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Why Retirement Processing Takes So Long

The busiest time of the year for retirement claims processing at the Office of Personnel Management is fast approaching. At the end of November, OPM had an inventory of 19,162 unprocessed retirement applications. This will most likely significantly increase over the next few months, because many federal employees plan their retirements at the end of the year in order to maximize their lump sum payout of unused annual leave.

The spike in end-of-leave-year retirements presents a number of challenges for retirement processing. According to a recent OPM inspector general report, the timely processing of initial retirement payments remains a challenge for the agency. OPM’s 2018-2022 strategic plan sets a target of achieving an average case processing time of 60 days or less. The agency’s Retirement Services unit appears to have met that goal in fiscal 2018, with an average of 59 days. But its claims backlog as of September was 17,628, more than 4.5 percent higher than at the same time a year ago.

According to the IG report, the steps Retirement Services is taking to address delays in processing include:

  • Continue to integrate improvements for correspondence and claims processing.
  • Enhance reporting tools to monitor...

Last-Minute Shopping Tips for Open Season

Are you a procrastinator like me? If so, you may be waiting until the last minute to review your open season options under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program. And if you’re a current employee, you should be thinking about your annual flexible spending account allotments for health and dependent care.

The order of business during open season should be to first select your health plan, then add dental or vision supplemental coverage if needed. The icing on the cake is to select the amount to allocate to an FSA account.

If you’re confused about choosing the best health plan for you and your family, consider the following tips that might help you determine if you should switch to a different plan.

Use the OPM Plan Comparison tool and the Consumer’s Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees. They’re a good first step to help you narrow down the plans available in your zip code and see the monthly premiums, catastrophic limits, out of pocket expenses for deductibles, copayments and coinsurance—and generally assess how the plans stack up against each other.

Narrow down your choices to three...

The Secrets to a Financially Secure Retirement

What is the best way to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable retirement? This week, I thought I’d share some observations I’ve made over the years about employees who end up with the same (and sometimes even greater) income during their retirement years than while they were employed.

These folks have been planning for retirement throughout the beginning, middle and pre-retirement stages of the federal careers. I sometimes meet employees who tell me they remember me from a retirement planning class they attended 20 years ago.

For those covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System, the Thrift Savings Plan has played an important role. These people have learned how to invest for the long term and what it means to diversify their investments among the G, C, F, S, and I Funds—or used the L Funds to automatically shift their investments as their careers progress. They have learned to tolerate a certain level of risk in order to obtain maximum results by not reacting emotionally to swings in market conditions.

FERS employees who have successfully leveraged their TSP accounts tend to have several things in common:

  • Those in higher income brackets are saving the maximum in their TSP...

Retirement by the Numbers

I meet federal employees on a daily basis at seminars, through email and as clients who are getting ready to retire after a long career of service. I find that many have prepared well for this next chapter in life and are looking forward to retirement. Others, however, find themselves in a situation where retirement is necessary due to an untenable work situation or changes at home that require more time with family. Many are uncertain if they have adequately prepared,  and are hoping for the best even though their net retirement income will be less than what they brought home while employed.

It isn’t hard to retire from the federal government. All you have to do is fill out a three-page application. That means it can be easy to retire impulsively at a vulnerable time. But if the time isn’t right, remember that it’s very hard to undo retirement and return to federal service.

So before you make your final decision, consider some statistics—starting, for example, with these from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Retirement Policy:

  • Social Security is the major source of retirement income (providing at least 50 percent of total income...

Cutting Through the Open Season Jargon

Monday marked the beginning of this year’s health benefits open season. In September, I wrote about 3 Things To Do This Open Season to help you review your health care needs in 2018 and assess your likely situation next year. If you completed that assignment, then it’s time to narrow your choices for the best health plan for next year. If not, you may want to review that column to get started.

There are a few ways to simplify the open season chore so it doesn’t become an overwhelming task. There are tools on the Office of Personnel Management website you can use to understand your options, identify your needs and narrow your choices to the best plan at the best price for you and your family. These include both an OPM-generated plan comparison tool and a link to the Consumer’s Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees. Many agencies pay for employees to have access to this tool.

To make the best use of any of these tools, it helps to know the meaning of key terms in the health insurance world. Let’s look at some of the most important.

Deductible: The amount...