Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Remarriage and benefits for new spouse

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Q. I retired in 1997 with a survivor benefit for my wife. She passed away in 2007, and the survivor deduction stopped. I am going to remarry, and I know the first deduction will be the 10-plus percent so I can give my new wife health insurance, but how much of a payback will be deducted, and what percentage can I leave her? I am 71. My retirement is about $67,000.

I am figuring that I will have about a $12,000 deduction when I remarry. I am thinking of getting a separate health insurance policy for my new wife plus giving her a share of my estate when I die. She has children she lives with now, and they would welcome her back.

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Catch 62 and Social Security

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Q. Can you please explain “catch 62”? Also, can you qualify for Social Security after age 62 if you fall under the parameters of catch 62? In other words, do Social Security or CSRS check your eligibility only once at age 62, or do they check periodically after age 62? Can your CSRS pension be re-examined if you qualify for Social Security after you reached age 62, i.e. age 65?

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Retirement funds of deceased spouse

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Q. My deceased wife was a FERS employee for 15 years before resigning.

She passed away four years ago. I rolled over her TSP into mine. (I am retired CSRS.) I did not claim her contribution to FERS. Will I receive any of her retirement annuity once she would have become eligible to retire?

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Social Security and survivor annuity

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Q. I retired under CSRS and chose a survivor benefit for my wife.

My wife worked in private industry and contributed to Social Security and started collecting a Social Security pension.

My last letter from OPM said my wife would receive a survivor benefit of $670 per month.

How would the offset provision affect her monthly income in the case of my demise?

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Survivor annuity and Social Security

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Q. I am a CSRS retiree, and I am not eligible for Social Security. I have provided for a full survivor annuity if I die before my wife.

She is self-employed and will be eligible for a Social Security benefit when she retires. Will her Social Security benefit be reduced at that time due to her survivor annuity? Will her survivor annuity be reduced because of her Social Security benefit?

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Post-1956 deposit

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Q. The following statement was made in an answer to a question ask about post-1956 deposit: “You can’t get a refund of the deposit you made for your active-duty service. What’s done is done. If you retire at age 62 and aren’t eligible for a Social Security benefit at that time, you’ll never have to worry about losing those years and having your annuity recomputed.”

I will retire at age 60 and have paid in a post-1956 deposit. I am in CSRS and will have 41 years and eight months with the post-56 deposit (eight years, six months of military service). I have worked for 40 quarters and am eligible for Social Security (military service and work prior to the military). However, due to the windfall elimination provision, I do not plan to ask for Social Security benefits until I am 65 or older. Will my annuity be recomputed after I reach 62 even though I have no intention of requesting my Social Security benefit until 65 or 70? Can I expect some kind of reduction in my annuity? I understand my Social Security benefit will be reduced by two-thirds once I apply for it.

A. Because you made a deposit for your active-duty service, you’ll not only get credit for that time in your annuity computation but your CSRS annuity won’t be affected no matter when you apply for a Social Security benefit. However, as you noted, your Social Security benefit will be reduced because of the windfall elimination provision. That’s because you will be receiving an annuity from a retirement system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes and have fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security.

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Retirement calculator

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Q. Is there a calculator where you can enter your service type (FERS vs. CSRS), military buyback years and months, current high-3 and projected retirement age to get an accurate retirement estimate?

A. You’ll find what you’re looking for at www.fedbens.us.

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Deferred annuity

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Q. My husband resigned from a Defense Department agency (non-civil service) after 29 years to work in the private sector. He was under CSRS, never converting to FERS. Before his resignation 10 years ago, he spoke to the agency’s personnel retirement representatives and was told he would still be able to collect retirement but only after he reached the age of 62. They told him that he should start the retirement paperwork six months from his 62nd birthday. Is this information correct? Does he lose the 2 percent for each year under the age of 62 he was when he resigned? He’s within a couple of months of that six-month target.

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Military buyback

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Q. I am buying back my active-duty military service time to be applied to my federal retirement annuity amount. What factors determine the 3 percent rate for the military deposit? In other words, how is 3 percent derived as opposed to some other percentage?

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Survivor benefit for FEHB coverage only

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Q. I am a CSRS-covered employee nearing retirement. My spouse is a nonfederal employee and has been covered under my FEHB family plan for my entire career. I would like to elect a survivor benefit for an amount to cover her future FEHB premiums only. What amount of survivor benefit should I elect to cover her premiums, no more and no less?

A. First, a reminder. By law, you have to elect a full survivor annuity for your spouse unless he or she agrees to a lesser amount or none.

That agreement must be presented to OPM in a signed and notarized declaration of intent.

Assuming that you have such an agreement, it’s up to the two of you to decide how much is enough. You can start by looking at the self-only monthly premium for your current FEHB plan.

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Government pension offset

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Q. I am a CSRS retiree. My husband still works and is under Social Security. When he dies, will I receive anything from his Social Security? I am aware there is something called the government pension offset, but I don’t understand it. Can you explain?

A. Your Social Security spousal or survivor benefit will be reduced by $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity. To better understand the government pension offset and the reason it is a matter of law, go to http://ssa.gov/pubs/10007.html.

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Government pension offset

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Q. I am under FERS with a CSRS component (10 years CSRS, 15-year break, FERS for the past 20 years). If my spouse receives Social Security benefits based on my work history and I predecease him, and he begins receiving an annuity, will his Social Security payments be reduced or possibly eliminated under the government pension offset? He has enough quarters to qualify on his own record and is receiving payments now. However, under my records, his payments would be higher. I will retire in a year, at age 66, and would like to know before we request that his payments be based on my work history.

A. If he receives an annuity from a retirement system where he didn’t pay Social Security taxes, such as CSRS, any Social Security spousal or survivor benefit would be subject to the government pension offset.

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WEP

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Q. I retired in 2011 with 30 years and three months employment with the Postal Service at the age of 56 years and six months with a CSRS pension. I had 32 quarters of paying in to Social Security when I retired. I worked part time from June 2012 to October 2012 for an insurance company and earned about $6,200. How many more quarters do I have to go to receive a supplemental Social Security pension, and is it also true that I will only receive about one-third of what I would normally be entitled to?

A. You have already earned four credits in 2012. If you earn $4,640 in 2013, you’d get four more credits and be eligible for a Social Security benefit.

Yes, it’s true that your Social Security benefit would be less than it would have been if you didn’t receive an annuity from a retirement system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes. Because you do — and because you’ll have fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security — you’ll be subject to the windfall elimination provision.

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Survivor annuity and insurance

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Q. I’m a 53-year-old CSRS employee with 34 years of service. I may have the option of an early-out in May. I would like to carry my Federal Employees Health Benefits into retirement. I will choose no survivor benefit, but I would like to have my wife keep my insurance after my death. Can I do this?

A. No, you can’t. To be eligible to continue her FEHB coverage, she would have to be covered by the self and family option when you die and be entitled to a survivor benefit. Note: You are required by law to provide a full survivor annuity to your spouse unless she agrees in a notarized writing to a lesser amount or none at all.

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Retirement options

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Q. I am so totally lost in all of this early retirement and buyouts and furloughs. I have 33 years of service with the government and am 55 years old under CSRS. Not sure which to apply for or wait until our office gives us reduction-in-force notices if our office is going to reorganize, restructure. Would I be eligible for early buyout with full benefits come May?

A. You really are lost! However, everything should be clearer when I tell you that you can retire anytime you want to. That’s because you have the age (55) and service (at least 30 years) needed to do that. As a result, you can keep working, retire now, wait until your agency offers you a buyout, or wait until you receive a RIF notice. The world is your oyster. Enjoy it.

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CSRS annuity

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Q. I am planning to retire Aug. 15 with 37 years, two months and 12 days under CSRS. I will be 60 years old. I know if I stay more than 40 years, I will get 80 percent of my salary. What I don’t understand, according to my retirement estimates, is that after age 62, I will be getting less of an annuity each year. How can this be?

A. It can’t be. Something is wrong with either the estimator you are using or the data you are putting into it. Part of the problem may be that you misunderstand how long you have to work to receive an annuity that equals 80 percent of your high-3. It isn’t 40 years; it’s 41 years and 11 months.

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Deferred annuity

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Q. I am almost 62 years old and qualify for a CSRS deferred annuity, even though I left federal service 18 years ago. I have not been able to find anywhere (including the Office of Personnel Management website) how to apply for the deferred annuity. Do I initiate the action? If so, how? Do they initiate the action? If so, when? The only form I can find seems to indicate that OPM will initiate the action by sending me a letter and attached form, but they do not even have my current address, and I certainly do not have all the start and end dates for all of my federal positions (which the form requests). So what do I do?

A. Write OPM a letter telling them that you will soon be eligible for a deferred annuity. Be sure to include your full name, birth date, address, Social Security number, the name of the agency for which you worked and the approximate dates when you worked there. Send the letter to this address:

U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Retirement Services and Management Group

P.O. Box 45

Boyers, PA 16017-0045

Attn: Deferred Annuity

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‘Death benefit’ vs. ‘life insurance’

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Q. My mother is a Postal Service retiree residing in a nursing home. She had to use up all of her own assets to pay the nursing home until she qualified for Medicaid. Now, she has nothing left. I’ve been told that as a retired postal worker, when her time comes, there is a Postal Service “death benefit” that will pay out to her beneficiaries and that Medicaid cannot take that money from her estate because it is technically a “death benefit” as opposed to “life insurance.” Is this true?

A. I’ve never heard of such a death benefit and don’t believe there is one. That leaves only two possibilities. First, your mother has a Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance policy that, at her death, would be paid to whomever she designated on a Standard Form 2808 (CSRS) or 3102 (FERS). If she didn’t make such a designation, the money would be paid out according to the standard order of precedence. Second, if all of the money she contributed to the retirement system had not been returned to her in her annuity payments when she dies, any residual amount would be paid out according to the standard order of precedence.

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Medicare Part B

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Q. I will be a CSRS retiree soon enrolled on my younger wife’s FEHB family plan. Does it make sense for me to enroll in Medicare part B being on her plan? Will her premiums be affected if I do?

A. Her premiums won’t be affected one way or the other. Whether you should enroll in Medicare Part B is up to you to decide based on your current and projected health needs. Just remember this: If you don’t enroll in Part B and later decide that you want to do that, the cost of those premiums will be 10 percent higher for each full 12-month period you could have enrolled in Part B and didn’t.

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Social Security and CSRS

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Q. I am not eligible for Social Security retirement. I have 35 quarters of coverage and need 40. I was told if I waited until after age 62 and then earned my 40 quarters and became entitled to Social Security retirement, I would not receive a reduction to my CSRS retirement check. Is this true?

A. As a CSRS retiree, you would not have your annuity reduced if you were eligible for a Social Security benefit. However, because you are receiving an annuity from a retirement system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, you’d be subject to the windfall elimination provision. The WEP would reduce your Social Security benefit if you had fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security.

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