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December 2014 Benefits Newsletter

What's New?

  1. Benefits Calendar Of Events
  2. The Open Enrollment For The NIH Leave Bank Ends On December 8!
  3. The Federal Benefits Open Season Ends On December 8!
  4. Annual Leave:  Use It Or Donate It!
  5. The 2015 Contribution Limit Increases For The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)

Topics Of Interest:

  1. Can I Make A TSP Catch-Up Contribution?
  2. What Is The Difference Between A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) And A Health Savings Account (HSA)?
  3. Employment And Income Verification – Use TALX – The Work Number ®
  4. Why Do I Need A myPay PIN And How Can I Get One?
  5. Where Can I Find Information On Pay And Leave?

Where Do I Go If I Have Questions About My Benefits?

  1. How Can I Get In Touch With My Benefits Contact?
  2. Previous NIH Benefits Information – Did You Know? E-mails

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What's New?

1. Benefits Calendar of Events

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2. The Open Enrollment For The NIH Leave Bank Ends On December 8!

Open Enrollment for the NIH Leave Bank will run through December 8.  Don’t miss this opportunity!   Enrollment in the NIH Leave Bank is open to all NIH Federal employees.  The 2015 membership period will begin on January 11, 2015. 

The NIH Leave Bank is a pooled bank of donated annual and restored leave available to eligible members.  It offers income protection and amounts to paid leave for members who have exhausted all of their leave and are affected by a personal or family medical emergency/condition.  The NIH Leave Bank has provided leave to NIH employees to cover time out of the office due to personal or family medical emergencies such as surgery, cancer, stroke, childbirth, etc.

To join as a 2015 member, access ITAS NIH-only access during the Open Enrollment and enroll under “Leave Bank Membership.”   If you are currently a 2014 Leave Bank member, your membership will automatically renew, so no action is necessary by you!  If you are a 2014 member and wish to opt-out, you may also do so in ITAS.  

The annual membership contribution is one pay period’s worth of annual leave accrual (i.e. 4, 6 or 8 hours).  For example, if you earn 8 hours of annual leave each pay period, your membership contribution will be 8 hours.  If you do not have sufficient leave to make the membership contribution, you will automatically receive a waiver.  The membership contribution will be deducted from your leave balance during the first pay period in the 2015 leave year.  Therefore, it will be deducted from your 2015 leave balance, not your 2014 “use or lose” balance.  You should see the deduction reflected on your Leave and Earnings Statement for January 30 or February 13, 2015. 

The Leave Bank offers an advantage over the Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP) because eligible members may receive leave from the bank to cover absence for a medical emergency without soliciting donations personally.   In some cases, a solicitation under the VLTP may go unanswered, especially if a recipient is new to the Agency and has not established acquaintances.  A Leave Bank and VLTP comparison can be found on the website. 

For further information about the Leave Bank benefits, please visit Frequently Asked Questions and the NIH Leave Bank website.

To view a list of upcoming Leave Bank events, check out our calendar. These events are free and no registration is required.

Questions may be directed to the NIH Leave Bank Office at 301-443-8393 or LeaveBank@od.nih.gov

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3. The Federal Benefits Open Season Ends On December 8!

Time is running out! The Open Season will run through December 8.  Unless you experience a Qualifying Life Event during the year, the Open Season is your only opportunity to enroll, cancel your enrollment, or make a change to your enrollment for the participating programs.  Now is the time to review and update your benefits, if needed.  Don’t miss out on this important opportunity!
The following three programs are participating in this year’s Open Season for the 2015 plan year: 1) Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program; 2) Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP); and 3) Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) Program.  You should read the Open Season Announcement thoroughly for important information pertaining to each program. 

The new 2015 FEHB plan rates external link icon and plan brochures external link icon are available on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website.  Additionally, the 2015 dental external link icon and vision external link icon plan rates and plan brochures external link icon for FEDVIP are also available.  FEHB and FEDVIP enrollments will automatically continue into 2015, if no action is taken.  However, FSA enrollments do not automatically continue into the new year.

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4. Annual Leave:  Use It Or Donate It!

Annual leave in excess of the annual carryover limitation must be used no later than January 10, 2015. For most employees, a maximum of 240 hours may be carried over from one leave year to the next; however, employees in the Senior Executive Service have a maximum of 720 hours that may be carried over from one leave year to the next.

If circumstances prevent an employee from taking previously approved leave due to sickness, an administrative error or an exigency of public business, the leave may be restored. In order for leave to be considered for restoration, the leave must be: 1) requested and approved in ITAS before the start of the third biweekly pay period prior to the end of the leave year; 2) cancelled before the end of the leave year; and 3) cannot be rescheduled prior to the end of the leave year. Therefore, annual leave in excess of the carryover limitation must have been scheduled no later than Saturday, November 29, 2014.

If you have excess “use or lose” annual leave that you don’t plan to use this year, please consider a donation to others in need of paid leave.  In 2013, over 95,000 “use or lose” annual leave hours were forfeited at the NIH.  Don’t let your leave disappear!  Donations to the NIH Leave Bank or a Voluntary Leave Transfer Program (VLTP) recipient help your fellow NIH employees continue to receive paychecks while experiencing a medical emergency. Donations for both programs can be made quickly in ITAS NIH-only access through the “Donate to Leave Bank” or “Donate to VLTP” function.  For information on the programs, please visit the NIH Leave Bank website or the NIH Voluntary Leave Transfer Program website NIH-only access.

Remember to use it or donate it…but don’t lose it!

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5. The 2015 Contribution Limit Increases For The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)?

The 2015 IRS annual limit for regular TSP contributions will increase to $18,000.  If you are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), you could lose valuable matching Agency TSP contributions by reaching the limit before the end of the calendar year.  If you want equal payments deducted over the calendar year for 27 pay periods, you should contribute $667 each pay period.  If you are currently contributing a lesser or higher amount, but want equal payments withheld over the course of the year that will equate to $18,000, you must enter your election of $667 in myPay (DFAS).
If you enter your myPay external link icon(DFAS) election for 2015 between November 30 – December 13*, 2014, your election will be effective on December 14, the first pay period for 2015.  If your election is entered after December 13, you will need to adjust your election amount.  To determine the adjusted amount, use the Elective Deferral Calculator external link iconon the TSP website external link icon.  If you have additional questions, refer them to your Benefits Contact.  (*It is recommended that you enter your election by December 12, if you want to ensure an effective date of December 14.)

The 2015 IRS limit for TSP Catch-up contributions will increase to $6,000.  Please see topic# 6 below for additional information.

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Topics Of Interest:

6. Can I Make A TSP Catch-Up Contribution?

In addition to regular TSP contributions, you may also make TSP Catch-up contributions (TSP), if you meet the following criteria:  1) you are age 50 or over (or will be age 50 during 2015); 2) you are in pay status; AND 3) you are contributing an amount towards your regular TSP which will cause you to reach the $18,000 IRS limit by the end of the 2015 calendar year.   The 2015 IRS limit for Catch-up contributions is $6,000.   Unlike regular TSP elections, a Catch-up election is only valid for one year.  Therefore, if you want to make Catch-up contributions each year, you must make a new election each year. To make a Catch-up election for 2015, you may make your election at any time on/after November 30 by using myPay external link icon (DFAS).  Be certain to enter the amount you want withheld from your pay each pay period.  If you have questions, please notify your Benefits Contact.

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7. What Is The Difference Between A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) And A Health Savings Account (HSA)?

A Flexible Spending Account external link icon (FSA) is an employee benefit that allows you to set aside money, on a pre-tax basis, for certain health care and dependent care expenses.  There are three types of FSA accounts:  1) Health Care FSA (HCFSA) external link icon; 2) Limited Expense Health Care FSA (LEX HCFSA) external link icon; and 3) Dependent Care FSA (DCFSA) external link icon.  If you made an FSA election for the 2015 plan year during the Federal Benefits Open Season, your election amount will be divided into allotments based on the number of pay dates in the plan year. Every pay date, an allotment is deposited directly into your FSA account. 

A Health Savings Account (HSA) external link icon is an investment account available only to members who are enrolled in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) external link icon under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program.  Your HDHP credits a portion of your premium to the HSA. You also have the option to make pre-tax contributions to the account. The funds in your HSA can be used to pay for your plan deductible and/or qualified medical expenses that do not count towards your deductible. These accounts earn interest and roll over any remaining balance from year to year. The funds are yours to keep whether you change plans, leave Federal service, or retire. Withdrawals can also be used for non-medical expenses. However, it will be subject to income tax, and if you are under age 65, an additional 20% tax penalty.

Important Note:  You cannot have both a HCFSA and an HSA.

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8. Employment And Income Verification – Use TALX – The Work Number ®

The Work Number®, is an automated system that provides proof of employment and income to verifiers. Workforce Solutions is widely known and used by over 50,000 entities including most major financial institutions, mortgage lenders, leasing companies, and private corporations to verify employment and income status of employees. The system provides a secure way for verifiers to obtain your employment information and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Before your information can be released to a verifier, you must give your authorization. NIH employees can use Workforce Solutions - The Work Number® in two easy steps:

  1. Authorize the verification by completing the verifier’s (lender, bank, etc.) authorization form. When you try to access the system as an employee, you will be asked to enter a User ID and a PIN.
    • Your user ID is your full SSN
    • Your initial PIN is the last four digits of your SSN + full birth year (Example: 12341953)

    Note: You will be prompted to enroll in the Enhanced Security or Risk Based Authentication. This is mandatory and must be completed in order to use the system.

  2. Provide the verifier with:
    • Workforce Solutions –The Work Number® access options - www.theworknumber.com external link iconor 1-800-367-5690
    • HHS Employer Code: 14775
    • Salary Key (if needed) (A salary key is a six digit electronic signature created by the employee that is good for a one time use by a verifier)

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9. Why Do I Need A myPay PIN And How Can I Get One?

It is very important to have access to your myPay external link icon (DFAS) account so that you can view your Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) each pay day to verify that the correct deductions are being withheld and that your leave balances on your LES match the balances in ITAS. You must also use myPay external link icon to make changes to your home address, TSP contributions, direct deposit of pay, allotments, Federal tax withholdings, and Open Season health benefits elections. Additionally, some state tax withholdings must be made via myPay external link icon (DFAS). If you move to or from Maryland, you must complete a state tax form for your new state and submit it to the Benefits and Payroll Liaison Branch (Bldg 31/Rm B3C23) for processing. However, for movement between other states and/or the District, you must use myPay external link icon (DFAS).

To access the system, you will need your Login and Password. If you have forgotten your Login or Password, click the “Forgot Your Login ID?” or “Forgot or Need a Password?” link on the left side of the myPay external link icon (DFAS) screen. Using this method, your Password can be e-mailed to you if you pre-registered your e-mail address, or it can be mailed to your current home address of record within 7 to 10 business days.

A second option for requesting a Password is to send a fax to 216-367-3549. You will need to include in your request your name, SSN, a daytime phone number, a copy of your NIH ID Card, and you must sign the fax. Upon receiving your fax, the Defense Finance & Accounting Service (DFAS) will reset your Password using a temporary Password. Your temporary Password will be 8 numbers, the last 4 numbers of your SSN twice. You will not receive a notice from DFAS that your Password has been reset. Simply wait at least two business days before logging into myPay external link icon (DFAS) to use your temporary Password. Upon logging in, you will be prompted to reset your Password. Information pertaining to establishing an acceptable Login and Password can be obtained at myPay FAQs external link icon(DFAS).

If you encounter problems with your Login and/or Password or technical issues using myPay external link icon (DFAS), contact the DFAS Centralized Customer Support Unit toll-free at 1-888-332-7411. This support line is available Monday through Friday, 7:00 A.M. to 6:30 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. They can provide assistance on how to use the options available to you in myPay external link icon. They will also provide support for establishing and changing your Login and/or Password.

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10. Where Can I Find Information On Pay And Leave?

You can find a wealth of pay and leave information on our website. Additionally, you can find information on the most frequently asked payroll questions.

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Where Do I Go If I Have Questions About My Benefits?

11. How Can I Get In Touch With My Benefits Contact?

Your contact in the Benefits and Payroll Liaison Branch will be able to help you with a variety of issues pertaining to the health and life insurance programs, designating beneficiaries, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), calculating your retirement annuity estimate NIH-only access, working with you to pay a redeposit for prior civilian service if you previously withdrew your retirement funds, paying a deposit for prior civilian or military service for which retirement deductions were not withheld, etc. To find your benefits contact, review our list of contacts. In addition, the Benefits and Payroll Liaison Branch (BPLB) website has an abundance of information regarding your Federal benefits. Don’t forget to check out the Benefits FAQs section.

Human resource topics not related to your benefits are normally handled by your Client Services Division HR Representative NIH-only access.

 

12. Previous NIH Benefits Information - Did You Know E-mails

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