Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Military and civilian retirements

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Q. I am receiving a military retirement check from Army for 20 years of service. I have been a civilian civil service employee for 20 years and am eligible to retire. Can I receive another retirement check as a civilian government employee besides the military retirement check?

A. Yes, you can continue to receive your military retired pay and an annuity based solely on your civilian service.

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Medicare application

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Q. We are getting conflicting answers to a question.

I am retired from Civil Service and have Blue Cross Blue Shield (high option), as well as Medicare Parts A and B.

My husband is under my BCBS policy. He just turned 65 but will continue to work until 66. Can he apply for his Medicare card Parts A and B now? If yes, how and where? Medicare has not sent us paperwork.

A. He can apply online at www.ssa.gov/medicareonly.

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Military service and buyback

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Q. I was in the Air Force title 10 from July 1977 to April 1992 (14 years and seven months). I was in the Air National Guard title 32 from June 1992 to June 2006 (14 years). I retired from the Guard title 32 and am receiving a retirement check. I now have a civil service job, and human resources is saying I can purchase the title 10 time toward retirement. If I purchase the title 10 time, will I have to forfeit my title 32 military retirement? Also, if this is correct, how would the 14 years benefit my retirement from FERS?

A. Your HR is right. You can make a deposit for your period of active-duty service and get credit for that time in your annuity computation when you retire. Each month of bought back service would be worth 1/12 percent (1 percent per year). Making a deposit would not affect your entitlement to reserve retired pay.

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Pension from Signal Corps

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Q. I worked as a civil service employee for the Signal Corps, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, from 1961 to 1966. Would I be entitled to any kind of pension?

A. If retirement contributions were taken from your pay, you left those contributions in the retirement fund when you left and you had worked full-time for at least five years, you’d be eligible for a deferred annuity at age 62.

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Military buyback for former civil servant

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Q. I am a guardsman who has been on continuous active-duty orders since June 2004. Before 2004, I was employed as a civil service technician since 1981 (I am a FERS employee). When I went on orders in 2004, I was continued in leave-without-pay status in my Civil Service technician position by my Guard unit until my five-year USERRA rule ran out in 2009, when I was forced to give up my technician position or face being placed in absent-without-leave status. Now that I am nearing the end of my active-duty orders in October (I do not have enough active-duty time for a full active-duty retirement), I would like to buy back my military time for civil service retirement purposes but I am not sure how to do that since I am no longer a civil servant.

Can I buy back my military time now that I am no longer an active civil servant, but I do have a civil servant retirement coming?

A. No.

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Specifics on buying back military time

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Q. I have nine years’ active-duty time from 1991-1998 and 2001-2003. I am now interviewing for a Civil Service position and want to know how much it will cost me to buy back those years toward retirement. I keep reading that deposits have to be made, but I can’t find a description of what that means. How much will it cost me to buy back my nine years? When does that amount have to be paid? Before I start, during my employment or at retirement? And if I buy back nine years, when will I be eligible for retirement?

A. I wrote two columns on this in April. You can access them at http://blogs.federaltimes.com/federal-retirement/?s=Getting+civilian+retirement.

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Medicare Part B and FEHB

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Q. My question concerns what happens when I turn 65. I am 63; what happens with my Civil Service health benefits? I have been told to keep these benefits and not go on Medicare. Is that still true? I would get better coverage with my Civil Service. I am single and would not be eligible on a spouse’s plan, etc., and do not have Social Security benefits.

A. You should continue your enrollment in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program. And you should enroll in Medicare Part A because you already paid for it through payroll deductions. As for Medicare Part B, that’s a personal choice based on your current and anticipated health needs. Since you have to pay premiums for that coverage, it’s worthwhile doing a financial analysis to see if you’d be better off with or without it.

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Public and private insurance

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Q. I have Civil Service retirement and my husband is on my Blue Cross Blue Shield federal policy. He is older than I and will be 65 in September and will be signing up for Medicare. Will he still be covered by my federal policy as his supplemental policy when he signs up for Medicare, or will he then be on the South Carolina BCBS state policy? We reside inSouth Carolina.

A. Assuming that he is retired, when he signs up for Medicare, it will be primary and, for him, your FEHB BCBS self and family enrollment will be secondary.

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Wildland firefighter credit

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Q. Federal wildland firefighters receive extra credit for their service. I was a seasonal wildland firefighter during the summers of 1960-64 in Montana and Idaho. This was before these positions were classified at the higher level. I plan to retire from Civil Service employment this year (age 71). Can I apply (and how do I?) for credit under this provision?

A. The best way to find out is to complete a copy of Standard Form 2803 (CSRS) or 3108 (FERS), available at www.opm.gov, click on Find Form(s) and send it to the address on the form.

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Retirement pay and federal rehire

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Q. I worked a little less than six years, from September 2005 to July 2011, as a Foreign Service officer. I was 60½ when I left the Foreign Service as a direct hire and am now working there as a contractor. A document from the Office of Retirement indicates that I am eligible to receive retirement pay beginning in December 2012, when I turn 62, but now I am about to start a civil service job with the Department of Defense. Will I still receive my retirement pay from DoS?

A. Yes, but the salary of your new position may be offset by the amount of your annuity. Check with your new employer to see if that’s the case or if you will be allowed to receive both with no reduction.

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WEP

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Q. How do I find out if I made “substantial salary” over the 28 years I was in Civil Service? I worked off duty during that time and paid into Social Security but do not know if I qualify for the exemption.

A. To find out if your Social Security-covered earnings were substantial, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10045.html. There you’ll find the dollar amounts that qualify as substantial earnings for each year from 1937 to the present.

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Government retirement after less than a year

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Q. I spent a little less than 10 years in the Navy, leaving with an honorable discharge, having served in Vietnam. Within two years of leaving the service, I worked for the civil service for less than a year. I am now older than 62; am I eligible for civil or federal service retirement? I have paid into Social Security and am collecting.

A. Since you weren’t vested in the civilian retirement system, you aren’t eligible for an annuity. You’ll have to check with your branch of service to see if you are entitled to any military benefits.

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Government pension offset

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Q. My wife and I are retired. My wife has both a small civil service pension and Social Security. I had 30-plus years of Social Security earnings when I retired in 1998. If I survive my wife, will the reduced amount I would receive from her government pension affect my Social Security payment? I am asking about Government Offset Pension rules.

A. The government pension offset applies only to the spousal Social Security benefit of someone receiving an annuity from a retirement system where he or she didn’t pay Social Security taxes, such as CSRS. It doesn’t apply to the earned Social Security benefit of someone entitled to a CSRS survivor annuity.

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Military and civil service pensions

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Q: I am a retired naval officer and have been a civil servant for 15 years. When I ultimately retire from the civil service can I continue to receive my Navy retired pay as well as a civil service pension?

A: Yes.

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Lateral transfer from excepted service

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Q. I had interviewed for a competitive Civil Service position in another agency.  If I were selected, could I transfer my 25 years of excepted Civil Service (including accrued leave) into that position? Both my current and prospective positions are GS-6.

A. As a rule, the answer is yes. However, if you are offered a position in another agency, you should check with them to be sure it’s true in your case before accepting the position.

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Taxable earnings for CSRS Offset

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Q: In your Jan. 25 article “New year, same COLA,” you say that the Social Security withholding stays at $106,800, and that  “if you are a Federal Employees Retirement System or Civil Service Retirement System Offset employee, any amount you earn above that amount won’t be subject to the 6.2 percent Social Security deduction.”

However, I am a GS-810-14, Step 10, Forest Service employee under CSRS Offset and the National Finance Center withholds Social Security from my paycheck for the entire year. Withholding from my paycheck doesn’t cease at the $106,800 limit. This seems contradictory to what the article states. Can you please explain?

A: According to the Office of Personnel Management, when the total basic pay paid in a calendar year reaches the Social Security maximum taxable wage base, the deduction rate reverts to the “full” CSRS employee withholding rate. Agencies must ensure that the deductions on the first dollar of basic salary paid to CSRS Offset employees over the Social Security wage base are made at the full CSRS rate and that the reversion to full withholding is reflected during the pay period in which it occurs. While the place that the deductions go — Social Security or OPM — will change, the amount that’s deducted stays the same. That’s because most CSRS Offset employees contribute 0.8 percent to CSRS and 6.2 percent to Social Security, for a total of 7 percent. When the wage base is exceeded, 7 percent is paid to CSRS.

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