it offers huge benefits for those of any age.

Running provides similar benefits but over time damages our joints, feet, and backs. Tom, a good friend, ran 5 to 10 miles a day up to his early 60s. He looked forward to his daily runs, golfing, and other outdoor activities. In his 60s he had both knees replaced and I believe, or at least hope, he reverted to walking after the surgeries. I know he still enjoys golf.

Finding the Right Fit

One of the problems we all face over time is finding a shoe that is comfortable and doesn’t aggravate sore tired feet, arthritic knees and hips, and fallen aches, a lifetime pursuit for many. Over the years I’ve tried about every shoe brand and variation imaginable and last fall I discovered Asics shoes at a local Pro Bike+Run store in Robinson Township, PA. They have six locations in and around Pittsburgh, PA.

We purchased Sketchers’ Go Walks for many years. Mary still swears by them and won’t buy anything else. Their slip-ins, not slip-ons, are also convenient, especially for older folks. They are far better than many other brands when it comes to a softer sole that cushions your feet from daily abuse.

Prior to that, New Balance was all the rage during my 40s and 50s, at the time they seemed a better fit for my activity level but today they are too firm and have little cushioning for worn joints and tired feet.

Ascis Advantages

This brand offers shoes for all major sports activities, from golf and pickle ball to running and walking, and everything in between.  They also offer shoes for pronation, neutral, under and over. I chose the Gel-Cumulus 25, a running shoe, because of the deeper cushioned sole. They also have a Nimbus running model.

If that sounds familiar, in school they taught us about Cumulus-Nimbus cloud formations. These shoes provide the sensation of literally walking on clouds from my personal perspective.

If you have stability issues, their walking shoes may be a better option. Mary and I walk over 10,000 steps a day, many are on a track at our home where I walk for two 30-minute periods, one in the early morning and another in the afternoon. Mary’s step count frequently exceeds 15,000 steps a day!

Visit the Asics site and check out their inventory; if you are in Pittsburgh visit one of the Pro Bike+Run stores where you can try them on to ensure a perfect fit.




Insoles & Comfort

I use insoles to moderate tired flat feet and non-diabetic peripheral neuropathy pain. Typically, I use Dr. Scholl’s custom inserts, their Custom Fit (CF 660) model. Visit their online kiosk or one of their fitting stations located at various retail outlets to find the right fit for you.

Before finding Dr. Scholl’s inserts I tired many over the counter inserts and opted for a full custom-made pair in 2017 that costs $300. It was too hard and ended up stored in a bag full of other inserts I’ve purchased over the years.

To use third party or custom inserts, the shoe you purchase should have removable inserts. Many of the top brands including Ascis have removable inserts, Sketcher’s are glued in.

Summary

Walking in comfortable shoes, as simple as this sounds, makes a huge difference in our lives and allows us to participate in activities and events we would otherwise avoid.

If you find good walking shoes and insoles, there isn’t any excuse for not walking to improve your health and to take on activities that you long since abandoned. If you haven’t exercised or walked regularly for a while, check with your physician and start slow, 5 to 10 minutes at a time and build up from there.

What prompted this article was my desire to replace my Sketchers’ indoor walking shoes. Their Easy Walk’s sole tends to catch on hard surfaces, creating a trip hazard. The Ascis shoe has a curved sole front to back that offers a toe to heel cradle so to speak that propels you along during your walk/run and eliminates the occasional trip that I experience with Go Walks.

Cautionary Note

Before starting a new indoor walking routine remove any trip hazards that are in your path and when walking outside beware of the surface you’re walking on: raised or cracked sidewalk sections, potholes, debris in the streets, etc.

My cousin Margie tripped in the street and hit her head on the curb last December causing a brain bleed. Be careful and go slow, falls are one of the major reasons for emergency room visits, especially for those advanced in age. Notice I didn’t say elderly, don’t like that term now that I’m old enough to know better.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

Disclaimer: The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, investment, and benefit information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties for assistance including OPM’s retirement center.

Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The information contained herein should not be considered investment advice and may not be suitable for your situation. 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.

Posted in LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION, WELLNESS / HEALTH

Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

Posted on Friday, 17th May 2024 by

Print This Post Print This Post
Share

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced a centralized enrollment platform for the postal service last year and they requested funds for FY 2025 to extend this central enrollment system to all Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) enrollments. This would allow OPM to manage and make consistent all FEHB enrollments and remove individuals who cease to be eligible for the program.

Current FEHB eligibility determination and enrollment is highly decentralized and requires cooperation between nearly 100 employing offices responsible for determining eligibility and enrolling more than 8 million members. These benefits are delivered by 68 health insurance carriers in 2024.

Centralized Health Benefits Enrollment

The current FEHB Program’s enrollment functions utilize independent systems at different Federal agencies. For purposes of the Postal Service Health Benefits (PSHB) Program, OPM is shifting certain responsibilities from the employing office to a centralized enrollment system administered by OPM.

This centralized enrollment system will be an electronic enrollment solution for all PSHB stakeholder groups including enrollees, the Postal Service and other employing offices, and PSHB Carriers. The centralized enrollment system will include an online portal to enter and process enrollment transactions, verification of eligibility, decision support tools, and a customer support center to assist enrollees via phone, email, or online chat.

Those unable to access the online portal will be able to enroll through other means such as phone, fax, or mail. OPM will assume responsibility for the following health benefits actions for the PSHB Program: enrollment, changes of enrollment, correction of errors, election not to enroll, and disenrollment of enrollees and removal of family members.

The final rule for the PSHB centralized enrollment was published 5/6/2024 in the Federal Register.

Note: A centralized system for the FEHB program is pending requested funding.

Family Member Eligibility Reviews (On the Horizon)

On April 17, 2024, OPM’s annual Benefits Administration Letter (BAL) was released to Promote the Integrity of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Employing offices must validate certain Open Season elections starting with the 2024 Open Season.  The Family Member Eligibility Review (FMER) requires a random sampling of FEHB Open Season elections of Self Plus One and Self and Family enrollment types.

This letter outlined requirements for federal agencies and carriers regarding new enrollment actions that will ensure comprehensive verification and review of family member eligibility:

  • Directs agencies to confirm employees’ relationships to spouses and family members when an enrollment change is made during Open Season. Specifically, the BAL requires that agencies verify a meaningful sample of family members included in Open Season elections from the prior year.
  • Federal employees will be required to provide eligibility documentation for all new family member enrollments during Open Season in subsequent years.
  • OPM will use its newly completed FEHB Master Enrollment Index (MEI) to run queries that can spot certain enrollment irregularities in existing enrollments. If irregularities are found that merit further inquiry, OPM will notify agencies to review those enrollments. OPM currently requires all agencies to notify enrollees of the consequences of improper enrollments, including fines and imprisonment.

Health Benefit Program’s Call Letter

Benefit and rate proposals for Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) and Postal Service Health Benefits (PSHB) Program Carriers are due May 31, 2024. Benefit negotiations are expected to be complete by July 31, 2024, and rate negotiations by mid-August for the upcoming open season.

The primary areas of focus for the upcoming plan year for Carriers are:

  • FEHB and PSHB Coordination with Medicare
  • FEHB Prescription Drug Coverage
  • PSHB Prescription Drug Coverage, and
  • Fraud, Waste, and Abuse.

Many providers added Part D Prescription Drug Plans (PDP) that are automatically implemented unless the enrollee opts out.  All Carriers are required to provide guidance to eligible enrollees focused on Medicare coordination, including the potential effects of the Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) that applies to both Part B and Part D Medicare plans.




FEHB Prescription Drug Coverage

According to the call letter., “OPM requires FEHB Carriers to provide prescription drug benefits that meet CMS requirements for Creditable Coverage. FEHB Carriers are required to continue offering Creditable Coverage in 2025.”

Any prescription drug benefit changes FEHB Carriers need to make to continue to meet the Creditable Coverage requirements in 2025 do not need to be cost neutral. This means Carriers have the option to change benefits, increase premiums, or a combination of both. We have to wait until negotiations are complete to determine next year’s coverage and premiums.

FEHB and Medicare Part D Coordination

OPM is continuing to consider FEHB proposals that include CMS-approved Medicare Advantage -Prescription Drug (MA-PD) or Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) Employer Group Waiver Plans (EGWPs) for 2025. Many Carriers are offering a (MA-PD EGWP) to FEHB enrollees who are entitled to Medicare Part A and enrolled in Medicare Part B.

Last year Blue Cross Blue Shield and others offered automatic signup for their Part D PDP; enrollees had to opt out of the option if they wanted to retain their original FEHP prescription drug coverage. I wrote two articles on the PDP plans last year that you may find informative:

Be aware that if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) is over certain limits you will be subject to an Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) for Part B and D premiums. This is explained in detail in the above two articles.

Summary

There is always much to consider when selecting your health care plan during open season. Many things are happening throughout the year that impact plans next year, such as the new Postal Service Benefit Plan with its Part D enrollment requirement.

If your current plan isn’t meeting your needs or if you signed up for a FEHB MA plan last year that isn’t working out for you, open season starts this November. Plus, if you experienced a qualifying life event you can always make changes within specific limits.

For example, you have 31 days before your marriage to 60 days afterward to change to a family health benefits enrollment. You can add a new spouse and convert to a family or the self plus 1 plan during the next open season if you miss this deadline.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

Disclaimer: The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, investment, and benefit information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties for assistance including OPM’s retirement center.

Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The information contained herein should not be considered investment advice and may not be suitable for your situation. 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.

Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION, WELLNESS / HEALTH

Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

Posted on Friday, 3rd May 2024 by

Print This Post Print This Post
Share

OPM Released a list of conditionally approved Postal Service Health Benefit (PSHB) Program carriers for their new centralized health care system. The new PSHB program will cover almost two million USPS employee’s and their family members starting in 2025.

Postal Reform Act

The Postal Service Reform Act (PSRA) of 2022 requires that OPM establish this new health care program, which will provide coverage for 1.9 million employees, annuitants, and their eligible family members beginning January 1, 2025.

There are 32 carriers approved for this new program, and they offer a mix of fee-for-service and health maintenance organizations, all are contingent upon successful benefits and rate negotiations.

Plans vary from nationwide to specific regions and all of them have provided health care insurance under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program. The PSHB Program will cover roughly 20 percent of the total current FEHB population.

Medicare Part B Requirement

There are two sets of rules to follow concerning Medicare Part B enrollments, one for those still employed and another for annuitants. The rules are also based on age at the time of retirement.

The requirement to sign up for Medicare Part B is limited to postal employees that retire on or after January 1, 2025, and are under 64. You WILL BE required to enroll in Medicare Part B when you become entitled for Medicare Part A (typically at age 65) to remain enrolled in a PSHB plan.

Review my article titled “FEHB Adding Medicare Part B Requirement for (PSHB) Plans” for complete details about this new requirement.




PSHB Review

The Postal Service Health Benefits (PSHB) Program is a new, separate program within the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program. It will be administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which will provide health insurance to eligible Postal Service employees, Postal Service annuitants, and their eligible family members starting in 2025. PSHB Program coverage will replace Federal Employees Health Benefit (FEHB) Program coverage for these groups.

Postal Service members will be able to view coverage details and make changes during the upcoming 2024 Open Season, which is aligned with the FEHB Program. Most Postal Service employees and annuitants will be offered a 2025 PSHB plan that is equivalent to their 2024 FEHB plan option.

As stipulated in the PSRA, if an enrollee’s FEHB carrier is not participating in PSHB, that individual will be automatically enrolled in the lowest-cost, nationwide PSHB plan that is not a high-deductible health plan and does not charge an association or membership fee. All such automatic enrollments will be a PSHB plan of the same enrollment type (self only, self and family, or self plus one) as the 2024 FEHB plan.

Conditionally Approved PSHB Carrier List

Carrier Name / Plan Type

Health Maintenance Organization = HMO, Fee-for-Service = FFS

  1. Aetna: HDHP, Aetna Direct, Aetna Advantage / HMO
  2. Aetna: Open Access HMO and Aetna Saver / HMO
  3. Aetna: CDHP and Value / HMO
  4. American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Health Plan / FFS
  5. Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Service Benefit Plan / FFS
  6. Capital Health Plan / HMO
  7. CareFirst BlueChoice / HMO
  8. Government Employees Health Association (GEHA) Employee Organization / FFS
  9. Government Employees Health Association (GEHA) Indemnity Benefit Plan / FFS
  10. Health Alliance Plan of Michigan / HMO
  11. HealthPartners / HMO
  12. Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA) / HMO
  13. Independent Health Association, Inc. / HMO
  14. Kaiser Permanente – Colorado / HMO
  15. Kaiser Permanente – Fresno California / HMO
  16. Kaiser Permanente – Hawaii / HMO
  17. Kaiser Permanente – Northern California / HMO
  18. Kaiser Permanente – Northwest / HMO
  19. Kaiser Permanente – Southern California / HMO
  20. Kaiser Permanente – Washington Core / HMO
  21. Kaiser Permanente – Washington Options Federal / HMO
  22. Kaiser Permanente – Georgia / HMO
  23. Kaiser Permanente – Mid-Atlantic / HMO
  24. Mail Handlers Benefit Plan / Fee-for-Service
  25. Medical Mutual of Ohio / HMO
  26. National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Health Benefit Plan / FFS
  27. Rural Carrier Benefit Plan / FFS
  28. TakeCare / HMO
  29. Triple-S Salud / HMO
  30. UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company, Inc. – Choice Plus Primary / HMO
  31. UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company, Inc. – Choice Plus Primary WF / HMO
  32. UPMC Health Plan / HMO

Summary

The PSHB program begins January 1, 2025 and all current postal employees and annuitants will be required to select one of the available PSHB plans during the 2024 health care open season. The plan brochures will be available in October for your review.

As stated earlier, the requirement to sign up for Medicare Part B is limited to postal employees that retire on or after January 1, 2025, and are under 64. You WILL BE required to enroll in Medicare Part B when you become entitled for Medicare Part A (typically at age 65) to remain enrolled in a PSHB plan.

This is a significant change from the FEHB plan and most will look for lower cost PSHB plans to offset the additional costs of Medicare’s income adjusted Part B premiums.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

Disclaimer: The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, investment, and benefit information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties for assistance including OPM’s retirement center.

Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The information contained herein should not be considered investment advice and may not be suitable for your situation. 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.

Tags: , , , ,
Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

Posted on Friday, 12th April 2024 by

Print This Post Print This Post
Share

Please forward this to others that may find this information helpful. They can sign-up to receive my free Retirement Planning Newsletter

Our national debt was $15.5 trillion in 2012 when I first addressed this issue, today it has more than doubled and exceeds $34 trillion! Federal budget deficits will continue this year, according to CNBC, as the government borrows over $1 trillion dollars every 100 days.

The National Debt

The national debt consists of public and intragovernmental debt owed by Uncle Sam. Public debt is what the government owes to bond holders including American citizens, international investors, and foreign governments that buy our bonds. U.S. citizens own the majority of the national debt.

Currently, the national debt is just over $34 trillion, it was $32 trillion in 2022 and it reached and has since exceeded 100% of our gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is the value of all finished goods and services made during a specific period within a country. The last time we attained this lofty perch was during WW II and it is unsustainable according to most economists.

I’ll Gladly Pay you Tuesday for a Hamberger Today

Some reading this column may not understand the subtitle for this section, I defer to Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons.

Uncle Sam spent $7.66 trillion last year, their total net cost, according to the Treasury’s 2023 Executive Summary and only took in $4.465 trillion from tax and other unearned income. In other words, approximately 42 cents of every dollar spent was borrowed in 2023. This is a long-term trend and according to the U.S Treasury, it’s unsustainable. Review page 7 of the Treasury’s 2023 Executive Summary Report.

This outrageously high borrowing rate is continuing again this year! It’s insane, and I can’t for the life of me understand why they don’t offset spending shortfalls with realistic cuts across the board, slash obsolete programs, and offset any new programs with cuts elsewhere, like the private sector and all of us have to do.

We all know firsthand just how wasteful government can be, many reading my column worked in the system for decades.

Everyone is impacted by out-of-control spending and neither political party is immune to spending beyond our means.

The State of the Economy

Our economy isn’t in the best of shape though you wouldn’t know it from the stock market highs we’ve seen recently. This is due, in part, to excessive federal spending that appears to be driving the market higher while middle America suffers with out-of-control inflation, especially for the essentials: housing, food and fuel.

Many analysts believe that the market’s recent strength also reflects expectations of a major change in Federal Reserve (Fed) monetary policy. Traders were anticipating multiple interest rate cuts this year that seem to have evaporated recently.

Tech sector growth, seven stocks, attributed to the majority of the market gains in 2023!

Is This Sustainable?

The following chart depicts the scope of the problem and unfortunately the predicament we find ourselves in today. This chart compares the United States’ budget and spending to that of an average American family.

The first table lists government budget statistics for 2023. These figures were obtained from the Treasury’s 2023 Executive Summary.

  • United States Tax Revenue: $4,465,600,000,000
  • Total Spent: $7,882,800,000,000 (Treasury’s total net costs)
  • New Debt: $3,417,200,000,000 (Debt needed to cover expendatures)
  • National Debt: $34,600,000,000,000 (Doesn’t include unfunded liabilities)

Now, remove eight (8) zeros and imagine it’s a household budget as noted below. The title for each entry was changed to a related household category:

  • Annual family income: $44,656
  • Money the family spent: $78,828
  • New debt: $34,172 (Borrowed in the Current Year)
  • Outstanding debt: $346,000

The $346,000 could include credit cards, home mortgage, and car loans. However, the interest would be prohibitive. For example, consider the average total interest paid on the debt at 7%. Credit card and auto loan interest can be much higher. The yearly interest alone would consume $24,220 or 54% of their annual family income. Totally unsustainable.

The Money Supply

Thankfully or regrettably depending on how you look at it, the Federal Reserve is able to add trillions to our money supply by simply making a book entry which drives inflation higher. They purchase Treasury notes, bills and bonds if the government can’t sell them at auction.

This is somewhat disconcerting on many levels. The government must keep interest rates artificially low in order to service the debt and pay interest to the bond holders. Otherwise, we could default on our obligations and devastate the world economy.




The Impossible Dream

How long could a family continue doing this without going bankrupt and insane to boot? Having unmanageable debt would drive me CRAZY. The government knows this is a problem but continues to ignore the issue.

Imagine having a $100,000 loan and you decide it’s best to borrow more each year to make the payments on your outstanding debt. This simply can’t work.

We may be down but not out! A balanced budget amendment would restore our financial health and ensure future Congressional bodies won’t break the bank.

You frequently hear about ten-year budget reduction plans passed by congress. What they don’t tell you is that after the next election, the new congress is not obligated to continue with those plans and often ignores them completely. If you must balance the budget every year, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Conclusion

Our representatives MUST be fiscally responsible and do what is best for the country instead of focusing on what they need to do to get re-elected. Term limits would allow them to focus on just that, instead of blindly supporting the party line on either side of the aisle.

Many consider elections de facto term limits. If that is the case, why did both parties fast track the twenty second Amendment after President Franklin D. Roosevelt died at the end of World War II?

The 28th amendment states, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.” Roosevelt was elected four times as president! Both parties supported it because POWER CORRUPTS when unchecked, and the eight-year precedent set by Washington guards against tyrannical rule.

This is what we are experiencing with our legislatures, too much unchecked power. We need a twenty eighth amendment limiting congressman to six 2-year terms and Senators to two 6-year terms.

In my opinion we don’t have a revenue problem; we have a chronic spending problem!

I wrote several articles that discuss ways to protect what you worked a lifetime to accumulate. You may find these interesting. Some were written several years ago, take that into account when reading them:

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

Disclaimer: The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, investment, and benefit information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties for assistance including OPM’s retirement center.

Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The information contained herein should not be considered investment advice and may not be suitable for your situation. 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.

Tags: , , ,
Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, ESTATE PLANNING, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION, WELLNESS / HEALTH

Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

Posted on Friday, 5th April 2024 by

Print This Post Print This Post
Share

Considering today’s high cost of living, it’s no wonder why many retirees are looking for jobs to make ends meet.

A visit to your local grocery store brings this home when we walk out with two small bags of groceries for $100. Meat, coffee, and just about everything is simply off the charts. We picked up 6 cupcakes at a local grocery for Easter and they cost $8.99.

My wife and I made a rare visit to McDonalds, it cost over $18 for two hamburgers, a medium fry, and one small drink. A good friend stopped at Taco Bell with his wife and daughter recently; the bill was $40!

It’s no wonder why many, if not most, retirees choose to cook their meals at home today. One of the few ways to save is to buy in bulk at Sam’s Club or Costco. Walmart is even getting expensive.

Stuck in Neutral

I feel sorry for those looking to buy their first home or downsize with mortgage rates over 7 percent considering the outrageous cost of housing today. We looked at a new connected patio home last month. The price for a 1500 square foot, three bedrooms, two bath home was just over $450,000, $300 a square foot! That was the starting price.

Retirees wanting to downsize are hesitant to do so because of the high cost of new homes and rental costs are literally through the roof, yet we see apartment construction everywhere you turn today. Do we really think inflation is coming down for life’s essentials? Prices always go up must faster than they come down, if ever.

Abundant Employment Opportunities

Fortunately, there is no shortage of jobs for skilled federal annuitants. Private sector employers actively recruit highly qualified and skilled federal annuitants and federal employees approaching retirement.

Government employees and retirees are sought out by corporate America due to their exceptional skills, education, security clearances held, and knowledge of their agency or federal programs.

Updated Jobs Board

Full and part time job vacancies are available nationwide in most occupations. Visit our Jobs Center  and use our free Jobs Board to start your search.

Opportunities exist for those looking to supplement their retirement income or to start a second career. We provide this job listing service specifically for companies that are seeking to hire retired federal workers.

We changed the format recently and focus on major employers across the country such as Walmart, Home Depot, and others. A list of the websites and career centers is available for the top 68 companies that hire contractors for the federal sector. Companies can also post their vacancies on our site for their critical hiring needs.




Current Listings

Northrop Grumman has over 1800 vacancies currently listed and employs over 100,000 worldwide. They provide pioneering technologies and create revolutionary technology to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. If you are interested in working overseas, they deliver products and services to customers in 25 nations.

Jobs range from administrative to highly technical positions to address problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace for their customers worldwide.

Review our master list of the 68 largest companies that hire contractors to explore opportunities in your area.  There are many thousands of positions currently available.

Large American Corporation Recruiting Sites

We provide links to large corporation recruiting sites that you can search by location and desired occupation. These companies have stores within commuting distance to most metropolitan areas: companies like Walmart, Target, Ace Hardware and others. To find other jobs in your areas we link to CareerBuilder.com that provides free job searches for the entire country.

Salary Impact on Your Annuity

A federal retiree’s annuity is not reduced when returning to work for private sector employers. Federal retirees can return to federal service under the Rehired Annuitant Program. In most cases this will impact and reduce your annuity. However, certain rehired annuitant positions offer waivers for critical hard to fill positions, allowing the applicant to retain their annuity and new salary in full.

Making Ends Meet – Earn More or Cut Costs

Summary

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Leaving the Federal Service for the Private Sector

There are abundant opportunities to work for contractors. While working with the FAA I’ve seen many retirees came back to work as contractors with companies such as Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin, and others.

Those interested in working for a contractor after retirement should explore their options early and look for opportunities on the company’s website. Many of these jobs require you to have a security clearance before you retired from federal government.

If a contractor job isn’t a good fit for you, explore private sector jobs in all occupations or if you feel inclined, you may be able to return to federal service as a rehired annuitant.

Use our jobs board and job-hunting resources to get started and search for opportunities of interest.

There are two primary ways to make ends meet, either go back to work or use our budget spreadsheets to evaluate your expenses and cut costs.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

Disclaimer: The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, investment, and benefit information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties for assistance including OPM’s retirement center.

Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The information contained herein should not be considered investment advice and may not be suitable for your situation. 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.

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

Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

Terms Of Use