Caveat Emptor: Consumer (of Information in this case) Beware

Pinnacle Personnel Services, LLC  |  Debbie Hatch

Caveat emptor is latin for “buyer beware”.

I think it can apply to more than financial purchases though.  Today I’m using it as a warning for the information we consume.

If I were going to give you one single bit of advice about your retirement, it would be this:

“Take care of yourself.  Learn as much as you can.  Ask questions but don’t be afraid to verify the answers you receive.” 

Here’s why.

Humans sometimes make mistakes.

I doubt that’s real news.  Here’s what we don’t think about though.  It applies even the “experts” we rely on to get it right. Even your human resources specialists, even your benefits office, even (gasp) the Office of Personnel Management and Social Security Administration and even me.

Humans sometimes make mistakes. Let me show you a couple of recent examples.

YOU need to take care of your own personal business.

I received this email during lunch a couple of days ago.

The employee had been to my class and I’d mentioned Tricare can count toward the five-year requirement for being able to carry federal health benefits into retirement. I also said, “FEHB must be in place when you retire if you would like to keep it.  You can suspend the FEHB after you retire in order to use Tricare and, if you do suspend, you can come back during a future open season.”

Now she was being told something completely contrary by her human resources office.

Here’s my response:

Sometimes we want something to be true so badly that

we cling to inaccurate information.

A former student wants to retire under MRA+10 but also desperately wants to receive the FERS Annuity Supplement.  I’ve provided documentation to her (Chapter 51 CSRS/FERS Handbook, 5 U.S.C. 8421 and 8421a, and 5 CFR 842, Subpart E) that she will not qualify for the supplement under the MRA +10 retirement option.  She really wants it though and is looking for any glimmer of hope.

So she keeps sending me, “but I found this” and “but, so and so (even my HR – which is both sad and concerning, but – humans) says I’ll get it” messages.

She even did “research” on Google and came across this article from last October.

I believe Mr. Jones simply made a typo in the article. Look at his wording. “Even if you are under age 62 when you apply for your annuity, you’ll be entitled to receive the special retirement supplement…” If he meant, “you’ll get the supplement” he would have written, “If you are under age 62 when you retire” not “even if”.

I would tell him as much except the comment section on the article is corrupt. I can type but when I try to post, it acts crazy and makes my screen flutter. So, I’m at least posting it here:  for the audience that trusts me to provide accurate information. Please note: My intent is not to shame the author – people do make mistakes. Sometimes those are really important things not to get wrong but still, we’re humans.  This article should have been corrected or rescinded back in October.

What’s my point?

There’s a TON of retirement information “out there”.
There are a ton of people who write articles and blogs on the topic.

There’s a ton of great information.
There are a ton of errors, typos, misunderstandings, and false assumptions.

You can answer shop. You will likely find some article, somewhere that supports your thought. That doesn’t mean it’s factual.

If you are told anything about your retirement and/or benefits that doesn’t make sense to you, that is contrary to what you thought or even have heard before, please (please) don’t be afraid to ask questions. That includes absolutely anything I say here, or in class.

The fact that people trust me is a HUGE deal to me.

I will never knowingly risk losing that trust.

This is why I try my best to back up everything I saw with a regulatory reference.  I can and do make mistakes – but I also promise to rectify them the second they are brought to my attention (well, after I do the appropriate research to validate the new information).


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