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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.
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We Need to Talk About Your Retirement

Pull up a chair. Can I get you a cup of coffee? If you’re married, I hope you brought your spouse along. We’re going to talk about your upcoming retirement.

Welcome to your pre-retirement counseling session!

If you are retiring in the next few months, I hope you’ve had the opportunity to get pre-retirement counseling. Unfortunately, not all federal employees receive the same level of counseling before their retirement date. Some agencies have many employees retiring and very few qualified retirement specialists.

The job of a federal retirement benefits counselor is demanding. Navigating the rules and regulations governing Civil Service Retirement System and Federal Employees Retirement System benefits requires a lot of experience. Here’s a list of agency benefits officers, who are designated to advise employees about various aspects of benefits program administration. If you’re not sure who to contact in your agency for retirement counseling, this person may be able to provide you a point of contact.

Getting Started

In the meantime, I’ll provide a little counsel of my own. The Office of Personnel Management’s Publication 83-11, Thinking About Retirement?, offers a very good overview of what you can do and what ...

The $1,258 Question

In 2015, Medicare Part B premiums will be $104.90 per month per person, or $1,258.80 a year. The good news is that’s unchanged from this year. The bad news is that feds who will turn 65 in 2015 will need to make a decision about whether or not to enroll in Part B and pay this additional premium on top of what they already pay for Federal Employees’ Health Benefits Program coverage.

Let’s look at some of the advantages of adding Part B and some ideas to how to make the dual coverage more affordable. But before we begin, here’s a quick overview of Medicare’s four parts:

  • Part A covers hospital care for overnight stays, care in a skilled nursing facility, hospice care and home health services. There is no premium for Part A as long as you or your spouse has paid the Medicare tax during employment. All federal employees have paid this tax since 1983. The military has been covered by Social Security payroll taxes since 1957.
  • Part B covers medically necessary services and supplies that are needed to diagnose or treat an illness or medical condition and that meet accepted ...

A Little More Cash During Open Season

Open season for federal health benefits is right around the corner: It starts Nov. 10 and runs until Dec. 8. When you hear the words “open season,” what thoughts come to mind?

How about: Stirring, exciting, thrilling, rousing, sensational and exhilarating?

Or is it more like: Tiresome, mind-numbing, monotonous, tedious, boring and dull?

Open season is your chance to enroll, review, change or terminate your participation in the following programs:

  • Federal Employees Health Benefits Program
  • Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program
  • Federal Flexible Spending Accounts

Those don’t sound like exciting things to think about, I must admit. However, what if I told you that open season is like mining for gold or finding lost cash or using a metal detector to discover a diamond ring on the beach? That’s a little more exciting, right?

Open season can be an opportunity to put a little more cash in your pocket. Here are five ideas that might help you do just that.

Contribute to a Flexible Spending Account

If you’re an eligible federal employee, you can sign up. If you’re already contributing, but not at the maximum level, then consider increasing your contributions -- assuming you’ll incur ...

Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween! In the world of federal employees and retirees, there are several items that could be characterized as tricks or treats, depending on your point of view. Let’s look at some of them, and you be the judge.

January Pay Adjustment

It looks like 1 percent is the number. That’s what President Obama proposed in his budget, and neither the House nor the Senate has taken action to block it. If there’s no specific language approved that would prevent the boost, it goes into effect at the beginning of 2015.

If you think 1 percent amounts to a trick, remember that it could be worse -- it could be another pay freeze. (And don’t forget, members of Congress may be stingy with raises for the federal workforce, but they’ve also frozen their own pay for six years.)

For uniformed military service members, the raise could be as much as 1.8 percent. That’s what the House has tacitly backed, while the Senate has favored the same 1 percent that civilian federal employees are slated to get. So the jury’s still out at this point.

Cost of Living Adjustments

For federal retirees under either ...

Providing For Each Other

In last week’s column, we looked at the critically important question of whether to take a reduced retirement benefit to provide a survivor annuity.  This week, I’d like to explore a more specific scenario based on an e-mail I recently received about a situation involving two married federal employees.

Kat and Charlie are both high-level federal managers, and are planning to retire at the end of this year under the Civil Service Retirement System. They’re looking forward to retirement benefits computed at $112,000 per year for him and $90,000 per year for her. (But their level of benefit in this scenario wouldn’t really affect their decision.) If Charlie were to provide a full spousal survivor annuity to Kat, the reduction to his benefit would be $10,930 a year, or $910.83 a month. If Kat were to do the same, the reduction to her annuity would be $8,730 per year, or $727.50 per month.

Instead of providing survivor annuities for each other, Charlie and Kat decided to buy life insurance:

  • Charlie bought a 20-year term life insurance policy worth $400,000 with a premium of $1,541 a year. The term ...