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Posted on Friday, 14th August 2020 by

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Many federal employees, including myself, purchased paper savings bonds though payroll deduction until paper bonds were discontinued eight years ago. Savings bonds mature after 30 years.  If you own bonds that are thirty or more years old, they no longer earn interest and should be cashed in. Many banks and credit unions no longer redeem them. 

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

Taxes are due on the interest earned when savings bonds are cashed in, and bonds held to maturity appreciated in value considerably. For example, a $500 series EE bond purchased on January 1, 1993 for $250 is worth $617 today and is earning 4%. The series EE bonds were sold at half face value, so it was purchased for $250, not $500. This bond is three years from maturity and a 4% yield is almost impossible to get anywhere today.

Fortunately, PNC, my local bank, still redeems bonds. If your local bank or credit union refuses to cash in your bonds, the process is tedious to say the least. you must download and complete the FS Form 1522 from Treasury Direct. You can also request a form by calling 844-284-2676 or email a request to savbonds@fiscal.treasury.gov.  All of the bonds you are cashing in must be listed individually on the form and if you need more space, attach either a list or FS Form 3500. The original form only has space for 10 bonds.

Here is the tricky part, the form must be signed by the bond holder in the presence of a certifying officer. Typically, you take the form to your local bank and have them place a medallion stamp on the document. Yes, it is a convoluted process, it was so much easier when everyone could simply redeem them at your local bank.

Follow the instructions on the form and mail the completed form with your bonds to the Treasury. Make sure you mail them to the correct address. Here are the two addresses listed on the form:

  • Series HH or Series H savings bonds:

Treasury Retail Securities Services, PO Box 2186, Minneapolis, MN 55480-2186. (Phone: 844-284-2676–toll free.)

  • All other securities:

Treasury Retail Securities Services, PO Box 214, Minneapolis, MN 55480-0214. (Phone: 844-284-2676–toll free.)

After processing, the Treasury will deposit the proceeds into your bank account and send you a notice of interest earned for tax purposes. The last time I cashed in mature bonds I received a tabulation of the interest earned from the bank teller.

What I recommend is finding a local bank or credit union in your area that still redeems savings bonds even if you have to open an account with them, it is so much easier.

That being said, you can buy savings bonds and Treasury notes, bills, and bonds electronically on  www.treasurydirect.gov. As a TreasuryDirect account holder, you can purchase, manage, and redeem bonds directly from your web browser. Explore the site before registering for a new account.

I still purchase inflation indexed “I bonds” and TIPS online through Treasury Direct to protect a portion of my retirement savings. Another option is to purchase inflation-protected securities through a mutual fund such as Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities (VIPSX). This fund has a Morningstar Analyst Rating of Gold with 4 stars. 

It is easy to sign up for a Treasury Direct account and to redeem or purchase new bonds. The funds go into or out of your designated bank account. Just remember that you can’t redeem savings bonds until you owned them for at least a year.

Those in their early to mid-career may wish to consider EE bonds. Currently, they only pay .10% interest. However, if you hold them twenty-years they are guaranteed to double in value which is approximately a 3% annual return.

Memoir Update – Now Available

My memoir titled “The Early Years, A Road Less Traveled.”  is now availabe. This book, my 28th in a life long series of books will probably be my last, and a fitting close to my book writing career. It was two years in the making.

My story is that of an average person living life, at times, in what many would consider difficult circumstances. I represent what one can do with so little, and go so far, even when the world expects so little of you. This is a story of life’s struggle to not only make ends meet but to eventually succeed beyond what most others would have thought possible due to a family’s early misfortunes. My story provides a perspective of that ordinary life and how anyone with drive, motivation, and desire can make their dreams come true in America with hard work and perseverance.

The book is available from Bookhaven Press. The Preface, Chapter One, and Epilog are available online if you wish to read them. This is a limited production.

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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 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.

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

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Posted on Friday, 31st July 2020 by

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Often as we age, health concerns take center stage and many times sideline our plans and dreams. A fact of life for retirees and those approaching retirement. Actually, this can happen at any age and it’s imperative we seek out competent medical help to get us back on our feet and enjoying life again.

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

Thankfully, federal and postal employees have the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program available for our medical needs. They offer a large selection of reasonably priced plans to consider. However, having the best plans available doesn’t afford us the best care, we have to be proactive and seek out the most competent providers.

In most cases we are referred to specialists through our primary care provider (PCP) or we search our healthcare plan’s directory for specialists in our area. It’s frustrating when we don’t receive the answers we need from our doctor or there isn’t a clear-cut path forward for treatment. Often, we continue working with doctors and specialists even when we lack confidence in them. They are trained professionals, who are we to question their judgement.  

A disease doesn’t always warrant a standard treatment due to unique patient characteristics and underlying conditions. This is why second opinions are essential if you are uncomfortable with your treatment. We all deserve compassionate care. If your doctor or specialists isn’t responsive to your concerns, doesn’t offer a reasonable prognosis, or isn’t willing to address your questions it’s time to find another provider.

This has happened to me and my wife on many occasions.  I was diagnosed with Atrial Fabulation (A-Fib) in 1996. My PCP referred me to a local cardiologist, and after wearing a Holter monitor for several days they immediately recommended blood thinners and other caustic heart medication. After researching the subject, and discovering the significant side effects of the proposed drugs, I decided to seek a second opinion.

My wife was listening to a local radio show that suggested taking magnesium to restore a normal heart rhythm; I started taking it immediately and found a competent electrophysiologist for a second opinion.  I have what is called paroxysmal fibrillation, my heart goes in and out of normal rhythm.  Fortunately, magnesium has been successful in restoring my heart rate to normal during attacks. My new doctor suggested that I would only need blood thinners if my heart rate doesn’t return to normal in three to six hours.

My wife was diagnosed with glaucoma in her 40s. Her intraocular pressure (IOP) increased to the high 30s the first year of treatement, normal is 10-21 mm Hg. Her first doctor transferred Mary’s case to his associate and stated that she had the worst case of glaucoma he had ever seen. He insinuated that she would be blind in 6 years if they can’t reduce the pressure.

Mary spent several years there and every time she went in for a checkup, they pushed aggressive surgery. I discovered there was a new less invasive treatment called the SLT. A laser application that lowers IOP dramatically for some patients. I scheduled an appointment with the UPMC Eye Center in Oakland for a second opinion shortly thereafter.    

Twenty-five years later Mary still has her sight thanks to Doctor Joel Schuman. He performed numerous diagnostic tests to understand the full extent of her condition and established a realistic course of treatment.  Mary participated in numerous studies to help them develop an advanced Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) test, a non-invasive tool that takes pictures of the back of your eye. After her doctor moved to New York, she again sought out a second opinion when complications arose.

Don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion if you are uncomfortable with your current course of treatment. You need to work with someone who is confident, professional, contemplative, explains procedures and conditions in laymen’s terms, and goes out of their way to make the patient comfortable. It is a relief when you leave a doctor’s office knowing that you found someone you can trust, who understands your condition, knows what path must be taken, and proceeds with caution.

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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 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.

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

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Posted on Thursday, 23rd July 2020 by

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Office of Personnel Management Announces 60 Day Period for Changes to Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAFEDS)

To assist with the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notice 2020-291 provides increased flexibility with regard to mid-year elections under Section 125 cafeteria plans related to employer-sponsored health coverage, health Flexible Spending Arrangements (health FSAs), and dependent care assistance programs.

Beginning July1, 2020, OPM is permitting FSAFEDS participants a 60-day limited period during which certain mid-year changes can be made to their existing elections. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is the reason for these additional flexibilities, participants do not need to be directly affected by COVID-19 and do not need to experience a Qualifying Life Event (QLE) or provide any documentation to make changes.

FSAFEDS Permitted Changes

Increase or Decrease Election in HCFSA, LEX HCFSA, and DCFSA

During the 60-day limited period, all participants who have enrolled in a 2020 Health Care Flexible Spending Account (HCFSA), Limited Expense Health Care Flexible Spending Account (LEX HCFSA), or Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA) will be allowed to make a one-time change (increase or decrease) in the amount of their annual election in each FSA account in which they are enrolled. In accordance with IRS guidance, the election change is effective prospectively, on the first pay period after approval by FSAFEDS. Accordingly, participants cannot receive a refund of allotments from pay they have already made to their FSA account(s) year-to-date. In addition, participants cannot decrease their election below the amount already allotted to the FSA account OR the amount already reimbursed for eligible expenses, whichever is greater.

This 60-day limited period to increase or decrease the FSAFEDS election should not be confused with the existing opportunity to increase or decrease DCFSA or HCFSA elections through September 30 based on a QLE such as cost or coverage changes in childcare or elder care. This 60-day limited period affects both HCFSAs as well as DCFSAs, does not require the participant to establish a QLE, and does not preclude a participant from submitting a QLE change before or after submitting a change during this 60-day limited period, provided the QLE is submitted no later than September 30, 2020.

Extended period to both incur eligible expenses and claim reimbursement of unused 2019 DCFSA amounts until December 31, 2020

Participants who made an election to a DCFSA for the plan year ending December 31, 2019 had until March 15, 2020 (the “grace period”) to incur eligible DCFSA expenses. Claims for reimbursement of these expenses was due by April 30, 2020, the deadline for submitting claims from the previous plan year. Any funds not used during the grace period are normally forfeited. An extension of this period is being allowed this year on a one-time basis. Specifically, participants who made an election to a DCFSA in the plan year ending December 31, 2019, will now be allowed to both incur eligible expenses and claim any 2019 funds remaining in their DCFSA account until December 31, 2020. The extended claim period is automatic for qualified participants.

HCFSA and LEX HCFSA carryover amount from 2020 into 2021 increased to $550

IRS Notice 2020-334 allows an increase in the carryover amounts for HCFSA and LEX HCFSA from $500 to $550. Participants may now carryover up to $550 of unused amounts in their HCFSA and LEX HCFSA remaining at the end of 2020 into 2021, if they re-enroll for the 2021 DCFSA allotments made in 2020 may be increased or decreased during the 60-day limited period, but the grace period for incurring eligible DCFSA expenses with respect to these funds will expire March 15, 2021 and claims for reimbursement will be due by April 30, 2021plan year. This increased carryover amount of $550 will continue in place for plan years beyond2021.5

How to submit election changes

Participants to contact FSAFEDS by visiting www.FSAFEDS.com or by calling 1- 877-FSAFEDS (372-3337) to take advantage of theseFSAFEDS Program flexibilities, or for questions and additional information.

Article by Shawn McCoy

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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 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, 17th July 2020 by

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This is a challenging time for all and uncertainty abounds. When we listen to the morning news, we hear of new setbacks in our fight to get back to normal; whatever that may end up being. Unfortunately, we are fighting a war on several fronts: from the pandemic to national unrest, and fueled by a political divide. Many businesses, small and large, and their employees will eventually lose this battle, they don’t have the resources to remain in business if we don’t jump start the economy.

 

 

Our children are now the pawns in this ongoing war: should they be in school or shelter in place. What would cause less harm? That debate rages on and I can only hope that reason prevails. This situation impacts all of us.

I believe there are still many reasons to be hopeful, even with all of the confusion that surrounds us. America will persevere over time as we always have in the past. Life goes on with challenges but unabated for many while those in certain industries have many obstacles to overcome and are suffering greatly.

Observations

Many retirees never used an ATM, a bank drive through or wore a mask in public before the virus attacked. Masks are now mandatory and actually I don’t mind them to a certain extent, I look 15 years younger with my mask on; most couldn’t tell if I’m 55 or 71 when I’m wearing it!  Who knows, I may get carded at Lowe’s the next time I buy a can of spray paint!

Prior to the arrival of COVID 19, retirees often preferred using cash unlike the younger generations that rely so heavily on their ATM and debit cards. I visited Walmart yesterday and all of the self-checkout kiosks limited transactions to credit or debit cards. They only had one check-out lane open for cash customers and the line was very long. I bit the bullet, and used my bank card. I do use cards for large purchases and to fill up at gas stations.

Cards may be a safer bet at times, when you consider that circulated hard currency is handled by many others. Yet, I would never want to live in a cashless society. It would strip us of our privacy and allow those controlling the cards, government and large companies, to track our every move and know absolutely everything about us.  Plus, how would you pay at small venues such as garage sales, farm markets, and so many other places.

Many companies are limiting transactions to cards due to an apparent coin shortage.  Shortly after the crisis started, my wife and I rolled over $700 worth of coins that we deposited in two large jars over the past 10 years. I’m sure many others did the same. If we all turned them in, now that the banks are opening back up, I believe the system would be flush with coins again.

Doctors and hospitals are back in business for the most part. My cardiologist appointment went smoother than expected. I left a half hour yearly to beat the traffic. The drive downtown, on what would have normally been a busy work week, was uneventful. Hardly any traffic at all. Upon arrival, the hospital staff took my temperature and I was asked if I had exposure to Covid 19 or was sick lately. Only one other patient was in the waiting room and every other chair was turned around and unusable. They took me in for the exam 5 minutes after arriving and I left the office 10 minutes after my normal scheduled time! To reduce contact, they take everyone as soon as they can to get them back on their way. I recall sitting in waiting rooms for up to 5 hours in the past and I like this new expedited, and coordinated scheduling.

With the restaurants closed many that frequently dinned out were forced back to the kitchen! My wife and I share the cooking and eat in most of the time, maybe eating out once or twice a month and mostly takeout. This wasn’t an issue for us. However, so many were blindsided by this change. Today, you can’t hardly buy a can of Campbell’s soup at our local grocery store, packaged meal selections sell out shortly after being stocked, and canned goods are flying off the shelf.  Before this started, I was considering purchasing stock in Campbell Soup (CBP), analysts gave them a thumbs down because most millennials were moving away from packaged and processed foods. The same with Kraft Foods. Today it’s a whole different world in just three short months. Campbell Soup is rated #1 for timeliness by Value Line and has a dividend yield of 2.8%, Kraft yields 3.35%.  I purchased General Mills (GIS) instead, still a good choice and it yields 3.2%.

Working from home is and will continue to be a preferred method for many companies and individuals alike. The benefits are tremendous from my perspective.  Worker satisfaction, childcare flexibility, some businesses report improved productivity, considerably less time on the roads which reduces accidents and stress for commuters, and improved air quality. Plus, communicable diseases like the everyday flue would be less likely to spread since many will by default be socially distancing. Companies could reduce their leased-space, have lower overhead expenses and the list goes on and on. Of course, there are downsides as well, with a reduced need for office space those companies owning those properties will have challenges, the downtown stores and restaurants that services workers will also suffer. It is a sea change from how we worked in the past.

I completed a major milestone this month, a memoir titled “The Early Years, A Road Less Traveled.”  This book, my 28th in a life long series of books will probably be my last, and a fitting close to my book writing career. It was 18 months in the making. The book chronicles my family’s early years up to age 31.

The road I traveled was paved with constant change—11 moves before the age of 16—poverty, hardship, challenges, and heartache. Yet, that formed my character and ambition; It made me who I am today.

 

 

The Early Years will be available from Bookhaven Press later this year. The Preface, Chapter One, and Epilog are available online if you wish to read them.  This is a limited production.

Times are changing and at warp speed today. Just think about where we were just 100 years ago, most transportation was still by horse and buggy! The industrial and technological changes are mind numbing when you think about it. Change is inevitable and a constant; without it we stagnate.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

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

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 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.  

Posted in FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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Posted on Saturday, 4th July 2020 by

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My lifestyle column focuses on issues that affect retirement and I often cover current events. The issues of the day can be and are often controversial. My last article, “Stop the Insanity, History Can’t Be Rewritten,” garnered considerable comments, some thoughtful, others quite abrasive, and most supporting the article’s theme. One individual advised me to stick with retirement issues. Certainly, the unrest today affects all retirees. Dialog is a good thing, we have different opinions driven by our life experiences, teaching, or in some cases indoctrination.

Fortunately, all Americans have the right of free speech under the First Amendment of the constitutiomn, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

That one article is the foundation of our republic and the reason we are who we are today; a free and prospering society. It says volumes, its simplicity is genius. Our founders laid out our Constitution to be the guiding light for our republic and they did this on only four large sheets of parchment!

We all have a voice in America and the right to express it peacefully. In this country, we have equal rights of expression and should not be governed by the mob mentality and shamed into silence by the few. The vast majority want to live in a law-abiding free society, not in anarchy that is driven by sedition. Sedition is the act of inciting revolt or violence against a lawful authority with the goal of destroying or overthrowing it. It is a serious felony punishable by fines and up to 20 years in prison.

The major news networks often distort their commentary with ideological beliefs instead of reporting the actual news. They foment violence and racial divide to accommodate their agenda and turn us against one another.

The few, in this case­–the destructive mobs that are terrorizing our cities—have unfortunately gained the financial support of many including major corporations by shaming them into submission.  However, to blindly support movements you know so little about is reckless. Many of these groups are Marxist and that philosophy destroys all that embrace it. Their leaders proclaim it openly and one of them recently stated on national TV, “If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it.”  Should we or any rational company support that, burning this country down and replacing it? Do we support the rioting, looting, and crime that results, not from legitimate protests but from anarchists that are bent on destroying the fabric of this society? The First Amendment confers the right to “peaceably assemble,” not to destroy or loot personal property!

These groups often raise the concept of white privilege to turn one against the other. I believe privilege is color blind. It is earned and anyone can achieve that status in America if they are willing to make sacrifices and work hard to achieve their goals. I’m proof of that, I was raised in abject poverty and rose above it through hard work and perseverance. Were there injustices, segregation, and exclusion prior to the civil rights movement? Certainly, and it was pervasive and some still exists to this day.

You can’t erase the past, yet I see a bright future for all Americans if we reject the mob and continue on the path our founding fathers provided. The mob only rules if the majority stays silent. This country has come a long way; it isn’t the 1850s or the 1960s. Seventeen percent of all marriages in 2017 were mixed race, in 1967 only 3 percent of marriages were interracial? Just look at our TV shows, soap operas, sports teams, movies and more. Diversity and inclusion rules. In the cities we see African American mayors, governors, and in some cases such as Atlanta I believe over half the police force is minority. More minorities were employed before the pandemic than any time in history. The graduation rate for minorities is rising and Obama was our President! Anything is possible in America and what determines our destiny is self determination, drive, and motivation. 

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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 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.

Posted in LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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Posted on Thursday, 18th June 2020 by

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[Note to Reader: I recently completed a memoir of my early years and the following two paragraphs are excerpted, with slight modification, from the epilog.]

“Time and circumstance separate us from our early roots, and for most, life in the moment overshadows those early experiences, relegating them to the remotest corners of our mind. However, our character is fomented from those early years, and without us realizing it, it influences our behavior and underlying actions throughout life.

As I sit back and reflect on tragedies, protests and challenges in our country from a comfortable vantage point at age seventyone, I realize that fate and faith had much to do with getting to where we are today. Yet, we know that we are today who we were back then. No matter how big a tree grows, the roots have a great deal to do with determining its destiny. We are guided and influenced by our roots each and every day and if you discard them, a part of you dies.”

Tyrants often try to erase history (our roots). When ISIS formed the califate in 2014, they destroyed countless national religious and cultural treasures. Hitler tried to erase not only history, but an entire ethnoreligious group, the Jewish people. Stalin did the same in Russia; murdering anyone who got in his way. The list goes on throughout history.

America today has much to be thankful for! If you think we are suffering today, history will show all of us how fortunate we actually are, thanks in large measure to our brave men and woman who sacrificed their very lives to defend and preserve this great country. Yet a number of Revolutionary War monuments and the WW-II Memorial have recently been desecrated!

There have been many injustices recorded throughout history. Do we deny them, or learn from those past experiences? We could burn perceived undesirable books; the Nazi regime did this during WW-II. Should we ban classic movies now deemed controversial, like Gone with the Wind, and tear down monuments back to the beginning of time? What then would we have? Nothing would have changed, because our roots remain and they can’t be denied.

Mob rule leads to anarchy; and when you call the police and no one responds, all of us suffer the consequences, including the anarchists. Burning and looting stores down to their bare shelves, dangerously blocking traffic, and illegally pulling down monuments aren’t protests: it’s criminal behavior. For those who are peacefully protesting, you have that right and America supports you.

When anyone resists arrest, expect chaos. The person stopped is obligated to comply, but police officers must be responsible for their actions, as well. Kneeling on a person’s neck for 9 minutes and suffocating him is murder, and currently that individual is being prosecuted for that crime.

We are blessed to live in America with opportunities for all who choose to take advantage of them; regardless of your race, religion, national origin or gender. I’m proud to be an American and sad that so many wish to tear America down.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

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

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 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.

Posted in LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, UNCATEGORIZED

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Posted on Saturday, 13th June 2020 by

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The CARES Act offers temporary loan and withdrawal options for TSP participants affected by COVID-19. The dramatic stock market sell-off this past March and subsequent correction last week reduced portfolio values dramatically for many. Lower account balances for all but the bond funds make the decision to take out loans or elect a withdrawal difficult. However, for those negatively impacted these options are a needed lifeline to deal with the pandemic and the financial hardship that it has imposed on many.

The loan options described below will be available no later than June 22, 2020, and this withdrawal option will be available in mid-July 2020. Both the loan and withdrawal options are available only if you can certify that you meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • You have been diagnosed with the virus SARS–CoV–2 or with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID–19) by a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Your spouse or dependent (as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986) has been diagnosed with such virus or disease by such a test.
  • You are experiencing adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, being furloughed or laid off or having work hours reduced due to such virus or disease, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to such virus or disease, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to such virus or disease, or other factors as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury (or the Secretary’s delegate).

Increased maximum loan amount

The maximum loan amount is increased from $50,000 to $100,000, and the portion of your available balance you can borrow is raised from 50% to 100%. The deadline for applying for a loan with this increased maximum will be in September 2020. The TSP will announce the exact cutoff date soon.

Temporary suspension of loan payments

TSP participants may suspend their obligation to make payments on their TSP loan or loans for the rest of calendar year 2020. This applies to existing loans and loans taken in the remainder of 2020. A new form will be available for you to request this suspension.

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

CARES Act Withdrawal

You may make a one-time withdrawal of up to $100,000 from a civilian or uniformed services account. For those still in federal service, the usual requirements that you be at least 59 ½ years old or certify that you meet specific financial hardship criteria are waived. Though you may request that we withhold money from your withdrawal for federal income tax, we will not automatically do that. This withdrawal will be eligible for the favorable tax treatment described here, with all of the same options and restrictions. The deadline for applying for this withdrawal will be in December 2020. The TSP will announce the exact cutoff date soon.

Life Cycle Fund Changes

Starting this July more TSP lifecycle Funds will be available — (June 1, 2020) Starting July 1, 2020, we now have ten Lifecycle (L) Funds to choose from instead of the five currently available. They’ve adding the additional L Funds so that the target dates will be separated by only five years instead of ten, allowing you to more precisely target the time when you think you’ll need your money. Six more L Funds will be added, and the L 2020 Fund, having reached its target date, will be rolled into the L Income Fund. Funds List

  • L Income Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You are already withdrawing from your TSP account or
    • You were born before 1958
  • L 2025 Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You plan to begin withdrawing from your TSP account between 2021–2027 or
    • You were born between 1958–1964
  • L 2030 Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You plan to begin withdrawing from your TSP account between 2028–2032 or
    • You were born between 1965–1969
  • L 2035 Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You plan to begin withdrawing from your TSP account between 2033–2037 or
    • You were born between 1970–1974
  • L 2040 Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You plan to begin withdrawing from your TSP account between 2038–2042 or
    • You were born between 1975–1979
  • L 2045 Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You plan to begin withdrawing from your TSP account between 2043–2047 or
    • You were born between 1980–1984
  • L 2050 Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You plan to begin withdrawing from your TSP account between 2048–2052 or
    • You were born between 1985–1989
  • L 2055 Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You plan to begin withdrawing from your TSP account between 2053–2057 or
    • You were born between 1990–1994
  • L 2060 Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You plan to begin withdrawing from your TSP account between 2058–2062 or
    • You were born between 1995–1999
  • L 2065 Fund − Consider investing in this fund if:
    • You plan to begin withdrawing from your TSP account after 2062 or
    • You were born after 1999

Other TSP changes include a deferral of mandatory Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) for 2020 due to the pandemic.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

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

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 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.

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

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Posted on Thursday, 4th June 2020 by

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Last week’s article titled “Prescription Coverage Dilemma” described problems I encountered filling a prescription I’ve used for the past five years. The process used to fill non-preferred scripts is convoluted, and all parties suffer the consequences. I received many comments from last week’s column describing similar problems.

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One Blue Cross Blue Shield member found the generic drug he was prescribed ineffective; his doctor wrote a script for the brand name medication, a 90-day supply. The pharmacy wanted to charge him $700 for a one-month supply. He sent the script to their mail-in service instead and received a 90-day supply for only $125!

A NALC (High Option) member tried refilling three different brand name medications. Her doctor wrote several waiver requests and was advised that three alternatives must “FAIL” before they would consider granting a waiver. She ended up purchasing them from Canada.

Another Blue Cross member had a similar situation with a prescription for Eucrisa, a cream used for eczema. No generics were available. After several attempts it was approved for a copay of $350. The doctor gave her a discount card and out-of-pocket expenses decreased to only $10!

This week, I spent hours on the phone talking with customer service reps and reviewing plan brochures to better understand the process. Knowing what to expect doesn’t mitigate the need for change.

According to GEHA, our prescription benefit includes the Advanced Control Specialty Formulary (ACSF).  This formulary incorporates step therapy, where a generic/preferred medication is used prior to a non-preferred medication. The formulary is reviewed quarterly, and medications may change formulary status, including preferred to non-preferred. I believe most, if not all, of the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plans follow this guidance.

Basically, providers identify preferred medications for specific conditions. Up until this year, Asmanex was a preferred asthma medication. It changed to non-preferred and according to GEHA, members using this drug were sent a change notice. I don’t recall receiving it.

There are four medications on the preferred list when you search for Asmanex. I was prescribed Pulmicort and it produced serious side effects along with another medication I took previously. My doctor submitted two Asmanex scrips over the next month and both were rejected for lack of supporting data.

My situation should be resolved shortly, GEHA will provide guidance to doctor’s offices to help them through the process and I sent my doctor additional supporting information this week. After more discussions with GEHA, I discovered two primary reasons for disapproval. The first one involved an incorrect ICD diagnosis code. I have Asthma that triggers acute bronchospasms. The first doctor I went to for this condition listed the diagnosis as acute bronchospasms instead using the code for asthma. Secondly, doctors have to list alternate prescriptions that proved ineffective and describe the current medical situation in writing. This process is time consuming, frustrating for all concerned, and puts and undue burden on our doctors. It must be streamlined.

CVS Caremark manages GEHA’s prescription program. To check your medications availability, visit their website and register by entering a user name and password to start your search. Click on Plan & Benefits, select Check Drug Costs & Coverage from the dropdown menu, and enter the name of your medication and dosage. Your medication will show up with alternatives if it isn’t a preferred drug. It also lists monthly and 90-day supply costs. All plans should offer a similar option on their sites or call their customer service for this information.

The last option is to appeal the denial in writing. You or the provider can submit an appeal. However, the process is lengthy; patients must provide written consent to their physician’s office if the doctor’s office submits the paperwork. Supporting documentation includes medical records, clinical notes, test results and other pertinent information.

Some of those who commented on last week’s article purchased medications from Canada at considerable discount. Currently, it is illegal and the FDA can seize your shipment. If you are inclined to do the same, read the article titled “Amid Pandemic, FDA Seizes Cheaper Drugs From Canada” that was recently published by Kaiser Health News. Prices at Canadian pharmacies vary widely and delivery times range from 6-8 weeks. Before the pandemic, it took about 2 1/2 weeks.

I checked my prescription’s cost on PharmacyChecker.com and Asmanex was almost 60% lower than the local cost, without plan approval. However, with approval my cost would be about half of the Canadian pharmacy cost when using the manufacture’s coupon.  The key is getting FEHB plan approval whenever possible or an acceptable alternative.

Personally, I’m apprehensive when it comes to purchasing medications from foreign countries. The U.S FDA regulates the safety and efficacy of medications sold in U.S. pharmacies. That being said, when saddled with extremely high and unaffordable copayments it may be a viable option. If you pursue this route, be cautious and check your sources carefully.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

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

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.

Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION, WELLNESS / HEALTH

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