Retirement Fund Enjoys Strong Investment Returns

The New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) earned an estimated 11.42 percent on investments during the State fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, exceeding the long-term expected rate of return of 7 percent. The Fund ended the year with an estimated value of $192 billion.

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, Trustee of the Fund, credited the growth to a diversified investment strategy and strong returns on investments, particularly in the fourth quarter. Domestic and non-U.S. equities (stocks) performed particularly well, with an overall return of 17 percent. The return on real estate investments was nearly 11 percent. All returns are estimates, pending audited data that will be available later this year.

NYS Common Retirement Fund return on investments Fiscal Year 2017

The financial soundness of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) has been confirmed by two independent studies. A report by S&P Global Ratings ranked NYSLRS as the third best funded state pension system in the country for 2015. Only South Dakota and Wisconsin ranked higher. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts also showed NYSLRS in the top three nationwide.

The Fund is the third-largest public pension fund in the country. NYSLRS provides retirement security to more than one million active state and local government employees, retirees and their beneficiaries. During the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2016, NYSLRS paid out $10.9 billion in retirement and death benefits. More than $8.6 billion was paid to residents of New York State, which generated local spending and provided economic support New York businesses and communities.

Women and Retirement

Saving for retirement is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for women. Women tend to live longer than men, but they may not spend as many years in the workforce and they may not earn as much. Because of this, women tend to lag behind men when it comes to retirement savings.

On average, a 65-year-old man can expect to live to be about 83, while a 65-year-old woman can expect to live to nearly 86, according to data from the Social Security Administration. That means a woman’s savings need to stretch that much further. But in a survey released in March by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, women reported far lower retirement savings than men. The median savings for women was only $34,000, compared with $115,000 for men.

Women and Retirement

The survey also found that the percentage of women who had no retirement savings was higher than the percentage for men. Women also tended to be less confident about their ability to retire in comfort, according to the survey of over 4,000 U.S. workers.

Here are some things you can do to make sure you’re on track:

  • Start saving for retirement, if you haven’t already. Make regular, consistent additions to your savings.
  • If you’re already saving, increase the amount you save. Even a small increase will make a difference over time. (Try adding 1 percent of your salary, then bump it up next time you get a raise.)
  • Educate yourself about retirement savings and investments.
  • Learn more about your NYSLRS retirement benefits. There is a lot of good information in your Member Annual Statement. You may also wish to read the NYSLRS publication How Do I Prepare to Retire?
  • Learn more about your Social Security
  • If you are close to retirement, make a retirement budget.
  • Talk to a financial adviser.
  • Make a retirement plan. Write it down. And revisit it periodically.

A defined benefit plan, such as the NYSLRS retirement benefit, provides a monthly pension payment for life. But, savings are still important as a supplement to a pension and Social Security, a hedge against inflation and a resource in an emergency.

 

Choosing Your Pension Payment Option

When you retire from NYSLRS, you’ll need to decide how you want to receive your pension benefit.

You’ll have several options. All of them provide a monthly benefit for life. Some also provide a limited benefit for one or more beneficiaries after you die. Others let you pass on a monthly lifetime pension to a single beneficiary. Each option pays a different amount, depending on your age at retirement, your beneficiary’s age and other factors.

Pension Payment Option

That’s a lot to think about, so let’s make this clearer with an example. Meet Jane. Jane plans to retire at age 60, and she has a husband, a granddaughter and a grandson who are financially dependent on her. First, Jane needs to decide whether she wants to leave a benefit to someone after she dies. She does.

That eliminates the Single-Life Allowance option. While it pays the highest monthly benefit, all payments stop when you die.

Jane considers naming her grandchildren as beneficiaries to help pay for their college education.

The Five Year Certain and Ten Year Certain options don’t reduce her pension much, and they allow her to name more than one beneficiary. If Jane dies within five or ten years of retirement, her grandkids would split her normal benefit amount for the rest of that period.

However, the Five and Ten Year options wouldn’t be lifetime benefits. Since her husband doesn’t have his own pension, she’ll leave him her pension and look into a tax-deferred college savings plan for her grandkids instead.

There are a few options that leave a lifetime benefit:

The Joint Allowance — Full and Joint Allowance — Half options continue paying all or half of the retiree’s normal benefit amount to the beneficiary for life.

The Pop-Up/Joint Allowance — Full and Pop-Up/Joint Allowance — Half options also continue the retiree’s normal benefit. They reduce the pension a little more, but they have an advantage: If a retiree outlives his or her beneficiary, the retiree’s monthly payment will “pop up” to the maximum payable under the Single-Life Allowance option.

As you plan for your own retirement, you may also want to consider questions, like:

  • Do you qualify for a death benefit?
  • Do you have life insurance?
  • Do you have a mortgage or unpaid loans that will have to be paid if you die?

These and other factors can significantly impact your retirement planning.

To find out more about pension payment options, check your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page. You can also try our Benefit Calculator, which allows most members to estimate their benefits under the different payment options. For tips on developing a financial strategy that works for you, take a look through Straight Talk about Financial Planning for Your Retirement.

Debt and Retirement

If you’re planning to retire in the near future, it’s a good idea to take inventory of the debts you owe. Why start your next life chapter burdened with debt and interest payments?

A high priority should be any loans you have taken from NYSLRS. You cannot pay off your loan after you retire. If you have an outstanding balance when you retire, it will permanently reduce your pension. For example, if a 60-year-old Tier 3 or 4 member of the Employees’ Retirement System retires this year owing $10,000, the annual reduction would be $560.50. And that reduction would continue even if the total reduction exceeds the amount owed. What’s more, at least part of the balance would be subject to federal taxes. Learn more about paying of a NYSLRS loan.
Debt and Retirement — How a NYSLRS Loan could affect your retirement
Another priority is paying off credit cards. The average American household with credit card debt owes more than $16,000 and pays about $1,300 a year in interest, according to a recent analysis of federal data.

Fortunately, getting a handle on your credit card debt has gotten easier. A recent federal law requires credit card statements to carry a “Minimum Payment Warning.” This tells you how long it will take, and how much it will cost, to pay off your balance if you only make minimum payments. It also tells you how much you need to pay each month to pay off the balance in three years.

If you have more than one credit card balance, most financial advisers recommend you pay as much as you can on the card with the highest interest. Pay at least the minimum, preferably more, on lower-interest cards until the high-interest card is paid off. But some advisers say it might be better to pay off the card with the smallest balance first. That will give you a sense of accomplishment, which could make the process seem less daunting.

Mortgage balances make up two-thirds of the $12.6 trillion in U.S. household debt. But should you strive to pay off your mortgage before you retire? Financial advisers differ on that question, so do your research to consider all the factors.

Read more about debt and retirement in our publication Straight Talk About Financial Planning For Your Retirement.

Spending Changes in Retirement

Just like starting your first job, getting married or having kids, retirement will change your life. Some changes are small, like sleeping in or shopping during regular business hours. Others, however, are significant and worth examining ahead of time…like how much you’ll spend each month or each year.

An Employee Benefit Research Institute study offers some good news for prospective retirees. Household spending generally drops at the beginning of retirement — by 5.5 percent in the first two years, and by 12.5 percent in the third and fourth years. On the other hand, a significant portion of households — nearly 46 percent — actually spend more in the first two years of retirement.

So, have you considered how you’ll spend money once you retire?

Prepare a Post-Retirement Budget

Like a fiduciary choir, financial advisors all sing the same refrain: Start young; save and invest regularly to meet your financial goals. If you do, making the switch from saving to spending in retirement can be easy. But, in order to plan, you need a budget.

The first step toward a post-retirement budget is a review of what you spend now. For a few months, track how you spend your money. Don’t forget to include periodic costs, like car insurance payments or property taxes. By looking at your current spending patterns, you can get an idea of how you’ll spend money come retirement.

Then, consider your current monthly income, and estimate your post-retirement income. If your post-retirement income is less than your current income, you might want to plan to adjust your expenses or even consider changing your retirement plans.

We have monthly expense and income worksheets to help with this exercise. You can print them out and start planning ahead for post-retirement spending.

Monthly budgeting worksheets (PDF)

Monthly Worksheets (PDF)

For those of you who carry smart phones, Forbes put together a list of popular apps for tracking your daily spending. All of them are free, though some do sell extra features. Many of them can automatically pull in information from your bank and credit card accounts, but if you’d rather avoid that exposure or if you use cash regularly, we recommend you try an app that lets users enter transactions manually.

Filing Your Application for Retirement

You’ve carefully planned your retirement, received your benefits estimate and are ready to take the big step. But before you can start receiving a pension, you’ll need to complete and submit your Application for Service Retirement (RS6037). You can also get a copy of the form from your employer or by contacting our Call Center.

Timing is important. We must have your application on file at least 15 days, but not more than 90 days, before your retirement date. (The 15-day rule does not apply if you are over 70 or left the public payroll before age 55.)

Be sure to list all of you public employment on the form. If you’ve ever been a member of another public retirement system in New York State, you’ll need to note that as well. Because your application is a legal document, you must sign it in the presence of a notary public. Many members make an appointment at a Consultation Site to file their applications. Our information representatives can notarize your application, help you with your paperwork and answer any questions.

Filing for Retirement

If you don’t wish to file in person, you can send your application by mail. Mailing the application “Certified Mail — Return Receipt Requested” will help you track this important document. Certified mail is also a good idea if you are close to a filing deadline because we consider the day it was mailed as the filing date. The mailing address is:

NYSLRS
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001

At the same time you submit your application you can also file a W-4P, so federal taxes can be withheld from your payments, and a Direct Deposit Enrollment Application, so your pension can be deposited directly into your bank account. If you’ve had a recent pension estimate, you can submit a payment option election form along with your retirement application. You should also submit a photocopy of proof of your date of birth

For more information, read our booklet “Life Changes: How to Prepare to Retire” or contact us.

Power of Attorney

Power of AttorneyA Power of Attorney document (POA) allows an agent that you designate to make decisions for you in your legal, financial and business dealings. A POA is written legal authority given by one party (the principal) to another (the agent or attorney-in-fact) to act on the principal’s behalf. The person authorizing the other to act is referred to as the principal, grantor or the donor of the power. The person who has been granted authority to act on behalf of another (i.e. the principal) is called the agent or the attorney-in-fact.

A POA can be a helpful tool in making emergency or unexpected decisions about your retirement benefits. Usually, NYSLRS cannot release benefit information to anyone without your authorization — even to close family members. However, once we have a copy of a valid POA on record, we can discuss your pension with an agent you choose in your POA. With a valid POA, your agent can also change your address with NYSLRS or even adjust your tax withholding.

An agent cannot designate beneficiaries, elect certain options, or make certain banking decisions with a POA alone. However, with the addition of a statutory gift rider (SGR), your agent may be able to perform “gifting” transactions which include depositing money into a joint bank account, designating or changing beneficiaries or electing an option and option beneficiary. The additional gifting powers granted under a statutory gift rider must be specified on the form (Note: We cannot deposit money into an account that does not have your name on it.)

In order for a NY POA with NY SGR to be valid, the POA must contain the gift giving authority initialed by the principal, and a valid SGR must have been created on the same day as the POA. This SGR must be executed pursuant to the requirements of New York’s General Obligations Law §5-1514, which includes being notarized and witnessed by two disinterested witnesses (individuals not named in the POA), in the same manner as the execution of a will.

If you are thinking about executing a POA with a SGR, NYSLRS offers a form that combines the New York State statutory POA with a gift rider. This form meets all of New York State’s legal requirements and authorizes an agent to make all retirement transactions on behalf of a member unless specific limiting language is added. Without any modifying language, the NYSLRS POA and SGR will only allow a named agent to name himself or herself as a beneficiary only if the agent is the spouse, domestic partner, parent or child. The NYSLRS POA with a SGR only authorizes an agent to make retirement benefit transactions. For example, it won’t serve as a healthcare proxy. You can find the form at www.osc.state.ny.us/retire/forms/poa.pdf.

If a member or beneficiary chooses to execute and file the NYSLRS POA with SGR, the form must contain a valid notarization of the principal’s (grantor/donor) signature, the signature of two disinterested witnesses and a valid notarization of the agent’s signature.

NYSLRS recommends that you consult with an attorney to ensure you are using the correct form to meet the needs of you and your family.

Investing in a Cleaner Future

Saturday is Earth Day. Since 1970, April 22 has been set aside as a day to draw attention to environmental issues. Today, 47 years after the first Earth Day, we face perhaps the greatest threat to the planet: climate change as a result of carbon emissions.

As trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund (CRF), Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli seeks sound and sustainable investments in strategies and companies that are developing and using low-carbon technologies.Comptroller DiNapoli's Sustainable Investment Strategy

The CRF’s investments in New York-based companies such as Crystal IS in Green Island and the High Sheldon wind farm in Sheldon are examples of low-carbon investment opportunities that provide solid returns for the Fund, create jobs and generate local tax revenues, while helping promote a lower carbon economy.

As an investor, DiNapoli continually seeks improvements in environmental practices and lower carbon emissions from the companies in the CRF’s portfolio. For example, he has asked Exxon­Mobil and other portfolio companies to explain how they can adjust their business model to meet the worldwide effort to limit global warming, and has urged the Securities and Exchange Commission to ask fossil fuel companies to explain how they are addressing climate change. The CRF has created a $2 billion public equity index that excludes or reduces investments in the worst carbon emitting corporations, and increases CRF’s investments in companies that are lower emitters. In addition, DiNapoli has increased the CRF’s total commitment to sustainable investments to $5 billion to take advantage of the growing low carbon economy.

The Comptroller’s sustainable investment strategy is crucial to the long-term health of the CRF. Addressing investment risks presented by climate change is a major part of that strategy. Rising seas, severe storms, floods and droughts are likely to disrupt the global economy. Moving toward a low carbon future reduces risk to the CRF’s investments, spurs innovation and opens new investment opportunities.

Links:

http://osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/feb17/022317.htm

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39329304

http://time.com/4082328/climate-change-economic-impact/