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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

Best Dates to Retire 2017

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As has been my custom since I started to write this column more than 10 years ago, I am presenting the annual best dates to retire under CSRS, CSRS Offset and FERS for next year. Federal employees can retire the day they become eligible or any day thereafter, but there are some days that are better than others to choose as your date of final separation from government.

Selecting the best date to retire is becoming more complicated because federal retirement has become more complicated. Until 1984, there was only the Civil Service Retirement System, under which a single retirement check was the sole source of retirement income for most federal retirees. Only about 4 percent of current federal employees remain under CSRS.

Today, the more flexible Federal Employees Retirement System provides income from a smaller basic benefit, a retirement savings account (the Thrift Savings Plan) and Social Security. In many cases, FERS employees have had private industry and military service in addition to their federal careers that may have produced additional sources of retirement income.

Here are some things to consider if you’re contemplating retiring in 2017:

  • If you’re...

Social Security Confusion

Last week, we looked at the importance of using the magic words when asking questions about your retirement benefits. This week, let’s look at a specific example of how this principle came into effect for a federal employee trying to navigate the changes in the Social Security law passed late last year. Those changes phased out the “restricted application” and the “file and suspend” options for claiming Social Security retirement benefits.

One employee recently sent me the following email on the subject:

Although it is water under the bridge now, I wanted to tell you that the Social Security Administration is now interpreting the law differently even though the website hasn’t changed. The SSA is now saying that I had to have applied for spousal benefits before April 30. I got this same answer in person at the SSA office and over the phone. I think this is pretty outrageous, but I wanted to let you know.

The SSA representatives thought this employee was talking about the file and suspend strategy, which had to be completed by April 30. According to SSA, “if you submit a request to suspend your benefits to earn delayed retirement credits on or...

Use the Magic Words to Get What You Want

According to Emily Post (and moms everywhere), the magic words are “please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” “you’re welcome,” and “excuse me.” These words show you have good manners and convey kindness, appreciation and awareness of others. They can open doors and make things happen.

When it comes to retirement planning, did you know that there are also magic words you need to use when requesting information about your benefits? There are specific terms that get action and convey the correct meaning of your request.

Over the years, I have met many employees who have received inaccurate or misleading information due to using the wrong language when asking questions. The specialist at the agency didn’t give a wrong answer, they just answered a different question than the employee thought they were asking.

Here are a few examples:

Can I continue my health insurance if I defer my retirement?

The correct answer to this question is no. But what if the employee actually is asking about a postponed retirement, not deferred? Then the answer would be yes.

The employee may be eligible for a type of retirement called “MRA+10,” which refers to leaving government at minimum retirement age...

Fighting to Protect Your Benefits

This week I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association biennial convention in Reno, Nevada. The theme of the convention was “Progress. Protect. Persevere.”

NARFE is 95 years old. It was founded in 1921, the year after Congress created the Civil Service Retirement System. Its current membership numbers about 222,000, but the organization represents the interests of around 5 million federal employees, retirees, their spouses and survivors.

The conference featured presentations by Harry Johns, president and chief executive officer of the Alzheimer’s Association; Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.; John O’Brien, director of health care and insurance at the Office of Personnel Management; and Steve Bauer, executive director of the Federal Employees Education and Assistance Fund. The convention also included more than two dozen booths staffed by representatives of six Federal Employees Health Benefits Program plans, the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program, the Social Security Administration, the Thrift Savings Plan and OPM, providing front-row access to the convention attendees to top experts from each of these agencies and programs. Nearly 1,000 people attended the event.

The conference included several sessions on efforts to work with members...

7 Questions to Answer Before Buying Life Insurance

As I noted in my column last week, September offers a rare open enrollment for the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance program. Feds will be able to enroll in any FEGLI coverage, including Option C, family coverage. There are no health questions to answer and there’s no need for a life event to elect coverage. If you’re already enrolled and would like to add coverage, next month is the time. But there is a catch: Your coverage will not take effect until the first full pay period on or after Oct. 1, 2017, which is also when you will begin paying premiums for the new coverage. And if you want to carry the additional coverage into retirement, you’ll need to wait five years or until after October 2022 to retire.

If you are single, you probably don’t need life insurance unless you are supporting someone else. But if you are married or providing for someone else financially, here are some questions that might help you think about what level of coverage you really need:

  1. What is the value of your CSRS or FERS survivor benefit? If you are still employed, there are survivor benefits payable to...

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