#82: HR – Are they RIGHT or WRONG?

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Are you a federal employee planning for retirement? Do you know that negative outcomes can be prevented if only you know how to find the correct information and understand all the pieces of the Federal Retirement puzzle? But… what if the information you get from HR or OPM is different than what you think is right? How to verify if it is correct or not?

Tune in to this podcast with Jamie and Micah as they discuss the importance of understanding the rules and regulations for federal employee retirement. Hear the real-life examples of clients who received incorrect information and emphasize the need to consult accurate sources and experienced professionals. Learn about strategies for transitioning into retirement and how to differentiate between emotional and financial readiness for retirement.

Don’t wait; take action now to achieve your desired retirement goals!


What We Cover:

  • What happens when my HR or OPM says something different than I think?
  • What if you follow a piece of advice and it’s wrong? 
  • How to verify if the information you are receiving from your HR is correct.
  • Do you have to be age 60 to do a postponed retirement?
  • Do you need to fill out an application for a postponed retirement? 
  • Will your sick leave be cashed out if you defer or postpone your retirement?
  • Will you receive a lump sum for my annual leave if you defer or postpone?
  • What rules do you retire under if you have reached my MRA by the date that you want to retire but only have 28 years of service and not 30?
  • Is it worth staying the extra 2+ years to get your 30 years?


Action Items:

  1. Know your retirement rules, and verify them in the OPM manual
  2. Work with someone that has a LOT of experience in these areas
  3. FERS Bootcamp


Resources for this Episode:


Ideas Worth Sharing:

Have someone in your corner that has a ton of experience with this and it's not the watercooler corner that lets someone in your corner doesn't mean you got to hire us or a financial planner or something like that. But if something goes out of… Click To Tweet

If you've got a ton of sick leave, and you got a ton of annually banked and we know that this annual leave you're gonna get cash out for and in this particular situation, would like the lump sum doesn't need the lump sum. – Jamie Shilanski Click To Tweet

I would say making sure you understand the difference between a deferred and a postponed retirement is critical because when I talk about the client I was just discussing, that was one of the things they were hearing from their co-workers from an… Click To Tweet

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Full Episode Transcript
With Your Hosts
Micah Shilanski and Jamie Shilanski


You can spend. You can save. What is the right thing to do? Federal benefits, great savings plans too. You can save your own way, with help from Micah and Tammy. You can save your own way. Save your own way.


Micah: Welcome back to the plan, your federal retirement podcast. I’m your host Micah Shilanski, and Tammy couldn’t be with me today. But I got a great runner-up podcast guest and host to be with me, my sister Jamie Shilanski. Jamie, thanks for being on the pod.


Jamie: If you have to come in second place, let it be Tammy Flanagan. I’m just saying.


Micah: Amen to that one. You know, Tammy and I do a great job kind of going through a little bit of kind of the differences. Here’s one side of financial planning. Here’s another side of federal benefits. How do these two kind of married together? Haven’t listened to our previous podcasts with Jamie? Jamie, you are a great financial planner in your own right. You’ve been working with federal employees, helping them retire for a very long time as well. And as we go through this process, sometimes we get batches of like the same type of questions coming in from agencies coming in from different clients coming from different people. But recently, we’ve kind of got this batch of incorrect retirement information about postponed and deferred retirements, and we wanted to walk through a couple of the stories. Luckily, they’re not horror stories right now because our clients are fantastic. They were able to call us and ask before they did something, and we were able to kind of prevent some bad things from happening. So, Jamie, I’d love to run through one of the stories that I ran into that I know you had a couple as well and kind of talk about those. 


Jamie: Yeah, absolutely. What I love about this and you know, plan your federal retirement is that we all get to collaborate. And so it’s interesting when you’re like, Hey, I’ve got a question. Wait a minute, my client asked this question. And in fact, Micah, you and I were talking that our questions were so similar, two completely unrelated different people, that we had to go back and research what agency they were with because we were afraid prior to this conversation, that we had an HR person maybe not understanding or giving out wrong information on benefits. And we wanted to jump in and be like, Hey, can we have a phone call with you and kind of work through this? Now, good or bad? It was two separate agencies. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t lead back to the same person, but it was to separate our agencies between fish and wildlife and National Park Service. But very similar, eerily similar questions.


Micah: Yeah, eerily similar right now. This is one of those things that not everyone can do with all the right information. Like, hands down, that is just the case with it. But at the end of the day, it is your listeners your responsibility to know and understand the rules for your retirement. And this is a bit daunting because you’re gonna have these authorities that can come in. I’ll put myself in the same camp right? You know, we can be an authority speaking on this, but you’re still responsible for knowing this information is right or wrong. This is the reason we strive to always put out great information. This is a reason we bring them on multiple types of professionals on the podcast, making sure we get many points of view to give you the right information going forward. But yeah, you got to know this stuff. So Jamie, walking you through the email that I got late last week and it was a client who had done a postponed retirement now what a postpone retirement is different than a deferred retirement is different than immediate retirement. So a couple rules that we got to remember in order to be eligible to for a pension. I know OPM calls it annuity I don’t call it an annuity because the annuity something you get from an insurance company. In order to be eligible for a pension, you got to have five years of federal service. That’s the minimum once you hit that five years you’re vested, then the question is When can you turn that pension on and is it immediate Is it a postponed or is it a deferred type of retirement? Some other options as well? Board gonna stick to those kind of main ones? Well, we had a client that had a great federal career, she had over 20 years of federal service 23,24. She had he reached her MRA, minimum retirement age, you know, let’s just say it was 57 for discussion, but she’s like, You know what, I’m done. You know, I want to transition I want to go do something else. I got this other career I want to pursue, but I got this golden handcuffs on these federal benefits and I don’t want to give them up ie the health insurance. So enter into this great thing called a postponed retirement or postponed retirement is when you’re eligible for an immediate retirement, ie you can turn your pension on right away. And if you’re eligible for an immediate retirement, and you’ve been an FEHB for five of the previous years, if you meet those two requirements, then you’re eligible maintain your health insurance into retirement. So she could have retired for an immediate retirement, but it would have been a reduced immediate pension because she didn’t have enough years of service Jamie, she only had 20 plus years of federal service, not 30. And if you’re going to retire your minimum retirement age before 60, you gotta have 30 years of service. So she’s in this weird spot. She’s like, I don’t want to stay but I want this health insurance etc. into retirement. What do I do? This one we talked about a postponed retirement you get separate from service. It’s all you’re doing. And then once you reach age 60 because she had more than 20 years of service, we can then go to OPM say Hey, happy birthday myself. I’m over 60. I’d like to turn my benefits on, and she gets to turn on all of her benefits without a penalty in this case, which means she gets her health insurance. I mean, she gets her pension. That means these things come back, which is fantastic. Now, there was a gap. There was a time when she separated so we turn this back on. She didn’t have those benefits. So that’s what we plan for. Jamie, is that passing your street face test so far?


Jamie: Yeah. 100%. I would say making sure you understand the difference between a deferred and a postponed retirement is critical because when when I talk about the client I was just discussing, that was one of the things they were hearing from their co-workers from an agency from their HR was you need to do a deferred retirement because you’re not eligible for a postponed retirement. So there is some information online out there circulating that says in order for you to have a postponed retirement, you have to be age 60.


Micah: Yeah, so there’s a boy and this is the devil is in the details. Folks on this. You really got to be careful because I’m going to tell you and I actually got pulled the email if you want and read what OPM had sent our client. And what they said is true. It is 100% accurate. It’s just missing key information which it gives us a different answer. So my client they separated from federal service, she was three months before she was six years young. We decided to file that postpone retirement application. I don’t have that number off the top my head but we filed the postpone retirement applications at OPM three months in advance just like we’re supposed to. We reelected to bring health insurance on OPM send her an email says hey, great news. We got this information etc. We’re working on it. And then a few weeks later passed by us as Sorry, I had to talk to a supervisor and as we were reviewing your file, we found out you were eligible for an immediate retirement. So we need you to fill out an immediate retirement application and we’re going to cancel this postpone one. And here’s your health insurance selections, yada, yada, yada. So the client was great. She forwarded it right to me, and she says, Does this sound correct to you? And I’m reading it and the first thing is is like oh crap, did we make a mistake? Did she have over 30 years of service? I missed it. So I went back and I looked and I pulled her certified summary of service. I pull it as a 50s. I pulled up all of our notes was like no, she was like 24 and change 25 years of federal service not close to 30. And then I got renounced. Oh wait, the devils in the details. What OPM says is you’re eligible for an immediate retirement. And that is a true statement. Because what is the eligibility for an immediate retirement is MRA and 10 years of federal service, who are saying, Oh, my God, you just had to head out 30 years to serve a second ago? Yes, that’s for an immediate unreduced pension is it have your minimum retirement age and 30 years of service, but you’re eligible for an immediate reduced pension at MRA and 10. So she wasn’t 30. So this was an MRA in 10. They wanted her to filter immediate retirement application that would have resulted in a 5% per year penalty every year. She’s under the age of 62. If she would have filled that out. Now would they have gone back and implement it to 57 where they started at 60 I don’t know what you’re looking for 20 to 10% and 15% permanent penalty, because OPM says this is the form you need to fill up. I was like, hey, great, hard stop on this. This is not the form. Here’s why what OPM said is correct. However, they’re missing this other piece. And that’s the reason we’re not filling out this form. And it’s really challenging because you have this authority coming in Jamie OPM and saying, fill this out to get your retirement. And so what most people think, Oh, I’ll get my retirement. Right and it just as Tammy as I have talked on previous podcast, OPM has even come out said OPM is not responsible for OPM making mistakes. So if OPM makes mistake, you will listener you the retiree are still responsible for what takes place. So this was a case of a near miss with a great client. She brought us in the loop right away. It was like whoa, does this sound right to you were able to course correct and go the right path.


Jamie: You dropped so many profound pieces of information that if you are not savvy in the benefits and how they work, you’re gonna miss it. Right. So one, do you have to be 60 for a postpone retirement? No. All right. And then once who I’ve even heard from another financial professional, they said hey, listen, we’re going to do a separation of service. My clients going to do a deferred or postpone retirement. We haven’t decided yet which one is appropriate. But we’re just going to start

Micah: which box do I check? There’s no choice. It’s all based on age and years of service that there’s no..


Jamie: qualified for right? And then also the consequences of those choices. You know, one of the things that we say over and over again, is that your federal employee health benefits are your greatest benefit, their greatest benefit, but one of those you’re going to jeopardize being able to carry it into retirement, and the other one, you’re not so you know, really understanding how those benefits and what the ramifications are because it’s you, it’s you that this impacts you and your family. And then whether or not you know and so when I was talking to this financial professional, they said okay, my my client is going to go to work. They’re going to tell him that they’re that they’re quitting, and then we’re done. And then you know, when they come back at age 60, then they’ll fill out an application for postpone or deferred retirement. And, you know, knowing what those applications are Knowing that ahead of time, you should have a copy of your complete official personnel file. You know, one of the things you often joke is say when you’re in guess when you’re out you’re a pass through, right so do you have that before you go and retire? One of the things when I was talking to my client that was being encouraged by his HR to take a deferred retirement because similar to yours, you know, his MRA he was doing great there. He’s got 28 years of service in and he says, You know what? I’m just done. I’m just done. I want to go on, I want to do other things. He said, so I’m going to defer my retirement. And when I do that, I’m being told by my HR that I’m going to lose all of my leave when that happens. So Micah, I’d love for you to talk about how the sick leave and annual leave work because there’s two types, right? You have to separate different types. So when we talk about leave, it’s not just one giant bucket. You have your sick leave, and you have your annual leave. One you’ve earned one you’re given one counts towards retirement and benefits. One does not and knowing how those work prior to filling out application for deferred or postponed retirement, make can make or break what you didn’t make your decision on.

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Micah: Yeah, it can make a big difference here right. Okay. So a couple of things. Now, the rules I’m going to say are going to apply to most of us sometimes that these rules can be overwritten. What’s an example these rules can be overwritten if you’re fired for gross misconduct. Michah, what’s an example of gross misconduct if you threw your boss out a window and terminated for gross misconduct, that is a true story. It was the first four windows so luckily, nobody was really hurt. Fired for gross misconduct lost all benefits, right? So, so there are ways that you can mess this up short, short of doing that. Not doing that right. There’s a lot of a lot of areas that this just applies to which is fantastic. So here’s an example annual leave, your annual leave you are eligible to keep now what would I say keep it doesn’t go away. It doesn’t turn into a pumpkin and it’s right yeah, we got the limit on how much we can carry forward etc. Totally get that get that user lose. I totally get that. But when you go to separate, that’s your earned benefit that you have, and that gets cashed out. Whether it’s a postponed, deferred immediate doesn’t matter within the next relative pay cycle, one to two pay cycles that’s going to be cashed out is it one or two depends on the day you separate, right it’s just it’s a practical thing and when it gets kicked out, but that money is yours and it’s coming out that’s your annual leave and separate your sick leave Jamie sick leave this one can vary just a little bit. Sick leave is a workers or retiree benefit. It is not a separated employee benefit. What does that mean? If you go under a deferred retirement? Now let’s give an example. Let’s say you’re 50 years young or below MRA below your minimum retirement age. You have more than 10 years of service but you don’t have the 30 and you just separate you’re like hey, I’m done. You know it’s been real. It’s been fun hasn’t been real fun. I’m out and I’m 50 years old. I got 20 years and I leave and I have 240 for annual leave. Do I get to keep that? Yes, it’s gonna get cashed out but you get that money right that’s gonna come up fantastic. What happens to your sick leave? It turns into a pumpkin. It is gone. You do not keep your sick leave in a deferred retirement because you’re not retiring with the eligibility of an immediate pension. But what about a postpone retirement? I will change my scenario a little bit. I’m 57 with 20 years of federal service. Ooh, this is a little different now right what is different? I’ve met my minimum retirement age is 57. Eligible and I have more than 10 years of federal first 10 years or more of creditable service for retire. I’m eligible for an immediate retirement now it’s penalized 5% wherever your until 62 and so okay, I’m 57 I don’t want to turn the pension on. So I postpone my benefit. Please note that these are differences right. There’s no an option to postpone or defer. It’s what are you eligible for this person put them in a position to be eligible for a postpone retirement, all their benefits are postponed until they can turn it on at 60 or 62, bidding on their years of service. In our example 60. They can turn those benefits on and their sick leave comes on to get air quotes comes back. It gets added to their service for computing their pension. There’s no cash out of sick leave, which is going to happen, but it does increase their pension with that. Under a deferred retirement. I’m 50 years old at 20 years of federal service I’m not special provisions and I’m out, sick leave turn into a pumpkin. When I turn my pension on in the future and apply for that deferred retirement. I do not get my sick leave back.

Jamie: Part distinction here. Sick leave counts towards your time. It does not count towards compensation. So this is not part of your high three compensation. Yes. So make sure you keep that in mind when you’re doing the formulas and calculating your immediate pension. Also another thing that most clients I speak with don’t realize is that that’s that annual leave when it is cashed out. It is fully taxable income that you’re receiving. So if you’ve been like many federal employees, just banking and banking and banking leave, and then you’re looking for at that end, you’re gonna get that lump sum payment. Don’t forget that lump sum is 100% taxable.

Micah: Yeah, it’s taxable. Now a couple questions come up with that lump sum Jamie. One is, Hey, can I put that lump sum annual leave into my TSP? No, you while it is earned income that you have? You’re no longer an employee, your employee status terminated, right? Can you put that does that money qualify to fund an HSA? An IRA or a Roth IRA? Yes, it does. Why? Because it’s earned income. Right. So even though you’re separated, you are paid earned income. So this happens to a lot of our retirees as they separate on 12/31. They get that nice lump sum annual leave and they’re like, Hey, I’d still like to fund my Roth IRA for this year. Great news. You have earned income you absolutely can’t But Micah, I’m not working hard. But when was your check paid off? Your check was paid out for that earned income that still counts as this year’s income. Great news. We can still fund Roth IRA accounts with earned income for you and your spouse potentially. So yeah, there’s that little bit of the differences there. Jamie had some other questions that came up around this too, right?

Jamie: Yeah, yeah. It was such a is such a good case because of the amount of information they were researching online. The things the answers they were getting from their HR, which were not false, but just a little bit misleading. Okay. And so Micah, you touched on the you know, they’ve they’ve hit their MRA they got 28 years of service you know, What rules do I retire under? Right? So that’s your MRA and 20. Right? Or we can look at postponing that retirement until age 60.

Micah: Right. Or 60 and 20 Yep.

Jamie: 60 and 20 And they said, alright, you know, if I’ve got 28 years of service, do I just suck it up and do my next two years, you know, and that became, from my perspective, there’s two sides of that coin. There’s emotional and there’s financial. So emotionally, he’s done. Right like, time served 28 years. It’s been real it’s been fun. It’s not always been real fun. But I’m ready to tap out. You know, but you look at that. And you say, gosh, if I just waited two more years, than I would be MRA I’d have my 30 years is it financially worth it? So we look at that emotional point. And then we look at the other side, and we look at that financial point to say, is it worth it to maximize my retirement because what else is going to happen during that two years? He’s also hopefully going to get a step increase, right, could be eligible for different promotions, perhaps, right? They have so maybe these things start happening as well and we can’t make retirement decisions based on Will I get a step increase? Will I get a cost of living adjustment? Will I get a promotion? Because that’s a never ending game, right? That’s chasing the horizon. That is I’m always waiting for that next big win before I make a financial decision. And instead, we need to look at it and say, Okay, if you’ve got a ton of sick leave, and you got a ton of annually banked and we know that this annual leave you’re gonna get cash out for and in this particular situation, would like the lump sum doesn’t need the lump sum. So can we do something to elongate that 24 or those 24 months to sort of make it more tolerable? Could we sprinkle in more leave? Could you to take two weeks off every single quarter over this next two years, and all sudden that horizons not moving? Right now I’ve got an end goal. Now I know how I’m getting to that extra 24 months I need to hit my 30 years of service. And this is where I think talking to somebody that’s dispassionate makes a ton of sense, because you alone can speak to the emotional component if you’re a breaking point, and you just cannot take continuing service. You gotta you gotta write. Can and there’s other options too. Right. Micah, you worked with a client similarly that we had to do something like this to get to that 30 years.

Micah: Yes, there’s a couple of there’s a lot of questions going on in that case, right one is, is it worth me to stay another couple of years? Well, there’s two elements to retirement, Jamie, that we always talk about, right? There’s the financial and there’s the emotional side of it. You got to have both in order to be eligible to retire and be financially able to be able to be retired, yet financially independent, which is going to be emotionally ready to kind of say, you know, I’m done. And I got clients on both sides of this and I know you do as well, that they’re more than financially APR, but they’re saying, Hey, I liked the mission. I liked the drive. I’m not done yet. And so they keep going for it rock on. We have clients that are like, Ah, I’m done. I’m done. But they’re not like going into the agency. Yes, but I’m not quite financially there. Okay, so now we’re gonna talk about how to bridge that gap. I’m with you. Don’t make this a chasing the horizon question. This needs to be a What am I solving for question. And if you’re solving for the most retirement, then never retire because your retirement will always be more but then you’re never going to get retirement. Hmm. Yeah, that’s the problem that when it’s okay though, we’re solving for financial or resolving for emotional what is that? Let’s take this case that they’re not quite ready to be financially retired in this scenario, right? It’s making it up that there’s close but they really need that 30 years. They need that immediate pension, they need that health insurance, etc. Well, we got some options one you get burned annual leave. Yeah, that’s absolutely an option. And I know we’re resistant to that in the federal employee side. We like to hold on to that annual leave is like a savings account. Is that bank account?

Jsamie: Scorecard. It is but sometimes, sometimes it’s

Micah: a mental health day right about you gotta take these things. Another thing we’ve used a lot with clients leave without pay. You are an eligible as you know, you can take up to six months leave without pay within a calendar year and it has zero effect on your retirement. It’s fantastic. Now, what’s the problem with it? Everyone’s saying in their mind, I can’t get six months without leave without pay. Okay, that could very well be the case. There’s two problems with leave without paying number one, it’s leave without, hey,you’re not getting a paycheck in this time. No money, there’s no money. So what are you going to do in the meantime? That’s one problem with that second one’s your supervisor has to approve it. And I’ve been in the case multiple times or a supervisor won’t approve an extended period. But Jamie, we’ve been able to work with clients and getting at a different angle. And a lot of times this is saying hey is having a good relationship with the supervisor and come in and say look, I am burnt out. I know I need to work. I don’t have short staffed but you’re short staffed you need to get some things done. So here’s what I like to do. I could turn my retirement paperwork in today because I’m eligible because you are not for any unreduced pension, but you are eligible to leave I was like, but I don’t want to do that. What I’d love to do is incorporate some leave without pay half a day a week. I’d like Friday afternoons off, leave without pay. Let’s try it for three months. If it doesn’t work, we’ll come back. But let’s give it a shot. Then you can incorporate a little leave it out pay with a little leave. Now son, you’re only burning half your leave with your leave and you’re getting a day off. Then we expand that to Friday afternoons to Friday mornings, then goes on Friday mornings to Mondays as well right now you got 40 weekends and houses all right, I can last a pretty long time to in three days versus five in the office so it affects your paycheck does not affect your high three for retirement purposes will affect your paycheck on a monthly basis. So there’s ways that you can kind of push this together to make sure but again, this is you understanding how the rules work, which makes us work.

Jamie: I love that and just knowing where their mile marker is knowing, you know, so oftentimes when I talk to pre-retirees, it’s I never get to retire and then also knows I need to retire right now, right now. And if we could just blend those two if we can create a strategy that just says, Hey, I’m going to start dialing this down and almost pre practicing retirement right? And just start burning my leave and then taking leave without pay and segue into retirement. You’re getting ready. Your spouse is getting ready, your agency’s getting ready and you just start segue into this next chapter of your life, which I like a lot.

Micah: I love it. Well Jamie, as you know, this podcast is all about action items. It’s not just about listening to this and having a great time. Of course we enjoy that. It’s about taking this to the next step in really improving your life. So Jamie, what’s the first action item our listeners should be doing this week.

Jamie: This first action item this can be a great question for you, Micah, is there’s a ton of online information out there but if you’re a federal employee and you want to know what is accurate about your benefits without learning the hard way, who do you listen to? Where do you go to check those?

Micah:  That’s such a great one. Well, slightly biased plan your federal retirement .com, that is our website. We do fill it with great information for you, the federal employees, so to make sure you understand it, but you back that up with the OPM handbook right now where people get in trouble Jamie with the OPM handbook and that’s where this particular OPM persons is getting an issue with is he read that one page of the OPM handbook he’s like, Oh, look, look, it meets all those Check, check, check, check checks and pages, but there are more pages. So it’s it’s not just the one page that reads to the answer you want. You have to see if there’s anything else which contradicts that. So know what the OPM manual says, know what the OPM handbook says, and be able to reference that. Also, I’m gonna say action item number 2. Have someone in your corner that has a ton of experience with this and it’s not the watercooler corner that lets someone in your corner, doesn’t mean you got to hire us or a financial planner or something like that. But if something goes out of whack, who do you turn to? That has your best interest there that understands these rules? And I want you to have that person lined up before you need them.


Jamie: Great questions today, Micah and I have been just real-life cases from real federal employees at different agencies, and how similar their cases were. And they were both getting just slightly incorrect information. Right? They weren’t getting the whole picture. And that would have deep ramifications on the way that they retired.

Micah: And joining and talking about the third one, but it was very similar to the first two that I got another one that was kind of the same thing with a postponed retirement. People didn’t know about the application, right? They wanted him to fill out the application when he was separating was like, Nope, that’s not what the rules say. We don’t fill this out when we’re separating. So again, knowing and understanding these rules, and when do you fill out the retirement for posts of the application for the retirement? Most before you’re supposed to turn it on? Three months before you’re supposed to turn it on? Correct. That’s what OPM is requesting. That’s what they have it down in writing. Hopefully, that’ll move to six months so they can be a little bit ahead on the process, but you’re supposed to submit it three months in advance of turning that on. What do I say turning it on because there are some different rules on when you may want to do that and what you’re eligible for but that’s, that’s what you’re going for. Alright, Jamie, this podcast has been a blast kind of going through and really appreciate it. Again, it’s all about the action items and it’s about our listeners taking action with these things, which is super, super important. But until next time, happy planning, happy planning.


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