NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: ERS Tier 6

When you join the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you’re assigned a tier based on the date of your membership. There are six tiers in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and five in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Each tier has a different benefit structure established by New York State legislation. Our series, NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time, walks through each tier to give you a quick look at the benefits in both ERS and PFRS.

Today’s post looks at ERS Tier 6, which includes anyone who joined ERS since April 1, 2012. There were 311,469 ERS Tier 6 members as of March 31, 2021 making them the largest tier group in ERS.

ERS Tier 6

ERS Tier 6 Membership Milestones

ERS Tier 6 members need ten years of service credit to become vested. Once vested, they’re eligible for a lifetime pension benefit as early as age 55, but if they retire before the full retirement age of 63, their benefit will be reduced. Tier 6 correction officers, however, can retire with 25 years of service, regardless of age, without penalty.

The Final Average Earnings (FAE) Calculation

An ERS Tier 6 member’s final average earnings is the average of their earnings in the five highest-paid consecutive years of employment. Earnings in any year included in the period cannot exceed the average earnings of the previous four years by more than 10 percent.

Tier 6 Service Retirement Benefit

Generally, if an ERS Tier 6 member retires with less than 20 years, the benefit is 1.66 percent of their FAE for each year of service. If a member retires with exactly 20 years of service, the benefit is 1.75 percent of their FAE for each year of service (35 percent of the member’s FAE).

If a member retires with more than 20 years of service, they receive 35 percent for the first 20 years, plus 2 percent for each additional year. For example, a member with 35 years of service can retire at 63 with a pension worth 65 percent of their FAE.

Where to Find More ERS Tier 6 Information

ERS Tier 6 members can find more details about their benefits in the publications listed below:

For benefit information about special plans for other job titles, please visit our Publications page. Stay tuned for more NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time posts.

Crunching the Numbers: A Short Guide to Retirement Calculators

A good estimate of your post-retirement income is essential to retirement planning. But estimating your income becomes a little tricky when you need to calculate income from several sources. Fortunately, there are retirement calculators available to help you.

online calculators

NYSLRS Benefit Calculator

A good place to start is with the NYSLRS online benefit calculator. Most members can create a pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online. A Retirement Online estimate is based on the most up-to-date account information we have on file for you. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit.

Social Security Calculators

The Social Security Administration (SSA) hosts a variety of calculators that you may find helpful. The SSA’s Quick Calculator, which uses information you enter, provides a rough estimate of your Social Security benefit. The Retirement Estimator, which estimates your benefit based on your actual Social Security earnings record, is more refined, but you’ll need to enter your Social Security number and other personal information.  

You can also calculate when you will be eligible for full Social Security benefits and estimate your life expectancy.

Savings Calculators

If you are saving for retirement, a simple savings calculator can show you how your money can grow over the years. But simple calculators assume a fixed amount of savings each month. In reality, most people increase their retirement savings as their income grows. With more sophisticated calculators, like this 401k Retirement Calculator, you can account for salary increases over time. (Note: The 401k Retirement Calculator works with other types of retirement savings plans, including 457(b) plans like the ones offered by the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan.)

Savings Withdrawal Calculators

Savings withdrawal calculators like this one are designed to help determine how much savings remains after a series of withdrawals. These are especially helpful tools to use when trying to determine how long your retirement savings will last. Enter the starting amount, how much to withdraw and how often, and an expected final balance will be calculated.

While the calculators mentioned above are great planning tools for before and after retirement, remember that their results are only estimates.

Countdown to Retirement – 4-6 Months to Go

The countdown to retirement continues. Here are a couple of things you should do four-to-six months before your retirement date to make sure you stay on track.

Countdown to Retirement - 4-6 months to go

Locate Proof of Your Birth Date

Before NYSLRS can pay out any retirement benefits, we will need proof of your date of birth.

For most people, locating that proof is no big deal — a photocopy of your driver’s license will do. But if you don’t have proof of your birth date readily available, this is a good time to look for it or arrange to get a replacement. This is especially important if you need to write to an out-of-state registry or a foreign country for the necessary document.

If you intend to leave a lifetime pension benefit to a beneficiary after your death, we will need proof of their birth date as well.

In most cases, we will accept a photocopy of your proof of date of birth, and you can submit it when you apply for retirement online or by mail. If you mail us the original, we will return it to you.

Acceptable documents for proving your date of birth include your:

The National Center for Health Statistics’ website contains information for each state on where to write for your vital records.

Review Your Retirement Budget

In our Countdown to Retirement – 12 Months to Go blog post, we recommended that you calculate your retirement income and expenses. But circumstances can change in six months, so now is a good time to review your post-retirement budget and make any necessary adjustments. At this point, you may have a clearer picture of your retirement income or you may be aware of expenses that you didn’t consider earlier. A budget review will help ensure that you are still on track to retire on your terms.

If you missed it, be sure to read the first post in our series, Countdown to Retirement –  18 Months to Go. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for the final installment of this series.

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 32,000 active members. A third of PFRS members work for cities, while almost 19 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 in PFRS). 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 almost 55 percent of PFRS membership.

If you joined PFRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

Ninety-eight percent of PFRS members 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.

police and fire 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 PoliceForest 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.

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 pension payment options to choose from. All of them will provide you with a monthly benefit for life. Some 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.

That’s a lot to think about, so let’s make this clearer with an example.

Pension Payment Option 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, depending which option she chooses, her grandkids would split her reduced benefit amount for the rest of that period.

However, the Five and Ten Year Certain options wouldn’t be lifetime benefits, and since her husband doesn’t have his own pension, she decides to leave him a lifetime pension benefit and look into a tax-deferred college savings plan for her grandkids instead.

There are several options that leave a lifetime benefit. Under these options, you can only name one beneficiary. Benefit amounts are determined based on the birth dates (life expectancy) of both the retiree and their beneficiary, so Jane will receive less of a pension reduction leaving a benefit to her husband than she would if she were to consider leaving a lifetime benefit to a grandchild.

Under the Joint Allowance — Full or Joint Allowance — Half option, if a retiree dies, depending which option they choose, their beneficiary would receive half or all of their reduced benefit for life.

Under the Pop-Up/Joint Allowance — Full or Pop-Up/Joint Allowance — Half option, if a retiree dies, depending which option they choose, their beneficiary would also receive half or all of their reduced benefit. These options reduce the pension a little more, but they have an advantage: If the 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 and whether you’ll leave a pension benefit to a beneficiary or beneficiaries, you may also want to consider questions such as:

  • Do you qualify for a death benefit?
  • Do you have life insurance?
  • Do you have a mortgage, unpaid loans or other monthly payments that will have to continue 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. Most NYSLRS members can also create their own pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.

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.

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 significant 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).