Reg Jones Expert's View

Life is full of changes, and those changes can complicate your retirement and insurance benefits. As an active employee, you had your agency’s personnel office to help you with those changes. So as a retiree, where do you turn when “stuff” happens? The Office of Personnel Management. If you’re a retiree, OPM is your personnel office.

One of the most common changes for a retiree is a move. You’ll need to let OPM know your new address so they can send your annuity checks, open season health benefits material, and 1099Rs to the right address. The same goes for “direct deposit” transfers if you’ll be changing banks. If you are enrolled in a health benefits plan that serves a limited geographic area, you may need to change plans. And if you have been having state income tax withheld and are leaving that state, you’ll need to stop the withholding. If you’re moving to one of another state that is participating in the state tax withholding program, you’ll have to make arrangements to start it up there.

If you get married, or divorced, have a baby, acquire a stepchild or foster child, or if your spouse dies, these events may trigger a need to change your health benefits coverage, either from “self only” to “self and family” or vice versa. In addition, you may want to change your designations of beneficiary for life insurance or retirement. You might also want to change your federal and/or state income tax withholding.

Or suppose your child reaches age 22 and is no longer eligible for health benefits under your plan (unless disabled). How can you arrange to temporarily continue their coverage until they get a job that provides them with their own health benefits? And what if you reach age 65 and become eligible for Medicare and don’t need as expensive a plan as the one you’re enrolled in now?

To make the changes you need to make without losing your mind, call OPM’s Retirement Information Office at 1-888-767-6738 (202-606-0500 if you live in the Washington, DC area). The TDD numbers are 1-800-878-5707 or 202-606-0551.

Many of the transactions you may want to make can be completed (or at least initiated) through a phone call to OPM’s Retirement Information Office. That office is staffed with customer service specialists trained to provide information and assistance to you in a wide variety of situations.

When you call, you will be greeted by an automatic answering system. It will guide you through a menu listing the most frequently asked about topics and allow you to record a number of requests for services (such as asking for the forms you need, changing tax withholding, or reporting a death — features that are available 24 hours a day). All of them will require that you provide your claim number (CSA or CSF followed by seven digits), your date of birth, Social Security number and a telephone number where you can be reached. Some of them will require that you use a PIN number. These are provided to all retirees and survivors. Remember to keep your in a safe and easily accessible place.

If you want to speak with a customer service specialist, call between 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday. Not surprisingly, OPM’s phone lines can get very busy at certain times of the month and at certain hours during the day.