Retirement Planning Retirement PlanningRetirement Planning
Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

5 Things You Should Do to Prepare for Health Benefits Open Season

I can hear the groans now. It's the start of another health benefits open season. For many federal employees and retirees, this is not a cause for celebration, but a time of frustration and confusion. Open season can cause paralysis from analysis or inaction due to so many choices.

But what if I told you that you can narrow your choices and might be able to save over $1,000 next year by choosing carefully?

Choosing the best health plan is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. You need to fit the premiums with likely out-of-pocket expenses and potential tax-saving features to come up with the complete picture of your 2018 health insurance needs. The health plan you chose 25 years ago, or even five years ago, may not be the best for next year. You owe it to yourself and your family to spend a few hours between now and mid-December to learn more about your options. After all, you most likely have more than 20 health insurance plans to choose from, up to 10 different dental supplemental plans and four vision plans. Tax-saving features include flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts and premium conversion benefits...

Are You Mentally Prepared for Retirement?

It is important to visualize a life after your federal career has ended. Some people may want to ease into retirement. Congress created a phased retirement option in 2012. Not all federal employees are eligible for it, but some agencies have implemented the option for those who are. Assuming your agency offers it, you also must be currently eligible to retire with 30 years of service at your CSRS or FERS retirement age or be at least age 60 with 20 or more years of service. You must also be working full time and not be subject to mandatory retirement.  

Under phased retirement, your work schedule changes from fulltime to part time (20 hours per week) and your retirement is paid at one-half the full amount. There is a mentoring requirement as well. Eligible employees may spend a few months up to several years in a period of phased retirement prior to fully retiring. If you are interested, check with your supervisor or a retirement specialist in your human resources office.   

Another way to mentally prepare for full retirement is to stagger your retirement benefits. For example, in our family, my husband retired from his 26-year career in federal law...

When Can You Retire?

I get this question a lot: When can I retire? The person asking sometimes means When am I eligible to retire? or When can I afford to retire? Every once in awhile, it means When will I know I am ready to retire?  

The eligibility question is easy. Under CSRS or FERS, you have to be old enough and have enough creditable service to retire under one of the available options. There is a difference, depending on whether you are applying for an immediate “regular” retirement, an early retirement benefit, deferred or disability retirement.

When considering your service requirement, be sure to review your federal service history and to understand the rules. Sometimes, your past federal service counts for leave accrual, as shown on your leave service computation date (SCD), but not for retirement eligibility or benefits. For example, temporary service performed after 1988 that was not covered by FERS retirement contributions does not count towards retirement eligibility or benefits computation. Other types of service such as military service may require a deposit—a payment into FERS or CSRS—in order to be fully creditable towards retirement.  

Your work schedule might also impact your eligibility. Most federal employees work full...

What Makes the FERS Supplement Special

The Federal Employees Retirement System annuity supplement is important for those covered under FERS who plan to retire before turning 62, but it is especially significant to those who must retire early under special provisions that apply to certain groups of employees: law enforcement officers, firefighters, air traffic controllers, National Guard technicians, Customs and Border Protection officers, nuclear materials couriers and special agents of the Diplomatic Security Service—as well as a few other positions.

Although the special provisions apply to a large number of employees at agencies such as the FBI and the Secret Service, they cover a smaller portion of employees at agencies like the Food and Drug Administration. It can be difficult for some special group employees to get information about specific retirement rules for them that are slightly different due to their retirement coverage. These differences include an earlier retirement age with eligibility to retire with less service than other employees, immediate cost-of-living adjustments, a more generous retirement computation, and an immediate FERS retirement supplement.

To help with this week’s column, I called on Dan Jamison, who is a certified public accountant and retired FBI agent. For more than 20 years, he has produced a...

How Ready Are You For Retirement? A Quick Quiz

Whether you’re concerned about proposed congressional changes that could impact your future retirement benefits or you’re simply at or near eligibility for retirement, you may have been thinking lately about your future plans.

If you’re considering leaving sometime soon, it’s a good idea to think about how prepared you are. Here’s a quick way to assess where you stand.

For each of the 10 questions below, choose the answer that best describes your situation.

Which of the following best describes your contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan?

  1. I’ve increased them within the last two years
  2. I plan to increase them with my next salary increase
  3. a and b
  4. I’m already contributing the maximum
  5. I can’t contribute due to a six-month ban on contributions after taking a financial hardship in-service withdrawal (there’s an exception to this for recent hurricane victims)
  6. I can’t afford to contribute more than I currently am contributing
  7. I do not participate in the TSP

When was the last time you reallocated your TSP funds or rebalanced your overall retirement investments?

  1. Not recently, because I am invested 100 percent in one or more of the lifecycle L Funds...