Give yourself a pay raise

Friday - 12/9/2011, 2:00am EST

Although your January 2012 pay raise is zero, there's a way you can cut your taxes and boost your take home pay if you take action by Monday. The good part is that it's legal. No guns, masks or duct tape required.

You can:

  • Change plans. Give yourself a raise by enrolling in a health plan with relatively low premiums (as in less than you are paying now or will pay next year). Checkbook Guide author Walton Francis recommends Blue Cross basic (rather than the standard plan), GEHA standard and a number of HD (high deductible) plans like APWU CDHP, GEHA HDHP and Aetna HDHP as well as HMOs like Kaiser, CareFirst Blue Choice high option and Aetna Open Access-Basic.

  • Health Savings Account. Francis says HSA's are the equivalent of "a Roth IRA on steriods." They are offered by high-deductible (HD) plans which put money ($750 to $1,000 for self-only, on a tax free basis) in your account which is yours to use to pay for uncovered medical expenses, or to keep. In some instances the HSA setup in your name by the plan is more than the premiums you pay. GEHA, Aetna and Mail Handlers offer such plans.

  • Flexible Spending Account. You can open an FSA or a Dependent Care Account. The money is taken from your paycheck on a pre-tax basis. You can use it to pay for medical items not covered by your health plan. The catch is that the FSA is a use-it-or-lose-it deal. Money unspent by you is kept by the company that handles the program.

  • Go HMO. If you are in a fee-for-service plan you can sometimes save a lot of money, and paperwork, by joining a health maintenance organization. As with any health plan check with your doctor to see if he or she is part of their network. If so you can save money. Francis gives best-buy ratings to Kaiser, CareFirst Blue Choice high option, Aetna Open Access Basic and MD. IPA.
Many federal agencies have subscribed to Checkbooks on-line guide. Check with your HR department (or a savvy colleague). If so you can shop over the computer. OPM also has an excellent website which also has information on opening an FSA, and on optional dental and vision plans.

Good News/Bad News

The good news is that you still have until Monday to pick your 2012 health plan. The bad news is that is right away. If you don't pick a health plan you'll continue in your current plan. That may be fine, but it could also mean you will be ignoring the chance to save money and, maybe even make a couple of bucks on your health plan.

Last Minute Tips

  • If you are married and have an FEHBP self-only plan and you die, your private sector spouse will not be eligible to get coverage. To guarantee that he/she will be covered, you need a family plan and, if retired, you must provide some kind of survivor benefit.

  • Married federal couples can save a few bucks in premiums if they each get self-only coverage. But that savings can disappear fast if they must satisfy two deductibles during the year.

  • In order to keep your FEHBP coverage in retirement, in most cases you must have been enrolled in one of the plans for the five years prior to retirement. So if you are a fed covered by your private-sector spouse's plan, consider enrolling in one of the FEHBP's low premium plans to satisfy the five-year rule.

  • If you are retired or about to retire never, never drop your FEHBP coverage. Once out, you can't get back in. There are exceptions, however, for people with Tricare or Medicare Advantage coverage. In some cases they can save money by suspending (but not dropping) their FEHBP coverage


    NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

    By Jack Moore

    Ever see a movie where the character falls into a pit of molten lava and sinks away. A post on Wired tests the theory out (in a manner of speaking) and finds out, it ain't likely to happen. That's because lava's density and viscosity — its resistance to flow — are much different than water. So, if you do happen to fall into a pit of molten lava, you will likely float there on top — after bursting into flames.


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