Tag Archives: Service credit

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.

Welcome New Members

Welcome to new members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS).

NYSLRS is here to help you plan for a financially secure retirement. Your retirement may be far in the future, but decisions you make now will have a big impact on your later years. Here are a few things you should know:

How Pensions Work

A NYSLRS pension is a defined benefit plan. Under this type of plan, once you are eligible for a pension and apply for retirement, you will receive a monthly payment for your lifetime. Your pension benefits are determined by a preset formula set by law. However, many employees in the United States, particularly in the private sector, are enrolled in 401(k)-style plans. The ultimate value of a 401(k) plan is based on the contributions made and investment returns. While 401(k) plans and other individual retirement accounts are a way to supplement your pension and Social Security payments, they do not provide the same level of security as defined benefit plans. Unlike your pension, these plans do not guarantee a lifetime benefit. Learn more about how pensions work.

New Members Checklist

Service Credit

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on factors such as your tier, retirement plan, age at retirement, final average salary, and service credit. One year of full-time employment with a participating employer is equal to a one year of service credit. Part-time employment is prorated. You may also be able to buy service credit for previous public employment or military service, which in most cases would increase your pension.

Start Saving Now

Because having a defined benefit pension plan is only one part of building a financially secure future, it’s essential that you save additional money for retirement. State workers and employees of participating local governments can take advantage of the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. You can start by having as little as $10 deducted from each paycheck. You may choose how your money will be invested from a variety of options. Because of how compound interest works, the earlier you start saving, the better off you’ll be.

More Information

You’ll find more information in our booklet Membership in a Nutshell. We also publish booklets about specific retirement plans. If you know which system you’re in (Employees’ Retirement System or Police and Fire Retirement System) and your tier, you should be able to find your plan. If you are not sure what plan you’re in, ask your employer.

Overtime Limits for Tier 5 and 6 Members

The exact formula used in calculating your NYSLRS pension varies by tier and plan, but your credited service and final average salary (FAS) are the core variables. You earn service credit for paid service with participating employers and you also may claim it for some previous public service. FAS is the average wage you earned during the time period when your earnings were highest (36 consecutive months for Tier 5 and 60 consecutive months for Tier 6).

Your FAS can include overtime pay that you earned during the FAS period. However, for Tier 5 and 6 members, there are limits to how much overtime can be used to calculate your pension.

Members and employers aren’t required to make contributions on overtime pay above the limit, and your employer shouldn’t report overtime above the ceiling to us. While you can earn overtime beyond the limit, anything over will not count toward your FAS or your retirement benefit.

Tier 5 Overtime Limits

For Tier 5 Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members, the limit changes each calendar year. The overtime ceiling for Tier 5 increases each calendar year by 3 percent. This year, the overtime ceiling for Tier 5 ERS members is $18,448.11. In 2018, it will be $19,001.55. For Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members, the overtime limit is 15 percent of your regular earnings each calendar year.

Tier 5 & 6 Overtime Limits

Tier 6 Overtime Limits

For Tier 6 ERS members, the cap follows the fiscal year (April 1 through March 31), not the calendar year. For 2016-2017, the limit is $15,721. Come April that will increase to $16,048. The limit is adjusted for inflation based on the annual Consumer Price Index (CPI). The overtime ceiling for Tier 6 PFRS members is 15 percent of your regular earnings each calendar year.

Find more information about the overtime limit, FAS and retirement calculations in your plan booklet, available on our Publications page.

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.

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.

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:

What to Know About ERS Tier 5

Any Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) member who joined NYSLRS on or after January 1, 2010 but before April 1, 2012 is a member of Tier 5. There are currently 53,123 ERS Tier 5 members who make up 8.7 percent of ERS.

ERS Tier 5 Membership Milestones

As a Tier 5 member earns service credit over their career, they become eligible for certain benefits in their retirement plan. Here are some important milestones for Tier 5 members: 

ERS Tier 5 member milestones

ERS Tier 5 Contributions

Most Tier 5 members must contribute 3 percent of their salary for all their years of service, except Uniformed Court and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System, who must contribute 4 percent for all their years of public service. State Correction Officers contribute 3 percent for no more than 30 years.

With the exception of those retiring under special retirement plans, Tier 5 members must have 10 or more years of service to be vested (eligible for a retirement benefit). They can retire as early as age 55 with reduced benefits. The full benefit age for Tier 5 is 62.

The Final Average Salary (FAS) Calculation

The retirement benefit for Tier 5 members is 1.66 percent of their final average salary (FAS) for each year of service if the member retires with less than 20 years. FAS is the average of the wages earned in the three highest consecutive years of employment. For Tier 5 members, each year’s compensation used in the FAS calculation is limited to no more than 10 percent above the average of the previous two years.

If a Tier 5 member retires with between 20 and 30 years of service, the benefit is two percent of their FAS for each year of service. If a Tier 5 member retires with more than 30 years of service, the benefit is 1.5 percent of their FAS for each year of service over 30 years.

You can find out more info about Tier 5 retirement benefits on our website.