Tag Archives: retirement planning

Sunshine on the Retirement Savings Horizon

Headlines in recent years offer a stormy retirement forecast: “Americans Get a Grade C in Retirement Readiness,” “More Than Four in Ten Households Wrong About Retirement Readiness,” “The Shockingly Small Amount Americans Have in Retirement Savings.”

Unfortunately, research and statistics tend to back up these dire warnings. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, a significant portion of Americans — 42 percent — lack access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b) or 457(b). Among those whose employers do offer a plan, only 49 percent actually participate.

In fact, research from the Federal Reserve suggests that 28 percent of people who haven’t retired yet have no retirement savings whatsoever. So, it’s not surprising that a report from the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis predicts that the “number of 65-year-olds per year who are poor or near poor will increase by 146 percent between 2013 and 2022.”

The Good News

There is promising news about retirement, though, if you look for it. Americans — particularly Millennials (those born 1979 through 1996) — are starting to save for retirement much sooner than previous generations. According to the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies, Millennials begin to put away for retirement at a median age of 22. Generation X workers waited until 27, and Baby Boomers didn’t start until age 35.

Sunshine on the Retirement Savings Horizon

Perhaps this earlier focus on saving is responsible for other good news. For example, Fidelity Investments reports record 401(k) balances in 2016: $92,500 at the end of the fourth quarter, which is up $4,300 from 2015. And, earlier this year, the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 55.4 percent of investors — more than ever before — are maxing out their individual retirement account (IRA) contributions.

That said …

Americans do have a retirement problem. New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli speaks regularly about the need for policies at the state and federal levels of government to ensure retirement security for everyone, including workers in the private sector.

As individuals, the solution is simple: We need to save, and we need to start early. NYSLRS members have the rare advantage of a well-funded, defined-benefit pension. However, your pension and Social Security benefits are only part of a well-rounded financial plan. Consider contributing to a New York State Deferred Compensation Plan (NYSDCP) account. NYSDCP is a voluntary retirement savings plan — similar to private sector 401(k) or 403(b) plans — created for employees of New York State and other participating employers. If you work for a local government employer, please check with your human resources administrator to find out what savings plans are available to you.

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 unused sick leave days by the number of work days in a year, which is 260 for most members. 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.

Tier 6 Benefits – A Closer Look

Tier 6 members (those who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012) are eligible for a lifetime pension benefit with 10 years of credited service. And that pension can replace a portion of your salary throughout your retirement.

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on your Final Average Salary (FAS) and the number of years you work in public service. FAS is the average of the five highest-paid consecutive years. For most members, those higher-paid years come at the end of their careers. Since retirement is still some years in the future for most of you, we won’t focus on the dollar amount of your FAS today. But we can look at what percentage of that salary would be replaced by your pension if you continue in the system until retirement age.

For Tier 6 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), the benefit is 1.66 percent of your FAS for each year you work, up to 20 years. (Benefit calculations for members of the Police and Fire Retirement System vary based on plan.) At 20 years, the benefit equals 1.75 percent per year (for a total of 35 percent). After 20 years, the benefit grows by 2 percent per year.

Financial advisers say you will need to replace between 70 to 80 percent of your salary to maintain your lifestyle during retirement. Let’s see how we can get there.
Tier 6 Salary Replacement
NYSLRS Pension: Say you begin your career at age 30 and work until your full retirement age of 63. That’s 33 years of Service Credit. You’ll get 35 percent of your FAS for the first 20 years, plus 26 percent for the last 13 years, for a total benefit that would replace 61 percent of your salary. If you started at age 25, and continue till 63, you’d get 71 percent of your FAS. If you didn’t start till age 35, you’d still get 51 percent at 63.

Social Security: You also should factor in Social Security. We know, you may have heard that Social Security might not be there for you, but the situation isn’t that dire. According to the Social Security Administration, under current law, payroll taxes will cover about 79 percent of benefits by 2034. Social Security now replaces about 36 percent of the wages of a typical worker who retires at full retirement age. So even if benefits take a hit – and that’s a big IF – Social Security might still replace around 25 to 30 percent of a typical worker’s pay.

Savings: Retirement savings can also replace a portion of your income. How much, of course, depends on how much you save. The key is to start saving early so your money has time to grow. If you haven’t already looked into the New York State Deferred Compensation Program, please consider doing so now.

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.