By Reg Jones
Q. I am a disabled veteran. I was employed by the Postal Service for almost 10 years. I was injured in 2011, the result of a previous ankle sprain. I was approved for workers’ compensation and have received benefits for the past two years.
Recently, I received a letter stating that my employer USPS will separate me via disability separation. If they do, should I apply for increased veteran benefits or Social Security disability? What laws should protect me from being separated?
December 11th, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits Creditable service: CSRS Creditable service: FERS CSRS annuity computation DOWNSIZING FERS annuity computation PAY RETIREMENT Retirement date service computation date SOCIAL SECURITY Special retirement supplement spouse benefits SURVIVOR BENEFITS VERA VSIP Windfall elimination provision
Q. I am considering requesting a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority/Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay and being off the rolls by March 31. My service computation date is Feb. 28, 1982 (CSRS and FERS). On Feb. 28, 2014, I will have 32 years of combined service (CSRS and FERS). On April 11, 2014, I will be 58 years old.
I transferred to FERS on March 30, 1994. Therefore, I will have 20 years under FERS on March 30, 2014.
I previously withdrew all of my retirement funds from CSRS, and never paid them back. I understand that although I did not repay my refund, the period of service will count toward length of service, but no annuity. Is this correct?
I had received a FERS benefit report that reflects CSRS service credit as 11 years, seven months and six days, but because some of that time was nonpaid deposit or redeposit, I will only receive eight years, 11 months and 27 days of CSRS service credit. My unpaid CSRS deposit is $627, and my CSRS redeposit is $30,607. Therefore, I am unable to pay all of this back prior to my retirement — and will have to pay a penalty, I am sure.
Since all of my annuity will be coming from FERS, will I be affected by the windfall elimination provision?
I have no survivor benefit, spouse deceased, which should make me eligible for Social Security widow’s benefit at age 60. How will this affect my special retirement supplement? Will I have to contact the Office of Personnel Management and report this change, or will they be notified by Social Security that I have filed?
Is the special retirement supplement equal to the Social Security benefits I will draw at age 62, or is it less?
Q. I am a 58-year-old retired Army officer (1977-1997) with 20 years of active service and have collected monthly retirement pay since 1997. I then worked 16 years in the civilian sector, paying into Social security. I have recently been selected as a foreign service officer and expect to start federal service again this year. I will face mandatory retirement at age 65 (2020). What is the best option for me as far as retirement planning goes? Should I convert my military pension? Do I forfeit my retirement pay while I work for State Department?
Q. 1. I retired from Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration with nearly 33 years of service. Upon federal law enforcement mandatory retirement at age 57, I elected to have my wife receive 55 percent benefit if I precede her in death. Thus, my annuity is reduced. If my wife precedes me in death, is there an adjustment upwards of my annuity? How do I go about getting this changed? We have been married since 1979.
2. I started collecting Social Security benefits at age 63. Based on 42 quarters and the amount I paid into Social Security, my benefit is only about $150 per month. When I die is my wife eligible to receive partial Social Security benefits based on my Social Security account? She does not have enough quarters to qualify for her own Social Security payment.
December 9th, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits Creditable service: CSRS CSRS annuity computation Government pension offset PAY SOCIAL SECURITY spouse benefits substantial earnings taxes Windfall elimination provision
Q. Will I be able to draw Social Security if my husband is retired military and retired CSRS? I have work for more than 30 years paying Social Security tax and have been told I can’t draw. Will my husband be able to draw because he has paid Social Security tax as a self-employed contractor?
Q. I plan to retire in 2014 with a CSRS pension. Will my spouse’s Social Security benefits be reduced when I begin to receive my CSRS pension?
I do not have sufficient quarters to qualify for Social Security. My wife has never been employed by the federal government and has only held jobs in the private sector where she has paid into Social Security. She meets the eligibility requirements to receive Social Security benefits, and she intends to apply to receive her Social Security benefits this season.
Q. I retired a few years ago with a pension and with Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage. Turned 65 a year ago. Have not applied for Social Security, as the benefit will be less than $200 per month.
All sources tell me that when I apply for Social Security, Medicare Part A will be mandatory, even though all our working careers, they said we can just have FEHB for retirement. I do not want Part A and wish to remain with FEHB only. Also with all of the mixups, I am sure they will put me into Part B, as well (even though I do not want or need).
Q. I am looking at retiring in September 2014 at age 57 years and five months. I will have 34 years in FERS and a little less than a year of sick leave to convert. I have $359,000 in my Thrift Savings Plan account. I am single, never married. What are my best options? I am located in an isolated area and am unable to attend any retirement seminars, especially now with the budget issues.
Q. I retired in 2008 with 33 years credited, of which three were in the military. I never bought back my military time. I am almost 59 now and have 35 quarters of Social Security banked. I understand that if I get over 40 before I turn 62, my pension will be affected. Most of my Social Security quarters earned were either military (in the 1970s; wasn’t much) and part-time work.
So I do not have much money vested in Social Security.
If I get 40 quarters and my pension is offset, how can I figure how much that will be? I may decide it’s to my benefit to continue part-time work.
Q. My husband is retired Postal Service, with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Medicare Part A.
I will be 65 in March but only have 37 credits and do not qualify for Social Security or Medicare, according to my SS statement.
I would like to know if I qualify for Part A under my husband’s Medicare benefits and, if so, what will happen to that benefit if he dies before I do? Due to medical issues, I do not plan to work in to get those last three credits.
Q. I am a retired federal employee under CSRS Offset, where my Social Security kicks in at age 62 and my CSRS is reduced. Am I allowed, or is it beneficial for me to file for Social Security benefits at age 60 since my husband is deceased?
Q. I am a law enforcement officer who retired after 27 years at age 51. I am receiving the special retirement supplement, which I should receive fully until age 56 despite any additional income. I started a private-sector position immediately upon my retirement. They are taking full Social Security deductions from my pay. It seems to me that I have “topped out” on Social Security based on my service. Should I still have Social Security deducted? If so, will I receive any benefit from this when file my taxes next year?
Q. My husband died on Nov. 8, 2012. I am a retired federal employee. I applied for survivor benefits and received a letter of approval that states I cannot be paid because two-thirds of the amount of my government pension is equal to or larger than my monthly Social Security benefit. Please contact me so if I can appeal this issue.
November 21st, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits Creditable service: CSRS CSRS annuity computation CSRS Offset EMPLOYMENT Government pension offset PAY Re-employment RETIREMENT SOCIAL SECURITY spouse benefits SURVIVOR BENEFITS Windfall elimination provision
Q. I am a CSRS Offset employee. I had seven years and 10 months of CSRS service when I left and took my funds out. I returned as CSRS Offset after a 15-month break, did not make a redeposit and now have an additional 26 years of service.
I am looking at retiring in 4½ years at age 60. In addition, I am divorced (married 28 years and one month, not remarried). My ex-husband has always made substantially more. Based on the scenario stated, I am of the opinion that:
1. The windfall elimination provision will not apply since I will have 30½ years of paying into Social Security.
2. The government pension offset does not apply since I am CSRS Offset, and
3. I can collect Social Security based upon my spouse’s earnings since his income was substantially more than mine.
I need to know whether these assumptions are correct, and whether there are any other “offsets” as it will make the difference on whether or not I can afford to retire or need to keep working until full (Social Security) retirement age.
Q. I retired from the Postal Service at age 70. I did not sign up for Medicare Part B at 65. I carried my Federal Employees Health Benefits plan into retirement. I understood that as long as I kept my insurance, I would not be penalized if I decided to sign up at a later time. That was two years ago. I am considering an Advantage plan and have been told by Social Security that I will be penalized for each 12-month period since I turned 65, even though I continued to work until 70. I retired Oct. 1, 2011.
Q. I am in CSRS offset, and I am eligible to retire now. I turned 66 on April 8. I started collecting Social Security benefits as of Jan. 1 and continue to work. How will my retirement calculation change when I retire? Most, but not all, of the Social Security benefits were earned while I was under CSRS offset. I copied the following excerpt from “Ask the Experts”: “In the year you reached your full retirement age, it would be reduced by $1 out of every $3 you earned. After that, there wouldn’t be any reduction.”
I don’t understand what will be reduced from my Social Security or my retirement when I retire?
November 19th, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits Creditable service: CSRS Creditable service: FERS CSRS annuity computation EMPLOYMENT FERS annuity computation Government pension offset PAY Postal Service RETIREMENT SOCIAL SECURITY spouse benefits SURVIVOR BENEFITS
Q. I am a retired Postal Service FERS employee. I took the early-out in February with reduced pension. I am going to marry a Postal Service CSRS employee retired on postal disability. He has little Social Security time, which he is not collecting. We would like to know if one of us will lose our postal pension. If so, how much and why?
November 18th, 2013 | annuity reduction Benefits CSRS annuity computation FEHBP FERS annuity computation Government pension offset HEALTH INSURANCE LIFE INSURANCE Military service deposits PAY RETIREMENT Retirement date SOCIAL SECURITY substantial earnings Tricare Windfall elimination provision
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.
Q. My wife wants to retire next year, and she will be 57 in July. Plans on retiring end of March. According to Social Security, her SS benefit at age 62 would be $1,857 a month, but it says it is based on her working until 62 and that she earns $110,000 a year during that time. I can’t find anything about what happens under her scenario of retiring at 56.75 years old. Will her benefit be reduced because she does not work until 62? Her first year with full-time SS contributions was 1983, and her SS earnings were $12,750. Prior to that, she had some on-and-off part-time earnings starting in 1974; not more than $1,200 in any year, and some years were $0.
Q. I’m a FERS employee, air reserve technician. At the time of retirement, I will have 36 years. I will have reached my high year of tenure of 56, at which I’m forced to retire. I will receive my retirement pay, but I also understand that I will be authorized to apply for the special retirement supplement as long as I don’t get another federal job? Do I apply through the Office of Personnel Management? Where does this supplement come from? Will I be penalized for exceeding a certain income level? Will it reduce the amount I’m authorized when I do decide to pull Social Security if it’s there?