Category Archives: Members

News for members of the New York State & Local Retirement System

Retirement on the Horizon? Here Are a Few Things to Think About

Things to think aboutYou’re probably looking forward to the day when you file your application for a NYSLRS pension. But before you retire, there are a few questions you should ask yourself. After all, by filing for retirement, you’re making critical decisions about your financial future. And once you’ve retired, some of those decisions will be irrevocable. Whether your planned retirement date is just around the corner or a few years off, this checklist could help you avoid costly mistakes.

Do I have all the service credit I think I have?
Under some retirement plans, service milestones (20 years, 30 years, full retirement age) can have a big impact on the amount of your benefit. If you’re aiming for one of these milestones, but retire just short of reaching it, your pension will take a big hit. To make sure you have enough service credit on your planned retirement date, sign in to Retirement Online to see how much service credit you currently have. You can also file a Request for Estimate form or talk with an information representative at our Contact Center (1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area).

Do I have previous service credit I want to purchase?
You may be able to buy credit for previous public employment or military service, which in most cases would increase your pension. But you can’t purchase service credit after you retire. You can use the “Information about Your Public Employment” section of the Request for Estimate form to request credit for previous public and military service. Read our booklet, Service Credit for Tiers 2 through 6, for more information.

Do you have a balance on a NYSLRS loan?
You cannot pay off your NYSLRS loan after you retire. If you retire with an outstanding balance, your pension will be permanently reduced. You can check your loan balance with Retirement Online or through our automated phone system. Call the toll-free number (above), then press 3 for members, 1 or 2 for the Employees’ Retirement System or the Police and Fire Retirement System, and 1 for loan services. If your retirement is still a few years away, you can increase your payroll deductions or send in extra payments to pay off your loan.

Am I ready to retire?
Are you really ready? The fact that you can retire doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Am I financially prepared? Am I psychologically ready for retirement? These are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself, but there are resources available:

Update Your Beneficiaries

It’s easy and important

How long has it been since you thought about your NYSLRS beneficiaries? A year, two years, five? Did you get married since then? Get divorced? Have a child?

When you die, your NYSLRS death benefit will be paid to the last beneficiaries you designated. That’s the law. That’s why it’s so important that you check your NYSLRS beneficiary designations periodically.

Luckily, it’s easier to do than ever.

The new Retirement Online is a convenient way to review account details and conduct business with NYSLRS in real time. Now, instead of sending a form through the mail, you can simply sign in to Retirement Online to view your designations and submit changes instantly.

Register and sign in to Retirement Online today to update your beneficiaries and access a variety of other time-saving features.

Types of Beneficiaries

You can designate primary and contingent beneficiaries:

  • A primary beneficiary receives your death benefit. If you name more than one primary beneficiary, they will split the benefit equally.
  • A contingent beneficiary receives a benefit only if all your primary beneficiaries are deceased when you die.

Special Benefit Designations for Beneficiaries

Special Beneficiary Designations

Your beneficiary doesn’t have to be a person:

  • When you die, your estate is all the money and property you owned. If you make your estate a beneficiary, the executor of your estate will distribute your benefit according to your will. If you outlive both your primary and contingent beneficiaries, your benefit will go to your estate by default.
  • A trust is a legal arrangement giving a person you choose legal control over property — such as a death benefit. The trust itself would be your NYSLRS beneficiary, not the individuals for whom you established the trust. (You may want to speak with your attorney if you’re thinking about making your trust a beneficiary.)
  • You can name a charitable, civic, religious, educational or other kind of organization as a beneficiary too.

For more information about beneficiaries, check out our booklet, Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary? (VO1706).

Know Your Benefits: Death Benefits

Few people like to discuss dying, but it’s important to think about how those we love will get along when we do. NYSLRS members have important considerations to keep in mind. First, depending on the pension payment option you choose, you could leave behind an ongoing pension. But, beyond that, your loved ones may also receive a death benefit.

This post is an overview of common death benefits and how your survivors should file for them. It is important to review your retirement plan booklet for specific benefit and eligibility information, and to contact us with any questions you have.

Benefits

Most members who die while they’re still working will leave their beneficiaries what’s called an ordinary death benefit. The benefit amount is usually one year of your earnings per year of service, up to a maximum of three years. Depending on your system, tier and retirement plan, other limitations apply.

Generally, to qualify, you must have at least one year of service credit, and you must die while you are on payroll, in public service. Check your plan booklet for other qualifying circumstances.

Ordinary Death Benefit Graphic

Some members who die in an on-the-job accident (not due to their own willful negligence) might leave their spouses or other survivors an accidental death benefit. If paid to a surviving spouse or dependent parent, the benefit is a lifetime pension based on 50 percent of your final average salary (less any workers’ compensation benefit). There is no minimum service credit requirement.

Depending on your system, tier and retirement plan, there may be other benefits you leave your loved ones. For example, beneficiaries of Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members who died after meeting the requirements for a service retirement may receive an alternative death benefit. Most Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members, who retire from service or within a year of leaving public employment, will leave their beneficiaries a post-retirement death benefit.

Filing

Regardless of which death benefit you leave, benefits can’t be paid until we’re notified of your death. That’s why it’s so important to talk with your family now about your benefits and how to report your death to NYSLRS. Check out our Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors publication for more helpful information.

Update Your Beneficiaries

In most cases (unless beneficiaries are determined by law, as in the case of accidental death benefits), your death benefit will be paid to the beneficiaries you designated at some point in the past, so it’s important to be sure yours are up to date. Your beneficiaries are listed on your Member Annual Statement. You can also view and update your beneficiaries using Retirement Online. Just register and sign in to view your designations and submit changes.

Age Milestones for Retirement Planning

Age Milestones for Retirement PlanningWhether you’re 22 or 52, you should be planning for retirement.

NYSLRS retirement benefits are based on tier status, years of service, and average salary. Age is also an important number, and not just the age when you plan to retire. Here are some age milestones to keep in mind while planning for your retirement.

Under 50: It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. Even modest savings can add up over time as investment returns grow and interest compounds.

50: The Age 50 and Over Catch-Up provision allows you to save more pre-tax dollars in a retirement account starting in the calendar year in which you turn 50.

55: The earliest age most NYSLRS members can retire. (Does not apply to members in special retirement plans.) Your pension may be permanently reduced if you retire at 55.

59½: The age you can draw down money from a tax-deferred retirement savings plan, such as an IRA, without facing a potential federal tax penalty. (The penalty does not apply to New York State Deferred Compensation savings if you are retired or have left public service.)

62: Full service retirement age for Tiers 2, 3, 4 and 5 and PFRS Tier 6. Earliest age you can begin collecting a Social Security pension, but the benefit would be reduced. For more information, read When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits.

63: Full retirement age for ERS Tier 6 members.

65: Age most people are eligible for Medicare benefits.

66: Full Social Security retirement age if you were born from 1943 through 1954. Add two months for each year from 1955 through 1959.

67: Full Social Security age if you were born in 1960 or later.

70: If you do not take your Social Security benefit at full retirement age, your benefit will increase each year until you reach age 70. Delaying Social Security after 70 will not increase your benefit.

70½: If you have tax-deferred retirement savings and are no longer working, you must begin withdrawing some of this money after you turn 70½.

One Last Number: Having a rough idea of your life expectancy is essential to retirement planning.

For more information about retirement planning, read our publication Straight Talk About Financial Planning For Your Retirement.

Know Your Benefits: Disability Retirements

Many of us dream about retirement, but not one of us pictures leaving the workplace because we can’t perform our duties anymore. Yet the truth is debilitating medical conditions do happen. Though we hope you never have to use them, NYSLRS members have certain benefits available should you become permanently disabled from performing the duties of your job.

This post is an overview of common disability benefits and how to file for them. It is important to review your retirement plan booklet for specific benefit and eligibility information, and contact us with any questions you have, before you file an application.

Disability Retirements

Benefits

Most members are eligible for what’s called an ordinary disability retirement benefit. Usually, it provides whichever is greater:

  1. 66 percent of your final average salary (FAS) for each year of credited service; or
  2. 66 percent of your FAS for each year of credited service, plus 1.66 percent of your FAS for each year of service you might have earned before age 60, up to one-third of your FAS.

To qualify for an Article 15 disability retirement benefit, you must have at least ten years of credited service, unless your disability results from an accident you sustain on the job. If your disability results from an on-the-job accident, not due to your own willful negligence, there is no minimum service requirement.

Some members have plans that may provide an accidental disability retirement benefit. The benefit amount varies depending on your system (Employees Retirement System or Police and Fire Retirement System), tier and plan. It’s a lifetime benefit, but may be reduced by amounts received from workers’ compensation or Social Security. There is no minimum service requirement for an accidental disability retirement.

“Accident” has a special meaning when used in connection with Retirement System disability benefits. Whether an incident is an “accident” is determined on a case by case basis, using court decisions for guidance.

Members of the Police and Fire Retirement System as well as some members of the Employees Retirement System, such as sheriffs and correctional officers, may be entitled to a performance-of-duty disability benefit. The benefit amount and eligibility requirements vary depending on your system, tier and plan.

Filing

You, your employer, or someone you authorize may file a disability application on your behalf. If you think you might be eligible for a disability retirement, you may want to file your application sooner, rather than later, because there are strict filing deadlines that must be met. If you meet the requirements for a service retirement too, you can apply for both at the same time. If your disability application is approved, you will be able to choose which benefit you accept.

World Trade Center Presumption

If you participated in World Trade Center rescue, recovery or clean-up operations, you may be eligible to apply for a benefit under the World Trade Center Presumption Law. The deadline for members to file a notice with NYSLRS has been extended to September 11, 2018.

Resources/More Information

For specific benefit and eligibility information, be sure to read your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page. Also, check out our Disability Retirements page and our VO1802 Life Changes: Applying for Disability Retirement booklet. You can reach our Call Center by email using our secure contact form or toll-free at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area).

NYSLRS’ Membership by Tier

NYSLRS, comprised of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), had 652,324 members as of March 31, 2017. Our members are State, local government and school district employees from across New York, including 617,143 in ERS and 35,181 in PFRS. Eighty-one percent of our members are active, which means they were on a public payroll as of March 31.

As new public employees come on board and more Tier 3 and 4 members reach retirement age, Tier 6 is expected to represent the majority of NYSLRS members in a few years.

Tier 6 includes members who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012. In just five years, they’ve grown to more than 174,000 members, making up 26.7 percent of total membership.

Here’s a look at our membership by Tier, as of March 31:
NYSLRS' Membership
Tier 1: NYSLRS’ oldest tier, whose members first joined the system before July 1, 1973 (July 31 for PFRS members). Tier 1 now represents only one half of 1 percent of our membership. There are only 54 Tier 1 PFRS members remaining.

Tier 2: With 29,186 members, Tier 2 represents 4.5 percent of membership. More than 87 percent of Tier 2 members are in PFRS.

Tier 3&4: Tiers 3 and 4, which have similar retirement plans, represented nearly 90 percent of membership just seven years ago. The 392,699 Tier 3 and 4 members now make up 60 percent of the total. (Note: There is no Tier 4 in PFRS.)

Tier 5: Tier 5 covers members who joined in a period of a little over two years (January 2010 through March 2012). With 53,118 members, Tier 5 now represents 8.1 percent of membership.

Tier 6: This tier covers both ERS and PFRS members who joined since April 1, 2012. Its ranks have grown by nearly 29 percent over the past year.

Know Your Benefits: Leaving Public Employment

It may never come up, but, you should know what would happen with your NYSLRS membership and benefits if you ever leave public employment. Even if you no longer work for a New York public employer, you’d still be a NYSLRS member. Depending on your circumstances, that membership may come with certain benefits and responsibilities.

What Happens to My Contributions If I Leave Public Employment?

If you have less than ten years of service credit, you can end your membership and request a refund of your contributions by filing a Withdrawal Application (RS5014).

If you have not earned enough service credit to be vested (eligible for a retirement benefit) and don’t withdraw your contributions, they will continue to earn 5 percent interest for seven years. At that point, if you are still off the public payroll, by law, your membership ends automatically, and your contributions will be deposited into a non-interest-bearing account. (Your contributions are not automatically refunded.)

If you are vested, your contributions will remain on deposit with NYSLRS, and when you reach retirement age, you’ll be eligible to apply for a retirement benefit.

Leaving Public Employment

How Will Leaving Public Employment Affect My Death Benefits?

If you have at least ten years of service credit before you leave, 50 percent of your death benefit may still be payable when you die. With less than ten years of service credit, the 50 percent death benefit is only payable if you die within one year of leaving public service.

How Can I Pay Back My Outstanding Loans?

If you have an outstanding NYSLRS loan, you must still make payments directly to NYSLRS at least once every three months. You must repay your loan within five years of the date it was issued, or you will default on the loan. Defaulting on a loan may carry considerable tax consequences: You’ll need to pay ordinary income tax and possibly an additional 10 percent penalty on the taxable portion of the loan. Once you’ve left public employment, you aren’t eligible to take a NYSLRS loan.

How Can I Stay Informed About My Membership If I Leave Public Employment?

If you leave public employment, but haven’t ended your NYSLRS membership, you’ll still:

Beyond staying informed, you’ll need to keep your membership information up to date:

  • Keep your beneficiary information current, and
  • Let us know about any name or address changes (for either you or your beneficiaries).

Finally, it’s your responsibility to file an Application for Service Retirement (RS6037) when you are eligible to retire — we will not pay out a retirement benefit unless you apply for it.

For more information, read our Life Changes: What if I Leave Public Employment? (VO1800) publication.

Four Facts about Divorce and Your Pension

Courts consider pensions marital property. So, if you file for divorce, a judge may award your ex-spouse part of your pension or other NYSLRS benefits. The process for dividing retirement assets after a divorce can be complex. Here are four things you need to know:

1. NYSLRS Requires a DRO

To divide your NYSLRS benefits, we need a domestic relations order (DRO). This court order, issued after a final judgment of divorce, gives us specific instructions on how your benefits should be distributed. NYSLRS provides on online fillable DRO that complies with the plan’s requirements for implementation. You are not required to use the online form; however, the System will give priority review to these DROs since the language is pre-approved.

2. A Judge has to Approve Your DRO

Before we can implement a DRO, a trial court judge must review and sign it, and you need to file it with the appropriate County Clerk’s Office. That can be a lengthy process; our Matrimonial Bureau can check your DRO for compliance with the law before you submit the draft order to the court. This way, if the DRO does not meet the requirements, you will have a chance to make revisions.

Once a judge does sign off, we’ll need a certified copy of the DRO and your judgment of divorce. We start payments to your ex-spouse once we’ve calculated and finalized your retirement benefit. If we receive the DRO and judgment before we finalize your retirement benefit, we’ll make retroactive payments back to your date of retirement.

3. Some Beneficiary Designations are Revoked

Reviewing your beneficiary designations periodically is always important, but after a divorce, it’s essential to make sure your benefits will be distributed according to your wishes. As of July 7, 2008, beneficiary designations for certain benefits are revoked when a divorce, annulment or judicial separation becomes final. Please read our Guide to Domestic Relations Orders and review our DRO FAQs before you finalize your divorce.

4. Contact an Attorney with DRO Experience

This last one is not a fact, but it’s a good idea. A lawyer, who’s worked with DROs previously, can help ensure the DRO you submit to the court fairly represents the intentions of both parties.

How Can NYSLRS Help?

We developed an online template  that makes it easier to create a properly formatted DRO. Just enter your tier, plan and employment status, and answer the questions that follow.

To submit your proposed DRO for review, email it, along with scanned copies of your judgment of divorce, to our Matrimonial Bureau at dro@osc.state.ny.us. For DRO proposals prepared using our online worksheet, the review process is simplified and we can complete our review faster.

If you have any questions about divorce and your benefits, please contact our Hearing Administration and Matrimonial Bureau staff.

Email: dro@osc.state.ny.us

Address:
NYSLRS 110 State Street
Mail Drop 7-9
Albany, New York 12244

What Unused Sick Leave Might Mean For You at Retirement

If you’ve accumulated unused, unpaid sick leave, you may be able to use it toward your NYSLRS pension benefit.

New York State employees are eligible for this benefit. You also may be eligible if your employer has adopted Section 41(j) for the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), or 341(j) for the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), of Retirement and Social Security Law. Not sure? Ask your employer or check your Member Annual Statement.

Here’s How It Works

Your additional service credit is determined by dividing your total unused, unpaid sick leave days by 260. Most ERS members can get credit for up to 165 days (7½ months) of unused sick leave. The benefit is capped at 100 days (4½ months) for most Tier 6 members. State employees in certain negotiating units may be able to use 200 days (about nine months). Those extra “months” would be used in calculating your retirement benefit.

Also, depending on your employer, your unused sick leave may be used to cover some health insurance costs during your retirement. Please check with your employer for information about health insurance.

Restrictions

Unused sick leave cannot be used to reach NYSLRS retirement milestones. Let’s say you have 19½ years of service credit. At 20 years, your pension calculation would improve substantially. You also have 130 days of unused sick leave. Can you add the six months of sick leave credit to get you to 20 years? No. Retirement law does not permit it. You’ll have to work those extra six months to get the 20-year benefit rate, though sick leave credits can still be used in your final pension calculation.

Also, credit for unused sick can’t be used to:

  • Qualify for vesting
  • Reach a minimum retirement age
  • Increase your pension beyond the maximum allowed under your retirement plan
  • Meet the service credit requirement for a special 20- or 25-year plan

Check your retirement plan booklet for more information.