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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

A Story of Skyrocketing Premiums

Last week, we looked at what happens when life events require that you make changes to your benefits options.

Unfortunately, for those who are already retired, this is sometimes not as easy as it sounds. In addition to contacting the official organizations referenced in last week’s column, retirees also can get help from organizations like the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association if they are not sure how to make a change to their retirement benefits.

Here’s one cautionary tale about this kind of situation. It involves Ted and Martha — who are in their 70s and live in New York — and NARFE’s New York Federation. But don’t worry, it has a happy ending.

Like many retirees, Ted and Martha have had the same health insurance coverage for many years. During the most recent annual open season, they didn’t make any changes, because they were happy with the coverage they had. Little did they know their premiums were about to go up by more than $600 per month.

When they received their first retirement payment of 2017, with the new, much larger, premiums deducted, you can imagine their surprise and panic. It would be another...

Life Changes and Benefits Changes

Federal employees and retirees typically consider making changes to their benefits during an open season or when a new benefit is introduced. However, there are times when changes need to be made for more personal reasons, such as a life-changing event. During such times, it can be confusing to navigate the process of making changes, since no one else is doing it at the same time as you are.

What do you do when it’s time to add or change your benefits because of a life event such as a marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, or the death of a family member?

If you’re a current employee, you can contact your human resources office or access the employee page of your agency’s website. If you’re retired, generally you’ll need to contact the Office of Personnel Management, the Thrift Savings Plan or the Social Security Administration. Most changes to benefits can be made online, and the instructions are generally easy to follow.

For example, to change the allocation of your TSP investments, visit the Interfund Transfers page of the TSP website. Here you will find a three-minute YouTube video along with written online...

Leave Calculations

On the most basic level, the difference between sick leave and annual leave for federal employees is simple: Sick leave is for illness and annual leave is for vacations. In practice, it’s a little more complicated.

Federal workers are able to accumulate 104 hours of sick leave every year of federal service. Over a 20-year career, that’s 2,080 hours, or about a year’s worth of accumulated sick leave. Both the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System credit unused sick leave balances toward the calculation of retirement benefits.

So should you save your sick leave for retirement or a future illness and use your annual leave when you’re sick or have a doctor’s appointment? Some employees do this in order to maintain a large balance of unused sick leave in the event of a future major medical need.

When it comes to annual leave, generally employees can carry over 240 hours from one year to the next. But they begin to earn eight hours per leave period after 15 years of federal service. That’s 208 hours a year, or more than five weeks of paid vacation. When you add in...

Should You Take a Buyout?

Earlier this week, Eric Katz of Government Executive reported that the Environmental Protection Agency will begin offering employees buyouts and early retirement incentives this year. News like this puts employees at all federal agencies on high alert. I got several emails this week from readers as a result of this announcement. For example, Susan wrote, “Would you consider posting an article giving your thoughts about the pros and cons of taking these buyouts?”

In retirement planning, it’s important to be ready for a range of possibilities. It’s like planning a vacation. I’m usually the one to plan our family getaways because I don’t like surprises and I want to be sure we don’t miss out on something because we didn’t think ahead. As Col. John “Hannibal” Smith used to say on the TV show The A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.

So should accepting an early out offer, potentially with a buyout, be part of your plan? To answer that question, it’s first important to understand two terms: Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment. The VERA and VSIP programs are key tools to help agencies meet...

Will Social Security Last?

Nancy A. Berryhill, acting commissioner of Social Security, recently announced that April is National Social Security Month. During this month, the Social Security Administration is highlighting five steps to financial security:

  • Get to know your Social Security
  • Verify your lifetime earnings with a My Social Security account
  • Estimate your future Social Security benefits at My Social Security
  • Apply online for retirement, disability, or Medicare benefits
  • Manage your Social Security benefits

Now might be a good time to gain a better understanding of how Social Security fits into your retirement plan, whether you are covered under the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System.

The long-term future of Social Security has been a matter of political debate for years. Recently, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., re-introduced the Social Security 2100 Act, which aims to provide increased benefits to low- and mid-wage workers while extending the solvency of the program by making the wealthy pay more into the system.

Specifically, the bill would make eight significant changes to Social Security:

  • Change the Social Security benefit formula to slightly increase all benefits payable for months of eligibility in January 2018 and later.
  • Use the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E...