Are you considering hanging up your cleats and (finally!) joining your retired friends in the stress-free world of retirement? If so, it’s very important that you go have a pre-retirement process in place that ensures you get the most from the benefits you have worked so hard for. What follows touches the surface of the information and process that you should explore regarding your retirement. An adequate pre-retirement process should include, at a minimum, each of the following steps:
You should attend a federal employee pre-retirement workshop. Your Agency or command is required to provide periodic training, including late career training. This training provides a good overview of the range of your benefits and can provide a great jumping off point to dig deeper into the benefit areas that will support your retirement.
You should review your personnel records. The first step is to contact your agency’s human resources office and find out how to review your personnel history. This may involve either looking through a paper file that contains your documents or logging in to an electronic records database. Of primary importance as you do this is that your SCD, Service Computation Date, correctly reflects that you are being credited for all applicable federal service and, if not, identifying errors in your record and correcting them prior to retirement.
You should request a retirement estimate from your human resources office.
If you have a specific retirement date in mind, request an estimate based upon that date, or ask for an estimate of your first eligibility for retirement. When you receive your estimate, at a minimum, you should review your service history, your deposit information, your salary, and your personal information for accuracy. There are many more potential variables that should be verified, as well: prior military service deposits, re-deposits to your CSRS fund, unusual circumstances, survivor benefit options, etc. These verifications are important and could have a major impact on your retirement benefits. If you are not comfortable interpreting the information that you have, you should seek out an advisor with expertise in federal benefits and retirement planning.
You should review your Social Security benefits. If you do not have a current estimate from the Social Security Administration, you can easily obtain one from their website after a simple registration process. There are numerous strategies surrounding when you should begin taking social security, integration of Medicare with your FEHB benefits, and potential WEP or GPO that can have a powerful impact on your retirement, if planned effectively. Here again, knowledge of your benefits and how they coordinate are key.
You should know your insurance benefits. While it is advisable to meet with an advisor who has expertise in all areas surrounding federal and retirement benefits, this is an area where it can be particularly important because so many of the decisions that you make in this area can potentially have large implications for you into your retirement and perhaps beyond, into your spouse’s coverage options and, finally, into the benefits that will accrue to your family. In addition to your FEHB that you will carry into retirement, assuming you have had the appropriate length of FEHB enrollment prior to your retirement, coordination of continuing FEHB benefits to a surviving spouse, making an educated selection with your FEGLI coverage, researching the feasibility of private life coverage to replace or enhance FEGLI and SBP, and understanding the recently created dental, vision and long term care plans now available to retirees are all areas that should be implemented in a coordinated fashion.
You should have a short-term cash flow plan. In addition to the uncertainty of cash and lifestyle needs in your first year of your new life in retirement, many new retirees underestimate the time that it will take for their full retirement pay to be properly calculated and adjudicated by OPM. A sound, long term retirement plan can be stressed right from the start without an eye towards this need.
You should complete a beneficiary review and create a survivor’s checklist. Review the beneficiaries on all of your relevant financial accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, etc. It is common to see beneficiaries of accounts going without appropriate updates during a busy working life, but a transition into retirement provides the perfect opportunity to review all of those designations and ensure that they align with your estate plan. Your survivor’s checklist should be a document that answers all of the basic questions that your survivor will have, i.e. location of documents, contact information for key advisors, lists of accounts, and any other relevant information.
Approaching and preparing for your retirement can be one of the most enjoyable periods of a working life, as plans are made, and you prepare to enjoy the fruits of a productive work career. During this time, though, it is hard to overstate how important it is to educate yourself about all of the benefits and options available to you and the impact your choices can have on the successful enjoyment of retirement. It is certainly an option for successful pre-retirees to be successful in retirement by spending the time necessary to educate themselves until they have gained a comfort level with making decisions about all of the aspects of benefits planning that will impact their retirement. For those pre-retirees not comfortable with taking on that responsibility themselves, and who may view this as akin to building your first airplane and then committing to fly it, a great option is reaching out to an advisor with expertise in federal benefits training and retirement planning for crucial guidance.
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About Gary Fouts:
Mr. Gary Fouts is currently the National Director of Retirement Benefits Training and a Senior Partner for Retirement Systems Solutions. He is responsible for all matters relating to both the development of RSS regional specialists across the nation and the creation of comprehensive and up-to-date training materials for federal, state and local employees or agencies. He specializes in federal, state and local benefits training and coordinates agency-sponsored and public seminars on how to structure retirement benefits. Prior to his current position, Mr. Gary Fouts served in the U.S. Navy, retiring after 22 years of faithful service as a US Navy Intelligence Officer. During that time he was directly responsible for supporting the warfare communities with valuable and timely intelligence. A trademark of his career in this capacity was the ability to inform his war fighting customers of what they needed to know to conduct their mission. He always distinguished between the facts that surrounded a situation and the emotion of the moment. This is a skill that translates directly into his line of work today as a benefits counselor. As our governments continue their never-ending expansion and contraction, now more than ever, it is crucial that all employees have an opportunity to receive clear, objective advice relative to their retirement benefits. Gary Fouts graduated in 1991 from Purdue University (Go Boilermakers!!!). He holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Information Systems and a Masters degree in Quality Systems Management. Mr. Fouts is a very active member of his local church and serves on the board of various charities. He is a devoted husband and father of five children and is married to Dr. Sara Lee Fouts.
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