Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Military buyback and annuity

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Q. My husband had 16 years of military service (no retirement received). He is now 65 and may soon be employed in civil service. At age 70, he would have about 21 years of federal employment and military combined. Is he then eligible for retirement at age 70?

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Break in service and vested time

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Q. I am a 29-year-old federal employee and I may have to move at some point in next few years because of my husband’s work or if I go back to school. I have been working for 2½ years and I am starting to build up my Thrift Savings Plan (all L2050; if I leave, I am hoping to return to a job in the federal government at some point). I am wondering how vesting works for both TSP and my FERS annuity. Will I have to work a consecutive five years to keep both before I can leave, or do I bank that time if I decide to come back? For example, if I work for 3½ years then leave and come back two years later and work for 30+ years, will I keep what was put into the TSP and my annuity during my first 3½ years when I come back?

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Five-year rule

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Q. In the 2012 Federal Retirement Handbook, it states that if you meet the following age and service requirements — age 62 and five years — you are entitled to an immediate retirement benefit.

I will be 65 years old in May, so I already meet the first requirement. In June, I will have been a federal civilian employee for two years. However, I have 12.3 years of Air Force (1971 to 1984) service, and I plan to make the required deposit so the 12.3 years becomes part of my federal creditable service. Therefore, in June, I will have 14.3 years of creditable service. Does this mean I will be eligible to retire as soon as the Air Force years become part of my creditable service (since it’s more than five years)?

Said another way, is there a requirement that you need to be a federal civilian employee for five years before you are eligible to retire? I have not been able to find anything in FERS documents or government website that stipulates this requirement. All years are typically referred to as creditable service so that includes my Air Force time.

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VSIP and reinstatement

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Q. If a federal employee takes a buyout, but then wants to return to federal service, is he eligible for reinstatement rights, or does he have to compete as though he did not have prior federal service?

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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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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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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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FEHB re-enrollment

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Q. I was a federal employee for 26 years and, from 1987 onward, was under FERS. I left my last federal job in June 2009 at age 58, after having passed the minimum retirement age and having been enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits plan over the entire 26 years of my federal employment. In June 2009, I said that I intended to take a postponed retirement, some time after I reached age 60. It is my understanding that my enrollment in FEHBP was suspended at the time I left my last federal employment, in June 2009.

I had health insurance coverage under temporary continuation of coverage, ending in December 2010.

I applied to the Office of Personnel Management for a postponed retirement on Dec. 28, 2011, by filing Form RI 92-19. OPM acknowledges having received my application in February 2012, and I have been in interim status since that time. I began receiving interim payments in March 2012.

In a phone conversation I had with OPM in February 2012, I was told that I would not be able to re-enroll in FEHBP until my retirement was finalized.

Another year has passed, and my retirement is still not finalized. I am still in interim status. Is it really impossible for me to re-enroll with FEHBP before my retirement is finalized? Does the word “annuity” apply to my interim pay? If so, it seems that I can re-enroll in FEHB now.

An article by Reg Jones on your website says, “…if you were enrolled in FEGLI or FEHBP for the five continuous years before you retired, you may re-enroll in them when your annuity begins.” This suggests that the statement made to me on the phone in February 2012 was incorrect. Could you please clarify this? If I am eligible to re-enroll in FEHBP, what procedure should I follow to re-enroll?

A. You could only have re-enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program if you retired and postponed the receipt of your annuity to a later date. You didn’t do that. Instead, you resigned from the government and later applied for a deferred annuity. Deferred annuitants cannot re-enroll in the FEHB program.

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Five-year rule and break in service

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Q. I enrolled in Federal Employees Health Benefits on April 26, 1987. Resigned March 21, 1992. Temporary appointment Aug. 26, 2001, to Oct. 19, 2002. Re-enrolled Nov. 3, 2002. Resigned Sept. 27, 2008. Temporary appointment, not eligible to enroll Dec. 7, 2008, to July 3, 2010.  Re-enrolled July 18, 2010, until present. Had COBRA between enrollments. My human resources department says I should be able to continue health benefits into retirement if I work through June 20. I am planning on retiring in December. I know the Office of Personnel Management has the final say but wanted to know if this response sounds correct.

A. To be eligible to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement, you need to have five consecutive years of coverage. Those periods don’t have to be continuous. They can be broken by times when you weren’t a federal employee or when you weren’t eligible to enroll in the program. What’s important is that you be covered each time when you left and re-enrolled immediately each time that you were eligible to enroll. You need to recheck your employment records to be sure that you met the requirements and that the total time you were covered adds up to at least five years.

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Survivor annuity

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Q. My husband has 28 years and I have 27 years under FERS as civilians with the Defense Department (Air Force). My husband has been carrying Federal Employees Health Benefits insurance for our family for the past nine years. If he decides to retire early or prior to me, will he have to select an annuity for me so I would have health insurance coverage if he was to pass? I wouldn’t want to have to continue to work and carry insurance for five years prior to retiring if this is the case.

A. He wouldn’t have to elect a survivor annuity for you. As long as you were covered under the self and family option, you could continue your coverage by having the premiums taken out of your pay if still employed, or your annuity.

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Deferred annuity

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Q. My husband left federal employment at age 55 after seven years. He was covered under FERS. He is almost 63 and has applied for a deferred annuity. He is thinking of returning to federal employment. If he does so and receives health benefits, when he retires, can he carry those benefits into retirement? Must he be re-employed for a certain length of time to do this?

A. He must be enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program for a total of five years to carry that coverage into retirement. If he was enrolled in the program on the day he left and re-enrolls when he returns to work, those periods of coverage will be treated as though they were continuous.

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Retirement eligibility

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Q. I retired from the Army after 18 months of military service at age 22 because of combat wounds. I retired from a nonprofit and went to work for the government at age 56. I am now 62 and have eight years of federal service (executive agency), including depositing the 18-month military buyback. At what age and number of federal service years am I eligible to retire and receive medical benefits as a retiree?

A. You could retire now if you wanted to. Any federal employee with five years of service can do that. As for medical benefits, there aren’t any, regardless of age and service. However, if you have been enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program for the five consecutive years before you retire, you could carry that coverage into retirement.

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FEHB enrollment date

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Q. I am 64 years old and have nine years in CSRS. Four years were 1972 to 1976. At that time, I took my retirement out, then another seven months in 1985-86. I was reinstated in the federal government in February 2008, working for the IRS under seasonal but worked full time. I transferred in September with no break in service, accepting a position for the Defense Department. My service computation date gives me Feb. 4, 2004, under FERS. I signed up for Federal Employees Health Benefits at that point. I want to retire, but I need to take my FEHB with me when I do. What date would I be eligible to use as my retirement date and take with me my FEHB?

A. The law requires that you be enrolled in the FEHB program for the five consecutive years before you retire. Breaks in service won’t have a negative impact if you were enrolled when you left and immediately re-enrolled when you returned to government service. You’ll need to check with your personnel office to see if that was the case for you. If it wasn’t, the five-year period will start over from the date that you re-enrolled.

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Re-employment and five-year rule

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Q. My husband worked for a Veterans Affairs Medical Center for seven years, then left federal employment.  He is 63 and eligible for a deferred annuity. He may be returning to his previous job. Is there a certain amount of time he must be re-employed so as to be able to retire and carry his health benefits into retirement?

A. If he was enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program on the day he left, re-enrolls on the day he is re-employed by the federal government, and has been enrolled for five years, he would be able to carry that coverage into retirement.

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Annuity reduction and health insurance

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Q. I am a CSRS employee and plan to retire March 29.

1. Will I be on the annuity roll for my first check on April 1 or May 1?

2. Will I incur a reduction in my annuity because of the retirement date?

3. I will turn 65 in April, so I will be eligible for Medicare. I have had Federal Employees Health Benefits for four years, and I am Tricare-eligible. I am aware that my time with Tricare will count toward my five years and that I can suspend my FEHB and go with Medicare/Tricare for Life. What type of paperwork will the Office of Personnel Management need showing my eligibility for Tricare? Should I provide this with my retirement paperwork?

A. You will be on the annuity roll in April and be entitled to your first annuity payment in May. Based on your proposed retirement date, there would be no reduction in your annuity.

Your Tricare coverage only counts if you have been, in total, covered by the FEHB program and Tricare for the five consecutive years before you retire and are enrolled in the FEHB program on the day you retire. You should visit you personnel office and ask them what confirmation they require and to be sure that you are, in fact, eligible to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement.

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Five-year rule

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Q. I will be 66 years old in April. I have been with the Postal Service (FERS) for 16 years. I am eligible for retirement, but I am concerned about health insurance. I was always covered under my spouse’s insurance, since she started in the workforce before I did. I took on my own health insurance in January 2011 since she retired on disability due to medical complications. When I took on health insurance, I also covered for her health insurance. I know it has not been five years yet. What do I need to do to be eligible to keep health insurance?

A. You can relax. You only need to be enrolled in or covered by the FEHB program for the five consecutive years before you retire. You’ve met that requirement.

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5-year rule vs. service computation date

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Q. I am a 63-year-old Air Force civilian employee and have been employed since Sept. 2, 2008. With no break in service, I was employed by the Internal Revenue Service as a seasonal employee for approximately eight months since Feb. 20, 2008.

Being a seasonal employee, I was not able to have Federal Employees Health Benefits. But I took out the coverage once I transferred over to full time with the Air Force.

If I retire in February, would I be able to take my health benefits with me, or would I have to wait until September?

A. The rule is that you must be enrolled for five years or from your first opportunity to enroll. If you enrolled at your first opportunity, you would be able to carry that coverage into retirement. Check with your personnel office to be sure that they understand that.

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Five-year rule

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Q. I am 64 years old and will have five years of federal service in February. But for the first seven months (until September 2008), I was a seasonal employee for the Internal Revenue Service, until I became reinstated and was permanent full time. I could then sign up for my Federal Employees Health Benefit plan under FERS. One catch: I don’t have the five straight years of coverage under FEHB (I’m still nine months short). Can I retire in February and carry my health benefits into retirement, even though I don’t have five years of coverage? Or do I have to wait until September 2013?

A. Here’s the rule. You must be continuously enrolled for the five consecutive years before you retire (or from your first opportunity to enroll) to carry that coverage into retirement. If you weren’t eligible to enroll while a seasonal employee, you would only have to establish that you enrolled at your first opportunity. Check with your personnel office.

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Changing self-only to self and family

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Q. I know one has to have Federal Employees Health Benefits for five years before one quits or retires to get this benefit. Does it have to be family coverage for five years, or can I change my self-only coverage to family in the last year before retirement? Can I change it after retirement?

A. You can change from self-only to self and family and from self and family to self-only during any open season. The only requirement to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement is that you be covered continuously for the five years before you retire.

Note: I need to correct a misunderstanding on your part. If you were to quit, you would only be able to continue your coverage  for 18 months under the temporary continuation of coverage provision, for which you’d pay 100 percent of the premiums, plus a 2 percent administrative fee.

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Suspension of FEHB coverage

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Q. I am a federal employee with 32+ years of civil service, planning on retiring in the next five years. I have been enrolled in a Federal Employees Health Benefits plan throughout my career. My husband retired from active duty Aug. 31 with 23+ years. We had dual coverage under Tricare and FEHB since August 1995, with FEHB being primary and Tricare as secondary. Now that my husband has retired, to continue to be covered under Tricare, he had to sign up for a specific Tricare plan, for which we are now charged a monthly premium. We are trying to determine whether or not we should cancel the FEHB and save the $3,500 per year. The Tricare representatives advised my husband that we should suspend the FEHB and not cancel it, so if we decided at a later date to re-enroll in the FEHB, we could. I have also read that if I don’t have FEHB for five years prior to retiring, I won’t be able to sign up for FEHB coverage when I retire, but that I can include the time in Tricare toward that five years.

I went to the BENEFEDS and Office of Personnel Management websites and contacted a benefits and entitlements counselor through the Employee Benefits Information System to ask this question, but I am receiving conflicting information.

1. Can I suspend my FEHB and re-enroll, as long as it is during open season, at any time?

2. Can I cancel my FEHB and re-enroll, as long as it is during open season, at any time?

3. So if I cancel/suspend my FEHB and retire in five years, can I count the time in Tricare toward being enrolled in a FEHB plan?

4. If I cancel/suspend my FEHB and am no longer covered under Tricare (through no fault of my own) I can re-enroll in FEHB plan at any time; I don’t have to wait for an open season?

5. Can I sign up for a dental plan and/or a vision plan under the FEHB without being enrolled in a FEHB plan?

A. You can suspend your coverage in the FEHB in favor of Tricare. If you do, you could reactivate that coverage at any time if you were to lose Tricare coverage sometime in the future. If you canceled your FEHB coverage and were still employed, you could re-enroll at a later date; however, you would be required to maintain that FEHB coverage for five consecutive years to be able to carry it into retirement. If you canceled that coverage and retired, you wouldn’t be able to re-enroll. Retirees cannot re-enroll in the FEHB program. Finally, dental and vision coverage isn’t tied to enrollment in FEHB.

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