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The Index: 2017 Edition

It is has been my honor and pleasure since 2006 to write this weekly column. From the beginning, I hoped that these columns would be archived so that they would form a cumulative resource to help federal employees plan for retirement at every stage of their careers.

Below is my annual index to previous columns, which I hope will serve as such a resource. I’ve updated it by adding last year’s columns and deleting some older ones that have become obsolete or irrelevant.

I hope you’ll check back from time to time and use the index when you need information to help you prepare for your retirement from federal service.

Topics

1. Retirement Processing

2. Post-Retirement and Phased Retirement

3. New Employees and Midcareer Employees

4. Best Dates to Retire

5. Deciding to Retire

6. Congressional Proposals and Action

7. Things to Do to Get Ready

8. Sick Leave/Annual Leave

9. Service Credit Issues: Civilian

10. Service Credit Issues: Military

11. Survivor Benefits

12. Law Enforcement and Special Groups

13. Eligibility and Computation of CSRS and FERS

14. Other CSRS and FERS Issues

15. CSRS vs. FERS

16. CSRS Offset

17. Disability Retirement

18. Voluntary Contributions...

Paying a Medicare Penalty

Over the years, I’ve written a number of columns about the wisdom of enrolling in “original Medicare” — Part A (hospital Insurance) and Part B (medical insurance). Most of the questions I get on this subject revolve around whether it makes sense to sign up for Part B, and how and when to do it.

Here, for example, is an email I recently received from a retiree who may learn that even after paying a late enrollment penalty, signing up for Part B can actually save her money:

I am a 67-year-old female, retired in 2009 and I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard FEHBP coverage. I'm healthy and I did not sign up for Medicare Part B when I turned 65 two years ago. In 2015 I had an emergency room visit and overnight hospital stay followed by two surgeries in 2016. I paid $4,000 out of pocket in 2015 and $5,000 last year. I know I would have to pay a penalty to join Medicare Part B now, but I'm wondering if I should sign up anyway?

I told her it might be worth paying for Medicare Part B even though there is a...

Last-Minute Retirement Tips

Since January 2016, nearly 100,000 federal employees have retired. Many more will likely be added to the retirement rolls soon, because the Office of Personnel Management typically receives twice as many retirement applications in January than at any at any other time of the year.

Making the application process go smoothly requires cooperation between the retiring employee, his or her agency and the Office of Personnel Management. Federal personnel offices have been busy for the past few months helping employees prepare for this milestone by providing individual retirement counseling and compiling the package of paperwork that must be mailed to OPM in order for the process to begin.

Yes, I did say paperwork. It’s almost 2017, but retirement processing is still a mostly paper affair. In fact, OPM’s instructions on filing forms include the following pieces of advice: “Punch holes with 2-hole punch on the right side of all landscape papers; on the top of all portrait papers,” and “Any partial pieces of paper or small papers should be stapled to a blank full sheet of paper.”

One of OPM’s goals is to eliminate the backlog of retirement claims to be processed and ultimately, to process...

Making Your Best Bet on Social Security

Almost everyone needs to decide when to claim their Social Security retirement benefit between age 62 and 70. The only exception would be those claiming disability benefits or benefits based on the death of a spouse, former spouse, or a parent. Everyone else has the same eight-year window to figure out whether to take a reduced benefit as early as age 62, a full benefit at full retirement age (between 65 and 67 depending on year of birth), or to delay receiving a benefit until as late as age 70 to receive a permanent increase in the amount.

Some people agonize over this decision, but it all comes down to calculated risk. With Social Security, the risks of filing early or delaying until age 70 revolve around life expectancy, such as your overall health and genetic makeup. If you’re married, you also need to factor in the age and health of your spouse if she or he might receive a widow’s benefit based on your benefit amount.

Other factors also will play into your decision, such as how much money you need to support your retirement lifestyle and whether someone else might benefit from your Social Security while...

Last Chance for Open Season Changes

As everyone knows, the holidays can be a stressful time. And years ago the federal government decided to add to the pressure by scheduling the annual Federal Employees Health Benefits Program open season during this period. Why couldn’t they have picked February or March?

I’m ready for this open season to be over. If you are, too, the good news is you don’t have long to wait. Open season ends at midnight on Monday, Dec. 12. But I’m still getting a lot of questions from people who haven’t finalized their decisions about health plans, dental and  vision supplements, and flexible spending account allotments. Since the answers to such questions can mean more cash in your take-home pay next year and fewer out-of-pocket medical expenses, I thought I’d take up a few of them during this last week of open season.

I am going to suspend my FEHBP coverage because I am also covered as a retiree under TRICARE. If I later wish to enroll in self plus one coverage, can I re-enroll in that level of coverage even though I suspended a self-only plan?

Since retirees can change from self only to self plus...

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