Monthly Archives: January 2020

Public Employees Value Their Retirement Benefits

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

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

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

retirement benefits

Defined Benefit vs. Defined Contribution

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

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

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

When Retirement Benefits Get Reduced

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

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

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

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

How to Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

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

retirement plan booklet

About Your Membership

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

Service Credit

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

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

Final Average Salary

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

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

Service Retirement Benefits

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

Choosing a Pension Payment Option

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

Items That May Affect Your Pension

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

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

Vested Retirement Benefits

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

Disability and Death Benefits

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

Receiving Your Benefits

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

Where to Find Your Retirement Plan Booklet

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

ERS Tier 5 Milestones

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

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

Tier 5 milestones

Why Milestones Matter

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

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

Major Milestones for Tier 5

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

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

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

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