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May 27, 2019

Federal Employee Retirement and Benefits News

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Early Retirement: Why it Can be a Bad Thing

Early retirement may sound like a dream while working every day, year after year. For a good number of workers that dream gets actualized. According to a report, roughly 43% of workers retire earlier than they were expected to. The commonly heard reasons for people leaving their jobs earlier than expected were a shift or issues in their company such as reorganization or downsizing and health issues. Only a third of the 43% that retired early gave the reason for retiring as thinking they could afford it.

All your retirement plans can be thrown off if you are forced into early retirement. For example, if you were planning to work till the age of 67 and you are unfortunately laid off at 62 and can’t get another job, the disadvantage of this sudden change doubles. First of all, you miss out on a good five years of potential savings. Secondly, you will need more money to sustain you for the rest of your life seeing as you will be spending more time in retirement.

A few years may not seem like having to the potential of creating a worthy impact, but those few years can make a really huge difference. However, there are a few things one can do to shield themselves against these unpredictable situations.

The first one is the most difficult to do but the most obvious, saving more or as much as you can to cushion the fall in case of early retirement. Calculate how much you want to have saved by a certain age, then see how much you will need to put away to achieve that goal a few years earlier. Even if you are not forced to retire early and you plan for retirement with the notion that you will need more money with less time to save, which automatically sets you up to save more, you can simply end up retiring early because you can afford to do so.

Another thing is making the most out of social security. Use social security to your advantage if you may not be able to afford saving up more. Seeing as how much you receive on benefits depends on when you claim. To get 100% of the benefits that you are entitled to it is best that you claim once you have reached your full retirement age and depending on which year you were born it could be between the ages of 66 and 67.

If you end up retiring earlier than you had expected, all your plans could be tossed out the window. No one can predict your future, just ensure you have plans in place that will prepare you for any hurdles that may come your way.

Is early retirement a bad idea

USPS Retiree Health Benefits and the Unsustainable Path

Based on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, a worse financial situation may be occurring with the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund (RHB).

Due to the poor financial condition of the Postal Services, it is going through its 11th straight year of huge financial losses. The funds could be depleted by 2030 if no other payments were going to be paid into the fund, according to the GAO report.

In FY 2017, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) started to draw funds in order to pay the Postal Services share of premiums for retiree health benefits. According to the status quo, OPM has predicted that payments in the future may continue to exceed interest earned on investments from the fund’s income.

Now, 500,000 Postal retirees are receiving benefits and OPM is expecting the number to remain constant until 2035.

Recommendations by GAO

Different recommendations have been made by GAO to address the financial situation of the fund. All of them would need action to be taken by Congress. The details that follow show possible solutions to be made along with potential effects, which are taken rigorously from GAO’s report.

Approaches that Could Shift Costs to the Federal Government

Medicare Integration

To ensure that postal retirees participate in Medicare, different legislative proposals have been undertaken by Congress. This will increase the retiree’s participation level. Increase in participation in Medicare is going to shift primary responsibility to cover certain health care services to Medicare for retirees that enroll.

The requirement of the retirees to use Medicare will reduce the costs of U.S. Postal Service’s but raise the costs of Medicare, which is based on the analyses presented on the past legislation made by the Congressional Budget Office. The primary policy decision that can be made by Congress is to decide whether it will increase the use of Medicare by postal retirees.

Supplemental Federal Appropriations

Appropriations can be provided in case the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund (RHB Fund) is depleted, and USPS cannot fill the financial gap.

Using federal appropriations can help benefits to continue at a similar level if Congress desires to allow it to happen. Such action will, however, raise the federal budget deficit. In addition, postal retiree health benefits supplemental appropriations will be inconsistent with the functioning of USPS as an entity that is self-financing and covers its costs using the revenue it generates.

Approaches That Can Lower Benefits or Raise Costs to Postal Retirees or Employees

Tighten Eligibility/ Lower or Eliminate Retiree Health Benefits

As some companies and state government have done it, eligibility restrictions can tighten the postal retiree health benefits. This can include hiring new employees that are not eligible to get retiree health benefits or take other actions that can lower the level of benefits or to even get lid of the benefits.

To tighten eligibility will reduce the liability of USPS’s for postal retiree health benefits, and hence lower its unfunded liability. Current or future retirees will feel effects depending on the certain actions that will be taken through legislation.

Raise Postal Retiree and Employee Premium Payments

As it has been carried out, some companies and state government retirees will be required to pay a huge share of their premiums. Alternatively, employees will be needed to pay for retiree health benefits before they go for retirement.

To shift the cost to employees or retirees will lower the RHB Fund expenses. Based on the number of costs that are shifted to retirees, the approach will raise any financial challenges that will be faced by retirees.

Changing the Federal Contribution to a Fixed Subsidy

As some companies and state government have carried it out, it is possible to shift the benefits to a contribution structure that is defined and has a fixed amount subsidizing the benefit. Over time, the amount can be adjusted with any adjustments might or might not help to keep up with costs.

To use a fixed subsidy can lower the costs of RHB Funds and the needed USPS payments and raise incentives for retirees to make health care decisions that are less costly. Nonetheless, it can also result in a massive cost exposure for retirees; these costs can lead to hard decisions about health care.

Establish a Non-Federal Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA)

As it has been done by some companies to offer retiree health benefits separate from the employer. A VEBA that is outside the federal government can be established to offer postal retiree health benefits rather than the current federal program. VEBA determines what benefits will be offered to its members and can include retirees and employees payments made by members and how to invest the VEBA assets.

The effects of VEBA will depend upon its governance structure and its benefit levels determination, funding sources, the level of funding, types of investments, and the associated market risks. Determinants such as these ones will include the level of initial funding and its sources, including if it will come from the RHB Fund or the Treasury. This will be together with the funds that will be offered to the VEBA going ahead.

Approaches That Will Change How Benefits are Financed

Lower the Required Level of Prefunding

Legislation that has been proposed will lower the RHB Fund pre-funding target from 100 percent to 80 percent.

To reduce the needed funding level will lower the required USPS’s payments to the fund but it can increase costs for postal ratepayers in the future and raise the risk of USPS not being able to pay these costs.

Outside Investment

The legislation that has been proposed will initially require 25 percent of RHB Fund assets investments to be outside U.S. Treasury securities, with a goal to seek huge returns.

To allow for outside investments can lead to a higher rate of return on RHB Fund assets and lower the needs for long-term funding. Nevertheless, assets that are invested in non-Treasury securities will experience losses in a market downturn, and it will thus lower assets that are available for health care.

Recent Proposals to Reforming the Postal Service

The latest effort to underscore the Postal Service severity of the financial problems is the GAO report, but others have taken the notice.

Legislation Introduced

In the current Congress, Legislation was introduced to make Postal Service reforms; some of the sections were echoed in the GAO report.

Medicare was made mandatory by the Senate bill for some Postal retirees through creating within the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB) a new Postal Service Health Benefits Program (PSHBP). OPM was responsible for implementing and administering it for all annuitants and postal employees. In addition, all Medicare-eligible postal annuitants and employees were required to enroll in the PSHBP to enroll in Medicare, which includes parts A, B, and D.

A similar approach was taken by the House bill to require Medicare-eligible Postal Service retirees and their family members to enroll in parts A and B Medicare. In addition, they stipulated that the decreasing portion of the Medicare Part B premium for current retirees to be covered by the Postal Service. This involved the retirees that transitioned into Medicare because of the legislation over a transition period of 4 years. It was to be 75% in the first year, 50% in the second year, 25% in the third year, and in the fourth year it was 0%.

In the days that are remaining for the current session of Congress, neither bill is likely going to advance.

White House Task Force

Postal Service’s financial problems have been noticed by the White House, and it has suggested that reforms are required to avoid a bailout financed by the taxpayer should the current trend goes unchanged.

This concern was echoed by President Trump during the signing of an executive order in April to direct a task force that was established to make legislative reforms and recommendations on administrative for the Postal Service.

Bottom Line

A concern that has been raised is that any Postal Service reforms can drive up the costs to mail packages. For instance, the Package Coalition was established to oppose any changes it feels are going to raise package prices. Its stated goal is to ensure preserving affordable and reliable postal package delivery services from the Postal Service.

Nevertheless, the Postal Service current financial situation cannot go on in perpetuity as it has been made clear in the GAO report, with the math been made to be impossible. It is possible that in a matter of time before changes of a particular kind have to take place.

USPS Health Benefits

Your Thrift Savings Plan: What You Don’t Know (But Should)

Most articles that highlight on retirement planning emphasize on 401(k)s. However, federal employees and military service members save for their retirement using a different type of account referred to as the Thrift Savings Plan or TSP.

In one way or another, the functioning of TSPs is similar to 401(k)s. An individual makes their contribution, and your employer may decide to match the offer. The limit for annual contribution is also $18,500 and an additional catch-up of $6,000 for individuals that are 50 years or older.

Also, similar to most 401(k)s, both traditional and Roth options are offered by TSPs. Based on a traditional TSP, in retirement, you make pre-tax contributions and pay taxes on withdrawals. Those that elect the Roth option, they would contribute post-tax income, and it is not necessary to pay tax on withdrawals.

It is possible to hold at the same time a traditional and Roth TSP. The interesting monition is that matching contributions by the government can only be made into a traditional TSP.  Therefore, even if you only make contributions to a Roth TSP, you can still have both types of accounts and also enjoy other benefits of a few tax diversification.

The Way TSPs Function for Different Kinds of Employees

There can be some slight differences in your TSP account. This will depend on whether you served in the military or you are a civilian government worker:

Federal Workers

-Federal Employee’s Retirement System (FERS): FERS employees are considered as federal civilian employees that were hired on January 1, 1984, or after. FERS employees that were employed after July 31, 2010, are enrolled automatically in a traditional TSP. Unless individuals opt to change or stop the contributions, 3% of their basic pay is deducted and deposited to their account. FERS employees that were employed before August 1, 2010, they have a TSP that receives a 1% contribution from their agency, and they can decide to contribute more as well.

-Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS): This is a federal civilian employee’s retirement system to individuals that were hired prior to January 1, 1984. Your agency establishes the CSRS employees’ account after individuals make a contribution election.

Military

Since 80% of uniformed military service members do not stay in the military for the 20 years required to become eligible for a pension, the majority are walking away from the service with no funds for retirement. Enactment of the Blended Retirement System was done to change that. It allows service members to select a pension or a TSP, or have both. The appropriate option for the individual will depend on their current years of service.

Any person that is joining the military is automatically enrolled in the BRS. You will get 1% of your base pay automatically contributed to a TSP, and individuals can opt to contribute an added 4% to receive a total match of 5%. You will still receive a pension in case you complete the necessary 20 years of service, but it is going to be a reduced one.

If you have over 12 years of service, to only have pension can turn out to be a better option since the 5% match on a TSP is not going to offset the higher pension you will get to have no TSP at all.

The gray area is to military members that have 8 to 12 years of service. Deciding to stay in the old system or switch to the BRS will depend on your personal situation.

Investment Choices for Your TSP

You have a choice in five index funds or different lifecycle funds that are composed of a combination of the five index funds. While these are considered as far few investment options that the majority of employers offer in their 401(k)s, to choose between less number of options is mainly less confusing.

– G Fund: As its name states, the Government Securities Fund is invested in the government securities of the U.S. It mainly provides lower volatility, and it is possible for individuals to earn interest income without fearing to lose their principal income.

– F Fund: The Fixed Income Fund is usually invested in either the government, corporates, or mortgage-backed bonds, and it aims to match the performance of the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index. The fund usually offers risk that ranges from low to moderate.

– C Fund: The S&P 500 that is composed of U.S. companies ranging from medium and large matches the Common Stock Index Fund. This fund provides a moderate risk.

– S Fund: Due to investing in small and medium U.S. companies that are not in the C Fund, the Small Capitalization Stock Index Fund is slightly riskier. The fund is matched with the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market Index.

– I Fund: The International Stock Index Fund is able to match with the performance of the MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index that is composed of stocks of over 20 developed countries. This fund is more volatile compared to the C Fund.

– L Funds: Similar to lifecycle funds or target date, you can choose an L Fund in regards to your retirement time horizon. This fund is going to gradually shift from being aggressive to moderate up to conservative as a person nears close to retirement. In case you have the age of your retirement in mind, you can choose a fund that targets the year that is close to when you reach that age

A huge benefit of TSP fund choices.  They share some of the lower expense ratios that are around less than 40 cents for each $1,000 you have invested. This is huge since even with a fraction of a percent rise to a fund’s expense ratio means there will be a significantly lower retirement savings in 20 or 30 years.

If you do not settle for an L Fund, it is possible to create your own combination from the other five funds. It is essential to take into consideration your investment options carefully and select the ones that are appropriate for you. The default fund allocations are not possible to match your specific goals.

Your contributions will be deposited into the L Fund you targeted towards the year you will be reaching 62, if your enrollment in a TSP was on or after September 5, 2015. If your enrollment was prior to that date, your contributions are going to be deposited into a G Fund that may not be aggressive enough in case you have a long time horizon.

Matching Contributions

An automatic contribution of 1% of base pay is given to BRS members and FERS employees to their TSP, whether they are contributing or not. From there, each individual receives a match on their additional contributions of up to 5% of their salary.

To the majority of FERS employees, the 1% automatic contribution vests after three years. For BRS and a few FERS employees, it is after two years. The match contribution usually does not have a vesting requirement.

Selecting Beneficiaries

It is important to select your TSP beneficiaries, and ensure that the list of the beneficiaries is kept updated in the event you bear children or get a divorce.

If you have in your TSP, less than $200 once you pass away, your beneficiary is going to get the money. Those with above $200, the money will remain invested, and there is setting up of a beneficiary participant account in their own name.

Where Should You Begin?

Individuals that are eligible to participate in a TSP, it is a high recommendation that they contribute at least enough amount to receive the 5% match.

They can also contribute an amount of up to $5,500 every year to a Roth IRA if they qualify. After this, they can continue to take advantage of the ability to reduce their taxable income by contributing to their TSP an annual maximum amount of $18,500.

In case you have funds available for further investment, a person can set up a separate after-tax brokerage account.

thrift savings plan

How Annuities are Affected by Returning to the Government

After retiring and returning to work for the government, how your annuity gets affected depends on how you retired. Your annuity stops if you fall into one of four categories for all re-employed CSRS retirees. For FERS retirees, only the first two apply.

1. If OPM has found out that you are a disability annuitant who prior to employment was restored to earning capacity.

2. You are a disability annuitant who was not disabled for a National Guard Technician position but were awarded a disability annuity because you were medically disqualified for continued membership in the National Guard.

3. You are an annuitant who was involuntarily separated from your job (unless it was required by law based on age and length of service or for cause) and your new job is permanent in nature, (e.g., career, career-conditional or excepted).

4. You are an annuitant who receives a Presidential appointment subject to retirement deductions.

You have the same status as any other federal employee with similar service history and in an equivalent position when your annuity stops. Unless you are entitled to either a deferred or immediate annuity based on the separation, your annuity will be reinstated when you leave government again.

CSRS employees whose careers were cut short by a RIF, transfer or reorganization of function are mostly the retirees whose annuity stops on reemployment. Retirees that are considered to be people who are completing interrupted careers are the ones who have retired under lowered age and service requirements, and hence their discontinued services are seen as interrupted careers.

Most retirees on the other side though they met the age and service requirements for an immediate retirement. Their annuities will continue to be uninterrupted if they return to work for the government. On the job, the salary they receive will, however, be reduced by the amount of annuity received, with a very rare exception.

An annuitant that has been reemployed can either earn a redetermined or a supplemental annuity. The one tucked in your present annuity is a supplemental annuity. Usually, one will be entitled to a supplemental annuity as a reemployed annuitant on a full-time, continuous basis for at least one year. You will, however, have to work longer if you work part-time. Also, you will be eligible to choose a redetermined annuity that is meant to replace the one being received currently if you work for at least five years.

federal employee returning to government

Some Federal Jobs Get New Proposed Pay Systems

The Federal Employee Compatibility Act ( FEPCA) was passed by Congress in 1990. Federal workforce employees have gained familiarity with many parts of this legislation, mainly caused by pay that has been localized, which for a large number of the federal workforce is in effect. The locality pay provides salary amounts that differ according to various locations across the country instead of having equal pay for all employees without putting into consideration their geographic location. This is well known to those following employment policies.

There is a largely unknown and never used provision in FEPCA. This provision of FEPCA in the coming year may soon become well known, seeing as it was not common knowledge in the previous years. The 2020 budget proposed by the president contains a sentence that states “In the coming year, the president pay agent intends to exercise its authority to establish special occupational systems for occupations where the general schedule classification and pay system are not aligned to labor market realities.”

Ways to improve capabilities in some areas of the federal workplace is being looked into by OPM. Jeff Pon the former director at OPM, in a memo last year wrote that OPM “Is aware that individuals with the knowledge, ability, and skill to perform in science, mathematics, technology, and engineering and cybersecurity are in heavy demand could perhaps be affecting mission-critical functions. For this reason, OPM is exploring the feasibility under the applicable law of issuing direct hire authority for certain STEM and cybersecurity occupations.”

There is an unlikelihood of implementation of a good number of initiatives coming from the Trump administration. This is because Congress will not welcome change. However, some of the initiatives do not require action from Congress. For some types of positions, OPM has already taken a step and authorized direct hire authority. The authority is also responsible for creating special pay rates to have the ability to fill these positions.

federal jobs pay system

3 Simple Steps to Retirement Planning

A pep talk on finances could be useful for Americans right about now. Many folks are really behind on retirement planning, and a good number lack emergency savings. Without having to take extreme risks or sacrifice a whole lot, here are some helpful tips on investing, retirement planning, and saving.

Save That First Dollar – A good number of households have savings that are minimal, and one out of five of these households have zero net worth. The same way a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so does financial planning. That first dollar, save it.  George Fraser, a retirement consultant, tells reluctant savers that they can start by putting away as little as one penny and increase that amount by a penny or more every year after that.

This will make the goal of having tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars not seem like such an uphill task. In 401(k) retirement plans style, the tactic works quite well where employees can gradually increase their savings by starting low. Employers have focused on automatically enrolling their employees in 401(k) plans to boost participation in recent years. They then increase the amount the workers contribute over time until the worker decides to pull out, but in most cases, they don’t.

Use Different Periodic Windfalls – consider using raises, bonuses, or special increases if you are not in a position to get any extra cash from regular paychecks. A 72-year-old retired civil engineer Willard Bradshaw said that he made a ritual of taking half of all the pay raises he got and put it into retirement accounts. Bradshaw within a few years was already contributing the maximum yearly amount as allowed by his plan. This was all achieved by him simply putting away half of all his raises diligently.

Set Up an Average Dollar-Cost Plan – if investing for the long haul is your plan. You should invest most if not everything aggressively in stocks, as the move could come with the anxiety of possible risks. A strategy in dollar-cost averaging could be more suitable and appealing. Dollar-cost averaging has different ways to go about it, such as putting a steady amount of your income into the stock market. You can as well move slowly into stocks from bond funds. The best way people can build on small success is to get started and improve your financial results.

Retirement Planning Steps

Step Increases, SRS Targeted by Government Waste Report

Some matters related to the federal workforce were addressed in a recent report as examples of wasteful government spending. Among them being special retirement supplement and step increases in the general schedule. The report that is released annually by senator James Lankford, Federal Fumbles Volume 4 which highlights what he believes to be inefficiency and waste in the federal government and gives suggested solutions to each of the issues.

Lankford said that he views federal fumbles as his to-do list for the upcoming year and that his office works to address as many entries from previous fumbles volumes as possible to help by not just talking about it but actually help solve the inefficiency and waste. He also added that this year’s volume would be focusing mainly on government inefficiency as well as federal tax dollars.

Below are some of the items from the report of most relevance to federal employees.

Special Retirement Supplement

The SRS, a benefit under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) has been aimed at this year’s report. SRS is an additional annuity payment paid to federal retirees who qualify till the age of 62. The report says that over the next ten years the SRS will cost the government $18.7 billion. The report says “seeing as the nation is more than $22 trillion in debt it is time to bench this supplement by eliminating it for all new hires and slowly phase the perk out. We have terrific federal employees serving all over the nation, but we also have rising federal debt that we must resolve.”

Step Increases

Automatic step increases is another benefit for federal employees that is under the general schedule pay system that the report addressed. The report reads “Essentially every federal employee receives a pay increase at the end of every year when eligible. It is hard to imagine a company having 99% of its employees earning a rise. The report goes on to say that the solution to this situation is to make step increases based on merit.

Paid Administrative Leave

Another item addressed in the report that is related to federal employment is the paid administrative leave. It is defined as “an administratively authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or charge to leave” by the OPM. The report explains that this is basically paying federal employees not to work.

A GAO report which said that there were instances of some federal employees being on paid administrative leave for years while an investigation took place, was cited in the federal fumbles report. In one case it cited that an inspector general was on paid leave for two years collecting his annual salary of $186,000 while being investigated for misconduct.

Step increases SRS government waste report

What do you work for: Money or Love?

Whether you love or hate him, it is safe to say that president Donald Trump has a way of stirring up emotions. One could definitely sense an uncomfortable stirring among the people seated in the crowded conference room. The question came from the president of the National Academy of Public Administration, Terry Gerton. The problem was what will be the next activities in the PMA over the next five years?  It was quite interesting how the question just dangled in the air across the room even as the contractors, assorted federal thinkers and the non-political crowd of reporters are trained to keep their personal politics in an ice box during this types of events. The 2020 election is already devolving into something unpleasant.

A former career financial guy, Dave Mader, later in the program called the decades om management work a relay race. That was a good analogy seeing as the multitude of contractors, think tankers and consultants that actually supply most of the brain power and do much of the work come from administrations of both parties. It could be that the five-year question wasn’t farfetched seeing as everyone is familiar with everyone.

Dual-hatted Weichert who is acting as chief of the Office of Personnel Management was emphatic that while people have got to be paid for work, levels of salary aren’t the main driving force of career or job satisfaction. She also promised that a major study would be launched in regards to this topic. It is partly true that people don’t work solely for money. There is no shame in being poor, but it isn’t an honor either.

Weichert is correct that job mobility, training opportunities, and recognition play a role in people’s perception of their careers and good employers worry about all those factors. Employment systems can rarely outlast large, permanent shifts in the economy, and that’s the reality. Almost no one has defined benefit pension plans on the private side. In the year an administration and Congress debate moving one bureau from one department to the other. In the private economy, there will be acquisitions, closures, realignments, transfers and mergers that sum up to ten thousand.

Working for Money Or Love

How to Calculate Your Monthly Annuity

So, what do you plan on doing with your TSP savings after you are out of the federal government? There are several options for you; one, you can take a partial withdrawal then leave the remaining funds in your account until a later date. Two, you can take a full withdrawal to get a lump sum payment all at once, or over a period of time. Three, you can purchase an annuity that will make payment to you for the rest of your life. The TSP will carry out the purchase on your behalf.

An annuity is a benefit paid to you, on a monthly basis for the rest of your life. One is eligible to purchase a life annuity after retirement either from the uniformed service or from federal employment. The amount used to purchase life annuity should be $3,500 or higher; if you have two separate accounts (traditional and Roth TSP accounts), the $3,500 applies separately to each account.

Types of Life Annuities

You can use your entire savings or just a portion of it to buy a life annuity. When you purchase a life annuity, you are guaranteed to get monthly checks for the rest of your life as well as benefits to a survivor; after you die.

The Thrift Saving Plan offers different types of annuity options. They include:

-Single life annuity. This annuity only provides to you for the rest of your life.

-Joint life annuity. This annuity provides to you and the person that you have chosen to share your annuity during both your lifetimes. When either of you dies, the monthly payments will be made to the survivor for the rest of their life.

There are two types of survivor annuities:

1.100% survivor annuity­ the survivor gets the same annuity amount like they used to receive when both of you were still alive.

2.50% survivor annuity­ the amount that the survivor gets is half of the payment they used to receive when both of you were still alive.

Annuity Payment Options

Whether you choose a single life of joint annuity, you should also decide if you want to receive level payments or increasing payments.

-Level Payments

The annuity payment amount remains from month to month. The payment made to the survivor on a monthly basis depends on which survivor annuity you choose, and it will also remain the same for as long as the survivor lives.

-Increasing Payments

The annuity payment amount changes annually on the exact date that you made the first payment. The change depends on inflation. The payments cannot increase by more than 3%, and also, they cannot decrease

How Your Annuity Is Taxed

If you make contributions to a traditional TSP, the tax is deferred until the payments are made to you. The monthly payments will be taxed just like any other ordinary income

If you have a Roth TSP, the contributions are made after tax deductions. Therefore, your monthly payments will not be taxed.

How Your Annuity is Calculated

The monthly annuity calculator is based on the following factors:

1. The amount you use to purchase the annuity

2. Your current age and life expectancy

3. The type of annuity and payment option that you select

4. The interest rate index

The TSP monthly annuity calculator is available on the TSP website. Depending on the date you enter, the calculator will tell you the monthly payment amount.

Calculate Annuity

The Best Places to Retire with Your Federal Pension

A federal pension means you’ll have a fixed income for years to come. While this may provide some stability, it also means you might have to start budgeting differently.

Having to spend your retirement worrying about money is no fun. You’ve worked hard and earned a break, and you should be allowed to enjoy it. So the place where you opt to live is a key factor in your future security.

There are things to consider, of course: tax structure, housing costs, entertainment, socializing, public transit, and senior support resources, to name a few. And so, here is a list of some of the best places for a senior to retire with your federal pension.

Florida

One of the most popular retirement spots is Florida, and with good reason: it’s warm, it’s a nice place for your relatives to visit, and there are other tax-related reasons too. Currently, there is no state income tax in Florida, nor do they impose taxes on Social Security payments.

While city living has it’s benefits, the cost of living there can be expensive, so retirees looking to live in suburban and rural areas can have their dollar stretched much further. That could be the reason why 23 percent of Florida’s population is made up of senior citizens. But with such a large older population, there are plenty of communities and resources for retirees of every income level.

Georgia

If Florida isn’t your bag, you only need to head north one state. Georgia is another good location for retirees. A retirement income exception is available to all people over the age of 62, in addition to plenty of city-issued tax breaks too.

For people looking to have an active social life and community, Atlanta is rich with culture, and plenty of interesting places to eat. And beyond the metropolis itself, there are lots of rural parts of Georgia too that have their share of woods and small-town charm.

Or why choose? A popular new retirement spot it Canton, outside of Atlanta, meaning you get the excitement of the big city, with the naturalistic and relaxing environment of a small town, while having tons of senior living communities for all levels of independence.

Wyoming

In addition to being one of the cheapest cost of living states, Wyoming is also full of natural beauty, and towns like Jackson Hole are great for things like going fishing and game hunting. Cities like Casper and Larmine are affordable, and some of the least expensive places to live in the state, and when you add in the fact that there is no pension or Social Security tax, no state income tax, and other tax exemptions offered only to retirees. Generally, it has lower taxes than most other places.

Alaska

A surprisingly good but not often thought of retirement destination is Alaska. Although it may get a little chilly in the winter, the summer months the state is quite warm. There is no sales tax or income tax. And Anchorage is full of communities geared for retirees, with plenty of things do. Plus Alaska can’t be beat when it comes to natural beauty.

Hawaii

While Hawaii is certainly not the cheapest of these destinations, if you have the means, the quality of life in Hawaii is unparalleled. And any retirees looking to invest in real estate, renting out a property in Hawaii can be quite lucrative. If you use services through the VA, Hawaii has many military bases, so that would be readily available. And, like all the other states mentioned so far, Hawaii does not tax pensions.

Nevada

We all know Las Vegas. While the cost of living may be high there, the trade-off is almost limitless options for entertainment. Casinos feature shows and fancy restaurants, in addition to gambling.

No Social Security tax and no income tax means more money in your pocket. And if you don’t want to live in Vegas, check out nearby Gardnerville, know for its large retiree population, low taxes, and high-class medical facilities.

South Dakota

Not the most glamorous of destinations, South Dakota, does have its perks. Low sales tax, low property tax, no income tax, and no Social Security tax, in addition to a low cost of living rate, and South Dakota will help keep your expenses down. Even in places like Mobridge, a beautiful retiree-filled town along a lake that has good school and low crime.

Regardless of where you end up, it’s important to weigh all your options and see what kind of places cater, specifically to seniors, and how.

best places to retire

Proposed Plan Would Track Disability Benefits Via Facebook

A recently proposed plan would utilize Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites to search for posts and updates that might bring into question the validity of a user’s disability claims. According to Robert A. Crowe, at St. Louis lawyer who has worked with Social Security applicants previously, there is a chance that the administration may be “snooping on your Facebook and Twitter account.”

 

User should be wary about the types of photos and updates they post. He quipped, “You don’t want anything on there that shows you out playing Frisbee.”

 

Over 10 million people in America collect Social Security disability benefits. The goal here is to find people who may not have a rightful claim to this money. As of the last budget proposal, social media is rarely used in cases, only when a particular case has been flagged for further investigation.

 

Monitoring social media is not unprecedented, and other agencies have used it to track the movement of immigrants and non-residents before. The Department of Homeland Security plans to screen visa applicants through their Facebook accounts, looking for anything irregular they could use to deny entrance into the country. In 2018, a Freedom of Information request was filed on behalf of the ACLU who was trying to figure out how Customs Enforcement and the DHS were using these sites to collect and disseminate user data.

 

Of course, people abuse the Social Security benefits system occasionally, but even then, on the whole, there are fewer people relying on disability insurance than there has in prior years, with (according to the New York Times) applications for new claimants down a whopping 29 percent from the year before.

Previously, any person denied benefits due to fraud would be afforded an in-person case in court. It’s been reported that the Social Security Administration is looking to change that, a move that could be said to violate the right to due process of the claimant.

Widely considered one of the best-run government agencies, the Social Security system’s cost of operation is barely a blip on the federal budget, as more money is often being paid into it than is being paid out. Still, many sitting Republicans are still eager to trim the fat where they can.

Traditionally, the role of Congress in Social Security is to determine how much of the surplus is used to run the program itself. Congress does not determine how the actual Social Security payouts are allocated. Beginning in 2010, when Republicans took control of the House, the budget for operating costs of the department has shrunk, as have the allowances within the program.

The slope could be slippery. And if social media monitoring becomes a part of tracking disability benefits, then that means they could use Facebook and the like to track the rest of us too for all sorts of reasons. And private companies could soon follow suit, which would create greater disparities in power.

One of the main problems with all this is that social media isn’t always the greatest indicator of the actual reality of a person’s life. People tend to curate their content, painting a picture of who they want to be instead of who they, in fact, might be, and are filled with misinformation.

In the end, the only surefire way to track abusers to the system would be through better-trained investigators.

facebook disability benefit tracking

What Should Your Beneficiaries Do If the Unthinkable Occurred?

Whether you’re a partner, a spouse, a grown-up child or sibling, in the event of your untimely death, the first thing they should do is get in touch with whoever it was that had been paying you and inform them of your passing. Once they’re made aware, they will have professionals to take care of the details from there.

But what does it mean when we say paying party?

Well, if you’re were currently employed when you died, then it would be them. The human resources department, or at the very least your immediate manager, should be who your beneficiary gets in contact with. You should make sure the people in your immediate circle has an email or phone number or some other easy way to get in contact with your job.

Once retired though, your beneficiary should get in touch with the OPM Retirement Services, as they would be your paying party then. Again, your survivor should know the phone number and email of these offices, and make sure they also have your full name and Social Security Number readily available.

Now there are several benefits that your survivors can take advantage of after your passing. They are:

1. Life insurance. Either the specific life insurance pertaining to your particular agency, or the standard Federal Employees Group Life Insurance plan.

2. Thrift Savings Plan. Whatever you can collect from the TSP is at the discretion of the current TSP, and can be contingent on whether you had initiated a withdrawal or not before you died.

3. Retirement benefits like CSRS and FERS, which might encompass the monthly benefits your beneficiary would receive or even a possible lump payment of any outstanding contributions you had made.

4. Final paycheck. If you died while still employed, your unpaid salary and paid leave time should be given to your beneficiary.

After alerting the appropriate parties, to receive these or any benefits, filing claim forms would be the next step. You can receive these from the deceased’s human resources department. The OPM or the employer will figure out who the proper beneficiary is for all life insurance benefits and any unpaid monies from working. The Standard Order of Precedence is usually how federal benefits are determined.

OPM and human resources workers will be able to help your survivors when working on and putting in any claims forms, or at the very least they’ll be able to give you guidance on your next steps. They will change as needed the status of your federal health insurance and give your contact information to the TSP and Social Security offices.

Lastly, copies of your death certificate will need to be provided to your beneficiary. 5 to 10 copies should be enough. Many of these offices will need copies of that death certificate and having them on hand should streamline the process.

beneficiary benefits

The Blended Retirement System Not Popular with Soldiers

By the end of 2018, only 25 percent of army soldiers eligible opted into the military’s new Blended Retirement System, the lowest of all the armed services, with the opposite end being the Marine Corp, who opted in at 60 percent.

The Blended Retirement System is closer to the standard 401(k) than the 20-year retirement benefit program the military offered prior.

When addressing Congress as to why this might be, Sergeant Major Dan Dailey told Sen. Thom Tillis, the chair of the Armed Services subcommittee on personnel that the overwhelming majority of soldiers said: “I plan to stay 20 years, and I feel as if the traditional retirement system will benefit me better in the future.”

More than half the servicemembers in a recent Army Times poll reported that they planned to serve at least 20 years. Only those with less than 12 years in the service are eligible for the Blended Retirement System, about 800,000 soldiers. This, according to the Dailey is part of the issue, citing that a lot of soldiers are already too advanced in their careers to “capitalize on the full investment of their blended retirement contributions.”

The Thrift Savings Plan, on the other hand, is the traditional retirement plan, with the Department of Defense putting in an automatic 1 percent contribution of a soldier’s pay into it. The soldier can then choose to increase their contribution if they like, and the Defense Department will match up to 4 percent over the course of 26 years. Leaving before 20 years, with this plan, would give all the money saved before then back to the enlistee, which they can then invest in an IRA or other retirement plan, or whatever they choose. If the enlistee stays over the 20-year mark, they get to keep that money and get a monthly benefit in addition to it.

The dealbreaker, for most soldiers, is the speed at which they can access their funds, according to Dailey. Most soldiers are on the younger side, younger than 24, and it could be several decades before they can get to their money without incurring penalties if they retire on the 20-year plan. With the traditional plan, the parameters of their benefits are more clearly defined.

“I think that the soldiers who come in now understand the value of investment,” said Dailey.

Blended Retirement System Soldier

FERS Retirement Benefits in 2019 and Beyond

The FERS, or Federal Employee Retirement System, might be reaching a breaking point in 2019. FERS is responsible for 95 percent of currently working federal employees, while the majority of the retirees are covered under the CSRS or Civil Service Retirement System.

The difference in 2019 as opposed to the past two years is that the House of Representatives is now a majority Democrat, a change that might change the previous assaults on the system from the legislative branch.

FERS covers postal employees, NASA engineers, CIA workers, park rangers, and other federal workers. Many House Republicans who had advocated for cuts to his fund have not been reelected, or are reduced to minority status. Incoming Republicans who had been recently elected have mostly been ambivalent in regards to any proposed cuts, with some going so far as to advocate for pay raises for federal employees.

One of the largest expenditures of the United States government is retirement payments, so an overhaul in the FERS is something that both sides of aisle usually agree on. It’s just the method of these changes that is up for debate. Some of the items discussed are paid vacation time, and sick leave, which can be accrued and then applied as a monetary credit after retirement, the 5 percent match that the government does on 401Ks, and pay raises every one to three years due to longevity.

A reduction in cost of living adjustments for currently retired citizens, with those particular benefits eliminated entirely for anyone retiring in the future, is one of the proposed changes the FERS in the current White House plan. Ideally, CSRS recipients get the same cost of living adjustment as those who receive Social Security, each one set to evenly match any rise in the inflation rate from the year before. Already people under FERS they get a lower COLA than those with Social Security, at a rate of one percent less. The Republican budget plan before Congress would mean that all COLAs would be eliminated. There’d be no adjustments. And, over time, inflation would lower the value of pensions that are frozen.

Another part of the proposal is an adjustment in how inflation is measured in regards to COLAs. Currently, this is based on the Consumer Price Index-W, where it figures out the costs of workers in urban areas across the nation. Previously, a Chained CPI was what most politicians endorsed, but that too lowered cost of living adjustments and resulted in a reduction of buying power for retired peoples.

Led by Rep. John Garamendi from California, House Democrats are now pushing back with something called the Fair COLA for Seniors Act. If passed into law, it would mean COLAs would be determined by the CPI-E, which is an index that takes into account the usually higher medical costs of retirees and people over the age of 62, thus providing a more accurate picture of actual inflation, and would result in higher COLAs for future retired peoples.

The administration has a lot to deal with, budget-wise, this year, and a divided Congress means that the current retirement package might not be under a major assault with the new proposal, but either way, with a great balance between Democrats and Republicans in the House, things are going to change at some point for retirees and workers.

FERS Retirement 2019

Changes Coming to the TSP Withdrawal

A new summary of the Thrift Savings Plan appeared on their website in March of 2019. These are valid until the middle of September, but on that date, a new set of changes will be coming through because that will mark the start of the TSP Modernization Act. Here are some of the changes to expect when that happens, compared to what they are now:

Before September 14th, 2019

1.  For people who are 59 and a half years old, you are allowed one age-based withdrawal, which will, in turn, exclude them from taking a partial withdrawal once retired.

2. If the age-based withdrawal was forgone, then the employee is allowed a partial withdrawal after retirement. If this is taken, they are allotted only one more withdrawal, for the amount in full.

3. There is an option to take your money in monthly increments but cannot take any more unless it is a “cash out” situation and the fund is withdrawn in full. Once a year, the employee is offered the option of changing their monthly amount. No partial withdrawals are allowed if the retiree is taking monthly payments.

4. If the retiree’s TSP is comprised of Roth and traditional balances, any withdrawal must be taken equally between the two.

After September 15th, 2019

1.  For people who are 59 and a half years old, you are now allowed four age-based withdrawals. This will no longer exclude them from taking a partial withdrawal once retired.

2. It is now irrelevant if the age-based withdrawal was forgone or not, the employee is allowed as many partial withdrawals after retirement as they want, the only limitation being they must wait 30 days between transactions. If this is taken, they are allotted only one more withdrawal, for the amount in full.

3. There is an option to take your money in monthly increments, but you can also take it quarterly or yearly. The option to change that amount can be taken at any time, as can they be stopped or started. On top of this, you can still take partial withdrawals if desired.

4. If the retiree’s TSP is comprised of Roth and traditional balances, the option to choose with fund the money is removed from is now available.

TSP Changes Thrift Savings Plan

Your Spouses Rights in Regards to Your TSP

Rights for retirees spouses are built into the Thrift Savings Plan. But did you know that depending on if the former employee is under FERS or CSRS coverage, those spousal rights can vary?

Spousal annuity for FERS subscribers will be predefined by a specific amount; for example, a fifty percent survivor benefit on top of a joint life plan. That is unless the spouse decides to waive this right. MetLife, who offers the TSP, currently provides the retiree spouses with several different choices, although those choices are somewhat limiting in their appeal. With the TSP contract in dispute this year, more options may soon be presented. As it stands, annuity withdrawals are among the least popular TSP options, therefore meaning most spouses choose the waive their right to it.

But please make sure you discuss this with your spouse first, before determining what they waive and do not. There are alternatives available, and your spouse may very well choose to go with one of those.

CSRS subscribers have even fewer options in regards to spousal rights. The retiree can make all the changes for their partner in the TSP without their informed knowledge, meaning that once the retiree begins withdrawing from the CSRS, the spouse will have no more rights to determine what is to be done with the TSP account.

Why this discrepancy between these two plans? It has to do with a couple of factors. Firstly, when the rules were first put into action, everyone who worked for the federal government was placed under the CSRS system.  It wasn’t until FERS was set up that spouses could have a say as to what would happen with their partner’s TSP accounts. Secondly, the TSP is a bigger percentage of income for the retiree’s under FERS. That includes total household. While CSRS workers may retire with TSP balances that are not very large, the protection that FERS offers spouses gives the retirees a greater peace of mind.

TSP Spouse Rights Beneficiary Federal employee

Climate Change and the TSP: What Are Lawmakers Doing to Help?

Recently Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat out of New Hampshire, and Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat out of Oregon, penned a missive addressed to the comptroller general at the Government Accountability Office asking him what the plans are for the TSP in regards to its impact on climate change, and how that may affect the retirement fund of federal workers.

Hassan and Merkley state in their letter that waning performance of the energy sector of the TSP has lowered capitalization of those shares. “From 2007 to 2014, the energy earnings per share (EPS) contribution to the S&P 500 have dropped approximately 50%, and investors are losing money as a result,” they told the comptroller.

They argue that the TSP should follow the lead of other retirement plans that have address climate risks and have begun to adjust accordingly. They state that thus far, TSP has ignored the issue of climate change, a move not only detrimental to the planet but could place the “assets and retirement security of its participants in jeopardy.”

The plan purposed by the Senators was simple: figure out what is known about the TSP in regards to climate change (including evaluating the TSP’s fossil fuel holdings,) determine if any steps have been taken thus far, and figure out the best way of addressing those risks. This includes looking at other countries retirement plans that are structured similarly to the TSP and see what they have successfully done to address these concerns.

Senator Merkley has been at this for a while now, and this current letter is not the first time he has attempted to address the TSP’s portfolio in regards to climate change. Just last year, he introduced a bill to provide more options within the TSP for federal workers, some that would completely circumvent the fossil fuel industry. Merkley said something along that lines of the bill giving many federal employees the power to ensure that their funds for retirement are invested in a more sustainable, socially responsible investment portfolio.

Even though the bill didn’t pass, Merkley is still fighting for climate change through the TSP.

TSP Climate Change Federal Employees

C Fund ESG as the Future of the Thrift Savings Plan

The C Fund is the part of the Thrift Savings Plan that is engineered to following along with the performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index by investing a portion of the money into stocks United States corporations. Though it netted a negative 4.41 percent in 2018, when tracked over the past ten years, the C Fund has grown its return to be more than 13 percent.

Now there is a new index to reference, the S&P 500 ESG Index, which is an extension of the already established S&P 500 Index. It has been described by the S&P Dow Jones as an index that is aligned with Environmental, Social, and Governance (hence the acronym ESG) and is made to “closely replicate the risk and return profile of its most iconic benchmark.”

With over 130,000 indexes, the S&P Dow Jones, this latest index, the C Fund ESG, comes right on the heels of a widely reported from Senators Maggie Hassan (aDemocrat out of New Hampshire) and Jeff Merkley (a Democrat out of Oregon) to the Government Accountability Office concerning the climate change and the TSP in regards to its investments in fossil fuels. The senators wanted to know what the TSP knew in regards to its portfolio’s risks from climate change, and what steps may be taken to rectify it and invest in alternative energy sources without harming the actual fund itself.

If the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board began using the C Fund ESG, it would help address some of these issues.

But what is the ESG?

As stated before, it means employing a clearly defined Environmental, Social, and Governance guidelines to figure out which companies to invest or not invest in. Previously, a myriad of different factors were employed when figuring out which stocks to invest the TSP in, the primary one being how much potential gains would this investment bring. The ESG is another filter which the investors would have to consider, one that brings into question things like the sustainability and ethics that surround an individual business.

In addition to that, it’s been argued by ESG supporters that using the ESG method would yield better investments over the long term. Things like the tobacco industry can be used to bring in high returns, but when it became apparent that lung cancer was linked to cigarette smoking, the immediate profits were merely a shield against the investments long-term sustainability.

Most ESG-friendly investments are usually ones that have addressed concerns about any particular company’s links to diversity, human rights, nuclear energy, and fossil fuels and climate change. This ties in directly with Hassan and Merkley’s letter to the GAO, and the C Fund ESG might be the most elegant solution to satiate everyone’s concerns.

That’s not to say it will perfect right off the bat. New funds mean there are new administrative costs added to the TSP, and should the C Fund ESG not perform up to snuff, but the idea is sustainability, and if Congress and the House of Representatives can come together, the ESG is an eventuality the TSP must face.

TSP Future C Fund ESG Thrift Savings Plan

Should Supplemental Coverage in FEGLI B be Declined by Federal Employees?

Affordable group life insurance is offered by the federal government, just like many businesses in the private sector. The coverage that is well known as FEGLI or Federal Employees Group Life Insurance, has quite a number of limitations that are significant and as well as advantages that are quite distinct. Let’s see why it could be better to privately purchase a supplemental coverage and why basic coverage in FEGLI is a good option.

FEGLI’s basic life insurance coverage amounts to $2000 plus one year of base pay rounded off to the next thousand.  This group life benefit, in particular, is 33% subsidized by the government and has no medical exam. Currently this basic benefit priced at .15 per thousand of coverage in every pay period is not connected to the insured’s health status or age. In addition, at the age of 35 the basic plan the basic plan is supplemented free of charge with a 10% increment in benefit each year until it is removed at the age of 45.

Federal employees have the option of increasing their coverage and as well that of their family members beyond the basic coverage. The first option will add $10,000 to the benefit amount which is then priced in 5-year brackets and goes up at age 55. The second option gives you room to add up to five times base salary to the insurance amount; this option is based on your current age and shifts in intervals every five years. The third option gives some coverage for dependents and spouses in multiples of $2,500 and $5,000 respectively. The costs also adjust in 5-year increments just like in the first and second options.

Seeing as the basic plan cost per thousand dollars of coverage is not expensive, and until retirement, it is not affected by age, the major decisions mainly circle around the second option, and the main reason to use this option is the ease of implementation when enhancing your coverage. The premium is simply deducted from the payroll if you choose additional coverage within the period of 60 days and that there are no health requirements.

If you miss the 60-day window period, you will either have to wait for the very rare open season that is usually declared by OPM, wait for a life event like a child, death of a spouse, or at your own expense provide evidence of good health.

Independent Agents & Health Concerns

You will need to take a para-medical exam where samples of urine and blood are taken if there’s a possibility that you have some health issues seeing as the no exam option is mostly singled out for applicants that are healthier. It is wise to weigh your options with an independent agent. This is because life insurance holders are different and thereby have different needs for specific health risks.

If  your health rating brings you concern, it might be smart to elect FEGLI then look around in the marketplace and once you have a better policy set in place you can always cancel coverage. Your decision about the second option in FEGLI is completely a personal decision and should be largely determined by your health.

FEGLI Option B

Retirement Proposals: Some Details Added to FEHB

New documents from the White House that are related to the budget write in detail the proposals pertaining to retirement and FEHB that was contained in the last week first budget release — for example, specifying that only those under FERS system would have the proposed increase in required employee contributions toward retirement.

The goal that was stated is to make the enrollee and the government shares equal by phasing up the former 1 percentage point per years and bringing down the latter until they match. The document also says that the increase will not be as steep for employees hired after 2012 because they are already paying more than those hired through that year.

The enrollee share would need to increase by about 8 percentage points for most employees, to make them equal. This will be starting in 2020 where the government will start using higher assumptions about the costs of financing retirement.

Retirement-related proposals that need a little more explanation:

–    Rather than the currently used high-3, annuities of future retirees will be based on their high-5 consecutive working years;

–    Removing the COLA on the civil service portion of a FERS benefit while cutting 0.5 percent off of COLAs of CSRS benefits.

–    Eliminating the FERS special retirement supplement for future retirees

–    Reducing the TSP’s G-fund rate of return.

–    No auto-enrollment in FERS for term appointments.

The budget argues that many of those employees have never become eligible for a later FERS benefit because those appointments are generally limited to four years, of which the FERS benefit requires at least five years of service. This proposal is viewed as the first step towards an attempt to do the same with all future hires by employee organizations.

FEHB Premiums

The proposals note that on FEHB the government’s share of premiums is currently lesser of 72 percent of the weighted average of all of the plans, or 75 percent of a plans total cost. The budget would reduce the former factor to 71 percent, but the government share would increase by 5 percentage points for the plans that have the highest rating.

That somehow differs from last year’s proposal which based on plan ratings would have created a three-tier structure. With the third lowest receiving 5 percentage points less of a government contributions.

TSP and FERS are important parts of your retirement

Not affiliated with The United States Office of Personnel Management or any government agency