From Ledgers to Databases: A Look at NYSLRS’ Technology

The years since 1921 have witnessed unprecedented advances in technology. Not surprisingly, NYSLRS has taken advantage of many of these innovations to manage a complex and growing retirement system.

NYSLRS technology through the years

The Early Years

The IBM 407 Accounting Machine, mid-1950s
Typewriters and comptometers (adding machines), mid-1950s

When NYSLRS was established a century ago, the business world was still in the age of paper, as it had been for centuries. Individual member information was logged in paper ledger books. A punch card was prepared for each member and retiree, and this data was mechanically tabulated to record statistical information (date of birth, gender, years of service, etc.) about them.

An employee’s desk also looked radically different. Instead of laptops and computer monitors, office technology was limited to adding machines and typewriters, and the use of carbon paper for making copies of documents. Large accounting machines, like the IBM 407, read member punch cards and could print out results.

The Computer Era

In 1963, NYSLRS entered the computer age with its first computer, an IBM 1401. The 1401 was considered revolutionary in its day, offering businesses an affordable general-purpose computer. At the time, it also had 16KB of memory – about as much as a pocket calculator today – and was the length of a minivan. NYSLRS’ early computers were programmed and coded through the use of punch cards, until the late 1970s, when they could be coded through terminals. The first personal computers wouldn’t appear on staff desks until 1984.

NYSLRS accounting machine.
The IBM 407 Accounting Machine, mid-1950s

In the mid-1980s, NYSLRS launched a major database conversion project, which would result in a computer system that would serve NYSLRS for decades. But that system eventually became outdated. Recently, after years of meticulous research, NYSLRS launched a multi-year project to replace its information technology systems and streamline core services.

Retirement Online is the public face of that project. Launched in 2017, Retirement Online provides members and retirees with convenient, secure access to their account information. Members can update contact and beneficiary information, apply for a loan, generate a pension estimate, apply for a service retirement benefit and more. Retirees can view pension payment and tax withholding information, and additional features will be added in the near future.

The Future

Technology has served NYSLRS well over the years. Certainly, technology will continue to evolve, and NYSLRS will continue to adopt innovations that help us better serve our members, retirees, beneficiaries, and employers.

Countdown to Retirement – 12 Months to Go

The final months leading up to your retirement date go by quickly. When you are 12 months from your planned retirement date, you should consider your post-retirement finances. Putting together a good picture of your expected income and expenses should be a big part of your countdown to retirement.

Countdown to Retirement - 12 months To Go

Estimate Your Pension

Your NYSLRS pension is likely to be a major source of retirement income, but how much will you get? Most members can estimate their pension in Retirement Online.

A Retirement Online estimate is based on the account information we have on file for you. You can enter different retirement dates to see how an earlier or later date would affect your benefit. You need a Retirement Online account to use the online benefit calculator.

If you are unable to use the online calculator, you can request a benefit projection by calling our toll-free number at 866-805-0990 or by submitting a Request for Estimate form. Also, most Tiers 1 through 4 members can still use the Quick Calculator on the NYSLRS website. 

Review Other Retirement Income

One year out is a good time to take a closer look at other sources of retirement income. If you have an account with the New York Deferred Compensation Plan, review your latest statement. If you have an old 401(k) or IRA from another job, you should review those plans as well.

Social Security is a major source of income for most retirees. Although most NYSLRS members can retire as early as age 55, you cannot start collecting Social Security retirement benefits until age 62. Your Social Security benefits will be reduced permanently, however, if you retire before your full Social Security retirement age. You should still familiarize yourself with the program and estimate how much you’ll get. The Social Security Administration has several benefit calculators on its website to help you do that.

Review Your Health Insurance Coverage

NYSLRS doesn’t administer health insurance benefits, but health care can be a significant retirement expense you’ll need to plan for. Check with your employer’s health benefits administrator to determine what coverage you’re eligible for once you retire. Now is the time to research private health insurance plans if you’re not eligible for post-retirement coverage or if you need to supplement it.

If you are a New York State employee, you may want to review the Planning for Retirement guide from the Department of Civil Service.

If you’re close to age 65, learn more about Medicare benefits.

Make a Retirement Budget

How much will you spend each month after you retire? By preparing a post-retirement budget before you retire, you can set goals and establish guidelines that can help you stay on track throughout your retirement.

One of the best ways to plan for the future is to track what you spend now. For a more realistic budget, keep a record of your current spending for a month or two to get an idea of your expenses. Be sure to factor in periodic expenses, such as car insurance or property and school taxes.

To help you with your retirement budget, we’ve created monthly income and expense worksheets. These forms can help reveal your current spending habits and assist you in projecting your future needs.

Counting Down

Your planned retirement date will be here before you know it. If you missed it, you may wish to read our earlier Countdown to Retirement post. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for rest of this series for steps to take at four-to-six months and one-to-three months before your retirement date.

Welcome, New Members

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

What is NYSLRS? NYSLRS administers retirement benefits for New York State employees and municipal and non-teaching school district employees outside of New York City. With more than 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries, NYSLRS is one of the largest public retirement systems in the nation.

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 the rest of your life. The amount of your pension will be calculated using a formula set by State law.

However, many employees in the United States, particularly in the private sector, are enrolled in 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, or have no employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. The ultimate value of a 401(k) plan is based on the contributions made to individual accounts and investment returns on those contributions.

While a 401(k)-style plan can supplement a pension and Social Security benefits, it does not provide the same level of financial security as a defined-benefit plan. Unlike your NYSLRS pension, these plans do not guarantee a lifetime benefit.

New Members Checklist

Earning Service Credit

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

Plan Ahead: Start Saving Now

Your pension is only one part of a financially secure future. It’s also a good idea to save additional money for retirement. Your retirement savings can be a hedge against inflation and a source of cash in an emergency. A healthy retirement account will give you more flexibility during retirement, helping ensure that you’ll be able to do the things you want to do.

State workers and some local government employees can save for retirement through the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan, which also has some tax advantages. You can start by having as little as $10 deducted from each paycheck. You can 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.

Your Next Steps as a New NYSLRS Member

If you haven’t already, sign up for a Retirement Online account. You can use Retirement Online to conduct business with NYSLRS, including naming a beneficiary for your death benefit, updating your contact information, and looking up your retirement plan information. This online tool will be an important resource throughout your career, especially as you near retirement, when you can use our benefit calculator to estimate your pension.

More Information

You can find more information about NYSLRS and your benefits in our booklet, Membership in a Nutshell.

Countdown to Retirement — 18 Months to Go

Thinking about retiring soon? Our Countdown to Retirement series will help you get started and stay on track to hit your retirement date.

Countdown to Retirement 18 months

Review Your Account Information in Retirement Online

As your first step on the road to retirement, you should sign in to your Retirement Online account and review the information we have on file for you. If you don’t have an account, consider signing up for one. It’s an essential retirement tool that will make the retirement process easier.

Make sure your mailing address and email address are current and check other information in your account. In your Retirement Online account, you’ll find:

  • The date you joined NYSLRS;
  • Your tier and membership plan;
  • Your estimated service credit;
  • Your annual earnings for the past five years; and
  • Loan balances and payoff dates.

If you believe information is missing or incorrect in your Retirement Online account, please contact us.

Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

Your retirement plan booklet provides essential information about your NYSLRS benefits. It shows the formula that NYSLRS will use to calculate your pension and discusses other factors that may affect your pension.

You can find your plan booklet on our Publications page. Read our blog post about retirement plans to figure out which plan is yours. If you’re still not sure, check your Retirement Online account or ask your employer.

Learn How Divorce Can Affect Your Pension

If you’ve been through a divorce since you joined NYSLRS, that may affect your pension.

Retirement benefits are considered marital property and can be divided between you and your ex-spouse. Any division of your benefits must be stated in a domestic relations order (DRO), a legal document that gives us specific instructions on how your benefits should be divided.

Read our Divorce and Your Benefits page to learn more.

Other Things to Consider

If you have a NYSLRS loan, you should plan to pay it off before retirement. Your pension will be reduced if you retire with an outstanding loan. You can use Retirement Online to check your balance, make a lump-sum payment or increase your payment amount. For more information, visit our Loans page.

If you are planning to purchase service credit, including military service, you should do that as soon as possible. You can apply for additional credit in Retirement Online or submit a Request to Purchase Service Credit form (RS5042). Our publication Service Credit for Tier 2 Through 6 has more information.

Your Countdown to Retirement

Your planned retirement date will be here before you know it. Watch for future posts in the Countdown to Retirement series for steps to take at 12 months, four-to-six months and one-to-three months before your retirement date.

Retirees Contribute: A Century of Economic Impact

Over the past century, NYSLRS has provided pension security for retired public workers, whose spending has contributed to the economic strength and stability of their communities.

Currently, there are more than 384,000 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries living in New York. In every corner of the Empire State, NYSLRS retirees shop at local stores and patronize local businesses, which in turn helps create jobs. NYSLRS retirees also pay a hefty share of local taxes.

Retirees Contribute: A Century of Economic Impact

Economic Stability

Spending by NYSLRS retirees provides something else for their communities: economic stability.

Because a NYSLRS pension is a defined-benefit retirement plan, retirees and beneficiaries receive a guaranteed monthly payment for life. Defined-benefit plans, which pay benefits based on a pre-set formula, differ from defined-contribution plans, such as a 401k, which are essentially retirement savings accounts.

Recipients of defined-benefit plans don’t have to worry about their money running out during retirement or a drop in their monthly income because of a dip in the stock market. They are better able to maintain their spending during economic downturns, which helps local businesses stay afloat during hard times.

That stability is particularly important in rural parts of the State, which are more susceptible to downturns because they lack the economic diversity of more-urban areas.

Defined-benefit pensions don’t just help New York State. Across the nation, these pensions are benefitting millions of pensioners and their communities. In 2018, defined-benefit pension plans paid $578.7 billion to 23.8 million retired Americans, and their spending supported 6.9 million jobs and generated $1.3 trillion in economic activity, according to a study by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS).

See You at the New York State Fair

The Great New York State Fair is back and NYSLRS will be there.

The 18-day celebration of everything New York begins Friday, August 20, and runs through Monday, September 6 (Labor Day). Our information representatives will be at the fairgrounds in Syracuse to help members and retirees with their retirement planning and benefit questions. You’ll also be able to pick up retirement plan brochures and forms, request an estimate that will be mailed to you and get help registering for a Retirement Online account.

The NYSLRS booth will be in the Center of Progress Building, building 6 on the State Fair map, near the Main Gate.

father and son discuss power of attorney

Find Unclaimed Funds at the State Fair

OSC’s Office of Unclaimed Funds booth will be in the same building. An unclaimed fund is lost or forgotten money, perhaps in old bank account or insurance policy, that has been turned over to the State. See if any of that money is yours. So far this year, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and the Office of Unclaimed Funds have returned more than $253 million.

Special State Fair Days

Friday, August 20

  • Opening Day

Monday, August 23

  • Fire & Rescue Day — Free admission for active and retired members of fire departments and emergency services organizations

Wednesday, August 25

  • Women’s Day — $1 admission for women ages 13-64 (Children 12 and under and seniors 65 and over are always free.)

Friday, August 27

  • Pride Day – The LGBTQ event includes a flag-raising ceremony at 10:30 am

Monday, August 30

  • Comptroller DiNapoli Visits the Fair — He is trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund and is the administrator of NYSLRS. He’ll be stopping by the NYSLRS booth during the day.
  • Law Enforcement Day — Free admission for active and retired law enforcement and corrections personnel

Thursday, September 2

  • Armed Forces Day — Free admission for active duty or veterans

Monday, September 6

  • Labor Day – Show your support of working women and men at the Fair’s Labor Day rally

Note: ID required for free admissions listed above. For details, check out the complete schedule of Special Fair Days.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment Coming in September

Eligible NYSLRS retirees will see a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in their monthly pension payments beginning in late September 2021. For payment dates, check our pension payment calendar.

This COLA is a permanent annual increase to your retirement benefit. It is based on the cost-of-living index and is designed to address inflation.

cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) coming soon

How Cost-of-Living Adjustment is Determined

COLA payments are based on the rate of inflation, as reflected in the consumer price index published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The law requires that COLA payments be calculated based on 50 percent of the annual rate of inflation, measured at the end of the fiscal year (on March 31st). In addition, the COLA cannot be less than 1 percent or greater than 3 percent of your benefit.

The COLA adjustment is applied to the first $18,000 of your benefit calculated as a Single Life Allowance, even if you selected a different pension payment option. Once your COLA payments begin, you will automatically receive an increase to your monthly benefit each September.

The September 2021 COLA equals 1.4 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $252.00, or $21.00 per month before taxes.

eligibility for cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)

When Will You See the Increase?

Eligible retirees will see the first 2021 COLA payment in their September pension payment. It will be available to those with direct deposit on September 30, 2021. If you receive a paper check, the COLA will be included in the check mailed on September 29, 2021.

You can sign in to your Retirement Online account to view a current breakdown of your pension payment. If you have direct deposit and are eligible for a COLA increase, you will receive notification of the net change in your monthly payment amount in September.

If you are not eligible for a COLA yet, you will receive your first increase in the month after you become eligible. This payment will include a prorated amount to cover the month you became eligible. After that, you will receive a COLA increase each September.

Power of Attorney

Under normal circumstances, NYSLRS won’t release your benefit information – even to close family members­ – without your permission. However, if we have an approved copy of your power of attorney (POA) form on record, we can discuss your information with the person you named as your agent in your POA.

For example, your agent could ask for details about your pension payments, get help completing a loan application or call us for clarification if you don’t understand a letter you received.

father and son discuss power of attorney

Your agent could be your spouse, another family member or a trusted friend. You may designate more than one person as your agent, and you may authorize those agents to act together or separately. You may also designate “successor agents” to act on your behalf if the primary agent is unable or unwilling to serve.

A POA form may be filed with NYSLRS at any time, so there’s no need to wait until a “life event” happens to file. With a POA already on record, the designated agent can act immediately in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness.

What Can Agents Do?

The agent named in your POA is authorized to act on your behalf and conduct business with NYSLRS for you.

Agents can file applications and forms, such as service or disability retirement applications. They can get account-specific benefit information, request copies of retirement documents, update addresses and phone numbers, and take out loans. For retirees, agents can change the amount withheld from your pension for taxes.

The NYSLRS POA Form

NYSLRS provides a Special Durable Power of Attorney form that is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements.

If you use the NYSLRS POA form, and your agent or successor agent is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they have “self-gifting authority.” That means they can designate themselves as a beneficiary of your pension benefits or, if you are not yet retired, choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death and designate themselves as a beneficiary for that benefit.

If your agent or successor agent is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they do not automatically have self-gifting authority. If you want them to be able to designate themselves as beneficiaries, you should indicate that in the Modifications section of the POA. You should identify your agent by name and specify the authority you want granted to them.

It’s important to note that the NYSLRS POA form only covers Retirement System transactions. It does not authorize an agent to make health care decisions or changes to a Deferred Compensation plan.

Changes to the POA Law

The law governing POA requirements was changed effective June 13, 2021. Any POA executed since that date must comply with the new requirements (the NYSLRS form complies with the new requirements):

  • All POAs must be signed by two disinterested witnesses (witnesses who are not listed as an agent in the POA or named in the POA as a person who can receive gifts).
  • The use of a Statutory Gift Rider to grant gifting authority has been eliminated. If you do not use the NYSLRS POA form and instead submit a separately prepared Statutory POA form, gifting authority, even for a close family member, must be granted in the Modifications section of the POA. (See our Power of Attorney page for details.)

If you have an approved POA on file with NYSLRS, you do not need to send a new one. POAs executed before June 13, 2021, will be reviewed in accordance with the laws in effect at the time. POAs executed on or after June 13, 2021, that use an old POA form or do not comply with other requirements of the new law will not be valid.

How to Submit a POA Form

You can scan and email a copy of your POA to NYSLRS using our secure email form.

You can also mail your POA (original or photocopy). You may wish to mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested, so you know when NYSLRS receives it. Mail it to:

NYSLRS
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001.

Find Out More

A power of attorney is a powerful document. Once you appoint someone, that person may act on your behalf with or without your consent. We strongly urge you to consult an attorney before you execute this document.

You may revoke your POA at any time by sending us a signed, notarized statement.

Please read the Power of Attorney page on our website for additional information.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s Fight Against Pension Fraud

Since taking office in 2007, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has been committed to fighting public corruption and protecting the New York State and Local Retirement System from pension fraud.

fighting pension fraud

Teamwork

Comptroller DiNapoli, through his Division of Investigations, partners with federal, state, and local law enforcement at every level of government. The Division’s pension fraud investigations have resulted in dozens of arrests and convictions and the recovery of nearly $3 million dollars.

The Retirement System’s Pension Integrity Bureau (PIB) is responsible for recovering erroneously paid pension benefits. In many cases, this is due to the survivors’ failure to report the death of a retiree in a timely manner, but some cases involve schemes to conceal the retiree’s death to continue pocketing pension payments. When PIB comes across apparent criminal activity, it refers the case to the Division of Investigations.

Recent Cases

In June 2021, an Ontario County woman pleaded guilty to grand larceny for stealing $2,076 that was intended for a deceased friend. The woman and her friend, who was retired from the Tonawanda Public Works Department, had a joint bank account. After his death, the woman unlawfully withdrew his pension payment and $3,216 in Veterans Affairs benefits and closed the account.

That same month, an Orange County woman was arrested and charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing her late mother’s pension payments. She attempted to hide her mother’s death from NYSLRS and more than $50,000 in pension payments were deposited into a joint account after her mother’s death. The woman allegedly used the money to pay bills and make personal purchases, including fast food, liquor, clothing, gas and entertainment.

Other Notable Cases

Some people have taken elaborate measures to keep the pension payments coming in. For example, there was the Queens man who left his father’s body in a morgue for more than a year while he siphoned off $7,542 in pension payments and $17,790 in Social Security from his father’s bank account.

In many instances, the pension fraud involves substantial amounts of money which can lead to serious penalties for those who get caught. A few years ago, a Florida woman was sentenced to 2-to-6 years in State prison after she was convicted of stealing more than $120,000 in pension payments after her uncle’s death. She sent false information to his bank indicating he was still alive, then used her power of attorney to withdraw pension payments for several years.

Then there was the man who impersonated his dead brother in order to collect more than $180,000 in pension benefits. The Retirement System learned of the brother’s death and stopped payments to a trust account the man controlled. The man phoned the NYSLRS Call Center pretending to be his deceased brother demanding his money and insisted he was alive. The ploy failed and he was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation. He also signed a $180,140 judgment and had to repay NYSLRS.

Your Pension Fund is Secure

The Pension Fund, which provides the money for pension payments and was valued at an estimated $254.8 billion as of March 31, 2021, has long been recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public pension funds in the nation. The State Comptroller’s ongoing effort to combat pension fraud and abuse is just one more reason that the Fund remains safe and secure.

New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555.

Mortgage and Pension Verification Letters

For certain business transactions, such as getting a mortgage, you may need to verify certain NYSLRS account or benefit information. Fortunately, Retirement Online allows members and retirees to access and print a mortgage or pension verification letter in a few quick steps.

Members Can Generate Mortgage Letters Online

Members still on the public payroll can generate a mortgage verification letter using Retirement Online. On your account homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the “Generate Mortgage Verification Letter” link.

The printable letter will show your account summary, including the current balance of your contributions, and if you have a loan, the date of your last loan and current loan balance.

You can also request an account verification letter using our secure contact form. Tell us what information you need and be sure to include your personal identification and contact information when you submit the form. In most cases, we’ll mail you a letter within five to seven business days.

pension verification letter infographic

 

How Retirees Can Get a Pension Verification Letter

As a retiree, you may need a letter verifying your pension income — maybe for housing or as part of an application for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). There are four ways to get a pension verification letter.

  1. Retirement Online

Retirement Online is the fastest way to get a pension verification letter. On your account homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the “Generate Income Verification Letter” link.

A pop-up box with a confirmation message will appear. Once you click OK, your pension income verification letter will open in a new browser tab, ready for you to print or save.

  1. Email

You can send us your request using our secure contact form. Tell us what information you need, and be sure to include your daytime phone number, in case our customer service representatives have a question. In most cases, we’ll mail your letter in five to seven business days.

  1. Phone

You can call us with your request at 866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). Our Call Center is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 am – 5:00 pm. We usually mail letters in five to seven business days.

  1. Fax

You can also fax your request to 518-473-5590. Include your retirement or registration number, current address, signature and phone number in case we have questions. Tell us whether you want the letter mailed or faxed to you (provide a fax number).

Sending a Retiree Pension Verification Letter to a Third Party

At your request, we can send a letter verifying your pension income directly to a lending institution, housing authority, nursing home or other third party. However, because this information is confidential, we need your signed written permission.

If you decide you want us to send a letter to a third party, they must fax us a request and include a signed release from you giving us permission to release your information.