Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Tricare and FEHB benefits

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Q. I retired from the Army in 2011 and have been working as a contractor since then. I have just accepted a GS position. I have Tricare (retired) now. Does my new position have the option of Tricare or is that just a military thing? If not, then should I ditch the Tricare for the FEHB? Any advantages/disadvantages either way? Read the rest of this entry »

Suspending FEHB in retirement

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Q. Can you suspend FEHB after retirement if you are eligible for Tricare? Can you elect to go back on FEHB if desired? How would you do this? Read the rest of this entry »

Carrying FEHB into retirement

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Q. I have 22 years in federal service under FERS and am 56 years old. I have held Tricare Prime under my retired spouse for over five years and Blue Cross/Blue Shield under my position for four years. If I take early retirement, can I carry my insurance into retirement? Do I meet the conditions to receive the special retirement supplement until I reach age 62? If not, under what conditions could I receive the special retirement supplement that would carry until I reach my Social Security age?

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Medicare

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Q. I am a retired federal employee. I kept my Blue Cross/Blue Shield under the Federal Employees Health Benefits. My husband is retired Army and is covered by Tricare for Life, Medicare and my Blue Cross/Blue Shield. I am also covered under my husband’s Tricare but not Tricare for Life. Do I need to sign up for anything else when I turn 65 in January?

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Refund on Medicare?

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Q. I am a retired disabled military member who works in the federal government. Since I am retired, I did not opt for any of the Federal Employees Health Benefits, as I am covered through Tricare as well as the Veterans Affairs Department. So, why is it that I must pay into Medicare when I am presently covered by another form of medical coverage? What can I do to stop this $2,247.18 annual deduction? Since I am covered as a vet under VA, I don’t need additional medical coverage. This is not right. How do I get my money back?

I’ve been paying into this since 2005 as a federal employee, having spent the previous 20 in the military. Since retiring eight years ago, I have been receiving Medicare care as a disabled vet through VA, and my family is covered through Tricare, which I pay monthly through payroll deduction. So where is my $2,247.18 going every year? What is the government doing with my earnings? Are there any provisions to cease this from happening?

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Medicare

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Q. I am turning 65 in December. I am retired from the federal government and have Aetna HMO. I am also retired from the Army Reserve and have Tricare and I am 30 percent disabled from the Veterans Affairs Department (diabetic). I live in New Jersey with my wife at 59; my son is still in college at 22; my 19-year-old daughter is also in college. I work part time and use my retirement health care and Tricare to cover myself and family. I am not filing for Social Security until I am 66.

I am totally confused on Medicare Part B. I have read that if I don’t take Medicare Part B, then I don’t have Tricare. If I take Part B, do I have to pay a monthly fee?

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Avoid these mistakes when planning to retire

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It’s easy to make mistakes when you are planning to retire. Some of the biggest mistakes apply to all employees; a few apply only to CSRS or FERS retirees. All can be costly. Here they are and what you can do to avoid them:

Retiring on the spur of the moment. It can be disastrous, for two reasons. First, if you hand in your retirement application at the last minute, it may contain errors that delay processing or even cause it to be rejected. Second, decisions made in haste often come back to bite you. Once committed to a course of action, it’s hard to undo it if you change your mind. If you do change your mind before you actually retire, you won’t be able to withdraw your application if your job has been abolished or it’s been offered to someone else. If you’ve already retired and want to cancel your retirement, your agency has no obligation to bring you back on board.

Confusing a salesperson with an adviser. The two are not the same. Actually, they’re opposites. One is paid to convince you to buy what they have to sell; the other is paid a fee to conduct analysis and provide you with decision support. One is your ally. The other is your adversary. Why would you trust an adversary for advice? Be skeptical of any source of “advice” that might be influenced by a conflict of interest. This is single mistake probably costs the American public more than any other when it comes to financial decision making.

Losing your health or life insurance. Make sure you are enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits or Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance programs for the five consecutive years before you retire. If you aren’t, with few exceptions, you won’t be able to carry that coverage into retirement. Here are the exceptions: you are covered by your spouse’s FEHB policy; you have been covered by Tricare of CHAMPVA, enroll in the FEHB program before retiring and the total equals five years; you enrolled in the FEHB at your first opportunity and retire in less than five years; or you accept an early retirement offer and were enrolled before the latest offer of early retirement was made by your agency.

Before you retire, check with your personnel office to be sure that you’ve met either the five-year rule or one of its exceptions.

Not getting credit for active-duty service in the military. If you served on active duty in the military, you can get credit for that time in determining your years of civilian service and have it used in the computation of your annuity. If you are a FERS employee, you’ll have to make a deposit to get credit for that time. If you are a CSRS employee, the rules differ depending on when you were first hired. If it was before Oct. 1, 1982, you will only have to make a deposit if you retire and are eligible for a Social Security benefit at age 62 (or when you retire, if it’s after age 62). If you were hired on or after that date, you’ll get credit for that time only if you make a deposit for that service. Whether you are a CSRS or FERS employee, if you’ll be eligible for or receiving military retired pay, in most cases you’ll have to waive that pay when you retire from your civilian job. You won’t have to do that if you are eligible for or receiving reserve retired pay.

Check with your personnel office to make sure that any active-duty service is recorded in your Official Personnel Folder and find out if a deposit will be required to get credit for that time.

Getting caught by “Catch-62.” If you are a CSRS employee who served on active duty in the armed forces after Dec. 31, 1956, and haven’t made a deposit for that time, you could be in for a rude awakening. If you retire and are eligible for a Social Security benefit at age 62 (or when you retire if it’s after age 62), your annuity will be reduced by 2 percent for each of those years of military service for which you haven’t made a deposit.

Determine whether you’ll be eligible for a Social Security benefit at either of those points in time. If you will, you may want to make a deposit for that time. If you won’t, don’t waste your money. Your CSRS annuity won’t be affected.

Rolling over Thrift Savings Plan assets. This mistake is usually caused by either trusting the wrong source for advice or failing to think “outside the box” a little when it comes to planning for your cash flow needs. Financial salespeople generally have to gain custody of your assets in order to be paid their commissions or fees, so naturally, their advice always includes rolling over any significant TSP sums into an IRA or other investment vehicle with higher costs. This is a formula for diminished investment performance. If the reason for leaving the TSP isn’t to enrich a financial salesperson, it’s often to gain more freedom in withdrawing TSP assets. While this is sometimes a valid reason to leave, it can often be dealt with through a combination of a lump-sum withdrawal or a series of fixed monthly distributions that will create and maintain a slush fund outside the TSP that is sufficient to meet your cash flow needs.

Focusing on wealth instead of cash flow. Speaking of cash flow, this mistake is propagated by financial professionals and journalists all the time. Much of what you’ll read and hear from financial and investment experts is aimed at maximizing economic wealth — basically your net worth. The mistake is in assuming this is your retirement goal. It’s probably not. And managing to this goal can cause serious problems for you in retirement. Paying off a fixed-rate, low-interest-rate mortgage is an example. It is often proposed that saving the interest over 10, 20 or 30 years will dramatically increase your net worth. While the validity of this proposal will vary from case to case, and is certainly debatable, it also completely misses the point that your retirement standard of living is not dependent upon your net worth but rather on your ability to generate cash flow. Having massive amounts of equity in a piece of real estate is of little use to you in making a car payment or paying for a cruise if you can’t sell the property or borrow against the equity on attractive terms.

Getting hit by the windfall elimination provision. If you are a CSRS retiree who will be eligible for a Social Security benefit, it may be reduced by the windfall elimination provision. That will happen if you have fewer than 30 years of “substantial earnings” under Social Security. The difference between the amount needed to earn four credits under Social Security and the amount considered to be substantial earnings is significant. In 2013, you would only need to earn $4,640 to get four credits; however, you would have to earn $21,075 for it to be considered substantial. (Since the Social Security Administration doesn’t know which retirement system you are in, if you are a CSRS employee, any estimate of future Social Security benefits they give you will very likely be wrong, often very wrong.)

If you’ll be affected by the WEP, know in advance how much less your Social Security benefit will be. You can get started by reading the Social Security Administration’s publication at ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf.

Getting hit by the government pension offset. If you will be receiving a CSRS annuity, any spousal Social Security benefit you may be entitled to will be reduced or eliminated by the government pension offset. The GPO will reduce those Social Security benefits by $2 for every $3 you get in your CSRS annuity.

If you’ll be affected by the GPO, you need to find out how great the impact will be. That’s because it isn’t uncommon for the GPO to wipe out those benefits. You can learn more at ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf.

Relying on emotion instead of reason. This mistake is so common, it’s the norm. It also has the potential to cause disaster. There have been books written about this mistake and how to avoid it, yet the behavior continues to be rampant. If you’re going to get the most of what you want from what you have, you need to realize that markets have evolved to take advantage of your fear and greed, which are amazingly predictable, and turn them against you. The investment markets aren’t fair; they’re like poker games, and trust me, you’re not the best player in the game. If you want to survive and, better yet, enjoy the game, you need to rely on a strategy that acknowledges the odds you face, accepts them and uses reason to turn them to your favor.

Failing to account for inflation. Inflation is a pervasive threat to any retirement plan. Not so much inflation in general, but differential rates of inflation among the various incomes and outflows that affect your plan. Your expenses will inflate, over time, at varying rates, while your income may or may not keep pace with that inflation. CSRS annuity and Social Security income increase with the Consumer Price Index (for now), FERS annuity income increases less than the rate of inflation, and many other pension and annuity income streams either don’t increase at all or increase at a fixed rate. Differences in these inflation rates can have a profound impact on your financial picture in retirement and failing to properly account and plan for this impact can leave you without the resources you’ll need to live the life you’ve been expecting years, or decades, down the road.

‘Working’ or ‘not working’?

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Q. As a currently “working”  federal employee with Federal Employees Health Benefits, soon to receive Medicare and Tricare for Life, how can FEHB be eliminated from the three insurances but be reobtainable should there be a lapse in Medicare or TFL?

The situation is simple for a federal employee going into retirement: Fill out form 79-9 electing to suspend FEHB for Medicare and TFL.

Is there a form or path to do the same if a federal employee continues to “work” and wants to eliminate FEHB coverage?

I am told, if “working,” an employee must cancel FEHB. It would be retainable during a future open season. The problem is this is done over the telephone without any written documentation such as a form 79-9 for a retired worker suspending his FEHB. Is it this confusing?

I have called the Office of Personnel Management, the Army Benefits Center, my local human resources office, Medicare and TFL. They either don’t know the answer or don’t  feel obligated to impart any guidance for fear of giving misleading information. Can you shed some clear guidance on my question? I am aware that, to have TFL, one must be military retired and Medicare Part B must be purchased.

What is the order of precedence with FEHB, Medicare and TFL? I am told the following:

If working: FEHB, Medicare then TFL.

If retired: Medicare, FEHB then TFL

Of course, with FEHB not in the equation, it would be only Medicare and TFL in either case, working or retired.

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FEHB and FEGLI

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Q. I turn 60 on Jan. 1, 2015.  I am a FERS employee who will have 20 years creditable service in January of 2014.  If I retire Dec. 13, 2014 (the end of a pay period) do I understand correctly that my Federal Employees Health Benefits and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance coverage will be extended for 31 days at no cost to me?

I plan on postponing my annuity receipt until Jan. 1 (when I turn 60) to avoid the under-62 penalty.  Also, do I understand correctly that since my postponed annuity date will be Jan. 1 that my first annuity payment will not be until February?

I am also an Air Force Reserve enlisted ART employee, so I have to leave at 60, but because of the changes to Reserve retired pay eligibility based on active duty orders, I qualify for Reserve Retirement pay earlier than 60. But as you know, if I retired when I was eligible, I would not be able to enroll in Tricare for retirees (except the plan for “gray area,” which involves paying the entire monthly premium).

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FEHB options

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Q. I will be retiring with 18+ years of federal service in March at age 57 under MRA +10. I am a military retiree enrolled in Tricare Prime. I have been looking at what, if any, Federal Employees Health Benefits I should take.

I know, at age 65, I will need to get Medicare Part A.  But is using something available under FEHB my best option? Since I have never been enrolled by FEHB before, I know I have to get documentation from Tricare saying I have used them for at least five years.

If I go with FEHB, can I get a family plan in consideration that my wife and I have been married for going on four years (thus, she has not been under Tricare for the minimum five-year requirement).

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Military buyback

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Q. I retired from the Army after 23 years and began my civilian service last year. I have seen from your blog that, even as a military retiree, I can buy back my years of military service and apply them to my federal service. But if I do:

1. Do I lose my health care through Tricare?

2. At what point do I stop receiving my military retirement pay (when I buy back my military service time or when I retire from civilian service)?

3. Would this affect my disability pay, which I believe is separate from my military retirement pay?

4. What other benefits would I lose as a military retiree, e.g., on-base benefits such as shopping at the commissary and post exchange, etc.?

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Tricare, Medicare or Blue Cross?

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Q. I am 65 and plan to retire in two years. I have Medicare now as my primary. I have federal Blue Cross as secondary and Tricare as third. (I am a retired Navy veteran.)

My wife is 59.  She has had four knee replacements and has a lot of issues with arthritis. Tricare says I have to have Medicare Part A and B. Once I drop Tricare, I understand I cannot get it back.

I feel that my wife and I are grossly overinsured. However, it appears that I have to keep it all — Medicare A and B, Blue Cross and Tricare — for my wife and I to be covered in the future when needed.

Do I have any options? Should I keep Tricare, or should I drop the Part B of Medicare and just use my Blue Cross?

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Carrying health insurance into retirement

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Q. I do not carry Federal Employees Health Benefits because I came to federal employment after retirement from the military and I have Tricare for Life. I have also turned 65 and have Medicare Part B. When I recently went to a retirement planning seminar, I was informed that I could sign up for FEHB during the open season this fall and then carry it into retirement in 2014. Although I would not have the five-year continuous FEHB coverage prior to retirement, I was told that having Tricare will satisfy the five-year requirement.

Further, I was told I could sign up this fall (for let’s say Blue Cross/Blue Shield), carry the insurance into retirement (planning late January/February 2014) and then either continue to carry the Blue Cross or suspend the coverage. By suspending the coverage, I could always go back and pick it up again.

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Tricare or FEHB?

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Q. I’m retired military and a current FERS employee. My medical coverage is Tricare, which I’m very happy with. In six years, I would be eligible for a federal retirement. Those six years give me time to enroll in Federal Employees Health Benefits if I would like to carry that coverage into retirement. My health is good. What factors would I consider in deciding to stay with Tricare, or add FEHB coverage if I retire at age 56? Does Medicare coverage factor in?

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Tricare and FEHB

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Q. I retired from active duty after 24½ years and immediately started as a federal employee, for 7½ years now. I’ve never elected Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage because I’m enrolled in Tricare Overseas. I’m planning to retire at MRA+10 in 2½ years at age 57½.

1. If I begin enrollment now in FEHB and retire at my minimum retirement age in 2½ years, can I count the time in Tricare toward the five-year enrollment requirement for FEHB?

2. If I don’t enroll in FEHB now, can I count my time in Tricare for the entire FEHB five-year enrollment requirement and get FEHB in retirement by paying premiums then?

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Tricare and carrying FEHB into retirement

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Q. I have been a civilian employee for 12 years and plan to retire at the end of January. I am a retired Navy officer who has been covered under Tricare/CHAMPUS family plans since 1979. Will my five years under a federal government medical care program be covered by my 30+ years of continuous Tricare coverage? I plan to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits plan during the open season and want to be able to carry FEHB into retirement.

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Health care coverage

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Q. I am a retired CSRS federal employee and have Blue Cross/Blue Shield as primary coverage for myself and my husband. He is retired military and has Tricare Prime for himself and me as secondary coverage. Under Obama’s new health coverage plan, will we be able to continue our coverage as is? Have the BC/BS 2014 premiums been determined/published?  Will I receive notification from the government, as in past years, that it is open season and, if I do not want to change, or am not forced to do so, will I do nothing? Are we required to register/enroll in Obama’s health care coverage since we both have double coverage and want to keep what we have?

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FEHB and Tricare

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Q. I am retired military and have the Tricare plan. I’m a FERS employee for six years. I have never enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program. I am 62 years old and eligible for immediate retirement. Because I have been enrolled in Tricare and not FEHB, will I be eligible to enroll in FEHB when I retire because I was enrolled in a federal health plan? Or must I be enrolled for five years prior to my immediate retirement? When I first became a FERS employee, I thought I saw something about if you are in Tricare, you would be eligible for FEHB even if you were not enrolled upon your immediate retirement.

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Tricare and adding FEHB

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Q. My husband and I are both planning to retire in 2015 from civil service. We have Tricare. Having had Tricare for less than five years, can we add a Federal Employees Health Benefit now and still carry the FEHB when we retire in 2015?

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FEHB re-enrollment after retirement

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Q. I am a 66-year-old military retiree who has health insurance coverage under Medicare parts A & B and Tricare for Life. In addition, I retired under FERS, but I have never had individual Federal Employees Health Benefits because I have been covered under my wife’s (a FERS civil servant) family FEHB plan for 20 years. She is retiring in a month and plans to continue her FEHB policy for at least five years until she reaches age 65, when she is Medicare eligible.

If my wife switches at retirement from a family to an individual FEHB plan, will I be eligible to apply for my own individual FEHB coverage during the next open season, and will I have that opportunity every year?

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