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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Get on the Natch - Part IV

For newcomers, I periodically use this blog to run copies of letters I've received from readers. A few days ago I got this email from a member nearing retirement. It expresses the frustrations of those trying to get accurate information from PERS before making this momentous decision. I've forwarded this to the management and Board of PERS, but wanted to share it more widely. I've removed the sender's name as I always do. If your experiences match this reader's, please let me know. The only way PERS is likely to do anything about it is if the matter gets bigger publicity and more pressure is put on PERS staff to figure out how to address this problem. (And by the way, current retirements have been treated as IF the City of Eugene Settlement and Strunk were already in effect, so it is absolutely not true that PERS doesn't know how this will play out. It has been this way since 4/1/05.)

Hello Marc,

Thanks for all your efforts on your blog. Have been avidly reading it for months now, ever since the Oregonian bit on your blog.

Here's my gripe: No one seems to be dealing with the question of accurate estimates for people soon to retire. My husband plans to retire the end of this year, and in an effort to understand what we're dealing with, we've recalculated his account from 1982 forward to:

1. take into account what his account would have earned had it all been in regular,
2. 11.33% interest for 1999 rather than 20%,
3. 8% interest for the whole account in 2003, 2004 and 2005 (he switched over from 75% variable to 100% regular at the end of 2000), and
4. that his contributions for 2004 and 2005 went into IAP and not into PERS.

We then created a little table that figured out what the variable discount was (difference between the account all being regular and part being variable), multiplied Item 1 above by 2 and added to that the variable discount. Upshot of all this blather is that we think we actually have a fairly good idea of the amount of money that should be in his account by the end of 2005 and how much PERS will have total counting the money match to base a retirement figure on. BUT!! Because apparently the PERS Board hasn't authorized PERS to do all this stuff, we are still stuck with an online Benefit calculator that is basically useless. When we requested another estimate, we were told that our limit was reached and that we had to pay $60 for a new estimate, which, by the way will be figured out USING THE ONLINE BENEFIT CALCULATOR! As I pointed out to the PERS folks, is it right to limit us if our previous estimates were useless?

When I mentioned to a woman at PERS that it seemed like the only thing we could do is put in the retirement papers and if we didn't like the results, stop the retirement process, she seemed upset at the idea of that workaround, then said it would still only be an estimate based on the fact that changes have not yet been made to how they are making their calculations. Aaaaaggghhhhh!!!!!!! How is anyone supposed to be making a cogent decision with inadequate information? At one point, she mentioned that there should have been a prompt on the benefit calculator that would have asked for a dollar amount (to be obtained from PERS and which we had already gotten) that would be the Variable Discount. I told her that I had seen no prompt. She went out and checked and came back and said that apparently someone had taken it off and made no reference to its removal on the site. Why would someone take it off and NOT TELL THE PEOPLE ANSWERING THE PHONES????!!! Ridiculous!!!

We are willing to accept 11.33% interest on 1999, we are willing to accept the IAPs, we are willing to accept the variable discount when it comes to Money Match, so why can't we get a good number, even if someone there has to hand-calculate it? While I can understand them not wanting to hand-calculate for everyone wanting an estimate for the next two years, why not at least accommodate the people looking to retire SOON, like within six months?

I've emailed Customer Service and gotten zero response. I emailed the Suggestion line and a nice man from there has played telephone tag with me for a few days, saying he would help me use the Benefit Calculator (we finally both gave up trying to reach each other), and I talked to a woman yesterday who wasn't anywhere near as helpful as I would have liked, who basically said "this is the way it is, we can't change it."

Can someone PLEASE give this issue some visibility? The window retirees are NOT the only ones who need answers.

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