Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Age 62 or 61?

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Q. I am FERS-covered and eligible to retire this year with 20 years but at age 61. Can I separate (or resign) first at age 61 this year and postpone the start of my annuity to 2014, when I am 62 to get the higher 1.1 annuity (instead of 1.0 at 61)?

A. No, you can’t. The only FERS retirees who are eligible to get the higher multiplier are those who retire on an immediate annuity at age 62 or later with at least 20 years of service.

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Turning down Medicare Part B but taking it later

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Q. I am 65 years old and am employed full time by the federal government. I will continue my federal employment for several years. I am covered under Federal Employees Health Benefits and pay for Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance. If I decline Part B now and decide to take it later, will I be subject to the Medicare Premium penalty?

A. Yes, you can decline Part B while you are still employed without penalty. When you are no longer employed, you’ll have an eight-month window in which to enroll, penalty-free, which begins the first full month after you retire.

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Credit for sick leave

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Q. It is my understanding that unused sick leave after Jan. 1, 2014, is credited at 100 percent to the employee at retirement. Is it just added to the total annuity, or is it a lump-sum payout like unused annual leave?

A. Unused sick leave has no cash value. Instead those hours are added to any actual service hours that weren’t used in the initial computation of an annuity. For every combination of hours that adds up to 174, an additional month will be added to the actual service time and increase the amount of the final 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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Beneficiaries

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Q. I will be retiring this summer, and my ex-husband has remarried, so he has no claim to my annuity when I die. Can I choose to leave my annuity to my children?

A. No. However, if you designate them as your beneficiaries and die before your contributions to the retirement fund have been returned to you in your annuity payments, any remaining amount would be paid to them.

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Calculations for disability retirement

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Q. I am trying to figure my calculations under FERS disability retirement and Social Security. I am receiving Medicare under Social Security Administration without monetary benefits because of workers’ compensation. Would you please calculate a high-3 of $54,000; and Social Security entitlement of $1,700 monthly on a 60% and a 40%. What would be the separate amounts received from both? Also, do I have to fill out both forms, SF 3112 and a SF 3107 for immediate retirement? I am requesting approval of disability retirement.

A. I can’t do your homework for you. What I can do is give you the formulas you’ll need to get the answers you want. For the first 12 months, you’d receive 60 percent of your high-3 minus 100 percent of any Social Security benefit disability benefit. For all remaining years and until age 62, you’d receive 40 percent of your high-3 minus 60 percent of your Social Security disability benefit.

You’ll need to fill out a Standard Form 3112, Documentation in Support of Disability Retirement, and, at the same time, file for Social Security disability benefits. If you don’t, the Office of Personnel Management won’t review your application for disability retirement.

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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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Annual leave payout

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Q. I’m being retired on medical disability, and I have more than 190 hours of annual leave. Who pays me for this and approximately when?

A. Your agency is responsible for generating a lump-sum payment for any unused annual leave. Usually such payments are made at the same time as your final paycheck is issued. Check with your agency to find out what its payment schedule is.

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Remarriage and survivor annuity

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Q. I have been a CSRS retiree for six years. I am getting remarried shortly. I want to ensure my Federal Employees Health Benefits continue to be available to my spouse after my death. I understand I have two years from date of marriage to elect a survivor annuity. May I select either a full survivor benefit or a reduced survivor benefit and still retain the FEHB from my surviving spouse? If reduced is an option, how much can it be reduced and still retain the FEHB?

A. Because you are a CSRS retiree, with your spouse’s written and notarized consent, you can elect any amount from $1 a year on up. If the amount of your survivor spouse’s annuity isn’t sufficient to pay the premiums, he or she can pay them directly to the Office of Personnel Management.

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Divorce and retirement annuity

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Q. I was divorced from a Postal Service worker in 2000 and he finally retired recently. Where do I go to get my portion of the annuity that was in the settlement?

A. You’ll have to call the Office of Personnel Management at 1-888-767-6738 or 1-724-794-2005 and talk to a benefits specialist.

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Sequestration and unused annual leave

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Q. As a FERS employee retiring at the end of March after 27+ years at age 65. How will the sequestration and continuing resolution affect when I will get my check for unused annual leave? Will there be any effect on the delivery of my first annuity and Social Security checks?

A. There shouldn’t be any delay in the delivery of your annuity and Social Security checks. Whether there would be a delay in your lump-sum annual leave payment is something that only your agency can answer.

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Annuity election

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Q. I am a 59-year-old CSRS employee with 39+ years of service. OPM Form 2801 indicates my spouse needs to sign the Annuity Election section. Is this signature a requirement before I can retire, or can I just ignore it since my spouse isn’t ready for me to retire?

A. I assume you are referring to the section of the SF 2801, entitled, Spouse’s Consent to Survivor Election. That only applies if you aren’t electing a full survivor annuity for your wife. If you are providing less than a full survivor annuity, or none at all, not only is she required to complete that section of the form but her signature will have to be witnessed by a notary.

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Termination and disability retirement

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Q. I saw this exchange on your site:

“Q. I am 60 and was hospitalized in March. I used all my sick and vacation leave because of a medical condition that will last more than a year, used all my [Family Medical Leave Act time] and have applied for disability retirement. I got a call from the nurse executive that if they don’t receive a letter from me within five days that I am resigning, they will have to terminate my federal service, since they say I am AWOL. This same executive in May completed the supervisor portion of my disability retirement application. Can they fire me even though I have applied for disability retirement?

A. Yes. However, whether you resign or they separate you, it won’t affect your application for disability retirement.”

Can you tell me if, when the retirement application is approved, the termination is then converted to a retirement action?

A. No, it wouldn’t. The SF-50 action would have already been effected, so whether it was a termination or separation, etc., if you later receive a disability retirement, this wouldn’t affect the SF-50 action that was already done.

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No break in service

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Q. I came into federal service in 1995 with the Air Force (civilian). In May 2012, I began a Schedule A excepted service temporary appointment to the Army to serve in Afghanistan. The Air Force put me on leave without pay, and I have return rights and will return to my old position and location when this one-year assignment is done. I want to ensure that there is no break in service or other problem when it comes time to retire. Is there anything that I should do now to ensure that things don’t get messed up at retirement time? I want my time with the Army in Afghanistan to be counted for retirement. Will there be a problem later if, at retirement, one agency shows me on leave without pay for 12 months, while another agency has me on an excepted service appointment for that time? I’m continuing to pay into FERS while with the Army.

A. Just make sure that the Standard Form 50 cut by the Army to bring you onboard makes it into your Official Personnel Folder, along with the SF-50 separating you from that position. Having them placed between the SF-50 putting you on LWOP and the one returning you to your former position, your employment record will be seamless.

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Retirees, Medicare and the ‘creditable plan’

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Q. I am retired with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and will be signing up for Medicare Part A soon to avoid penalties for Part B and Part D. Does my BC/BS meet the “creditable plan” requirement to avoid penalties? I have been told “yes and no” on the phone by Medicare. If I sign up for an HMO with a lower cost, will I meet “creditable plan” standards if I drop Federal Employees Health Benefits? Can I re-sign up for BC/BS later if I don’t like the coverage?

A. The “creditable plan” feature you’re referring to only applies to those who are currently employed or are covered by a family member who is employed. It doesn’t apply to retirees, regardless of the plan they are in.

If you drop your FEHB coverage, you can’t re-enroll in it unless you return to work for the government in a position that allows you to be covered by the FEHB program.

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VSIP and re-employment

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Q. I worked for the federal government for over 28 years. I retired last year under Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay provisions June 30, 2012.

I am considering re-employing/reinstating. Am I eligible to return to work on July 1, one year after retiring? Can I repay the VSIP in cash or in payments?

I read once that you can make payments for up to 36 months upon re-employment but am not sure whether this is correct. I understand the VSIP must be paid back before I return to work.

Upon re-employing with the government, will I be able to contribute to FERS and the Thrift Savings Plan?

I noticed on the USAJobs website that some Navy notices state you can’t contribute to the retirement or TSP if your a re-employing annuitant. Yet others I read from other government agencies remain silent on this issue.

A. Reg: You can return to work for the government at any time after you accept a VSIP. However, if you accept employment for compensation with the government of the U.S. within five years of the date of the separation on which the VSIP is based, including work under a personal services contract or other direct contract, you must repay the entire amount of the VSIP to the agency that paid it before your first day of re-employment.

Both things you read about re-employment are true. As a rule, your salary would be offset by the amount of your annuity and you would be able to contribute to the retirement fund. If you worked for a full year, you’d receive a supplemental annuity; if you worked for five years, you’d receive a redetermined annuity. On the other hand, there are certain limited authorities that would allow you to return to work and receive both your full annuity and the full salary of your new position. However, you would not be permitted to contribute to the retirement fund and, when you retired again, you wouldn’t be eligible for any additional retirement benefits.

Mike: From published Office of Personnel Management materials: “If a re-employed annuitant is performing service covered by FERS or CSRS (i.e., the appointment is made pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 8468 or § 8344(a), respectively), the re-employed annuitant is eligible to participate in the TSP.

Agency contributions for a FERS re-employed annuitant must begin with the effective date of the reappointment to the FERS position as discussed in Section VI (A) of this bulletin. The re-employed annuitant may make contribution elections as discussed in Section III of this bulletin.

If a re-employed annuitant is not performing covered service (e.g., a FERS annuitant who is re-employed on an intermittent basis or an annuitant authorized to receive full salary and full annuity under P.L. 101-509 or the National Defense Authorization Act of 2004), the re-employed annuitant is not eligible to participate in the TSP.

Generally, re-employed annuitants are performing covered service. In most cases, if the annuitant indicator on the Standard Form (SF)-50, Nature of Action, is coded “1,” “4,” or “5,” the re-employed annuitant is eligible to participate in the TSP. In the case of a FERS re-employed annuitant, this will be reflected in the retirement code (which indicates FERS) because the annuitant is required to have FERS deductions taken from pay.

In the case of a CSRS re-employed annuitant, however, this may not be reflected in the retirement code because the annuitant may not be required to have CSRS retirement deductions taken from pay. Consequently, the retirement code of a CSRS re-employed annuitant may be “4” (i.e., none), though the annuitant is performing service covered by CSRS and is therefore eligible to participate in the TSP.”

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VSIP and Social Security

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Q. I am a FERS employee with 23+ years of federal service and 62 years old. My agency is offering Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay to eligible employees, including those who are retirement-eligible. Would the incentive reduce the amount of Social Security I can draw this year?

A. VSIPs are considered earned income. To find out if accepting one would affect your Social Security benefit, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/rule.htm and see how the “first year rule” would apply to your situation.

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Excess retirement contributions

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Q. I’ve come to understand that excess retirement contributions can be had/applied in two ways for annuity purposes. One is a lump-sum return of same and the other can be applied toward my annuity over the 80 percent.

I’m a CSRS employee and will have almost 43 years of service in May. I also have more than a year’s sick leave on the books, which is another 2 percent, which puts me at 82 percent. If I chose to apply my excess to my annuity, how and what percentages would apply?

A. You would receive an annuity based on 42 years and 11 months of service (80 percent) plus however much additional annuity you would be entitled to based on your unused sick leave. Before your annuity was finalized by the Office of Personnel Management, you’d be given the option of receiving a refund of your excess retirement contributions or using that money to buy additional annuity that, like unused sick leave, isn’t subject to the 80 percent limit.

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First-year rule

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Q. In 2012, what were the limitations for self-employment income for the first year of retirement, which was also the first year I received Social Security benefits?

A. You’ll find what you’re looking for at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/rule.htm.

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Monthly annuity receipt

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Q. I will retire early next year. For purposes of state Medicaid, I need to know, as a retired CSRS employee, whether or not I would receive a monthly annuity receipt in the mail even though I chose direct deposit. If so, would this receipt show the paid monthly health care premium (FEHB) and the amount taken out?

A. No, you won’t receive a monthly annuity receipt in the mail regardless of whether you use direct deposit or have the check mailed to your home. To find out what your monthly premiums are, you’ll have to go to www.opm.gov/healthcare-insurance/healthcare, click on Plan information, then click on Premiums.

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