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Is Paperless Retirement Processing the Answer?

Advances in technology are improving our lives every day. But when it comes to federal retirement benefits processing, there’s a long way to go. New retirement claims are still being processed manually with paper retirement application forms and printed documentation of federal service records. The result is long delays and big backlogs of unprocessed claims.

Now there’s a glimmer of hope, as the Office of Personnel Management last month introduced a plan for modernizing information technology at the agency that includes advances in retirement processing.

OPM’s plan notes that a variety of changes already are taking place under mandates in laws or regulations. These include:

  • Conversion of all retirement payments to electronic fund transfers.
  • Updating annuity calculators to factor increased retirement contributions for certain federal employees, to include phased credit for unused sick leave for those under the Federal Employees Retirement System, and to account for voluntary Roth contributions.
  • Numerous updates to existing calculators or support systems to automate complex business rules.

OPM plans to replace the archaic retirement processing system with a paperless approach that will authorize accurate retirement benefits on the day they are due, answer customers’ questions in a timely manner and promote self-service ...

Retirement Quiz: The Basics

It’s quiz time! I’ve designed this one to cover some of the basics, with relatively new federal employees in mind. But midcareer and pre-retirement age federal employees may also find they have a few things to learn.

  1. There is no minimum age to make contributions to an Individual Retirement Arrangement.
    1. True
    2. False

  1. Which of these is a type of retirement savings plan:
    1. IRA
    2. 401k
    3. TSP
    4. 403b
    5. SEP
    6. MyRA
    7. All of the above

  1. The word “vested” relative to a particular retirement benefit means:
    1. It belongs to you; you have the full and legal right to this benefit.
    2. You are not yet entitled to receive the full benefit.
    3. It is the sleeveless layer of your retirement plan.

  1. The money you contribute to the TSP, along with the matching government contributions, is immediately vested.
    1. True, however, there is a three year vesting requirement for the 1 percent agency automatic contribution.
    2. False, it takes three years for your TSP account to be vested.

  1. What is the minimum number of years of service required to qualify for a federal retirement benefit?
    1. Three
    2. Five

  1. An annuity is a term used to describe a fixed income stream paid over a specific period of time, usually ...

Health Insurance Questions and Answers

Last week, we covered the subject of the relationship between Medicare Part B and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Not surprisingly, this topic received a big response. Many readers commented that it is a good idea for retirees to have both Medicare Part A and Part B coverage, along with FEHBP. But others expressed continued confusion regarding the need for Medicare coverage in addition to FEHBP and even whether or not FEHBP was necessary if a retiree was on Medicare.

This week, I’ll respond to some of their questions and concerns.

I could be wrong, but while my widowed grandmother was alive and living with my mobile brother, each time they moved she had a heck of a time finding a physician who would take Medicare patients. I you enroll in Part B, you’d be a “Medicare patient,” and suffer the same problems.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation more than 95 percent of doctors accept Medicare, and half of those who do not are psychiatrists or boutique physicians who do not accept any insurance. The vast majority (96 percent) of Medicare beneficiaries report having a usual source of care, primarily a doctor’s office or doctor ...

The Big Health Insurance Question

Turning 65? If you are like most federal retirees and employees, you might be feeling confused and unsure of how Medicare will work with your Federal Employee’s Health Benefits Program coverage. This is a topic that always gets a lot of questions and some debate during my pre-retirement seminars.

Most people will agree that enrolling in Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), is the right thing to do. After all, there is no premium for anyone who has paid the 1.45 percent Medicare tax. Part A is also available to the spouse of someone who has qualified.

The bigger question involves Medicare Part B (health insurance) -- specifically, whether you need it if you already have FEHBP. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard for not wanting to enroll in Part B.

  • My FEHBP has served me well and will continue to cover me even after I turn 65.
  • Part B is expensive.
  • My FEHBP plan does not lower its premium when Medicare becomes my primary coverage.
  • Since FEHBP has catastrophic protection, the worst that can happen if I don’t enroll in Part B is that I may have to pay $5,000 out of pocket (or ...

The TSP’s New Millionaires

Saving a million dollars for your retirement is quite an accomplishment. Saving a million dollars in an average of 25.7 years in the federal Thrift Savings Plan is a really big accomplishment. As of December 2013, more than 1,600 TSP participants can say that they have done just that. Some of these balances were started with seed money from other investments transferred from 401(k) plans, but there are some pure TSP millionaires. One TSP account holder has a balance of more than $3 million.

As for the rest of the more than 4.6 million participants in the TSP, the breakdown of balances looks like this:

  • Under $50,000: 2,798,820
  • $50,000 - $249,999: 1,424,999
  • $250,000 - $499,999: 335,638
  • $500,000 - $749,999: 71,272
  • $750,000 - $999,999: 11,063

So the reality is that 98 percent of the TSP participants have less than $500,000 in their accounts. But many of them are still early in their careers, and thus are in position for outstanding growth in their account balances. One key is to start investing early. Even if you aren’t contributing 10 percent or even 5 percent ...