Category Archives: General News

Protecting the Pension System

Protecting the Pension SystemSince taking office, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has fought against the abuse of public funds. One of his top priorities is to protect the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) from pension scammers.

To date, DiNapoli’s investigations of retirement fraud have led to 24 arrests and the recovery of nearly $3 million in retirement funds. Here are some cases from earlier this year:

Woman Pleads Guilty to Theft of Dead Mother’s Benefits

A Madison County woman pleaded guilty to a felony grand larceny charge for collecting $67,000 of her dead mother’s NYSLRS pension checks. When her mother died in 2009, Tammy Banack did not inform NYSLRS or her bank, and her mother’s pension checks continued to be deposited in a joint checking account. Banack agreed to repay the stolen pension benefits and received five years’ probation.

Man Pleads Guilty to Stealing Pension Checks

A Brooklyn man was arrested for cashing over $22,000 of his mother’s NYSLRS pension checks after she died. Jimmie Buie pleaded guilty and was sentenced to up to three years in prison. He was also ordered to repay the money. The office of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman assisted in this case and the Banack case.

Town Clerk Admits Faking Retirement Benefits

Following a review of monthly retirement reports, the Office of the State Comptroller discovered that a town clerk had been unlawfully using a town computer to inflate her retirement service credit. Springport Town Clerk Deborah Waldron pleaded guilty, resigned and paid fines and surcharges. Her actual hours and benefits were recalculated to ensure she does not receive extra money she did not earn.

Brother Guilty of Bank Larceny in Pension Scheme

Joseph F. Grossmann, a former Albany resident, pled guilty to Bank Larceny after he used fake documents and other schemes to collect $130,624 in his deceased sister’s name. He was sentenced to three years of probation (including one year of home confinement) and ordered to pay back the money.

To learn more about how Comptroller DiNapoli safeguards public funds, and how you can help, visit the Comptroller’s Fighting Public Corruption page. You can also read about past pension fraud investigations.

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.

Where in New York are NYSLRS Retirees?

NYSLRS retirees tend to stay in New York, where their pensions are exempt from State and local income taxes. In fact, 78 percent of NYSLRS 452,455 retirees and beneficiaries lived in the State as of March 31, 2017. And half of them lived in just ten of New York’s 62 counties.

So where in New York do these retirees call home? Well, there are a lot of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries on Long Island. Suffolk and Nassau counties are home to more than 57,000 recipients of NYSLRS retirement benefits, with annual pension payments exceeding $1.8 billion. But that shouldn’t be surprising. Suffolk and Nassau counties are, respectively, the largest and third largest counties in the State outside of New York City.Erie County, which includes Buffalo, ranks No. 2 in the number of NYSLRS retirees, with nearly 30,000. Albany County, home to the State Capital, ranks fourth with more than 18,000. Monroe, Westchester, Onondaga, Saratoga, Dutchess and Orange counties round out the Top Ten.

This distribution is easy to understand. The Top Ten counties for retirees include nine of the ten most populous New York counties outside of New York City. (The City, which has its own retirement system for municipal employees, police and firefighters, has about 22,000 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries living in its five counties.)

All told, NYSLRS retirees received $5 billion in retirement benefits in the Top Ten counties, and $9.1 billion statewide.

Hamilton County had the fewest NYSLRS benefit recipients. But in this sparsely populated county in the heart of the Adirondacks, those 435 retirees represent nearly 10 percent of the county population. $8.6 million in retirement benefits were paid to NYSLRS retirees in Hamilton County during fiscal year 2016-2017.

Outside of New York, Florida remained the top choice for NYSLRS retirees, with more than 36,000 benefit recipients. North Carolina (8,693), New Jersey (7,466) and South Carolina (5,620) were also popular. There were 690 NYSLRS recipients living outside the United States as of March 31, 2017.

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.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

Want an inside view of NYSLRS and the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund)? Curious about how the Fund is managed and how well its investments are performing? Then check out the latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

The 2017 CAFR, which covers the state fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2017, is chock full of facts and figures that offer a detailed look at the Retirement System and the Fund. The biggest story is the financial health of the Fund. The Fund’s assets were valued at $192.4 billion at the end of the fiscal year and continued to grow, reaching an estimated value of $201.3 billion as of September 30, 2017. The average return on Fund investments in fiscal year 2017 was 11.48 percent, well above the long-term expected rate of return of 7 percent.

The soundness of NYSLRS was confirmed by several recent independent studies, which concluded that the New York State’s pension system is one of the best-funded public pension systems in the nation. And that means NYSLRS’ 652,324 members and 452,455 retirees and beneficiaries can rest assured their pensions will be there for them in retirement.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

The average pension for an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) retiree was $23,026; the average for a Police and Fire Retirement System was $49,123. In all, NYSLRS paid out $11.3 billion in benefits during the fiscal year. (Fund investment earnings covered 75 percent of the cost of these benefits.) But NYSLRS pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 78 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $9.1 billion worth of benefits stayed in the State. And that money supported local businesses, paid local taxes and generated economic development statewide.

An Award-Winning Publication

NYSLRS received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2016 CAFR. The Certificate of Achievement is a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports. NYSLRS has won this award for the last 13 years.

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.

After You Retire

We’ve written a lot about preparing for retirement — how you should purchase any credit for past service, get a pension estimate, prepare a retirement budget, and more. But, what about after you retire? “So long, NYSLRS! Just keep the monthly payments coming.” Is that it?

Not exactly.

Sign Up for Retirement Online

We recently launched the new Retirement Online, a secure site that allows you to check important NYSLRS information, like the deductions from your latest payment and a summary of your benefits. You can also view or update beneficiaries and generate income verification letters right from your computer.

To access Retirement Online, visit the NYSLRS home page, then click “Register” or “Sign In.”

If You Move, Let Us Know

The United States Postal Service usually won’t forward pension checks to another address. (You may want to sign up for our direct deposit program.) But, pension payments aside, there are other things you’ll want from us once you retire. If we have your correct address on file, you’ll be sure to receive:

  • Your 1099-R form. Your pension isn’t taxed by New York State, but it is subject to federal income tax.
  • Your Retiree Annual Statement. It’s a helpful reference that spells out the benefits, credits and deductions you receive each year.
  • Any official notifications.
  • Your Retiree Notes

The fastest way to update your address is through Retirement Online. You can also mail a signed letter (with your name, old address, new address, date of change and retirement registration number) to:

NYSLRS
Attn: Pension Services
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001

Keep Your Beneficiaries Current

Reviewing your beneficiary designations periodically is important. By keeping them up to date, you ensure that any post-retirement death benefit will be distributed to your loved ones according to your wishes. You can use Retirement Online to change your death benefit beneficiaries at any time. Or, contact our Call Center, and we will send you the necessary form. If you aren’t retired yet, submit a Designation of Beneficiary form (RS5127).

Keep Your Loved Ones Informed

Your family or friends have to know to notify us when you die, so we can pay out any benefits to your designated beneficiaries. They can phone our Call Center or notify us by mail. Either way, we will also need a certified copy of your death certificate. You and your loved ones can find more information in our Getting Your Affairs in Order and a Guide for Survivors (VO1874) publication.

Life Changes: A Guide for Retirees (VO1705)

Check out this publication for information about other benefits you may be entitled to and the services we offer retirees.

See You at the Fair

The Great New York State FairThe 177th Great New York State Fair opens next week and NYSLRS will be there.

The 13-day celebration of everything New York kicks off on Wednesday, August 23 and runs through Monday, September 4 (Labor Day). Our information representatives will be at the fairgrounds, as they have been for the past 20 years, to help members and retirees with their retirement planning and benefit questions. In the past, many NYSLRS members have stopped by the booth to get a benefit projection. You’ll also be also be able to pick up retirement plan brochures and forms or have a consultation with one of our information representatives.

The NYSLRS booth will be in the Center of Progress Building, building 6 on the State Fair map, near the Main Gate. Once inside, you can find us against the wall on the east side.

Find Unclaimed Funds at the State Fair

OSC’s Office of Unclaimed Funds booth will be in the same building, just across from the NYSLRS booth. An unclaimed fund is lost or forgotten money, perhaps in old bank account or insurance policy that has been turned over to the State. See if any of that money might be yours. So far this year,  State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and the Office of Unclaimed Funds has returned more than $250 million.

The Retired Public Employees Association (RPEA) will also have a booth in the Center of Progress Building.

Special State Fair Days

Wednesday, August 23

  • Preview Day — $1 admission

Friday, August 25

  • Pride Day — LGBT choirs, parade

Monday, August 28

  • Law Enforcement Day — Free admission for law enforcement personnel and corrections officers
  • Senior Citizen’s Day — Free admission for senior citizens (60+)

Tuesday, August 29

  • Comptroller DiNapoli Visits the Fair — He manages the $197 Billion State Pension Fund and is the administrator of NYSLRS. He’ll be stopping by NYSLRS’s booth during the day.
  • Fire & Rescue Day — Free admission for active and retired members of fire departments and emergency services organizations
  • Senior Citizen’s Day — Free admission for senior citizens (60+)

Wednesday, August 30

  • Women’s Day

Thursday, August 31

  • Armed Forces Day — Free admission for active duty or veterans

Note: ID required for free admissions listed above. For details, check out the complete schedule of Special Fair Days.