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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...

6 Myths About Federal Retirement Benefits

In everyday life, rumors, legends and misconceptions abound. For example, were George Washington’s false teeth actually made of wood? Nope.

“While Washington certainly suffered from dental problems and wore multiple sets of dentures composed of a variety of materials—including ivory, gold, and lead—wood was never used in Washington's dentures nor was it commonly employed by dentists in his era,” writes William M. Etter, a professor at Irvine Valley College.

I think one of the most important contributions I make in helping federal employees plan for retirement is to dispel rumors and myths. Here are some of the most common retirement-related myths I’ve come across in my conversations with federal employees.

Myth 1: Social Security will not be there when I retire.

About 62 million people, or more than one in every six U.S. residents, collect Social Security benefits. Almost all workers participate in Social Security by making payroll tax contributions, and almost all elderly Americans receive Social Security benefits. According to a recent Social Security trustees report, “Lawmakers have a broad continuum of policy options that would close or reduce the long-term financing shortfall” in Social Security. Of course, legislators have to choose from...

The One Surefire Way to Make Your Voice Heard

I just mailed in my ballot for the midterm elections. It isn’t always easy to decide who to vote for among candidates seeking local, state and national office. And often there are other ballot measures to consider, such as amendments to your state constitution.

I found information about the candidates and ballot measures on the websites of my local county supervisor of elections and various news organizations. It was time-consuming, but a lot easier than the old days of gathering information by clipping newspaper articles and attending live events.

Federal employees, retirees and survivor annuitants have items of particular interest when deciding on candidates for seats in Congress. After all, the federal laws these legislators write govern their retirement and insurance benefits.

I’ve written in past columns about pending legislation and the fact that many proposals to cut benefits that draw headlines never become law. Much of the success of maintaining your hard-earned and well-deserved retirement and insurance benefits is due to the efforts of federal employees and retirees who write to their elected representatives, join organizations that have a voice in Congress and, of course, vote.

One group that advocates for federal benefits is the National Active...

4 Ways to Stop Procrastinating

Retirement planning is hard for procrastinators. I should know, I am one. As I think about deadlines (to finish this column or other writing projects, for example), I sometimes get anxious. That’s because I often wait until the 11th hour before I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to actually do the work that needs to get done.

If you’re wondering if you’re a procrastinator when it comes to retirement planning, think about the last time you did the following:

  • Reviewed your health insurance options during the annual health benefits open season.
  • Reevaluated your life insurance to increase or decrease your coverage as needed.
  • Discussed a plan for long-term care with your loved ones and thinking about how you would want to be cared for should the need arise.
  • Reviewed your official personnel folder to be sure your service history is accurately documented.
  • Requested a retirement estimate from your human resources office if you are within five years of retirement eligibility.
  • Updated your beneficiary designations when you experience a life event.
  • Rebalanced your Thrift Savings Plan as you get closer to retirement (unless you are automatically doing this using the L Funds).
  • Reviewed your latest...

Ready to Go? Here’s What You Need to Do First

The number of federal employees who filed for retirement jumped 24 percent in fiscal 2018. If you are planning to become part of the growing group of people transitioning into retirement, there are some important steps to follow to make sure the process goes smoothly.

To help you understand them, this week I’m updating one of the first columns I wrote in 2006, called “Smoothing the Transition.”

To retire under the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System, you must be old enough and have enough creditable service to earn a federal retirement benefit. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are no longer going to work. Some people leave government service on a Friday and start working in the private sector on the following Monday. Whether you plan to continue to work after leaving federal service or fully retire, here’s a to-do list to get you started.

Check your service history. This step can (and should) be done early in your career, but be certain to complete it before you file your CSRS or FERS retirement application. This is especially true if you’ve worked for other federal agencies or have served on active duty...