National Retirement Security Week 2016

This year’s National Retirement Security Week runs from October 16 through 22. It’s a good time to reflect on your personal financial goals and see if you’re on target to meet them. You can ask yourself questions like, “Will I have enough income when I’m retired?” If the answer isn’t clear, you can start taking steps to improve your retirement security.

The Three-Legged Stool: An Example of Retirement Security

Think of your future retirement as a three-legged stool. Each leg represents a different income source that can support you in retirement. The first leg of the stool is your NYSLRS defined benefit pension. Your NYSLRS pension will provide you with a monthly benefit for life based on your service credit and final average salary. The second leg on the stool is your Social Security benefit. Your Social Security benefit is based on how much you earned during your working career. For more details about your Social Security benefit, please visit the Social Security Administration’s website.

The third leg is your own personal savings, such as your own bank or investment accounts. Your personal savings can bridge the gap between what your NYSLRS pension and Social Security will provide. All together, these three legs can support you over the course of your retirement.
Retirement Security in 5 Steps

Ways to Save for Retirement

If you haven’t been maintaining your personal savings, you should start saving as early as possible. The best way to get into the savings habit is to just do it. Here are some suggestions to get into the saving habit:

Also consider looking into accounts that use compound interest. When your money is compounded, it increases in value by earning interest on both the principal and accumulated interest. That way, the more time your money has to grow, the better off you’ll be.

Remember, retirement security just doesn’t happen – it takes planning. You can learn more about retirement planning and our 5 Step Plan for achieving your financial goals on our website.

What is the CAFR?

Last week, we published the latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). This annual report gives a clear view about how both NYSLRS and the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) are managed. This year’s CAFR covers our last State fiscal year, from April 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016.

The CAFR and Transparency

Each year when the CAFR is prepared, we strive to make sure the data is accurate, complete, and clear. For example, the financial section was prepared in keeping with accounting principles established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, and reporting requirements outlined by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. These principles set standards for financial accounting and reporting. By following them, we can see how we compare with other government entities using the same standards, ensure our data is consistent between accounting periods, and provide reliable financial statements to the public.

Comptroller DiNapoli is responsible for the Fund’s management. He ensures that investment policies and practices follow the highest levels of ethical conduct and transparency. The CAFR aids in transparency by providing historical data and extensive detail about the Fund’s audited assets, liabilities, investments, and transactions.

The CAFR provides many facts and figures about both NYSLRS and the Fund. Here are some statistics from the past fiscal year:

  • As of April 1, 2016, there were a total of 647,399 NYSLRS members; 612,294 in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and 35,105 in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).
  • As of April 1, 2016, there were 440,943 NYSLRS retirees, 78 percent of whom live in New York.
  • As of April 1, 2016, there were a total of 3,040 participating NYSLRS employers.
  • The largest holdings in the Fund’s portfolio include:
    • Apple, Inc.
    • General Electric Company
    • AT&T, Inc.
    • Exxon Mobil Corp.
    • Microsoft Corp.
  • The Fund has invested approximately $9 billion with minority- and women-owned business enterprises since Comptroller DiNapoli took office in 2007.

This fact sheet (PDF) summarizes many other NYSLRS statistics you’ll find in the new CAFR. You can also find back issues of the CAFR on our website.

What to Know About ERS Tier 5

Any Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) member who joined NYSLRS on or after January 1, 2010 but before April 1, 2012 is a member of Tier 5. There are currently 53,123 ERS Tier 5 members who make up 8.7 percent of ERS.

ERS Tier 5 Membership Milestones

As a Tier 5 member earns service credit over their career, they become eligible for certain benefits in their retirement plan. Here are some important milestones for Tier 5 members: 

ERS Tier 5 member milestones

ERS Tier 5 Contributions

Most Tier 5 members must contribute 3 percent of their salary for all their years of service, except Uniformed Court and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System, who must contribute 4 percent for all their years of public service. State Correction Officers contribute 3 percent for no more than 30 years.

With the exception of those retiring under special retirement plans, Tier 5 members must have 10 or more years of service to be vested (eligible for a retirement benefit). They can retire as early as age 55 with reduced benefits. The full benefit age for Tier 5 is 62.

The Final Average Salary (FAS) Calculation

The retirement benefit for Tier 5 members is 1.66 percent of their final average salary (FAS) for each year of service if the member retires with less than 20 years. FAS is the average of the wages earned in the three highest consecutive years of employment. For Tier 5 members, each year’s compensation used in the FAS calculation is limited to no more than 10 percent above the average of the previous two years.

If a Tier 5 member retires with between 20 and 30 years of service, the benefit is two percent of their FAS for each year of service. If a Tier 5 member retires with more than 30 years of service, the benefit is 1.5 percent of their FAS for each year of service over 30 years.

You can find out more info about Tier 5 retirement benefits on our website.

September COLA Increase for NYSLRS Retirees

In August, we said that eligible NYSLRS retirees could expect a cost of-living adjustment (COLA) increase on September 30. A COLA payment permanently increases your NYSLRS retirement benefit. It’s based on the cost-of-living index, and is designed to address inflation as it occurs. The September 2016 COLA increase equals 1 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $180.00, or $15.00 per month before taxes.

If you are due a COLA, you should have recently received a letter letting you know how much your 2016 increase is and how much your total benefit will be. If you receive your benefit by direct deposit (electronic fund transfer), you can expect to receive a second letter, which will describe the change to your benefit, before pension payments go out at the end of the month.

The COLA you receive from NYSLRS is not the same as the COLA you might receive from the Social Security Administration (SSA). In 2016, the SSA didn’t provide a COLA adjustment for almost 65 million Social Security recipients.

Healthcare in Retirement

There are reductions, such as health insurance, which may offset the COLA increase. NYSLRS does not administer health insurance programs for its retirees. For New York State retirees, the New York State Department of Civil Service administers the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP). If you have questions about your health insurance premiums, you can visit the Department of Civil Service’s website or call them at 1-800-833-4344 or 518-457-5754 to learn more.

If you retired from a public employer other than New York State (a county, city, town, village or school district), your former employer’s benefits administrator should be able to answer your health insurance questions.

Visit our website to learn more about COLA and your eligibility.

Visit NYSLRS at the New York State Fair!

The Great New York State Fair runs from August 25 through September 5 this year, and NYSLRS hopes to see you there.

Visit Our NYSLRS Booth

Our information representatives have been coming to the fairgrounds for almost 20 years. In recent years, they’ve helped more than 500 members and retirees a day with their retirement planning and pension benefit questions. One of the most common reasons NYSLRS members will stop at our booth is to get a benefit projection. A benefit projection gives you an estimate of what your pension benefit could be at retirement. You can also pick up retirement plan brochures, forms, or have a consultation with one of our information representatives.

You can find our booth in the Center of Progress Building, which is building six on the State Fair map. Once inside, you can find us against the wall on the east side. We’ll be across from the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) Unclaimed Funds booth.

Find Unclaimed Funds at the State Fair

OSC’s Office of Unclaimed Funds booth is another popular stop in the Center of Progress Building. An unclaimed fund is lost or forgotten money (for example, from old bank or insurance accounts) that has been turned over to the State. The Office of Unclaimed Funds is in charge of giving that money back to the correct owner. So far, the Office of Unclaimed Funds has returned more than $200 million in 2016.

Special State Fair Days

The State Fair is known for having special theme days. Here is this year’s schedule:

  • Friday, August 26 – Law Enforcement Day
  • Monday, August 29 – Senior Citizen’s Day
  • Tuesday, August 30 – Fire & Rescue Day and Senior Citizen’s Day. This is also the day that Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli will be at the Fair. Comptroller DiNapoli manages NYSLRS and oversees the Common Retirement Fund.
  • Wednesday, August 31 – Women’s Day
  • Thursday, September 1 – Armed Forces Day
  • Friday, September 2 – Student’s Day

No matter what day you attend, we hope you enjoy this 12-day celebration of New York.

A Quick Look at the NYS Common Retirement Fund

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the trustee of the Common Retirement Fund, which is the third largest public pension fund in the country. The Fund’s assets come from three main sources: member contributions, employer contributions, and investment returns. The Fund has two main goals:

  • Provide the means to pay benefits to NYSLRS’ participants; and
  • Minimize employer contributions through an investment program designed to protect and enhance the long-term value of the assets.

Over the last 20 years, 79 percent of benefits have been funded from investment returns. When you retire from NYSLRS, your monthly pension benefit—and the benefits of many others—will be drawn from this fund. Ethical management and a long-term, diversified investment strategy has made NYSLRS one of the best managed and funded plans in the nation.
Common Retirement Fund Assets

Strategic Long-Term Investments

The Fund’s investment program is designed to weather the ups and downs of an increasingly volatile global market. Our long-term target allocation for our investment portfolio is 22 percent in fixed income assets (bonds and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities [TIPS]) and 78 percent in equities, which includes:

  • Domestic and international public equities
  • Real estate
  • Real assets
  • Absolute return strategies
  • Mortgages
  • Private equity investments
  • Opportunistic funds

A diversified investment strategy helps us meet the funding needs for our current and future retirees while also helping to control risk.

The Fund is Well-Managed

An independent review of the Fund commended Comptroller DiNapoli and NYSLRS for strong policies and ethical management. By adhering to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, our members, retirees, and beneficiaries can be confident the Fund is being managed wisely.

NYSLRS Retirees: 1% COLA Increase Coming September 30

If you’re a New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) retiree, you may be eligible for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this September. A COLA payment permanently increases your NYSLRS retirement benefit. It’s based on the cost-of-living index, and is designed to address inflation as it occurs. The September 2016 COLA increase equals 1 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $180.00, or $15.00 per month before taxes. Please note, for most retirees, there are other reductions, such as health insurance, which may offset the COLA increase.

How is the COLA Calculated?

The COLA is calculated based on 50 percent of the annual rate of inflation, measured at the end of the fiscal year (on March 31). It cannot be less than 1 percent or greater than 3 percent of your retirement benefit. This year, since the rate of inflation was less than 1 percent, the COLA increase equals 1 percent. The COLA is calculated using the first $18,000 of the annual Single Life Allowance pension (even if you selected a different payment option), or your actual pension, if it’s less than $18,000.

Who Is Eligible for a COLA?

To receive the COLA, you must be:

  • Age 62 or older and retired for five or more years; or
  • Age 55 or older and retired for ten or more years (for uniformed employees such as police officers, firefighters and correction officers covered by a special plan that allows for retirement, regardless of age, after a specific number of years); or
  • A disability retiree for five years; or
  • The spouse of a deceased retiree receiving a lifetime benefit under an option elected by the retiree at retirement. (Eligible spouses are entitled to half the COLA amount that would have been paid to the retiree when the retiree was eligible); or
  • A beneficiary receiving the accidental death benefit for five or more years on behalf of a deceased NYSLRS member.


The NYSLRS COLA is different than the Social Security Administration (SSA) COLA. For 2016, the SSA didn’t provide a COLA adjustment for almost 65 million Social Security recipients.

If you want to learn more about COLA, read our publication, Permanent COLA.

Protecting Your Identity Online: Tips for Secure Passwords

Secure PasswordsAccording to a report from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), an estimated 17.6 million Americans were the victims of identity theft in 2014. The good news is that 85 percent of Americans also took actions to prevent identity theft, such as changing passwords on financial accounts.

With so many online apps and services, we can accumulate all kinds of usernames and passwords. Of course, the trouble with passwords is that we can easily forget them. Many people create passwords that are easy to remember, such as their spouse’s name or their child’s birth date. Hackers can easily discover this information and use it to steal your identity and more.

Tips to Keep Passwords Safe and Secure

Here are four helpful tips to keep your passwords safe and secure:

  • Keep your passwords to yourself. While this may seem obvious, it’s important to not share your passwords with other people. If you have to write them down, make sure you store the list in a secret, private place. (That means not on a post-it note under your keyboard!)
  • Create passwords based on easy phrases you can remember. You can use the first letter of each word and substitute symbols for certain words or letters (like ‘@’ for ‘at’ or ‘$’ for ‘s’). If you use the phrase “I got married at city hall in 1975,” your password could look like “Igm@chi1975”. This method can help produce a complex password that’s more secure.
  • Use a different password for each account. If one of your accounts was compromised, at least hackers won’t be able to get to your other accounts.
  • Change your passwords often. Set reminders to change your passwords at least once every 60 days, and don’t reuse them for at least a year.

Remember, a strong, complex password is your first line of defense and may help protect you from a security breach that could cause a major disruption to your life.

More Than One Million Strong: The Growth of NYSLRS

When NYSLRS formed in 1921, it started with a total of 4,721 participants (4,672 members and 43 retirees). Today, NYSLRS provides retirement security to 643,178 members and 430,308 retirees and beneficiaries (the most recent data available).

To say we’ve grown would be an understatement. But no matter how large we get, NYSLRS will continue to provide its members and retirees with lifetime retirement benefits and help them to plan for a financially secure future.

A look back at membership growth through the years.

NYSLRS Membership growth through the years

NYSLRS: Retirement Security Before Social Security

Before NYSLRS began in 1921, many New York public employees who were no longer able to work would fall into poverty. At the time, Social Security didn’t exist to help supplement post-retirement income. While Social Security was created in 1935, it wasn’t made available to public employees until 1950 and didn’t start in New York until 1953.

NYSLRS in 1950

Under State Comptroller Frank C. Moore, NYSLRS was comprised of 161,686 participants in 1950. Of those, 151,326 were Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members and 10,360 were retirees and beneficiaries.

You may have noticed that there were no Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members in 1950. We had police and fire members – a little more than 12,000, in fact – but they were considered ERS members until 1967. On April 1, 1967, ERS split into the two systems you know today: ERS and PFRS.

NYSLRS in 1970

Participation in NYSLRS grew to 525,763 in 1970. Of these, 463,939 were members and 51,824 were retirees and beneficiaries. The State Comptroller at the time was Arthur Levitt Sr. Comptroller Levitt is known for having the longest tenure as State Comptroller, serving a total of 24 years from 1955 to 1978.

The 1970s also saw the creation of a new member group. Tier 2 began on July 1, 1973. The creation of Tier 2, and the other tiers that followed, were designed to provide members equitable benefits at a reasonable cost.

NYSLRS in 1990

From 1979 to 1993, Edward V. “Ned” Regan served as State Comptroller. During his time in office, participation in NYSLRS continued to climb, growing to 882,410 in 1990. Of these, 649,847 were members and 232,563 were retirees and beneficiaries.

NYSLRS in 2010

Between 2006 and 2007, participation in NYSLRS broke the one-million-participant mark. In 2010, during current Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s administration, participation rose to 1,055,020. Of these, 679,217 were members and 375,803 were retirees and beneficiaries.

NYSLRS in 2015

In 2015, overall membership in the System reached 1,073,486. This includes 643,178 members and 430,308 retirees and beneficiaries (the most recent data available). The number of retirees is increasing more quickly than members. For example, in 1995, retirees represented 30 percent of the System’s members. By 2015, that number had increased to approximately 40 percent.

What does 2016 hold for NYSLRS? Keep an eye out in future blog posts for the latest NYSLRS demographics.

Compounding: A Great Way For Your Money to Grow

Financial security just doesn’t happen – it takes planning. When planning for retirement, it’s important to start saving and investing early. After working hard to earn your money, you want your money to work hard for you too. The more time your money has to grow, the better off you’ll be.

Compounding is one way for your money to earn money. When your money is compounded, it increases in value by earning interest on both the principal and accumulated interest. This is a little different from earning simple interest. Let’s see how they both work.

How Simple Interest Works

Simple interest is a return that pays you a certain percentage based on every dollar you put in your account.

Let’s say you opened a savings account with $100 in January. If the bank paid 5 percent annual interest on that deposit, you’d receive five cents for every dollar in your savings account for the whole year. At the end of the year, you’d have $105. That’s $5 more than the principal amount you started with. Any interest you’d earn after the first year would still be based on the principal amount of $100.

How Compounding Interest Works

While you receive some extra money with simple interest, compounded interest can give you more bang for your buck.

Compounding interest

Let’s look at the above example again, but use compounded interest this time. If that $105 remained in your account, and the bank paid out another 5 percent interest, by the end of the second year you’d have $110.25 in your account. That $105 increased by $5.25. Not only did you earn interest on your original $100 in year one, you earned interest on year one’s interest. That’s the great thing about compounding. In just two short years, your money has earned $110.25. If we were still using simple interest, you’d only have $110 after two years.

If you’re thinking about boosting your personal savings for retirement, look into accounts that use compound interest. The sooner you can start saving, the more time your money can grow.

Other Sources:
How to Calculate Simple and Compound Interest