Category Archives: Members

News for members of the New York State & Local Retirement System

Your NYSLRS Pension is Secure

You probably have a lot on your mind right now, but one thing you don’t need to worry about is your NYSLRS pension. Despite the turmoil in the financial markets, your retirement benefits are secure.

“I want to assure the more than one million men and women who rely on the State pension fund for retirement security that we are well-positioned to weather the ongoing volatility,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “To our retirees, your pensions are safe and we will continue to pay your benefits as promised.”

The New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds and invests NYSLRS assets, has long been recognized as one of best managed and best funded public pension plans in the nation. The strength of the Fund puts NYSLRS in a good position as we navigate through the current economic turmoil.

The Fund’s professional managers take a conservative approach to investing and focus on sustained, long-term results. This approach allows the Fund to capitalize on investment opportunities in good times and cushions it against market ups and downs. In recent months, as they recognized increased volatility in the market, Fund managers began making adjustments to the Fund’s investment portfolio to prepare for an expected downturn in the economy. They are actively managing the Fund through these difficult times and are confident the markets will ultimately recover.

NYSLRS

We’re Here for You: Doing Business with NYSLRS from Home

To protect the health of our members and employees, our NYSLRS consultation site offices are closed until at least March 30, 2020. The best method for customers who wish to submit documents and conduct business with us is through Retirement Online. There you can complete an estimate, update your information, and even file for retirement. 

All customers with previously scheduled appointments are being contacted and offered phone consultations. If you would like to schedule a phone consultation, or have retirement-related questions, you can contact us at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, NY area) or email us using our secure contact form.

Our NYSLRS’ essential staff continue to do Retirement System work. We are processing mail and applications, answering phone calls and responding to emails during this time.

Doing Business with NYSLRS from Home

What Can You Do in Retirement Online?

Retirement Online gives you an easy and secure way to review your NYSLRS benefit information and conduct transactions in real time. In many cases, you can use Retirement Online instead of sending forms through the mail or calling NYSLRS. Here’s a quick look at some of its features:  

  • Update Contact Information
    Do you have a new mailing address, email address or phone number? Make sure NYSLRS can get in touch with you by updating your contact information.
  • Update Your Beneficiary Information
    You can designate beneficiaries for your death benefits, and also make updates to existing beneficiaries.
  • Create a Pension Verification Letter or Mortgage Letter
    If you’re a retiree and need to provide proof of your retirement income, you can generate and print an income verification letter from your account. If you’re a member and need to verify your retirement account information, you can generate and print a mortgage letter when you need it.
  • Update Your Last Name
    If you changed your last name recently, you can change it online instead of submitting a Name Change form.
  • Change Your Correspondence Preference
    Would you prefer to receive emails from NYSLRS instead of mail? You can update your correspondence preference and receive an email notification from NYSLRS whenever we have updated information to send you. (Please note that some information, such as tax forms, will be sent by mail for security purposes.)
  • Estimate Your Pension (Members Only)
    You can estimate your pension benefit based on up-to-date account information, then save or print the estimate for your records.
  • Manage Loan and Service Credit Payments (Members Only)
    Need to pay back a loan or purchase service credit? You can adjust your payment amount or make a lump sum payment.
  • Apply for Retirement
    Ready to retire? You can file your service retirement application right from home.
  • Apply for a Loan (Members Only)
    Eligible members can apply online to take a loan out against their NYSLRS contributions.

If you need help with Retirement Online, please refer to our Retirement Online Tools and Tips blog post.

Other Ways to Get NYSLRS Information

Our Contact Us page contains helpful information and answers to questions you may have about your NYSLRS membership.

You can also receive NYSLRS updates by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as NYSLRS works to prevent the community transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19) while continuing to do its essential work.

A Message from NYSLRS About the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted our daily lives in ways large and small. As New York and the rest of the nation work on treatment and containment of this virus, many New Yorkers are concerned about what the future will bring.

The New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) wants to assure retirees and members who rely on the state pension fund for fiscal security that it is well positioned to weather the volatility in the financial markets.  Your retirement benefits are secure and you will continue to receive your pension payments.

Retirees: Please Sign Up for Direct Deposit

As NYSLRS closely monitors the public health measures being taken to prevent the community transmission of the coronavirus, there are circumstances that could arise that impact the delivery of pension checks, particularly the ability of retirees to go to the bank to deposit them.

sign up for direct deposit to avoid interruptions as a result of the coronavirus

NYSLRS strongly urges retirees to consider signing up for direct deposit, instead of receiving a monthly pension by check via mail delivery. The vast majority of our retirees have their retirement and Social Security benefits deposited directly into their checking or savings account. Direct deposit is quick and safe. To enroll in direct deposit, complete the Electronic Funds Transfer Direct Deposit Enrollment Application (RS6370).

tax

Taxes and Your NYSLRS Pension

Tax season is here again.

In late January, NYSLRS mailed tax information to retirees (and some members and beneficiaries) so they can file their taxes.

1099-Rs

NYSLRS pensions are not subject to New York State or local income taxes, but in most cases they are subject to federal taxes. In January, we mailed 1099-R tax forms to almost 500,000 retirees who receive taxable benefits. We also mailed 1099-Rs to beneficiaries who received taxable income from NYSLRS in 2019, members who have taken taxable NYSLRS loans or have defaulted on their loans, and those who ended their membership and withdrew their contributions in 2019.

tax info - 1099-R tutorial

A 1099-R shows:

  • The total benefit paid to you in a calendar year.
  • The taxable amount of your benefit.
  • The amount of taxes withheld from your benefit.

If you didn’t get your 1099-R, you can request a reprint. This year, reprints will be available for calendar years 2017, 2018 and 2019. Your 1099-R will be mailed to the address we have on file for you. Sign in to Retirement Online to check or update your mailing address before requesting a reprint.

If you have questions about the information on the form, we feature an interactive 1099-R tutorial on our website. It walks you through a sample 1099-R and offers a short explanation of specific boxes on the form.

Changing Your Federal Tax Withholdings

If you need to make changes to your federal withholding, you can send us a W-4P form at any time. You can use this form to change your withholding status, increase or decrease the number of your exemptions, or request that an additional amount be withheld.

You can use our federal tax withholding calculator to see how these changes would affect your withholding.

Please note: If you change your withholding, it may take a few months before the changes are reflected in your pension payments. You can look up your current payment breakdown, including tax withholding, using Retirement Online.

ERS Tier 6

ERS Tier 6 Member Milestones

As an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6 member, your years of service are critical to your benefits. As time goes by, and you earn service credit, you’ll reach a number of career milestones. These milestones are points where you become eligible for certain benefits or your existing benefits improve. Understanding these milestones will help you better plan your career and retirement.

In ERS Tier 6, you reach your first milestone on your first day of membership. This milestone covers you for certain job-related death and disability benefits. (You can learn more about them in your Tier 6 retirement plan booklet.)

ERS Tier 6

10 & 20 Years Make a Big Difference

For all NYSLRS members, there is one critical milestone: becoming vested. Being vested means that you have earned the right to a pension, even if you leave public employment before retirement age. ERS Tier 6 members become vested after they earn 10 years of service credit.

For most ERS Tier 6 members, another big milestone is the 20-year mark, when your retirement benefit improves significantly. If you retire with less than 20 years of service, you earn 1.66 percent of your final average salary (FAS) for each year of service. At 20 years, you receive 35% of your FAS. After 20 years, you’ll earn an additional 2 percent of your FAS for each year of service beyond 20.

ERS Tier 6 Special Plans

For ERS Tier 6 members in special plans, such as corrections officers, many of the milestones are the same. For example, you will become vested with 10 years of service credit.

But there are also major differences. Most importantly, correction officers in the special 25-year plan can retire after 25 years regardless of age. You can find more information in your retirement plan booklet.

Do We Have Your Correct Contact Information?

When was the last time you updated your contact information with NYSLRS? If you don’t remember updating it recently, make sure we have the correct ways to contact you. (Even if you updated your contact information with your employer, that doesn’t update it with NYSLRS.) We want to make sure you continue to receive important information about your NYSLRS benefits.

Please share this post with friends, family or coworkers who are NYSLRS members so they can also check their contact information.

Use Retirement Online to Change Your Contact Information

The fastest way to check and change your contact information is through Retirement Online. When you sign in to your Retirement Online account, click on ‘Update’ next to your home address or email address.  

If you have trouble signing in to your account, please read our Retirement Online Tools and Tips blog post for help.

If you don’t have a Retirement Online account, it’s easy to create one. Visit our Retirement Online for Members page and click ‘Register Now’ under the Sign In button. When you create your account, you’ll be asked to provide the ZIP code of your home address. If it doesn’t recognize your current ZIP code, it’s likely we have an older address on file for you. Please use the older ZIP code to create your account — you can update your address afterward.

contact information

Mail or Email? Pick Your Delivery Preference

You can receive correspondence from us by mail or email by selecting your delivery preference in Retirement Online. If you choose ‘Email,’ you’ll receive an email notifying you to log in to Retirement Online to read new correspondence that we sent you. If you choose ‘Mail’ or don’t select a preference, we’ll continue to send you letters through the US Postal Service. Email is the fastest way to receive an update from NYSLRS.

NOTE: For security purposes, certain correspondence (like tax forms) will only be sent by mail.

To update your preference, go to the ‘My Profile Information’ area of your Retirement Online Account Homepage and click ‘Update’ next to ‘Contact by.’

And starting this year, you can choose to receive your Member Annual Statement (MAS) through Retirement Online. If you choose this option, you’ll receive an email that directs you to Retirement Online to see your 2020 MAS when it’s ready. To choose your MAS delivery preference, go to the ‘My Profile Information’ area of your Retirement Online Account Homepage and click ‘Update’ next to ‘Member Annual Statement by.’

Coming Soon: A New Look for Your MAS

Your MAS provides your retirement account information as of March 31, 2020, the end of the State fiscal year. The new, streamlined look provides valuable information about your NYSLRS benefits and membership in a clear, comprehensive and easy-to-read format. Your statement includes your retirement plan, total service credit and contributions, the beneficiaries for your death benefit, a projection of your pension benefit and more. You can also save and print it for your records.

The MAS is an important tool to help you plan for retirement. Be sure to choose your MAS delivery preference and update your contact information so you can receive it this year. In addition, you can see your current benefit information every day by logging into Retirement Online.

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.