DiNapoli Continues to Fight Against Pension Fraud

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s efforts to prevent and stop pension fraud helps protect the integrity of NYSLRS and the retirement security of its members and beneficiaries.

The Comptroller’s Office works with law enforcement and local prosecutors to help root out pension fraud. Over the last several years, these investigations have led to dozens of arrests and the recovery of millions of dollars.

DiNapoli Continues to Fight Against Pension Fraud

Recent Pension Fraud Cases

  • A Dutchess County woman failed to notify NYSLRS about her mother’s death and continued to collect her mother’s pension checks. She collected nearly $42,000 before she was caught, and pleaded guilty to petit larceny in July 2019. She was sentenced to three years’ probation and has agreed to pay full restitution.
  • A Westchester County woman kept her deceased mother’s deposited pension checks and spent the money on personal expenses, including cellphone and utility bills. The amount she stole from the retirement system totaled $60,288. She pleaded guilty to a felony grand larceny charge and was sentenced to five years’ probation. She also paid back $22,000, part of her requirement to make full restitution.
  • Two Westchester County sisters are accused of concealing their mother’s death to collect nearly $22,000 of her retirement benefits from 2013 to 2015. They’re charged with third-degree grand larceny, a felony.

Comptroller DiNapoli is also committed to fighting public corruption in state and local government. He partners with law enforcement to bring corrupt officials to justice and recoup stolen taxpayer money.

Since he took office in 2007, DiNapoli’s anti-corruption initiatives have resulted in more than 200 arrests and the recovery of $60 million in taxpayer money.

How You Can Help

The Comptroller encourages the public to report allegations of wrongdoing by:

  • Calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555;
  • Filing a complaint online; or
  • Mailing a complaint form to:
    Office of the State Comptroller
    Division of Investigations, 8th Floor
    110 State Street
    Albany, NY 12236.

ERS Tier 6

ERS Tier 6 Member Milestones

As an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6 member, your years of service are critical to your benefits. As time goes by, and you earn service credit, you’ll reach a number of career milestones. These milestones are points where you become eligible for certain benefits or your existing benefits improve. Understanding these milestones will help you better plan your career and retirement.

In ERS Tier 6, you reach your first milestone on your first day of membership. This milestone covers you for certain job-related death and disability benefits. (You can learn more about them in your Tier 6 retirement plan booklet.)

ERS Tier 6

10 & 20 Years Make a Big Difference

For all NYSLRS members, there is one critical milestone: becoming vested. Being vested means that you have earned the right to a pension, even if you leave public employment before retirement age. ERS Tier 6 members become vested after they earn 10 years of service credit.

For most ERS Tier 6 members, another big milestone is the 20-year mark, when your retirement benefit improves significantly. If you retire with less than 20 years of service, you earn 1.66 percent of your final average salary (FAS) for each year of service. At 20 years, you receive 35% of your FAS. After 20 years, you’ll earn an additional 2 percent of your FAS for each year of service beyond 20.

ERS Tier 6 Special Plans

For ERS Tier 6 members in special plans, such as corrections officers, many of the milestones are the same. For example, you will become vested with 10 years of service credit.

But there are also major differences. Most importantly, correction officers in the special 25-year plan can retire after 25 years regardless of age. You can find more information in your retirement plan booklet.

Do We Have Your Correct Contact Information?

When was the last time you updated your contact information with NYSLRS? If you don’t remember updating it recently, make sure we have the correct ways to contact you. (Even if you updated your contact information with your employer, that doesn’t update it with NYSLRS.) We want to make sure you continue to receive important information about your NYSLRS benefits.

Please share this post with friends, family or coworkers who are NYSLRS members so they can also check their contact information.

Use Retirement Online to Change Your Contact Information

The fastest way to check and change your contact information is through Retirement Online. When you sign in to your Retirement Online account, click on ‘Update’ next to your home address or email address.  

If you have trouble signing in to your account, please read our Retirement Online Tools and Tips blog post for help.

If you don’t have a Retirement Online account, it’s easy to create one. Visit our Retirement Online for Members page and click ‘Register Now’ under the Sign In button. When you create your account, you’ll be asked to provide the ZIP code of your home address. If it doesn’t recognize your current ZIP code, it’s likely we have an older address on file for you. Please use the older ZIP code to create your account — you can update your address afterward.

contact information

Mail or Email? Pick Your Delivery Preference

You can receive correspondence from us by mail or email by selecting your delivery preference in Retirement Online. If you choose ‘Email,’ you’ll receive an email notifying you to log in to Retirement Online to read new correspondence that we sent you. If you choose ‘Mail’ or don’t select a preference, we’ll continue to send you letters through the US Postal Service. Email is the fastest way to receive an update from NYSLRS.

NOTE: For security purposes, certain correspondence (like tax forms) will only be sent by mail.

To update your preference, go to the ‘My Profile Information’ area of your Retirement Online Account Homepage and click ‘Update’ next to ‘Contact by.’

And starting this year, you can choose to receive your Member Annual Statement (MAS) through Retirement Online. If you choose this option, you’ll receive an email that directs you to Retirement Online to see your 2020 MAS when it’s ready. To choose your MAS delivery preference, go to the ‘My Profile Information’ area of your Retirement Online Account Homepage and click ‘Update’ next to ‘Member Annual Statement by.’

Coming Soon: A New Look for Your MAS

Your MAS provides your retirement account information as of March 31, 2020, the end of the State fiscal year. The new, streamlined look provides valuable information about your NYSLRS benefits and membership in a clear, comprehensive and easy-to-read format. Your statement includes your retirement plan, total service credit and contributions, the beneficiaries for your death benefit, a projection of your pension benefit and more. You can also save and print it for your records.

The MAS is an important tool to help you plan for retirement. Be sure to choose your MAS delivery preference and update your contact information so you can receive it this year. In addition, you can see your current benefit information every day by logging into Retirement Online.

Public Employees Value Their Retirement Benefits

A recent survey gauged how important retirement benefits are to state and local government workers, and the crucial role that pensions and other benefits play in recruiting and retaining workers.

In 2015, more than 19 million Americans worked for state or local governments, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Retirement benefits, including defined benefit and defined contribution plans, were available to most of those workers.

Last year, the National Institute on Retirement Security commissioned a survey of more than 1,100 public sector employees. Teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public workers were asked questions on a variety of work-related subjects, from job satisfaction to health care benefits. The majority of public workers surveyed (86 percent) cited retirement benefits as a major reason they stay in their jobs.

retirement benefits

Defined Benefit vs. Defined Contribution

An overwhelming number (94 percent) of government employees surveyed said pensions help attract and retain workers. The same percentage had a favorable view of defined benefit pension plans.

As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit plan, also known as a traditional pension plan. Your pension is a lifetime benefit based on years of service and earnings. It is not based on your individual contributions to the Retirement System.

With defined contributions plans, such as 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, the employer, employee or both make contributions to an individual retirement account. The money in the account is invested, and the amount the employee has at retirement is based on investment returns. A market downturn can affect the value of the benefit and employees risk outliving their money.

When Retirement Benefits Get Reduced

In an effort to cut costs, some state and local governments have replaced defined benefit plans with defined contribution plans. But these moves have had unexpected consequences.

The Institute’s study cites the experience of Palm Beach, Florida, which gutted its defined benefit plan. The town soon realized that it was spending large sums to recruit and train new police officers, only to see them move to nearby communities with better benefits. The town reconsidered and improved its pension plan.

Then there’s the case of West Virginia, where officials found that switching to a defined contribution plan for teachers actually cost more money. Because the traditional pension plan stopped receiving contributions from new teachers and their employers, it became harder for the state to meet its pension obligations. After 14 years, the state went back to offering a defined benefit plan to all new teachers. Teachers already in the 401(k)-style plan were allowed to switch to the traditional plan, and 79 percent made the switch. State officials project that the return to a defined benefit system will save them $1.2 billion in the first 30 years.

Meanwhile, Alaska is still struggling with its decision to drop its defined benefit plan. A report by the Alaska Department of Public Safety cited “the inability to provide a defined benefits retirement system” as a factor in the “critically low staffing levels” for Alaska state troopers.

How to Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

In an earlier blog, we explained how to locate your retirement plan booklet. Your retirement plan booklet is an essential resource that you should consult throughout your career. It will help you in planning for your retirement and guide you when your retirement date draws near. Today we discuss what information you’ll find in that booklet and what it means.

retirement plan booklet

About Your Membership

This section has information about your membership and tier status. Look here to find out if your plan requires contributions toward retirement, when you will be eligible for a retirement benefit, and how to withdraw your membership.

Service Credit

Service credit is one of the main factors in determining how much your pension will be. If you work full-time for the State or a participating municipal employer for 12 months, you’ll earn a year of service credit. If you work part-time, your service credit is prorated.

You’ll also find information about how your service credit is calculated, how to purchase credit for previous public employment and military service, how leaves of absence affect service credit, and how sick leave can be used for extra service credit at retirement.

Final Average Salary

Final average salary (FAS) is another major factor in determining the amount of your pension. Your FAS is your highest average earnings during a period of consecutive years. This can be three or five years, depending on your tier.

This section describes what types of payments are used in calculating your FAS and any limitations that may apply.

Service Retirement Benefits

This section describes your retirement eligibility and how your benefit is calculated. If you have questions about how much your pension will be, this is an important section of your retirement plan booklet to read through.

Choosing a Pension Payment Option

There are several ways you can collect your pension. Some payment options, in exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, will allow you to provide for your spouse or other beneficiary after you die. When reading through this section, consider each payment option carefully, as you’ll only have a limited time to change it after you retire.

Items That May Affect Your Pension

This section describes different factors that can change the amount of your pension. For example, if you retire with an outstanding loan, your pension will be permanently reduced. Also, if you get a divorce, your ex-spouse may be entitled to a portion of your benefit.

A Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), on the other hand, could increase your benefit once you become eligible.

Vested Retirement Benefits

If you leave public employment before retirement age, but have met the minimum service requirement to receive a pension, you can apply for a vested retirement benefit when you become eligible.

Disability and Death Benefits

Your NYSLRS benefits include more than a pension. If you are no longer able to perform your job because of a medical condition, you may be eligible for a disability retirement. If you die before retirement, your survivors may be eligible for a death benefit.

Receiving Your Benefits

Before you can receive a retirement benefit, you must file the appropriate form with the Office of the State Comptroller. Here you’ll learn where to find the form and what deadlines apply.

Where to Find Your Retirement Plan Booklet

Look for your retirement plan booklet on the Publications page on our website.

ERS Tier 5 Milestones

If you became an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 5 member when the tier began in 2010, you’ve crossed one of many milestones in your public service career. You are now vested, which means you are guaranteed a NYSLRS pension even if you leave public employment at a later date.

So, what are milestones, and how do they affect NYSLRS members throughout their career?

Tier 5 milestones

Why Milestones Matter

As a NYSLRS member, you’ll cross a series of thresholds throughout your career. These member milestones occur when you earn a certain amount of service credit. Because these milestones affect how your pension will be calculated, a better understanding of them will help you plan for retirement.

You can find these milestones on the Membership Milestones page and in your retirement plan booklet. Most members ERS Tier 5 members will retire under the Article 15 retirement plan. (This booklet does not cover ERS Tier 5 members in special plans, such as deputy sheriffs and state corrections officers, but they can also find information on the Membership Milestones page.)

Major Milestones for Tier 5

The day you joined NYSLRS, you were automatically covered by certain job-related death and disability benefits. This is the first milestone for ERS Tier 5 members. After your first year of service, you became eligible to borrow from your retirement contributions, and after two years you became eligible to purchase credit for previous public service.

After becoming vested at ten years, the next big milestone is 20 years, when your retirement benefit improves. If you retire with less 20 years of service, your pension will equal 1.66 percent of your final average salary (FAS) for each year of service. But with 20 to 30 years of service credit, your benefit will equal 2 percent of your FAS, multiplied by your years of service.

For each year of service beyond 30 years, you will receive 1.5 percent of FAS.

Other Milestone Blogs

Retirees: Know Your Post-Retirement Earnings Limit

Retirees: Know Your Post-Retirement Earnings LimitAs a NYSLRS retiree, you can work for a public employer after retirement and still receive your pension, but there may be an earnings limit on how much you can earn.

Public employers include New York State, municipalities in the State (cities, counties, etc.), school districts and public authorities. If you’re self-employed or work for a private employer, another state, or the federal government, you can collect your full NYSLRS pension no matter how much you earn. (However, earnings for most disability retirees are limited whether they work for a public or private employer. To find out your earnings limit, please contact us.)

Two sections of New York State Retirement and Social Security Law (RSSL) apply to NYSLRS service retirees who return to work in the public sector.

Section 212: Earnings Limit Increases to $35,000 in 2020

Section 212 of the RSSL allows retirees to earn up to $30,000 from public employment in calendar year 2019. Legislation signed in December 2019 increased the earnings limit to $35,000 for calendar year 2020 and future years. There is generally no earnings restriction beginning in the calendar year you turn 65. (Special rules apply to elected officials.) If you are under 65 and earn more than the Section 212 limit, you must:

  • Pay back, to NYSLRS, an amount equal to the retirement benefit you received after you reached the limit. And, if you continue to work, your retirement benefit will be suspended for the remainder of the calendar year.

OR

  • Rejoin NYSLRS, in which case your retirement benefit will be suspended.

Section 211: Requires Employer Approval

Under Section 211, the earnings limit can be waived if your prospective employer gets prior approval. (In most cases, the New York State Department of Civil Service would be the approving agency.)

Section 211 approvals apply to a fixed period, normally up to two years. Approval is not automatic; it is based on the employer’s needs and your qualifications.

Before you decide to return to work, please, please read our publication, What If I Work After Retirement? If you still have questions or concerns, please contact us.

Knowing Your Retirement Plan
is the Key to Retirement Planning

Information is the key to being fully prepared for your retirement years. The single most important thing you can do to achieve this goal is to know what NYSLRS retirement plan you’re in. Once you know that, the next thing you must do is understand the benefits your plan provides.

Your retirement plan booklet covers things like how long you’ll need to work in order to receive a pension, how your pension amount is determined, and what kind of death and disability benefits may be available to you. You can find a copy of your plan booklet on our Publications page.

But here’s the challenge: NYSLRS manages 335 retirement plan combinations, which are described in 51 plan booklets. How do you figure out which is yours?  The information below should help.

Retirement plan

Two Key Questions

To get started, you need to answer two questions.

Question One: Which retirement system are you in? NYSLRS is made up of two different systems:

  • The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), which is for public employees in non-teaching positions. It also includes some law enforcement personnel, such as correction officers, sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies.
  • The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), which is for paid firefighters and police officers, including SUNY police, State Park police, Encon officers and State Forest Rangers.

Question Two: Which tier are you in? There are six tiers in ERS and five tiers in PFRS. Your tier, based on when you joined NYSLRS, determines such things as when you become eligible for benefits and how much you contribute. You can find your tier by checking your Account Information in Retirement Online or by checking the What Tier Are You In? page on the NYSLRS website.

Know Your Retirement Plan Number

For many members, knowing your retirement system and tier are enough. But for other members, especially those in law enforcement, it may help to have your retirement plan number as well. The plan number indicates the section of Retirement and Social Security Law the plan is based on. For example, Plan A15 indicates that you are covered by Article 15. You can find your plan number in the Account Information section of Retirement Online.

Roughly three-quarters of all ERS members are covered by Article 15; they just need to know their tier to find the correct booklet.

State policeSUNY policeState Encon OfficersState Park Police and Forest Rangers each have their own plan booklet, which can be found in the PFRS section of the Publications page. That’s also where you’ll find the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans, which cover officers in most municipal police departments. (Members in these special plans should see 384, 384-d or 384-e listed in Retirement Online.)

If you are still unsure which retirement plan booklet covers your benefits, you can send us an email using our secure contact form, or you can ask your employer.

Take the Time to Understand Your Retirement Plan

It cannot be stated enough how important it is to read your plan publication to learn all you can about your benefits. It is the key to solid retirement planning. Remember, no one has a more vested stake in your retirement than you do.