Tag Archives: members

Service Credit and Elected Officials

As public employees in New York State, elected and appointed officials are usually NYSLRS members. However, their compensation generally isn’t based on an hourly rate, and their irregular hours can make a typical timekeeping system impractical. So, how do we fairly and accurately credit their service in our system?

In 1975, Regulation 315.4  of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR) established a process for reporting time worked by elected and appointed officials, which we’ve used since with periodic revision.

The Reporting Process

  1. Record of activities (ROA). For three full months, from the start of the term or appointment, the official tracks time spent on work-related activities. This includes things like answering constituent correspondence and phone calls; preparing for and attending board and committee meetings; and attending employer-sponsored forums. They must leave out time spent on call; attending campaign events, political rallies or private meetings; or socializing after board meetings. Officials have 150 days to submit an ROA to the secretary or clerk of the governing board. (Tier 1 members are not required to keep a ROA.)
  2. Reporting resolution. When the governing board receives the official’s ROA, it checks the ROA against the official duties of the position and excludes any improper entries. Based on this record, the board adopts a resolution establishing both the average number of days worked by the official each month and the length of a standard work day (SWD) for the official.
  3. Public notice. After passing the resolution, the governing board must post it on the board’s public website for at least 30 days or, if the board has no public website, on the official sign-board or at the main entrance to the clerk’s office. After 30 days, the governing board has 15 days to file the resolution with NYSLRS.
  4. Next term. An ROA can be valid for up to eight years, but if the official begins a new term or is reappointed before then, NYSLRS needs a new ROA and a new reporting resolution. An official, who feels that the previous ROA still accurately represents the time worked, can certify that in writing in lieu of a new ROA.

Governing boards must keep officials’ ROAs on file for at least 30 years. Any official who does not submit an ROA will receive a warning from NYSLRS. If that goes unheeded, member benefits, including estimates, tier reinstatements and requests for previous service credit will be suspended, and time worked during this period will be excluded from the individual’s pension benefit calculation.

Visit our website for the full details about reporting regulations for elected and appointed officials.

Are You Prepared for a Long Retirement?

Are you planning for a long retirement?We all look forward to a long, happy and financially secure retirement. But as you plan for retirement, “how long?” is an important question.

People are living longer. A 55-year-old man can expect to live another 25 years, to about 80. Women tend to live three or four years longer. But these are only averages. More than 36,000 current NYSLRS retirees are over 85, and more than 3,000 have passed the 95 mark. In fact, in the state fiscal year that ended in March 2016, 336 NYSLRS’ retirees were 101 or older. Considering that many public employees retire at 55, retirement could last 45 years or more.

As you plan for retirement, you need to ask yourself, will I have enough money to maintain a comfortable life for decades to come? Members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) who retired in 2016 are receiving an average monthly pension of $2,364. The average Social Security benefit for a retired worker was $1,355, as of November 2016.

Retirement savings are also a crucial asset, but half of U.S. households with members aged 55 or older have no retirement savings, according to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. If you have no retirement savings, it is never too late to start. An easy way to get started is through the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan, a retirement savings program created for New York State employees and employees of participating public agencies.

NYSLRS’ Top Five Retirement Myths from 2016

Retirement Myths vs FactsWith two retirement systems, six tiers and 346 retirement plan combinations, it’s quite possible that the NYSLRS benefit information your coworker is talking about may not apply to you. That’s why, periodically, we like to clear up some common misconceptions we hear from members and retirees. Here are our top five retirement myths from 2016.


Myth #1  “NYSLRS can change the rules determining pension contributions and retirement benefits.

Fact  We can’t. The contributions you make and the benefits you enjoy are dictated by law — as passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. NYSLRS administers these programs.

This is also true for retirement incentives; the decision to offer an incentive comes from the Legislature and the Governor. Individual employers, like your town or police department, may decide to offer their own incentives to employees, but these do not affect a member’s NYSLRS pension benefits.


Myth #2  “Your final average salary (FAS) is based on the years immediately preceding your retirement

Fact  While the number of years used to calculate your FAS varies by tier and plan, they aren’t limited to your final years of employment. We look at your entire employment history while you were a member of NYSLRS to find the consecutive years when you earned the most, and those years are used in the calculation for your FAS. For more information, visit our website.


Myth #3  “NYSLRS membership ends when you stop working for a NYSLRS participating employer.

Fact  Even when you leave public employment before you’re eligible to retire, you’re still a NYSLRS member. If you’re vested, you will be eligible for a pension benefit once you reach the retirement age specified by your plan. If you’re not vested, your contributions stay with NYSLRS and continue to earn 5 percent interest for seven years. If you leave public employment with less than 10 years of service, you can end your NYSLRS membership and request a refund of your retirement contributions.

What else happens when you leave public employment? Check out your plan publication to learn more about your benefits. You can also visit our website for more information.


Myth #4  “You can’t make extra payments to pay off a NYSLRS loan faster.

Fact  You can make additional payments or pay your loan in full at any time, with no prepayment penalties. For the payoff balance on your loan, call our automated phone service (1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area and press 3 for members; then 1 or 2 for the Employees’ Retirement System or the Police and Fire Retirement System; and then 1 for loan services). For more information, visit Loans: Getting One and Paying it Back.


Myth #5  “If Call Center lines are busy, there’s no way to get benefit information.

Fact  Even when the Call Center phone lines are busy, our automated phone system can help members and retirees with a number of tasks 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Press 3 for Member Services, which includes current loan balance and application status information.

Press 4 for Retiree/Beneficiary Services, which includes COLA eligibility and federal tax withholding information.

Press 6 for Other Services, which includes requesting forms by fax.

Another way to get benefit information is to visit the Contact Us page on our website, which has answers to many commonly asked questions. You can also email us using our secure email form.


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Tier 3 & 4 Members: When Is The Right Time To Retire?

Tier 3 and 4 members qualify for retirement benefits after they’ve earned five years of credited service. Once you’re vested, you have a right to a NYSLRS retirement benefit — even if you leave public employment. Though guaranteed, the size of that benefit can vary.

Three Reasons to Keep Working

  1. Age 55 is the earliest that Tier 3 and 4 members can claim their benefits. However, unless you have 30 years of service, a significant penalty for such an early retirement is imposed — a 27-percent reduction. The longer you wait to retire, the greater your benefit will be. At age 62, you can retire with your full benefits.
  2. Your final average salary (FAS) is a significant factor in the calculation of your pension benefit. Since working longer usually means a higher FAS, continued public employment can increase your pension.
  3. The other part of your retirement calculation is your service credit. More service credit obviously earns you a larger pension benefit, but after 20 years, it also gets you a better pension formula. For Tier 3 and 4 members, the formula for the first 20 years is FAS × 1.66% × years of service; between 20 and 30 years, the formula becomes FAS × 2.00% × years of service.

When is the Right Time to Retire?

If You’re Not Working, Here’s Something to Consider

Everyone’s situation is unique. For example, if you’re vested, you no longer work for a public employer and you don’t think you will again, retiring at 55 might make sense. When you do the math, full benefits at age 62 will take 19 years to match the money you’d have received retiring at age 55 — even with the reduction.

Tools To Help Make Your Decision

Here are two ways to decide what makes sense for you:

  1. Our online retirement benefit calculator allows most members to estimate their benefit with different retirement dates, FAS and service credit totals. By changing each variable, you can see the impact it may have on your benefit.
  2. If you’re a Tier 3 or 4 member with five or more years of service credit, you can request an estimate based on your actual salary and service reported to date. If you’re age 50 or older, we can include additional, projected service credit based on a date of retirement up to five years in the future.

To request your estimate, contact our Call Center toll-free at 1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area. You can also send us a Request for Estimate (RS6030) form.

This post has focused on Tier 3 and 4 members. To see how early retirement affects members in other tiers, visit our About Benefit Reductions page.

10 Most Popular Posts of 2016

As we wrap up 2016, let’s take a look back at our most popular posts.

  1. NYSLRS Retirees at Home and Abroad

    Where did you go? Not far, it turns out. Seventy-eight percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries stay in New York State. However, the rest have made homes around the country and even around the world.

  2. How Full-Time and Part-Time Service Credit Works

    Work is work, and credit is credit. But, if you work part-time, there’s some math involved. We helped members crunch the numbers.

  3. NYSLRS Basics: Becoming Vested

    It’s all about becoming vested, earning enough service credit to qualify for a pension benefit — even if you leave public employment. We went through the ins and outs of becoming vested for members of both the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).

  4. What to Know When Leaving Public Employment

    Even if you leave public employment, you’re still a NYSLRS member. We gave members a rundown on their options and how their benefits may change after moving to private employment before retirement.

  5. Taxes and Your NYSLRS Retirement Benefit

    You won’t need to pay New York State or local taxes on your NYSLRS retirement benefit, but other states and federal income tax are another matter. We gave members and retirees some insight into federal tax withholding and the 1099-R form.

  6. Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement

    Once you’ve earned the service credit, it’s time to get ready for retirement. We gave members a six-item checklist to make sure they’ve laid the groundwork for a smooth application process.

  7. Death Benefits for ERS Members

    We looked at the death benefit that Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 ERS members in regular plans receive.

  8. Planning Around Your Retirement Date

    A solid lead up to retirement is essential, but picking the right retirement date is important too. We gave members some tips about when to submit their applications, how to pick a date and what their first benefit payments will look like.

  9. NYSLRS’ Top Five Retirement Myths from 2015

    NYSLRS members are spread out over two systems, six tiers and 346 retirement plan combinations. It can be easy for information to get jumbled between coworkers and between plans. So, we cleared up some common misconceptions we’ve heard from members and retirees over the years. This is an entry in our Retirement Myths series.

  10. Retirement Milestones for ERS Tier 3 and 4 Members

    The better you understand your road to retirement, the better you can plan for it. We took a look at the journey for Tier 3 and 4 ERS members and pointed out several retirement benefit milestones they’ll pass along the way. We also took a look at Tier 5 and Tier 6 member milestone, too.

Retroactive Payments and Your NYSLRS Pension Benefit

Retroactive payments are lump sum payments you receive from your employer. These can be from newly negotiated union contracts, like the one ratified on December 14 by Public Employees Federation (PEF) union members. Retroactive payments can also be from arbitration awards or legal settlements.

Your final average salary (FAS) is a major factor in your pension benefit calculation. Your FAS is the average of your three (five for Tier 6 members) highest consecutive years of earnings. How do retroactive payments affect your final average salary?

How Retroactive Payments Can Affect Your Benefit

When we calculate your FAS at retirement, retroactive payments are applied to the pay periods when they were earned, not when they were paid. In general, retroactive payments can increase your FAS as long as the time period in which you earned that money is part of your FAS.

For example, state employees who are members of PEF received a retroactive payment this month for salary earned since April 1, 2016. If you are one of these PEF members, we would apply the lump sum payment over the time frame when it was earned (State fiscal year April 1, 2016 through March 31, 2017). If that State fiscal year falls within your highest three (five for Tier 6) consecutive years of earnings, the retroactive payment you received in March should increase your FAS.

Your employer should let us know if you receive a retroactive payment before or after you retire. If you are a State employee who received a PEF retroactive payment after you retired, we will recalculate your pension benefit amount automatically; you do not need to notify us. If you receive a retroactive payment from a non-state employer after your pension benefit calculation is finalized, send a letter to our Recalculation Unit in the Benefit Calculations & Disbursement Services Bureau. Please include a copy of your check stub and/or any correspondence you received from your employer. You may also email and upload this information to the Retirement System through our secure contact form.

For more information about FAS, read our Understanding Your Final Average Salary blog post. You can also find out specific information about your FAS by reading your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page.

NYSLRS Basics: Special Beneficiary Designations

As a NYSLRS member, it’s important for you to name a beneficiary. Upon your death, your beneficiaries may be eligible to receive a death benefit. You may designate any person, a trust or organization to receive your ordinary death benefit – it does not have to be a family member.

The two main types of beneficiaries are primary (an individual or individuals who receive your benefit if you pass) and contingent (an individual or individuals who receive your benefit if your primary beneficiaries predecease you.)

Primary and Contingent Beneficiaries

A primary beneficiary is the person who receives your death benefit. If you name more than one primary beneficiary, each will share the benefit equally, unless you indicate specific percentages totaling 100 percent are to be paid (e.g., John Doe, 50 percent, Jane Doe, 25 percent, and Mary Doe, 25 percent).

A contingent beneficiary will receive your death benefit only if all the primary beneficiaries die before you. Multiple contingent beneficiaries will share the benefit equally, unless you indicate specific percentages are to be paid.

Special Beneficiary Designations

Special Beneficiary Designations

There are special rules for certain beneficiary designations:

Minor Children

If your beneficiary is under age 18 at the time of your death, your benefit will be paid to the child’s court-appointed guardian. You may also choose a custodian to receive the benefit on the child’s behalf under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). Before making this type of designation, please contact us for more information.

Trust

If you have executed a trust agreement or provided for a trust in your will, your trust can be your primary or contingent beneficiary. Use our Trust with Contingent Beneficiaries form (RS5127-T) and be sure to include the trustee’s address.

With this type of designation, the trust is the beneficiary, not the individuals who will receive the trust. If you revoke the trust or it expires, its designation as beneficiary is no longer valid. You would then need to complete a new Designation of Beneficiary form (RS5127) to keep your beneficiary designation current.

You should contact your attorney for more information on trust agreements.

Estate

You may name your estate as the primary or contingent beneficiary of your death benefit. If you name your estate as your primary beneficiary, you cannot name a contingent. If a benefit is payable, it will be given to the executor of your estate to be distributed according to the terms of your will.

Entities

You may name any charitable, civic, religious, educational or health-related organization as your beneficiary. An entity can be a primary or contingent beneficiary.

You can find your NYSLRS beneficiaries listed in your Member Annual Statement, which is sent out every summer. Starting in January, you’ll be able to view and update your beneficiaries using our secure self-service portal, Retirement Online. Watch for more information about opening your new online account in upcoming blog topics and in other NYSLRS communications.

What to Know About ERS Tier 6

Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who join NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012 are in Tier 6. There are currently 129,359 ERS Tier 6 members who make up 21.1 percent of ERS membership.

ERS Tier 6 Membership Milestones

ERS Tier 6 members need 10 years of service credit to be vested. That means they are eligible to receive a service retirement benefit as early as age 55. The full retirement benefit age is 63, but they can retire between 55 and 63, with a reduced benefit. Tier 6 correction officers, however, can retire with 25 years of service, regardless of age.
ERS Tier 6 benefits

The Final Average Salary (FAS) Calculation

A member’s final average salary is the average of the wages earned in the five highest consecutive years of employment. For ERS Tier 6 members, each year’s compensation used in the final average salary calculation is limited to no more than 10 percent above the average of the previous four years.

Tier 6 Service Retirement Benefit

Generally, the benefit is 1.66 percent of their final average salary for each year of service if the member retires with less than 20 years. If a member retires with 20 years of service, the benefit is 1.75 percent of their final average salary for each year of service, or 35 percent.

If a member retires with more than 20 years of service, they receive 35 percent for the first 20 years, plus 2 percent of their final average salary for each year of service over 20 years.

If you’re an ERS Tier 6 member, you can find out more about your benefits by reading one of the plan publications listed below:

Stopping Pension Fraud

Stopping Pension Fraud is a top priority of Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoliSince taking office, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has battled public corruption. One of his top priorities is to protect the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) from pension scammers.

Under the direction of Comptroller DiNapoli, NYSLRS has put in place a system of safeguards designed to prevent and identify potential incidents of pension fraud. One such safeguard uses data analytics to uncover and stop improper payments.

Post-Retirement Employment Violations

Our investigative efforts include a focus on post-retirement employment. New York State law restricts the amount of money public sector retirees can earn if they return to public service employment after retirement. The law permits public sector retirees under the age of 65 to earn up to $30,000 per year from public employment before their pension benefits are suspended.

As of this March, our review of post-retirement employment cases have uncovered more than $700,000 in benefit payments subject to recovery. For example, a former Newburgh City Fire Chief, who double-dipped by collecting $95,000 in pension payments while still working as fire chief, was federally convicted.

The “Muscle” in the Pension Fraud Fight

In some cases, the pension fraud NYSLRS uncovers gets referred to Comptroller DiNapoli’s wider umbrella program to root out public corruption and fraud involving public funds. The Comptroller’s aggressive initiative included partnering with federal, state and local prosecutors and law enforcement statewide, including DiNapoli’s groundbreaking “Operation Integrity” task force with Attorney General Schneiderman. To date, Comptroller DiNapoli’s various partnerships have garnered more than 130 arrests and $30 million in ordered recoveries.

NYSLRS’ partnership with DiNapoli’s “Operation Integrity” has resulted in the investigation, prosecution and recovery of stolen pension payments, exposing $2.75 million in pension fraud in recent years.

Here are some recent cases where pension scammers have been thwarted:

Comptroller DiNapoli and NYSLRS will not tolerate pension fraud. These arrests and convictions serve as warnings to those who might steal pension benefits: if you think you can steal the hard-earned benefits of NYSLRS members and retirees, you are gravely mistaken. When fraud is identified, Comptroller DiNapoli will work with law enforcement to hold the pension scammers accountable. The clear message to anyone who tries to defraud our pension system is that you will be found, and you will pay.

If you suspect someone of pension fraud, call the Comptroller’s toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, file a complaint online at investigations@osc.state.ny.us, or mail a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 14th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.

Retirement Planning Tip: Required Minimum Distributions

Required Minimum DistributionsIf you’re putting money into a retirement savings account, you should know that once you turn 70½ years old, you may need to start using those retirement savings. That’s not some oddly specific financial advice; it’s the law. The same federal tax laws that provide for investments like 401(k) plans and individual retirement arrangements, or IRA accounts, also require you to withdraw at least some of your retirement funds as taxable distributions during your lifetime.

Why Take Required Minimum Distributions?

These required minimum distribution rules are intended to ensure that you don’t simply defer taxation and leave these retirement funds as an inheritance. So, once you turn 70½, you need to begin withdrawing a certain amount from your investments each year.

That amount is calculated annually. It’s based on the account’s balance at the end of the previous calendar year as well as a set of actuarial tables that factor in both your age and your beneficiary’s age. Check out AARP’s Required Minimum Distribution Calculator for an easy way to determine your required distributions.

If you don’t take a distribution, or if the amount you withdraw doesn’t meet the requirement, you may have to pay a 50 percent excise tax on the amount not distributed. Required minimum distributions are never eligible for rollover into other retirement accounts; you must take out the money and pay the taxes.

What Accounts Require Minimum Distributions?

Most retirement accounts you’re familiar with require these annual withdrawals:

  • IRAs (traditional, SEP and SIMPLE)
  • 401(k) plans
  • 403(b) plans
  • 457(b) plans
  • Profit sharing plans
  • Money purchases.

Since contributions to Roth IRAs are not tax-exempt, the IRS does not require distributions from Roth IRAs at any age. For beneficiaries who inherit a Roth IRA, certain minimum distribution rules do apply.

As with most things investment-related, a lot depends on your particular circumstances. If you have questions, contact your financial advisor or your plan administrator.