Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Years of service and deferred retirement benefits

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Q. If I have 20 years of federal service (including more than 15 in the foreign service) but I haven’t turned 50, can I retire but defer receipt of my benefits/pension until I am eligible at age 50? For example, an employee is 47 years old and has completed 20 years of federal service. Can that employee leave the service and still receive full retirement benefits beginning at age 50?

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Forms and federal agency certification

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Q. I recently retired from the Veterans Affairs Department and applied for Medicare Part B coverage. My FEHBP is still in effect. The Social Security office sent forms that appear to need agency certification. Who does this? The employing agency or OPM? I’m not getting answers. OPM’s number is constantly busy, and my former human resources office isn’t returning calls. I’m trying to get the coverage and avoid any financial disaster.

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Retirement and health insurance premiums

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Q. I am 65, have worked for USDA intermittently since 1965 (recurring and temporary in the early years) and have been in my present position with USDA-ARS since 1999. I plan to retire (in FERS) in two or three years. My insurance provider for more than 10 years has been Blue Cross/Blue Shield Federal Employee Program. I am signed up for Medicare Part A. My wife, several years younger than I, is a health provider in private practice. She and my two children (elementary school age) are now covered under the federal employee plan above. My understanding is they can remain covered by the plan when I retire (although some aspects of plan coverage change because of my enrollment in Medicare Part A). After retirement, can I continue to pay premiums (covering me and my family) of the same amount as I now pay? In other words, will the U.S. government continue to pay the same portion of the premium as it does now?

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CSRS survivor benefits and health benefits

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Q. I am a CSRS employee. Upon retirement, I would like to know what minimum percentage/amount of survivor benefit has to be in effect for my husband to continue to receive health benefits if I pre-decease him. Does the annuity have to be enough to cover the premium? If so, what would happen if the insurance rates increased dramatically over time and the annuity no longer covered 100 percent of the premium? My husband is willing to provide a notarized “less than all” annuity base. The bottom line is that I want to carry only enough survivor benefit to ensure health benefits.

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Annuity options for rehired annuitant

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Q. I retired as a GS-14, CSRS employee, at 30 years. If I take a GS-15 position, does the retirement stop, or is the pay just offset by the amount of the annuity? Do you pay into the CSRS retirement fund or FERS, or can one defer? Does health insurance continue from the retirement or from the new payroll?

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FEHB coverage and gap in federal service

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Q. I am 49 and will shortly leave federal service, temporarily (I hope). I have 19 years of service and have always been an FEHB subscriber. When I return to federal service in my 50s, will I need to have an additional five years of FEHB-covered service before retiring with FEHB benefits? That is, does the consecutive five-year rule refer to (a) five years before retirement or (b) five consecutive years when one is eligible to subscribe to FEHB? For example, could I return to federal service at age 54 (as an FEHB subscriber) and then retire at my MRA (age 56) while carrying FEHB benefits into retirement?

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MRA+10, annuity and FEHB

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Q. I am a 43-year-old attorney considering leaving federal service for the private sector. I have 9½ years of service, have been enrolled in FEHB for that entire time and am deciding whether any benefit would vest or accrue to me if I stay 10 full years rather than leaving a few months short of that. My human resources specialist says that if I have 10 years of service when I resign, then I would be eligible to apply for an early retirement annuity at age 57 (MRA+10, I think) and re-enroll in FEHB at that age. Is he correct? My primary concern is not the early annuity option but whether I would be eligible to re-enroll in FEHB upon retirement.

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‘Quitting’ FEHB and re-enrolling

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Q. Can a retired employee quit his Federal Employees Health Benefits in retirement for, say, Tricare for Life and Medicare if retired military, and later opt to switch back to FEHB?

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Medicare Part B

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Q. I am a recent retiree and have to decide whether to obtain Medicare Part B coverage. I have, and intend to keep, my Blue Cross coverage. I am trying to determine whether I should opt for Medicare Part B for my wife and I, even though I have Blue Cross. The Medicare Part B monthly payments would range about $150 for each of us.

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Affordable Care Act

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Q. I heard on television that, under the Affordable Care Act, children can stay on your medical plan until age 26, but spouses are not considered dependents. My wife is a few years younger than me and, when I retire next year, will she still be covered under Federal Employees Health Benefits?

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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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Health insurance and qualifying life event

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Q. I have worked for the Air Force as a civilian for the past 30 years. For the first 20 years of employment, I carried FEHB for myself and my family. For the past 10 years, I have not continued FEHB because my wife carried coverage for all of us under a state teachers medical insurance. I am considering retiring in two to three years at age 62 and entering retirement without FEHB because I can continue on my wife’s plan.

If, several years down the road, my wife retires and loses her coverage, can I then enroll in FEHB for myself and my wife? Would her retirement be a qualifying life event per Section 1M in SF 2809?

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Leave without pay and annuity

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Q. I understand that for leave without pay of less than six month, we receive credit for that time.

I am 52 with 32 years of service, all under FERS. My MRA is 56 (2016). In my last year or sooner, I believe my supervisor will allow me the last year before retirement to work 24 and 16 hours LWOP. Is there any impact? I’m under retired spouses FEHB.

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MRA+10, health benefits and annuity postponement

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Q. I am eligible for the MRA+10 provision of FERS. However, I want to continue federal health benefits immediately in retirement and postpone payment of the annuity so I can avoid the reduction in the annuity payment. Can I do this?

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Affordable Care Act vs. FEHB

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Q. I will have 20 years of congressional employment as of Jan. 23, 2014. I will be 60 years old three months earlier, in October. It is my understanding that members and congressional personal staff will be forced into Affordable Care Act health coverage as of Jan. 1, 2014. Can I retire Dec. 31 and keep my Federal Employees Health Benefits? How will this affect my FERS annuity?

A. If you retire as a FERS-covered employee, you would be entitled to a FERS annuity. And if you have five consecutive years under the FEHB program and retired before the Affordable Care Act is implemented, you would be able to carry that coverage into retirement. Neither of those entitlements could be altered by legislation that becomes effective after you retire.

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12 questions on VERA

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Q. I am a letter carrier, age 52, started in 1985 and have 28 years of creditable service.

If I understand what I’ve gleaned from the posts here and the Postal Service were to offer me a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority this year,

1.  Would I begin my annuity immediately?

2.  Would I have no reductions in calculations of my annuity? (average high-3 x 1 percent x 28)

3.  Would I receive credit for half of my sick leave and all of my annual leave? (How are these applied?)

4.  Would I receive the special retirement supplement beginning at age 56 (my minimum retirement age), and receive it until I reach age 62?

5. Would I be able to continue carrying my current health and life insurance at non-USPS rates? (I couldn’t find how long these could be carried. Until death?)

6.  Could I begin receiving Social Security as early as age 62?

7. Any withdrawal from my Thrift Savings Plan prior to age 59½ would be penalized 10 percent as per Internal Revenue Service regulations? (Can I continue to contribute to TSP after retirement?)

8. As a FERS annuitant, is there no limit to what I can earn after separation from the Postal Service as it pertains to my annuity payment?

9. At age 56 (my MRA), the special retirement supplement from Social Security would begin and would be subject to yearly income limits. Would supplement payments be reduced by approximately $1 for every $2 I earned above that year’s Social Security income limit?

10. At age 65, I’d be eligible for Medicare parts A and B? (Would this affect my health insurance coverage through Federal Employees Health Benefits?)

11.  Would there be cost-of-living increases at any point for my annuity?

12.  Is there a date during the year that maximizes the benefits of retirement?

Did I get this right, and are there any other things I should know before considering a VERA if it is offered?

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Five-year rule

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Q. I’m thinking about applying for a Transportation Security Administration position in Denver. How many years would I need to work to get health benefit coverage at retirement?

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Federal re-employment and health benefits

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Q. My husband worked for a Veterans Affairs medical center for seven years, then left federal employment for eight years. He is 63 and receiving a deferred annuity. He may be returning to federal employment. When he returns, is there a certain amount of time he must be re-employed to be able to retire and carry his health benefits into retirement?

A. If your husband was re-employed, he’d be able to enroll in the FEHB program during the next open season. He would then have to be enrolled for five years to continue that coverage when he once again retired.

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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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Eligibility for benefits

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Q. I am 64 with 9.5 years under FERS, but it was split up after 4.7, then a few years later I returned and now have 4.8 years. Could I retire on an immediate retirement and be able to take my Federal Employees Health Benefits along with me? I know if there was an early-out/buyout offer, I could. I was given a service computation date of Feb. 4, 2004.

A. You could retire on an immediate annuity because you are at least age 62 and have at least five years of service. And you could carry your FEHB coverage into retirement if you were enrolled in the program for the five consecutive years before you retire. That break in service doesn’t matter if you were enrolled in the program when you left government and immediately re-enrolled when you returned, and the total of those two enrollment periods equals a minimum of five years.

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