Left Public Employment? Don’t Forget to File for Retirement

If you expect to leave public employment before retirement age, or if you’ve already left, take note of this important information about your NYSLRS pension.

Once you become a vested NYSLRS member, you’re eligible for a NYSLRS pension even if you leave public employment before retirement age. Vesting is automatic but receiving retirement benefits is not. You’ll need to apply for your pension. But when should you apply?

Filing for Retirement If You Have Left Public Employment

Most NYSLRS members can begin collecting their pension as early as age 55. If you file for your retirement benefit between age 55 and your full NYSLRS retirement age, you may face a permanent benefit reduction. Full retirement age for a NYSLRS pension is 62 or 63, depending on your plan and tier.

retirement age for full benefits if you left public employment

Waiting longer than your full retirement age, however, could cost you a lot of money.

If you aren’t working for a NYSLRS participating employer, your NYSLRS pension will not increase after your full retirement age. Pension benefits are not retroactive, and you will not be able to recover the monthly pension payments that you would have received if you retired at full retirement age.

How Social Security and NYSLRS Rules Differ

NYSLRS and Social Security are different systems with different milestones. You can collect Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. If you delay taking Social Security, your benefit amount will continue to increase 8 percent per year until you reach age 70 (for those born in 1943 or later).

But if you wait until you’re 70 to apply for your NYSLRS pension, you’ll miss out on years of NYSLRS benefit payments.

The information above applies only to members who leave public employment before their full retirement age.

(In most cases, if you are still working for a participating public employer in New York State, your pension amount will continue to increase, even if you work past your retirement age.)

Steps You Can Take

Your retirement may be years or even decades in the future. Here are a few steps you can take to help you keep track of your NYSLRS pension if you leave public employment:

  • Estimate your NYSLRS pension at different ages using the benefit calculator in Retirement Online.
  • Create a plan for retirement, taking into account the milestones above.
  • Review your plan periodically and update it as necessary.
  • Keep your contact information up to date using Retirement Online.
  • Contact NYSLRS if you have questions about your benefits.

NYSLRS Membership by Tier

NYSLRS, which administers the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), had 685,450 members as of March 31, 2022. Our members are State government, local government, school district and other public-sector employees from across New York — 650,251 in ERS and 35,199 in PFRS. About 74 percent of our members were active, which means they were on a public payroll as of March 31.

NYSLRS Membership Over Time

A decade ago, more than 80 percent of NYSLRS members were in Tiers 3 and 4. Now, those tiers represent less than 40 percent of our membership. Tier 6, which includes members who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012, now has 367,013 members, or 53.5 percent of total membership.

NYSLRS Membership by Tier

Here’s a look at our NYSLRS membership by tier, as of March 31:

Tier 1: NYSLRS’ oldest tier, whose members first joined the system before July 1, 1973 (July 31, 1973, for PFRS members), is dwindling. Tier 1 represented only 0.2 percent of our membership. There were only 1,043 Tier 1 ERS members and 17 Tier 1 PFRS members.

Tier 2: With 18,074 members, Tier 2 represented 2.6 percent of membership. Ninety-four percent of Tier 2 members were in PFRS.

Tiers 3 & 4: Tiers 3 and 4, which have similar retirement plans, had 263,734 members, 38.5 percent of the total membership. Tiers 3 and 4 are primarily ERS tiers. There is no Tier 4 in PFRS, and only 173 PFRS members were in Tier 3.

Tier 5: Tier 5 covers members who joined from January 1, 2010, through March 31, 2012. With 35,569 members, Tier 5 represented 5.2 percent of membership.

Tier 6: This tier covers members who joined since April 1, 2012. Its ranks grew by about 13 percent during the last fiscal year.

Why Your Tier Matters

Your tier is an essential component of your NYSLRS membership because it is one of the factors that determines your benefits. You can find out more by reading your retirement plan booklet. Our recent blog posts explain how to find your plan booklet and how to get the most out of it.

Welcome, New Members

Welcome new members to 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 nearly 1.2 million members, retirees and beneficiaries, NYSLRS is one of the largest public retirement systems in the nation.

NYSLRS is here to help you plan a financially secure retirement. Retirement may seem like a distant concern, but decisions you make now will have a big impact on your post-work life. Here are a few things you should do now as a new member:

Checklist for New Members

new members checklist

Learn About Defined Benefit Plans

Your NYSLRS pension is a defined benefit plan. This means that, once you are eligible and apply for retirement, you are guaranteed a monthly pension payment for the rest of your life. The amount of your payments will be calculated using a formula set by State law.

Defined benefit plans should not be confused with 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, which are known as defined contribution plans. The value of these plans is limited to the contributions made to an individual’s account and the investment returns on those contributions. And, unlike your NYSLRS pension, these plans do not guarantee a lifetime benefit.

While a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan can supplement a pension and Social Security benefits, it does not provide the same level of financial security as a defined benefit plan.

Sign Up for Retirement Online

If you haven’t already, sign up for a Retirement Online account. You can use Retirement Online to look up your estimated total service credit, name a beneficiary for your death benefit, purchase past service credit and more. This online tool will be an important resource throughout your career, especially as you plan for retirement when you can use our benefit calculator to estimate your pension.

Find Your Retirement Plan Publication

Your retirement plan publication is an essential resource that provides comprehensive information about your NYSLRS benefits. You can look up your specific plan using our Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication tool. All you need is your benefit plan code and Tier, which you can find in Retirement Online.

Designate a Beneficiary

Your retirement plan provides you with a death benefit, so it’s important that you designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries. You can designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries through Retirement Online or by mailing us a Designation of Beneficiary form (RS5127).

Understand Service Credit

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on factors such as your tierretirement planage at retirementfinal average earnings and your 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. If you worked for a public employer or served in the U.S. armed forces before you were a member of NYSLRS, you may be eligible to receive credit for that past service. Because it is a major factor in calculating a NYSLRS pension, additional service credit would increase your pension in most cases. You can request this service through Retirement Online or by mailing us a Request to Purchase Service Credit (Including any Military Service) form (RS5042).

Start Saving for Retirement

Your pension is only one part of a secure financial future. It’s a good idea to save additional money for retirement. Healthy retirement savings will give you more flexibility to do the things you want to do in retirement. They also can be a hedge against inflation and a source of cash in an emergency. You don’t want to wait to start saving; the sooner you do, the more time your money has to grow.

More Information

Visit our Welcome New Members page for more information about NYSLRS and your benefits.

Retirement Online for Retirees

More than 427,000 members and retirees are using Retirement Online — a secure and convenient way to do business with NYSLRS.

Retirement Online for Retirees

You can use Retirement Online to:

View Your Benefit Information

Review the most up-to-date information about your account. Check on the details of your pension and review deductions.

Generate an Income Verification Letter

You may need to prove your pension income for any number of reasons, such as applying for a mortgage or renting an apartment. With Retirement Online, you can generate an income verification letter any time you need one.

Update Your Contact Information

Moving? Changing your phone number or email address? It’s easy to keep NYSLRS updated so you won’t have to worry about missing important news and information about your benefits.

Snowbirds, take note. You can schedule an address change so you get NYSLRS mail at your seasonal home without interruption. This will ensure that you get your 1099-R tax forms in time to file your tax return.

Manage Your Beneficiaries

You can change the beneficiary for your post-retirement death benefit or change the contact information for an existing beneficiary.

Retirement Online makes it easy to view your beneficiary selections and submit changes instantly.

New Retiree Features Coming in January

We continue to improve and expand the services Retirement Online offers. In fact, this January, we’re adding new retiree features. They’re designed to give you greater insight into your retirement account and enable you to conduct business with your Retirement System without having to mail in forms or make a phone call.

Retirement Online for Retirees – New FeatureManage Your Direct Deposit

Ninety-five percent of NYSLRS retirees already receive their pension payments with direct deposit, and it’s about to get even more convenient. Soon, you’ll be able to use Retirement Online to update your bank account information. Whether you’ve switched banks, need to update your account details or want to add a joint account holder, you’ll be able to make those changes online.

Are you still receiving your pension by check? You’ll soon be able to sign up for direct deposit through Retirement Online and get your money faster.

Retirement Online for Retirees – New FeatureChange Your Federal Tax Withholding

If you need to adjust the amount of federal tax withholding coming out of your pension payments, you’ll be able to sign in to your account to update your filing status, change your dependents or make other adjustments to your withholding.

Retirement Online for Retirees – New FeatureView a “Pay Stub” of Your Pension Payment

Right now, you can look up your current monthly benefit details in Retirement Online, but soon you’ll be able to access full “pay stubs” for your payments from January 2023 onward by clicking the date of the payment you want to view. You’ll also be able to track year-to-date totals.

How to Get Ready

If you don’t have a Retirement Online account, now is a great time to sign up. Click “Sign Up” on our Retirement Online Sign-In page to get started. If you need help, we have step-by-step instructions on registering for your account and how to sign in for the first time. You may also find our Retirement Online Tools and Tips blog post helpful.

Retirement Online is secure and safe to use. When you sign up for an account, for security reasons, you will be asked to identify yourself, confirm your Social Security number, verify your identity and create credentials. Retirement Online also uses a two-step sign-in process for secure sign in. Remember, one of the best ways to prevent online fraud is for you to open your Retirement Online account using the personalized credentials you choose. That simple step will prevent any fraudster from trying to open an account in your name, whether it’s Retirement Online or any other online account.

Already have an account? Sign in and make sure your email and mailing address are current to ensure that you receive important information from NYSLRS in the coming year. If it’s been a while, you may need to look up your username or reset your password.  If you’re having trouble accessing your account, email us using our secure contact form or call our customer service representatives at 866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, NY area). Press 2 to access the retiree menu, follow the prompts, and then press 1 for Retirement Online assistance.

Public Pensions Give Economic Boost to Small Towns, Rural Areas

Small towns and rural areas in New York and across the United States get an important economic boost from public pensions, a recent study concludes.

Public Pensions Give Economic Boost to Small Towns and Rural Areas Across New York

Why Public Pensions Give an Economic Boost

Because of their smaller economies, less-populated counties benefit more from pension dollars than larger, urban counties, according to Fortifying Main Street: The Economic Benefit Of Public Pension Dollars In Rural America.

In many small towns and rural communities, the report notes, school districts and local governments are the largest employers. Those public employees typically remain in their communities after retirement, and the authors attribute the economic boosts they found to pension dollars spent locally on goods and services.

Across New York State, public pensions were responsible for 1.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. (GDP, the total value of goods and services produced during a specific period, is a common gauge of economic activity.) However, during the same period:

  • Wyoming County in western New York, where a handful of villages dot a rural landscape, saw public pensions generate 4.6 percent of GDP.
  • Hamilton County, with fewer than 5,000 people, received an economic boost from public pensions that accounted for 6.3 percent of GDP.

The study’s findings are in line with data showing the impact NYSLRS retirees have on local economies and other studies about the economic benefits of pensions.

Notes on the Data

Fortifying Main Street, which was released in July by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), examines pension data from 2,922 counties in 43 states. Based on criteria used by the federal Office of Budget Management, it divides counties into three main categories: metropolitan, small-town (or micropolitan) and rural. The study also analyzes data from counties that are home to the state capital, because these places tend to have higher numbers of public retirees. In Albany County, public pensions generated 2.7 percent of GDP.

Hamilton County is the only county in New York defined as rural in the study, but 16 counties, including Wyoming County, fit the “small town” criteria. You can read the full report on the NIRS website.

The study uses pensions paid by NYSLRS, the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System of New York City and the New York City Employees’ Retirement System in its data for New York State.

Snapshot of NYSLRS Retirees

NYSLRS was providing pension benefits to 507,923 retirees and beneficiaries as of March 31, 2022.

Nearly 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries — some 399,628 — live right here in New York State, and they can be found in every region and county. The Capital District, for instance, is home to more than 64,000 retirees and beneficiaries, with roughly the same number living on Long Island.

These New York retirees live in our communities, and their pension money flows right back into our neighborhoods. Retirees in New York pay local property and sales taxes, and their spending supports local businesses, stimulates the economy and generates thousands of jobs.

NYSLRS Retirees in the United States

NYSLRS Retirees in the United States

NYSLRS retirees can also be found in every state. Florida, not surprisingly, is the number two choice after New York, with nearly 39,885 calling the Sunshine State home. North Carolina is third, with 10,011 retirees, followed by New Jersey, with 8,302. North Dakota has the fewest, with only 20 retirees and beneficiaries. Another 646 live outside the United States.

Learn More

Extensive information about our retirees and members, the Common Retirement Fund and Fund investments can be found in our latest Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. This report, published each fall, has a wealth of information about the Retirement System, its investments, strategies and financial position. It also provides details about NYSLRS’ nearly 1.2 million members, retirees and beneficiaries.

Where in New York are NYSLRS Retirees?

NYSLRS retirees tend to stay in New York, where their pensions are exempt from State and local income taxes. In fact, 79 percent of NYSLRS’ 507,923 retirees and beneficiaries lived in the State as of March 31, 2022. And more than half of them lived in just ten of New York’s 62 counties.

So where in New York do these retirees call home? Well, there are a lot of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries on Long Island. Suffolk and Nassau counties are home to more than 64,000 recipients of NYSLRS retirement benefits, with annual pension payments of nearly $2.4 billion. But that shouldn’t be surprising. Suffolk and Nassau counties have the largest and third largest number of pension benefit recipients, respectively, of all the counties in the State outside of New York City by population. (The City, which has its own retirement systems for municipal employees, police and firefighters, had 24,061 residents who were NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries.)

NYSLRS retirees in New York

Erie County, which includes Buffalo, ranked number two among counties in the number of NYSLRS retirees, with more than 33,000. Albany County, home to the State capital, ranked fourth with more than 20,000. Monroe, Westchester, Onondaga, Saratoga, Dutchess and Oneida counties round out the top ten.

All told, retirees and beneficiaries in the top ten counties received $6.5 billion in NYSLRS retirement benefits in 2021-2022.

Hamilton County had the fewest NYSLRS benefit recipients. But in this sparsely populated county in the heart of the Adirondacks, those 505 retirees represent about 10 percent of the county’s population. During fiscal year 2021-2022, $11.5 million in NYSLRS retirement benefits was paid to Hamilton County residents.

NYSLRS Retirees Across the United States and Around the Globe

Outside of New York, Florida remained the top choice for NYSLRS retirees, with 39,885 benefit recipients. North Carolina (10,011), New Jersey (8,302) and South Carolina (7,285) were also popular.

There were 646 NYSLRS benefit recipients living outside the United States as of March 31, 2022. These retirees and beneficiaries live throughout the world, with the most common countries being:

  • Canada: 164
  • Israel: 56
  • United Kingdom: 36
  • Italy: 31
  • Jamaica: 31

Whether you retire close to home or move away, you’ll always be a part of NYSLRS. 

Estimate Your Pension in Retirement Online

How much will your pension be?

Fortunately, it is now easier than ever to find out. Most NYSLRS members can create their own pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online.

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. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.

estimate your pension in Retirement Online

How to Create Your Pension Estimate

Before you can use the pension calculator, you will need a Retirement Online account. Once you sign in, go to the My Account Summary section of your account homepage and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button.

You can enter an estimated retirement date (or retirement age), your current salary and expected annual salary increases. You can also include any service credit you plan to purchase and anticipated lump sum payment for unused vacation. If you add the birthdate for a beneficiary, you’ll also see the estimated monthly payment you would receive if you were to choose a pension payment option that provides a benefit for a survivor.

Any pension estimate you generate with the online calculator would be an approximation of your potential benefit; it is not a guarantee that you’ll receive a certain amount when you retire.

As of April 9, 2022, Tier 5 and 6 members only need five years of service credit to be vested. If you are a Tier 5 or 6 member with between five and ten years of service credit, you can contact us to request a benefit estimate.

Alternative Ways to Get an Estimate

While more than 90 percent of NYSLRS members (most Tier 3 through 6 members) can use the benefit calculator, some members should have NYSLRS generate their benefit estimate. For example, if you recently transferred your membership to NYSLRS or are covered under certain special plans, it would be better if NYSLRS created an estimate for you.

The system will notify you if your estimate cannot be completed using Retirement Online’s estimate tool. Please contact us to request a pension estimate if you receive this notification. Also, if you are in Tiers 1 through 4, you can still use the Quick Calculator on the NYSLRS website. The Quick Calculator generates estimates based on information you provide.

Find Your Retirement Plan Publication

Your retirement plan publication is an essential resource that explains your NYSLRS benefits in detail — how long you’ll need to work to receive a pension, how your benefit is determined, what death and disability benefits may be available and more. You should consult it throughout your career, but it’s especially important to read as you prepare for retirement.

finding your retirement plan publication

Finding Your Retirement Plan Publication

NYSLRS administers two retirement systems, six membership tiers and many retirement plans that are described in dozens of retirement plan publications. We want to make sure you find the specific retirement plan information that pertains to you, which is why we have a new tool to help you Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication. To use it, you just need to know your retirement plan code. You can find your code in the ‘My Account Summary’ section of your Retirement Online account homepage, or check the second page of your latest Member Annual Statement. You also can also use the new tool to search for your plan publication by retirement system, tier and occupation type (uniformed or non-uniformed).

Looking Up Your Plan Milestones

Once you have found your publication, check to see what minimum age or service milestones you’ll need to reach to receive your pension. Most retirement plans allow for full pension benefits at 62 (63 for Tier 6 members) or a reduced benefit starting at age 55. Members in some plans can apply for their pension once they reach 20 or 25 years of service credit, regardless of age.

The years of service credit you earn may also change the calculation of your pension. For example, the percentage of earnings used to determine your retirement benefit may increase once you reach certain milestones — such as when you have 20 years of credited service — but that depends on what retirement plan you are in.

Knowing your plan-specific age and service requirements can help you decide when to retire and anticipate the income your benefit would provide in retirement. If you want to work until a certain age or need to earn a specific amount of service, now you can set that goal and prepare accordingly.  

For more detailed information on what you can find in your plan publication, check out our blog post, How to Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet.

Help for New Members

New NYSLRS members may also be interested in our New Member webpage. This page collects several resources that can help you understand your NYSLRS membership and pension.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

NYSLRS provided pension benefits to more than 500,000 retirees and beneficiaries during the State fiscal year that ended on March 31. These benefits are provided by the New York State Common Retirement Fund (the Fund).

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is administrative head of NYSLRS and trustee of the Fund. It is widely recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public retirement funds in the nation.

NYSLRS information

NYSLRS Membership                                                          

But NYSLRS is more than just the pension fund. The system serves more than 685,000 members as of March 31. Here are some facts about our membership:

  • 506,084 active members (that is, members still on the public payroll) work for 2,972 public employers statewide.
  • About one-third of those active members work for New York State. The rest work for counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts and public authorities.
  • Nearly 94 percent of total active members are in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS). The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) accounts for 6 percent of total active membership.
  • More than 50 percent of all Retirement System members are in Tier 6.
  • In ERS, 54 percent of members are in Tier 6, while 40.5 percent are in Tiers 3 and 4.
  • In PFRS, 45 percent of members are in Tier 6, while 48 percent are in Tier 2.

NYSLRS Retirees and Beneficiaries

The average pension for an ERS retiree was $26,467 as of March 31, 2022; the average for a PFRS retiree was $58,522. But these pension payments don’t just benefit the System’s retirees and beneficiaries. Seventy-nine percent of retirees and beneficiaries stay in New York and generate billions of dollars in economic activity across the state. Their spending supports local businesses, contributes to local taxes and creates jobs in our communities.

Learn More About NYSLRS

Extensive information about our members and retirees, the Fund and Fund investments can be found in the 2022 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. This report includes detailed information about the Fund’s investments, strategies and financial position. It also provides details about NYSLRS’ 1.19 million members, retirees and beneficiaries.