What to Consider When Choosing Your Retirement Date

Before you pin down a retirement date, there are several factors you should consider.

Your Retirement Date

NYSLRS has made it a lot easier for you to determine the best time to retire. Most members can now use our online pension calculator to estimate what their benefit would be at different retirement dates and ages. Just sign in to your Retirement Online account and click the “Estimate my Pension” button to get started.

choosing your retirement date

Your Health

Your current health, and your long-term health prospects, should be a factor in selecting your retirement date. If your health is poor, you may want to consider retiring earlier to give yourself more time to enjoy retirement. On the other hand, if you anticipate significant out-of-pocket health costs, working longer might give you more time to save for those costs.

If your health is good, your retirement may last longer than average. In most cases, staying on the job a little longer will increase your NYSLRS pension and provide an opportunity to increase your savings.

Your Savings

NYSLRS has always encouraged its members to save for retirement as a supplement to their NYSLRS pension and Social Security. Retirement savings are a hedge against inflation, can help in an emergency and allow you to do the things you want to do during retirement.

Having retirement savings gives you more flexibility, and if you have enough saved, that may offset any penalty if you decide to retire early. On the other hand, if you have no savings or are short of what you’d like to have, working a little longer offers a chance to save more.

State employees and some municipal employees can take advantage of the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you don’t work for New York State, check with your employer to see if you are eligible. If you are not eligible, your employer may be able to direct you to an alternative retirement savings program. (The Deferred Compensation Plan is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)

In 2020, you can save up to $19,500 per year in a Deferred Compensation account, under Internal Revenue Service rules. Starting in the year you turn 50, you can save an additional catch-up amount. The age 50-plus catch-up amount for 2020 is $6,500, for a total limit of $26,000.

Your Current Job

The type of work you do is an important factor in determining when to retire. A physically demanding job can get even harder as you age, but if you’re working in an office, that’s generally not the case.

But there are other things to consider about your current job. Some members want to retire as soon as they’re eligible to go, but if your job gives you satisfaction and a sense of purpose, are you ready to walk away from it? Do you look forward to social interactions with your coworkers? Will you miss your job more than you enjoy being retired?

Your Plans for Retirement

Is retirement the end of something or the beginning of something new? Answering that question could go a long way to determining your ideal retirement date. If you have dreams of starting your own business or going mountain climbing in Spain, you may not want to delay retirement.

But if you don’t have a plan to fill the long hours of retirement, you risk becoming bored or depressed. For some, that risk is a reason to keep working. But whether you decide to retire earlier or later, having a plan for retirement can help make it a more satisfying experience.

The Police and Fire Retirement System

NYSLRS is actually two retirement systems: The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).

PFRS, which provides retirement benefits for police officers and paid firefighters, is the smaller of the two systems, with about 35,000 members. Roughly a third of PFRS members work for cities, while 20 percent work for New York State. The remainder work for towns, counties and villages.

There are five tiers in PFRS, reflecting when the members joined the system: Tiers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 (there is no Tier 4). Tier 2, which includes PFRS members who joined the Retirement System from July 31, 1973 through June 30, 2009, is the largest tier, accounting for a third of membership. If you joined PFRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

The vast majority of PFRS members (98 percent) are in special retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years of creditable service. If you are in one of these plans, once you have the full amount of required service, you can retire at any age.

Some PFRS members are in regular retirement plans, which require a member to reach a certain age before they are eligible for a pension.

PFRS infographic

As a PFRS member, you’ll pass a series of important milestones throughout your career. Knowing and understanding these milestones will help you better plan for your financial future.

Service Credit

Service credit is a key in determining your eligibility for a pension and other benefits, including the amount of those benefits.

Under most 20- and 25-year plans, not all public employment is creditable. Usually, police and firefighting service can be counted as special-plan service. You may also be able to use military service to help you reach 20 or 25 years. If you have questions about the service that can be used to calculate your pension, please check your retirement plan booklet or contact us.

PFRS Plan Booklets

You can find details about your NYSLRS benefits in your retirement plan booklet.

For the majority of PFRS members, that’s the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans booklet. This booklet is for PFRS Tier 2, 3, 5 and 6 members covered by Sections 384, 384-d and 384-e of the State Retirement and Social Security Law.

If you are a PFRS member who works for New York State, your booklet is based on your specific job. There are separate booklets for state police, forest rangersregional state park policestate university police and EnCon police.

If you are not covered by one of the plan booklets listed above, you can find your booklet on our Publications page. If you’re not sure what retirement plan you’re in, you can find that information in the My Account Summary section of your Retirement Online account. You can also check your Member Annual Statement, ask your employer or email us using our secure contact form.

Retirement Age and Your NYSLRS Pension

For some NYSLRS members, your retirement age matters when it comes to receiving your NYSLRS retirement benefits.

Your pension will be based largely on your years of service and final average earnings, but your age at retirement is also a factor. How age plays into the equation depends on your tier and retirement plan.

Members in regular retirement plans can retire as early as age 55, but they may face significant pension reductions if they retire before their full retirement age. The full retirement age for members in most tiers is 62, and it’s 63 for Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6 members and for Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) Tier 6 members who leave public employment before retirement age, but have enough service to receive a pension. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

pension reductions based on retirement age

Benefit reductions are prorated by month. The closer you are to your full retirement age when you retire, the less the reduction will be. Here are some examples of how that would work.

  • ERS Tiers 2, 3 and 4, PFRS Tiers 2, 3 (Article 11), 5 and 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 16.5 percent.
  • ERS Tier 5: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 20.83 percent.
  • ERS Tier 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 29.5 percent.

Once you retire with a reduced benefit, the reduction is permanent — it does not end when you reach retirement age.

Retirement Age Exceptions

Tier 1 members can retire at 55 without a benefit reduction. Benefit reductions don’t apply to ERS Tier 2, 3 or 4 members if they retire with 30 years of service. Tier 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System can also retire between 55 and 62 without penalty if they have 30 years of service.

More Information

Understanding how age affects your NYSLRS benefits is crucial to retirement planning. To learn more, please review your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page.

You can check your service credit total and estimate your pension using Retirement Online. Most members can use our online pension calculator to create an estimate based on the salary and service information NYSLRS has on file for them. You can enter different retirement dates to see how your choices would affect your potential benefit.

Tier 6 Benefits – A Closer Look

Tier 6 members (those who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012) are eligible for a lifetime pension benefit once they’ve earned 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 Earnings (FAE) and the number of years you work in public service. FAE 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 FAE 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 FAE 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 to 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 FAE 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 FAE. 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. According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security now replaces about 36 percent of the wages of a typical worker who retires at full retirement age. In the future, it’s estimated that Social Security might still replace between 25 and 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. New York State employees and some municipal employees can participate in the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you haven’t already looked into Deferred Compensation, you might consider doing so now.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)
Coming in September

Eligible NYSLRS retirees will see a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in their monthly pension payments beginning in late September (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.

cola coming

How COLA is Determined

The law requires that COLA payments, subject to certain limitations, equal 50 percent of the previous year’s inflation rate, but are never less than 1 percent or more than 3 percent of your benefit. The adjustment is applied to the first $18,000 of your Single Life Allowance, even if you selected a different pension payment option. Once COLA payments begin, you will receive an increase to your monthly benefit each September.

The September 2020 COLA equals 1 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $180.00, or $15.00 per month before taxes.

Who is Eligible for a COLA?

To begin receiving COLA payments, you must be:

  • Age 62 or older and retired for five or more years; or
  • Age 55 or older and retired for ten or more years (uniformed employees such as police officers, firefighters and correction officers covered by a special plan that allows for retirement, regardless of age, after a specific number of years); or
  • A disability retiree for five years; or
  • The spouse of a deceased retiree receiving a lifetime benefit under a pension payment option elected by the retiree. An eligible spouse is entitled to one-half the COLA amount that would have been paid to the eligible retiree when the retiree would have met COLA eligibility; or
  • A beneficiary receiving the accidental death benefit for five or more years on behalf of a deceased Retirement System member.

When Will You See the Increase?

Eligible retirees will see the first 2020 COLA payment in their September pension payment. It will be available to those with direct deposit on September 30, 2020. If you receive a paper check, the COLA will be included in the check to be mailed September 29, 2020.

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.

Saving for Retirement. Is Now the Right Time?

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that dramatic change can happen quickly.

It’s clear that just about everyone’s life has been turned upside down during this pandemic. Many have been forced to rethink their plans, including plans for retirement.

In the midst of this upheaval, a clear trend has emerged: many people are spending less money, which may create an opportunity to start saving for retirement or increase your current savings.

Why Save for Retirement?

While retirees tend to spend less than they did while they were working, financial experts say you’ll still need 70 to 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your lifestyle during retirement.

NYSLRS members have the rare advantage of a well-funded, defined-benefit pension. As a NYSLRS member, once you’re vested, you’re entitled to a pension that, once you retire, will provide you with monthly payments for the rest of your life. Retirement savings can supplement your NYSLRS pension and Social Security, helping you reach that income-replacement goal.

Retirement savings can also 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. It can also provide peace of mind.

Saving for Retirement

Getting Started

For New York State employees and many other NYSLRS members, there’s an easy way to get started. If you work for a participating employer, you can join the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you don’t work for New York State, check with your employer to see if you are eligible. If you are not eligible, your employer may be able to direct you to an alternative retirement savings program.

Once you sign up for Deferred Compensation, your contributions will automatically be deducted from your paycheck and deposited into your account. You can choose from a variety of investment packages or choose your own investment strategy. (The Deferred Compensation Plan is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)

Dig into the NYSLRS Summer Reading List

Looking for some summer reading? Why not check out these publications from NYSLRS? They’re light on colorful characters and exotic settings, but what they lack in plot intrigue, they make up for in important retirement information.

summer reading

1. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 3 and 4 Members (Articles 14 and 15)

More than 250,000 Tier 3 and 4 members of the Employee’s Retirement System (ERS) are covered by this plan. The publication explains some of the benefits and the services available to you, including a service retirement, a vested retirement, a disability retirement, death benefits and more. Read it now.

2. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 5 Members (Article 15)

If you joined ERS from January 1, 2010 through March 30, 2012, you are in Tier 5. This booklet describes benefits for Tier 5 members in regular retirement plans. Read it now.

3. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 6 Members (Article 15)

More than 178,000 Tier 6 ERS members are covered by this Plan. The publication explains some of the benefits and the services available to you, including a service retirement, a vested retirement, a disability retirement, death benefits and more. Read it now.

4. Life Changes: A Guide for Retirees

Already retired? As a NYSLRS retiree, you know that you will receive a monthly retirement benefit for life. However there may be other benefits available to you, as well as services that we provide retirees. This guide will answer many of the questions you may have and explain your responsibilities as a retiree. Read it now.

5. What If I Work After Retirement?

In most cases, NYSLRS retirees under 65 can earn up to $35,000 per calendar year in a public-sector job, but there are no restrictions if you work for a private-sector employer. If you plan to work while collecting your pension, you should read this booklet. Read it now.

Other Plan Booklets

Not covered by the retirement plans above? Maybe you’re a police officer, a firefighter, a sheriff or a correctional officer. You can still find you plan booklet on our Publications page. They’re great reading any time of year. If you’re not sure which plan covers your benefits, you can ask your employer or Contact Us.

What If I Leave Public Employment?

Most of us will change jobs over our lifetimes, and some of us will leave public employment before retirement. But if you leave the public workforce, what will become of your NYSLRS retirement benefits?

leave public employment

NYSLRS has published a booklet to provide guidance in that situation. What If I Leave Public Employment? outlines what happens with your benefits and details your rights and responsibilities. If you recently left public employment or plan to leave in the future, here are some key points the publication can help you understand.

If You Leave Public Employment, Will You Still Get a Pension?

If you’re vested, you can still collect a NYSLRS pension when you reach retirement age. Members in Tiers 1 – 4 become vested after five years of service; members in Tiers 5 and 6 become vested after ten years. Most members can apply for a pension as early as age 55, but their pension may be reduced if they take it before full retirement age (62 or 63).

What if You End Your Membership?

If you’re not vested, you can end your membership and get a refund of your contribution balance, which includes accumulated interest. After you have been off the public payroll for 15 days, you can request a refund by filing a withdrawal application.

If you don’t withdraw your contributions, they will continue to earn 5 percent interest for seven years. If you’re still off the public payroll after seven years, your membership will automatically end. Your contributions will be deposited into a non-interest account but will not be refunded to you automatically. You must file a withdrawal application to receive them.

If you end your membership, you will no longer be eligible for any NYSLRS benefits. There may also be tax consequences to withdrawing your contributions.

What are Your Responsibilities?

If you leave public employment, but remain a member, it’s your responsibility to notify us of any address changes. You will also need to keep your beneficiary information current.

More Information

Please read What If I Leave Public Employment? to get the full story on leaving public employment.

Dual Membership in NYSLRS

The New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) consists of two retirement systems: the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Your job title determines what system you’re in. In some cases, however, it’s possible to have a dual membership, to be a member of both systems.

How Does Dual Membership Work?

dual membership in NYSLRSLet’s say you work as a firefighter, so you’re a member of PFRS. You decide to take on a part-time job as a bus driver for your local school district. Your school district participates in ERS, so you’re eligible for ERS membership. You fill out the membership application, and now you’re a member of both ERS and PFRS. The date you join each system determines your tier in each membership.

Implications of Dual Membership

As a member of both systems, you’d have separate membership accounts. Let’s look again at our fire-fighting bus driver example. While working as a firefighter, you make any required contributions and earn service credit toward your PFRS pension only. The same is true for your work as a bus driver—your required contributions and earned service credit only go toward your ERS pension, not your PFRS pension.

There are other implications to dual membership. Assuming you’re vested in both memberships and meet the service credit and age requirements, you could retire and collect a pension from both systems. You’d need to file separate retirement applications for ERS and PFRS, and we’d calculate each pension separately. We’d calculate your ERS pension using the final average earnings (FAE) you earned as a bus driver and your PFRS pension using the FAE from your time as a firefighter.

And, since you’d have both an ERS pension and a PFRS pension, you would need to choose a beneficiary for each in the event of your death.

Questions?

You’ll want to make sure to know the details of your retirement plan in each system. If you have questions about dual membership, or want to discuss your particular situation when you decide to retire, please contact us.