Federal Retirees to Receive BIGGEST COLA Boost in Years

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Federal retirees will receive a cost-of-living adjustment of 2.8 percent in their benefits next year, the largest increase in more than a decade.

The boost—which applies more broadly to recipients of Social Security benefits—comes on top of a 2 percent boost in 2018. That increase came after a couple of years of very low percentage COLAs. The 2017 increase was only 0.3 percent.

The annual COLA is based on the percentage increase in the average Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for the third quarter of the current year over the average CPI-W for the third quarter of the last year in which a COLA became effective.

The 2.8 percent increase applies to retirees under the Civil Service Retirement System. Those under the Federal Employees Retirement System will receive 2 percent. FERS employees only receive the full percentage increase if it is less than 2 percent. If the change is 2 percent to 3 percent, FERS retirees get 2 percent. And if the increase is 3 percent or higher, FERS retirees receive 1 percentage point less than the full increase.

“CSRS retirees and Social Security recipients will be pleased to see their benefits increase by 2.8 percent in 2019, the largest increase since 2012,” said Richard Thissen, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of FERS retirees will be wondering why they are only receiving a 2 percent COLA when the relevant measure of consumer prices increased by 2.8 percent.”

“It is past time for Congress to ensure FERS retirees receive a full COLA each year,” Thissen added.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said, “As retired federal employees welcome the increase in their monthly pensions in 2019, it’s a good time to remind them and all future retirees that such routine cost-of-living adjustments cannot be taken for granted. The administration has not given up its plan to eliminate COLAs for federal employees who retire through the Federal Employee Retirement System, and severely cut them for those in the Civil Service Retirement System.”

The new COLAs will take effect starting with federal retirees’ December 2018 benefits.

Now for those wanting to retire soon and take advantage of this full COLA for 2019, must be retired by October 31, 2018.  Give us a call Today, or contact us and learn more about this and how we will help you.  You may still have time.

THE USPS Announces New Changes for 2019

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The Postal Service has just announced price changes to take effect next year.

The USPS governors approved the proposed changes, which will be reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) before they take effect Jan. 27. The governors believe these new rates will keep the Postal Service competitive while providing the agency with needed revenue.

The changes, if approved by the PRC, include a 5-cent increase in the price of a First-Class Mail Forever stamp from 50 cents to 55 cents.

The single-piece additional ounce price will be reduced to 15 cents, so a 2-ounce stamped letter, such as a typical wedding invitation, will cost less to mail, decreasing from 71 cents to 70 cents.

The changes include adjustments to other Mailing Services products, as well as Shipping Services products.

Here are the current and proposed prices:

  • First-Class Mail letters (1 ounce): 50 cents (current), 55 cents (proposed)
  • First-Class Mail letters (additional ounces): 21 cents (current), 15 cents (proposed)
  • First-Class Mail letters (metered 1 ounce): 47 cents (current), 50 cents (proposed)
  • First-Class Mail outbound international letters (1 ounce): $1.15 (no change from current price)
  • First-Class Mail domestic postcard stamps: 35 cents (no change from current price)
  • Priority Mail small flat-rate box: $7.20 (current), $7.90 (proposed)
  • Priority Mail medium flat-rate box: $13.65 (current), $14.35 (proposed)
  • Priority Mail large flat-rate box: $18.90 (current), $19.95 (proposed)
  • Priority Mail Army/Air Post Office and Fleet Post Office large flat-rate box: $17.40 (current), $18.45 (proposed)
  • Priority Mail regular flat-rate envelope: $6.70 (current), $7.35 (proposed)
  • Priority Mail legal flat-rate envelope: $7 (current), $7.65 (proposed)
  • Priority Mail padded flat-rate envelope: $7.25 (current), $8 (proposed)

Overall, the proposed prices would raise Mailing Services product prices by approximately 2.5 percent.

Shipping Services price increases vary by product. For example, Priority Mail Express prices will increase 3.9 percent, while Priority Mail prices will increase 5.9 percent.

Although Mailing Services price increases are based on the consumer price index, Shipping Services prices are primarily adjusted according to market conditions.

USPS filed the proposals with the PRC Oct. 10. The complete price filings are available on the PRC’s site under the Daily Listings section, and price change tables will be available on the Postal Explorer site.

The Postal Service’s news release has more information.

How Attempts at Fixing the Civil Service System Have Made It Worse Off

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Federal human resources officials on Wednesday said that congressional efforts to fix an outdated civil service system have complicated it as much as they have improved it.

Lawmakers have repeatedly taken a piecemeal approach to providing relief to laws governing the federal workforce that date back to the 19th century and were last updated on a wholesale basis in 1978, but federal officials said those agency-by-agency and job-by-job laws have created an overly layered and disparate series of special authorities. The HR professionals made their comments at a panel discussion in downtown Washington, D.C., hosted by Government Executive.

“Over the years we’ve seen special authorities, special regulations solve specific problems,” said Mary Pletcher, the Agriculture Department’s chief human capital officer. “But what it’s also done is create a very complicated system.”

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Col. Gregory Johnson, chief of the Army’s Functional Management Division, Integrated Personnel and Pay System, said the military maintains 300 different pay systems. Those have piled up over the course of several decades, he said, and are now posing problems for the Defense Department.

“How do you understand soldiers’ talent in the military, how do you manage 1.1 million people when you have that many systems that are disparate, where the data is fractured?” he asked. “How do you do that?”

Johnson said the Army is seeking to address that question by creating an Integrated Personnel and Pay System, a project he is spearheading. The goal is to centralize all the data from all the different systems into one place, clean it up and use it to evaluate the workforce. This will enable a whole new personnel management system, he explained, and allow the Army to better evaluate each soldier’s talents to better match them to the service’s needs.

The Army is unveiling the system in phases, starting with the National Guard next year. By 2020, it will fold all Reserve and active-duty personnel into the integrated system. Johnson said those initiatives will help change the overall ethos at the Army.

“We’ve been around for a long time and culture change is hard,” he said. “So as we take a look at our current personnel processes and try to drive a talent management process, the system will help us change.”

While the military is moving the ball forward on HR simplification and consolidation, Pletcher said the civil service laws and regulations applying to civilian employees have become so complicated that very few people in government actually understand all of them. Meanwhile, she explained, lengthy hiring times and career ladder climbing have remained rigid. That has all added up to agencies losing out on top talent.

“All of the special legislative authorities, the pilot authorities…the intent is to solve specific problems, but they create even more complexity because we still haven’t changed the underlying system,” Pletcher said.

Agencies do have flexibilities, she said, but they struggle to educate their managers on what they are, how they work and whether they are legally applicable in certain situations.

“The amount of knowledge that’s required to navigate all of those different flexibilities, all of the different ways to make the system work more, while they may exist, they add a lot of complexity,” Pletcher said. “And some human capital officers say they have too many authorities right now.”

That has complicated things not just for HR professionals but for hiring managers as well, some of whom only bring on a few employees each year and struggle to keep track of all the latest authorities. Pletcher estimated USDA will hire 8,000 permanent employees and 15,000 seasonal workers next year, and each job category will come with its own recruiting challenge.

Johnson explained in blunt terms the dichotomy between what soldiers currently face in their day-to-day jobs versus what they deal with when making broader career decisions.

“We ask soldiers to go in and make life and death decisions,” Johnson said, “but we don’t really tell them what their personnel actions are.”

Not The Best Day in the Markets Today

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Stocks sank today, Wednesday as a steep decline in tech shares and worries of rapidly rising rates sent Wall Street through its worst day in months.

The Dow closed 831 points lower as Intel and Microsoft fell more than 3.5 percent each. The Nasdaq plummeted more than 4 percent.

The S&P 500 dropped 3.3 percent, with the tech sector underperforming. The broad index also posted a five-day losing streak — its longest since November 2016 — and fell below its 50-day and 100-day moving averages, widely followed technical levels.

Both the Dow and S&P 500 posted their biggest one-day drops since early February, while the Nasdaq notched its largest single day sell-off since June 24, 2016.

Stocks have fallen sharply this month. For October, the S&P 500 and the Dow are down more than 4.4 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively. The Nasdaq has lost more than 7.5 percent.

Rising rate fears and a pivot out of technology stocks have made it a rough last few days. The Dow has dropped in four of the past five sessions, losing nearly 900 points over that span.

Why is this important?  Some are saying that the Bull run could be ending.  So should you keep your TSP in the Risky investments, or move it over to the G Fund.  Better yet, let us help explain

alternative to the Thrift Savings Plans.  We know it would put your mind at ease knowing you could still have safety of principal, but still with upside potential.  If that is something you would like

to learn more about, please request your Free Retirement Review today.

health premiums

OPM Announces Lowest Federal Employee Health Care Premium Increase in Two Decades

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The Office of Personnel Management announced Wednesday that federal employees will see the cost of their health insurance increase by 1.5 percent in 2019, the smallest hike in more than 20 years.

Enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program with coverage only for themselves will on average pay an additional $1.53 each bi-weekly pay period next year. Those on full family plans will pay $2.55 more per pay period, while people in self-plus-one coverage will pay an additional $3.06.

The average increase in the government’s contribution to FEHBP premiums in 2019 will be 1.2 percent. OPM contributes roughly 72 percent toward premiums, which is based on a weighted average of the plans that enrollees choose.

The overall increase in premiums, including both employee and government contributions, will be 1.3 percent next year. That marks the slowest growth in health care costs since 1996, and the smallest increase in enrollees’ share since 1995, said Alan Spielman, director of health care and insurance at OPM.

“We still encourage enrollees to shop around for coverage and evaluate alternatives,” Spielman said in a call with reporters. “Even if you are only seeing a modest increase [in your current plan premiums] or a decrease, you might be able to find better value if you evaluate your needs and the choices available.”

Spielman said there could be a number of factors driving down price increases, including a regulatory change that allows all insurers to provide up to three plans of any type.

“There are a number of dynamics at play here,” he said. “Certainly, OPM and all of the carriers have been focused on quality improvement and achieving more affordable programs here . . . and there are a number of trends along those lines. They also include things like renegotiating provider contracts, and introducing programs like pharmacy management and chronic care management.”

Spielman said that next year, there is a moratorium on the Affordable Care Act’s health insurer provider fees.

Exact changes to premiums will vary based on the plans enrollees choose, and some will even decrease. For instance, for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Standard Option—the most popular plan—self-only enrollees will pay $0.93 less per pay period, enrollees in family coverage will pay $3.74 less per pay period, and self-plus-one enrollees will pay $1.27 less each pay period.

For the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program, where there is no government contribution, dental plan premiums will increase 1.2 percent on average in 2019, while vision plans will drop in price by 2.8 percent. This marks the first year that uniformed service retirees and their families can enroll in FEDVIP dental plans—the equivalent TRICARE plan will stop at the end of 2018—and the first year that active duty service members’ families can enroll in vision plans.

Open season for selecting or changing plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program will run from Nov. 12 until Dec. 10.

Get the Federal Retirement and Benefits Review today.  Request one here.

Best Dates To Retire in 2019

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It’s time for our annual look ahead at the best dates to retire in the next year. As always, your retirement coverage under the Civil Service Retirement System (including CSRS Offset) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (including transfers to FERS) will be an important factor in choosing the best date.

CSRS

Some of the best dates to retire for CSRS employees occur when the end of the month (or one of the first three days of the month) coincides with the end of a leave period. This allows a final leave accrual (remember, annual leave is paid in a lump sum after you separate) and also ensures that the day after your separation is the first day you begin accruing CSRS retirement benefits.

The best dates for CSRS in 2019 that will allow a retirement at the end of the month (or within the first three days of a month) and also at or near the end of a leave period will be Jan. 3, Feb. 1, March 1, March 30, Aug. 2, and Aug. 31. Jan. 3, 2020, would also work, because it’s within the 2019 leave year.

The following dates would also work for CSRS, but would not earn a final leave accrual since they are not at the end of a pay period: May 3, May 31, June 30, July 3, Sept. 3, Oct. 3, Oct. 31, Nov. 1, Nov. 30, and Dec. 3.

FERS

All immediate, optional FERS retirement benefits start the first day following the month of retirement. This means, for example, that regardless of whether you retire on Oct. 1, 2, 15, or 31, your first FERS retirement benefit will be paid on Dec. 1 for the month of November. Your salary will cease on the last day of your federal employment. If your goal is to have your retirement benefit begin in October, then Sept. 30 would be the best date for you. FERS employees should focus on choosing a date at the end of the month, even if it is a Saturday or a Sunday, since these days can be included in the computation of service credit.

Retiring at the end of a leave period can be good, even though your salary will stop on that date and your retirement won’t start until the first day of the following month. This is because you will be paid your salary for the days that you worked during that last month, which could be more valuable than the retirement benefit you would forfeit. Because the benefit is computed very differently under FERS than CSRS, be sure to consider the tradeoff of salary for retirement benefit when you are choosing an end-of-leave-period retirement date that isn’t near the end of the month.

Also, remember that your payroll office pays your salary two weeks behind and the Office of Personnel Management may take a few months to process your retirement application. So your first retirement payment may not arrive on the first day of the month. You may receive several interim retirement payments from OPM until your claim is finalized and monthly payments begin.

Leave Considerations

Is it important to you to receive a large lump sum payout of your annual leave? If the answer is yes, the end of the leave year is the time to plan your departure. FERS employees who have a substantial amount of creditable service would benefit from a Dec. 31, 2018 or Dec. 31, 2019 departure and CSRS employees might choose Jan. 3, 2019 or Jan. 3, 2020. Although this won’t be the end of the leave year, it will allow 25 leave accruals and receipt of your first retirement benefit for the month of January (payable on Feb. 1).

If maximizing your lump sum annual leave payout is not that important to you, then remember you will be paid for your accumulated and accrued annual leave regardless of the exact date you retire.

Are you ready to explore some specific dates in 2019? Request your Free Retirement Review Today and we will also e-mail you the Best Dates To Retire Calendar. 

Could Your TSP Portfolio Withstand a Bear Market

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According to J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Guide to the Markets and Since March of 2009, the S&P 500 has gained over 300%.  Unfortunately, when long-run bull markets end, the decline can be dramatic.  In fact, the average bear market return is -45%.  Are you one of those that are still in the Risky Funds within your TSP? Can you afford for your $100,000 invested balance to become $55,000?  Better yet your $250,000 invested balance to become $137,500?

Plus, it can take a significant return to recover from the loss.  If today’s bull market turns bear, and you are nearing retirement, do you have time to make up for a large loss?

First, what is a bear market?  A bear market is defined as a 20% or more decline from the previous market high.  The bear return is the from the peak down to where it starts to return gains again.  You can lose thousands in just a short amount of time, but takes months or sometimes years to gain it back.

During your Federal Retirement Review with one of our Consultants, make sure you ask them how you can help Protect your Thrift Savings Plans, while still have a reasonable rate of return, and I’m sure you will be happy with what they tell you.

To Schedule your Personalized Federal Retirement Review – Contact us Today.