When you join the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you’re assigned a tier based on the date of your membership. This post looks at Tier 2 members of the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).
Your tier determines such things as your eligibility for benefits, the calculation of those benefits, death benefit coverage and whether you need to contribute toward your benefits.
PFRS has five tiers. Almost half of PFRS members are in Tier 2, which began on July 31, 1973, and ended on June 30, 2009. Most are in special retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years, regardless of age, without penalty.
The special plans that cover most police officers and firefighters fall under Sections 384, 384(f), 384-d, and 384-e of Retirement and Social Security Law. You can sign in to Retirement Online to find your benefit plan, which is listed under ‘My Account Summary.’
Where to Find PFRS Tier 2 Information
Whether you’re in one of the retirement plans described in this post or another retirement plan, we encourage you to visit our website to find your NYSLRS retirement plan publication. It’s a comprehensive description of the benefits you’re entitled to receive as a PFRS member.
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.
Members may not be able to use the Retirement Online calculator in certain circumstances, for example, if they have recently transferred a membership to NYSLRS, if they are a Tier 6 member with between five and ten years of service, or if they have worked for multiple employers and were covered by different retirement plans. These members can contact us to request an estimate or use the “Quick Calculator” on our website. The Quick Calculator generates estimates based on information you provide.
NYSLRS membership provides more than just retirement benefits. For most members, if you die while in active service, your beneficiary may be eligible to receive a death benefit. Here is an overview of member death benefits. If you are retired, visit our Death Benefit page for retirees to learn about your available benefits.
Types of Death Benefits
Most members who die while they’re still working will leave their beneficiaries what’s called an “ordinary death benefit.” This is a lump sum payment that’s usually equal to one year of your earnings per year of service, up to a maximum of three years.
Generally, to leave your beneficiaries this death benefit, you must have at least one year of service credit and your death must occur while you are on the public payroll.
Some members who die because of an on-the-job accident (not due to their own willful negligence) may leave their beneficiary an accidental death benefit. The accidental death benefit is a pension payable to your spouse. Other beneficiaries, as specified by law, may be eligible if there is no spouse.
For Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 4, 5 and 6 members, the benefit would be 50 percent of your earnings from your last year of service.
For most other members, the benefit would be 50 percent of your final average earnings (less any workers’ compensation benefit).
There is no minimum service credit requirement to leave an accidental death benefit.
The specific death benefits that may be available to your beneficiaries depend on your tier and retirement plan. Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication and check it for specific benefit amount and eligibility information.
You should periodically review your beneficiary designations. Life circumstances sometimes change, and the beneficiary you may have named before might not be the one you would choose today. You should also make sure your beneficiary’s contact information is up to date so we can find them when needed.
Retirement Online is the best way to manage your beneficiary information. Sign in to Retirement Online today and click “View and Update My Beneficiaries” to review your named beneficiaries, and update them if needed.
Reporting a Death
NYSLRS cannot pay out death benefits until after we are notified of a member’s death and have a certified copy of the death certificate. The fastest way for survivors to report a member’s death to NYSLRS is using our online form on our website. Survivors can also upload a copy of the certified death certificate, which enables us to start reaching out to the beneficiary. It’s important to talk with your family about your benefits and how to report your death to NYSLRS.
Payment of Death Benefits
NYSLRS will reach out to your beneficiaries on file and send them the application and instructions for receiving benefits. NYSLRS can pay death benefits once it receives the required documentation.
NYSLRS must have an approved Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file to pay benefits to the ex-spouse of a member. The DRO is a court order, issued after a final judgment of divorce, that gives NYSLRS specific instructions on how your benefits should be split.
Ordinary Death Benefit
A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of your ordinary death benefit. This is the death benefit that would be payable to your beneficiaries if you die in active service (before retiring) so you should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. Be sure to choose additional beneficiaries for any remainder of the benefit and submit your changes to NYSLRS. (If your designations conflict with the terms of the DRO, the DRO will take precedence over any other beneficiary designations.)
Post-Retirement Death Benefit
Most Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) are covered by a post-retirement death benefit. A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of the benefit.
Accidental Death Benefit
Your accidental death benefit becomes available to specific beneficiaries if you die as a result of an on-the-job accident. Those beneficiaries are designated by law, and only those beneficiaries may receive this benefit — even if there is a DRO.
NYSLRS members who meet eligibility requirements can borrow a certain percentage of their contribution balance. DROs may be written to prohibit members from taking future loans.
Outstanding loan balances at retirement reduce retirees’ pension benefits. The ex-spouse’s share of the pension will also be reduced unless the DRO specifically provides that the ex-spouse’s share be calculated without reference to outstanding loans.
Occasionally, NYSLRS may refund a member’s contributions because of a tier reinstatement, membership withdrawal or membership transfer. Some members are eligible to make voluntary contributions and withdraw them as excess contributions. Generally, if a DRO doesn’t mention a contribution refund, the member will receive the full amount.
Divorce, Annulments, Separation and Your Beneficiaries
As of July 7, 2008, beneficiary designations for certain death benefits are automatically revoked when a divorce, annulment or judicial separation becomes final. If you are divorced, it is especially important to review your beneficiary designations to ensure your benefits will be distributed according to your wishes and your divorce agreement.
Looking for some summer reading to add to your e-reader? Check out these publications from NYSLRS for important retirement information.
1. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 6 Members (Article 15)
Are you one of more than 350,000 Tier 6 Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members covered by Article 15? Your retirement plan publication explains some of the benefits and the services available to you, including service retirement, disability retirement, death benefits and more. Read it now.
2. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 3 and 4 Members (Articles 14 and 15)
If you’re not in Tier 6, you’re likely among more than 260,000 Tier 3 and 4 ERS members covered by Article 14 and 15. Check out your publication to find out about the benefits and the services available to you. Read it now.
3. Service Credit for Tiers 2 Through 6
The service credit you earn as a NYSLRS member is an important factor in the calculation of your pension. This publication explains the service you can earn credit for and how you can request to purchase credit for additional public employment or military service. Read it now.
4. What If I Leave Public Employment?
While we hope you stay a NYSLRS member throughout your working career, we understand that circumstances can change. If you leave public employment, this publication explains what you’ll need to do and what happens to your NYSLRS membership. Spoiler: It depends on how much service you have. Read it now.
5. What If I Work After Retirement?
Generally, NYSLRS retirees under age 65 can earn up to $35,000 per calendar year from public employers in New York State without affecting their NYSLRS pension. However, you should be aware of the laws governing post-retirement employment and how working after retirement may impact your retirement benefits. If you are considering working while collecting your pension, you should read this publication. If you already work in public employment as a NYSLRS retiree, read our Update Regarding Retiree Earnings Limit blog post for information about recent legislation and Governor’s executive orders that affect the limit.
These days, a 55-year-old man can expect to live for another 27.4 years, to about 82. A 55-year-old woman can expect to live for more than 30 years. These figures, derived from the Social Security life expectancy calculator, are only averages. They don’t account for factors such as health, lifestyle or family medical history.
Here are some other statistics worth considering as you plan for retirement (as of the State fiscal year that ended March 31, 2022):
More than 37,000 NYSLRS retirees were over 85 years old;
More than 3,500 had passed the 95-year mark; and
401 NYSLRS’ retirees were 101 or older.
Considering that many public employees can retire as early as 55, it’s possible that a fair number of them could have retirements that last 45 years or more.
Saving for a Long Retirement
Your NYSLRS pension is one source of income that you can depend on however long your retirement lasts. Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who retired in fiscal year 2022 are receiving an average monthly pension of $2,748. Social Security is another long-term source. The average Social Security benefit for a retired worker was $1,837 a month, as of June 2023.
Your retirement savings is a crucial asset that can supplement your pension and Social Security. In a long retirement, savings can help with rising costs and provide a source of cash in an emergency.
It is never too late to start saving for retirement. The New York State Deferred Compensation Plan is one easy way to get started. It’s a program created for New York State employees and employees of participating public agencies. If you’re a municipal employee, ask your employer if you’re eligible for the Deferred Compensation Plan or another retirement savings plan. (The New York State Deferred Compensation Plan is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)
You should also visit our Start Saving for Retirement page. You’ll find an example of how much you can save over a 30-year period, and a sample withdrawal strategy designed to provide retirement income for 20 years.
As a NYSLRS member, your defined benefit pension plan is a good reason to be optimistic about your finances when you retire. Your pension will provide you with monthly payments for the rest of your life. But there is more to a financially secure retirement than having a pension. Understanding your potential sources of income will help you plan for your future and boost your retirement confidence.
Think of retirement security as a three-legged stool. Each leg is a source of income to help support you when your working days are done.
Leg 1: Your NYSLRS Pension
At retirement, vested NYSLRS members are eligible for a pension based on their final average earnings and the number of years they’ve worked in public service. Your NYSLRS pension provides you with a monthly payment for the rest of your life, no matter how long you live. Unlike workers who rely on a 401(k)-style retirement plan, you won’t have to worry about this income running out.
Most members can use Retirement Online to estimate how much their pension will be. But, if you’re a long way from retirement, it may be better to think in terms of earnings replacement. Financial advisers estimate you’ll need to replace 70 to 80 percent of your income to retire with confidence. Your pension can help get you there. For example, if you retire with 30 years of service, your NYSLRS pension could replace more than half of your earnings. (Pension benefits depend on your tier and retirement plan. Look up your retirement plan publication to find out how your retirement benefit will be calculated.)
Leg 2: Social Security
Your Social Security benefit is another source of income to help support you in retirement. It replaces a percentage of your pre-retirement income. At full retirement age, your social security benefit can replace from about 75 percent for lower income earners to about 27 percent for higher income earners. Visit Social Security’s Plan for Retirement page to estimate your income and learn more about your benefit.
Leg 3: Retirement Savings Can Boost Your Confidence
A lifetime pension and Social Security income will be substantial financial assets, but it’s still important to save for retirement. A healthy retirement savings will give you more flexibility during retirement, helping to ensure that you’ll be able to do the things you want to do. It can also help in case of an emergency and act as a hedge against inflation.
Saving is the retirement factor you have the most control over. You decide when to start, how much to save and how to invest your money. The key is to start saving early so your money has time to grow, even if you can only afford to save a small amount in the beginning.
Eligible employees might consider saving with the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan (NYSDCP). You can start by saving as little as $10 per pay period. That money gets deducted from your paycheck so you won’t even have to think about it. NYSDCP is not affiliated with NYSLRS, but New York State employees and some municipal employees can participate. If you’re a municipal employee, ask your employer whether you’re eligible for NYSDCP or another retirement savings plan.
New York Retirement News is dedicated to keeping NYSLRS members and retirees informed about developments that may affect their benefits. In case you missed them, or just want to take another look, here are some of our most popular blog posts from the past year.
Becoming Vested Becoming vested is a crucial milestone in your NYSLRS membership. Under legislation enacted in April 2022, Tier 5 and 6 members are now vested after five years of service. Previously, these members needed ten years of service credit to be eligible for a service retirement benefit.
Update Regarding Retiree Earnings Limit Normally, most NYSLRS retirees who return to work for a public employer are limited in how much they can earn before their pension would be suspended. The limit is $35,000 per calendar year, however, executive orders from the Governor and legislation temporarily suspended this limit. Read the blog post for current information.
Enhanced Death Benefit for Survivors of COVID-19 Victims Survivors of NYSLRS members who contract COVID-19 on the job may be entitled to an enhanced death benefit if the member dies as a result of the disease. This accidental death benefit covers eligible deaths through December 31, 2024.
Find Your Retirement Plan Publication Your retirement plan publication is an essential resource that provides comprehensive information about your NYSLRS benefits. It explains 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. Our new tool can help you find your plan publication.
What is a Defined Benefit Plan? As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit plan, also known as a traditional pension plan. Defined benefit plans are often confused with defined contribution plans, but there are major differences between the two types of plans.
Service credit is one of the major factors in calculating your NYSLRS pension. You earn a year of service credit for each year of full-time employment with a participating employer. In some cases, you may also be able to request additional credit for past service, which could increase your pension amount.
You can request credit for past service if you:
Worked for a participating employer before joining NYSLRS;
Worked for a public employer that later participated in NYSLRS; or
Received an honorable discharge from active military duty.
In most cases, you have to pay to receive additional service credit. The sooner you purchase your credit, the less it will generally cost. You must apply for any additional service credit that you wish to receive before you retire. After you apply, we’ll determine whether you’re eligible for the credit and how much it would be.
Credit for Previous Public Employment
Additional service credit includes work for an employer who later joined NYSLRS, or for public employment before you became a NYSLRS member.
Example: You worked at the town library while going to school and, as a part-time employee, you chose not to join NYSLRS. When you graduated and took a full-time job at the Town Supervisor’s office, you were required to join. You can request credit for the part-time service at the library.
When you apply, you’ll be asked for the name of the employer and the approximate dates you worked there. We encourage you to submit any proof you may have of your previous service. We will also reach out to your former employer, but you may be able to expedite the process by providing payroll records such as W-2 forms or pay stubs to NYSLRS when you apply.
You must earn two years of service credit as a member before additional service can be credited to you.
Military Service Credit
If you served in the U.S. armed forces, you may be eligible to purchase credit toward your retirement for your military service, regardless of whether your military service was before or after you joined NYSLRS.
There are different sections of the law that allow credit for military service. The amount of military service credit you can receive, and the cost (if any), will vary depending on which section of the law allows the credit. Reserve and National Guard service may qualify if it’s considered active duty.
For certain military service, you must have five years of member service credit before you can apply.
How to Request Additional Service Credit
You can apply for additional service credit and military service credit in Retirement Online. Sign in to your account, scroll down to the ‘My Account Summary’ section of your Account Homepage and click the “Manage My Service Purchases” button, then click “Request Additional Service Credit.” If you are applying for military service credit, select “Article 20 Military” when asked for your employer.
There may be other ways to increase your retirement service credit. If you had a previous membership in a New York State public retirement system and it was terminated, you may be able to reinstate your membership. If you still have an active membership in another public retirement system, but you are no longer working for the employer that participates in that retirement system, you may be able to transfer that membership to NYSLRS.
A word of caution — there are certain situations where purchasing additional service credit will not increase your pension. For example, special retirement plans for police officers and firefighters allow retirement after 20 or 25 years of service regardless of age, but not all types of public employment count toward the 20 or 25 years in these plans. Contact us if you have questions.
For more information about purchasing additional credit:
Retirement Online is a secure and convenient way for members to do business with NYSLRS. Submitting applications through Retirement Online speeds up the process and enables NYSLRS to serve more customers more quickly. Here’s a look at some of the things NYSLRS members (not yet retired) can do online.
View Your Account Information
Sign in to Retirement Online for easy access to key information about your NYSLRS account. On your Account Homepage, scroll down to the ‘Account Info’ section. There, you can find your date of membership, tier, retirement plan, estimated total service credit and more.
Update Your Contact Information
It’s important that we have your current contact information to make sure you receive the news, letters and statements that we send you. You can change your mailing address, phone number or email address in the ‘My Profile Information’ section of your Account Homepage. Just click “update” next to the item you’d like to change.
You can save time and reduce paper waste by going green and opting to receive information from NYSLRS electronically. Choose “E-mail” next to ‘Contact by,’ and when important information is ready for you to view in Retirement Online, we will send you an email to let you know.
View and Update Your Beneficiary
NYSLRS retirement plans provide death benefits for beneficiaries of eligible members who die before retiring. It’s a good idea to review your beneficiaries from time to time to make sure your choices reflect your current wishes. Retirement Online is the fastest way to add or remove beneficiaries or update beneficiary information. Click “Manage My Beneficiaries” on the right, under “I want to…”
Estimate Your Pension
How much will your pension be? It’s an important question as you’re planning for retirement. In just a few steps, most members can estimate their retirement benefit based on up-to-date account information, then save or print the estimate. Entering different dates and comparing the results can help you choose the retirement date that’s right for you. From your Account Homepage, go to the ‘My Account Summary’ section and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button.
Apply for a Loan
It’s easy to apply for a loan in Retirement Online. If you are eligible to take a loan, you can see how much you can borrow, what your repayment options will be and whether your loan will be taxable — all before you apply. And, of course, if you decide to go ahead with the loan, you can apply online too. Click “Apply for a Loan” on the right, under “I want to…”
After you’ve received your loan, click the “Manage My Loans” button to adjust your payment amount or to make a one-time payment.
Request Credit for Previous Service
If you worked for a participating employer before joining NYSLRS, you may be able to purchase service credit for that time. You can use Retirement Online to request credit for previous public employment (and for military service) and to upload any supporting documentation. Click “Manage My Service Credit Purchases” to get started.
View Your Member Annual Statement
Your Member Annual Statement can help you understand your benefits. It’s a snapshot of your NYSLRS account based on the information we have on file for you as of March 31 each year, which is the close of our fiscal year. From your Account Homepage, go to the ‘My Account Summary’ area, click the “View My Member Annual Statement” button and follow the steps to view, print or save your Statement. While you’re there, consider updating your MAS preference to “email” in the ‘My Profile Information’ area of your Account Homepage to receive your Statements faster.
Generate a Mortgage Verification Letter
If you need to show your NYSLRS account information for a mortgage, just click the link under ‘I want to…’ to the right of ‘My Profile Information.’ You can print a document that shows your contribution balance, and, if you have an outstanding loan, the date of your last loan, the current balance and the interest rate.
Apply for Retirement
When you are ready to retire, Retirement Online allows you to skip the hassle of mailing paper forms or visiting our office. You can apply for a service retirement benefit, choose your pension payment option, sign up for direct deposit and submit retirement-related paperwork online. A big advantage of applying online is that you don’t have to get anything notarized. Read our Applying for Retirementblog post for more information and links to resources.
Other Online Transactions
If you previously were a member of another New York State public retirement system before joining NYSLRS, your service could be recredited and your date of membership and tier restored. You can click “Reinstate a Previous Membership” to get started.
If you leave public employment with less than ten years of service credit, you can use Retirement Online to withdraw your membership. However, this will terminate your membership with NYSLRS, so you may wish to speak with a customer service representative before you submit your withdrawal application if you have any questions. You can call them at 866-805-0990 or message them using our secure contact form.
Here is an important retirement planning tip. Most members can create their own 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. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.
How to Estimate Your Pension
First you will need a Retirement Online account. Once you register and sign in, go to the ‘My Account Summary’ section of your Account Homepage and click the ’Estimate my Pension Benefit’ button.
Remember, the pension amounts you’ll see are just an estimate; it is not a guarantee of what you’ll receive when you retire.
Most Tier 2 through 6 members (more than 90 percent of all NYSLRS members) can use the Retirement Online pension calculator. However, some members may not be able to use the Retirement Online calculator because of their circumstances, for example, if they have recently transferred a membership to NYSLRS, or if they are a Tier 6 member with between five and ten years of service.
The system will notify you if your estimate cannot be completed using the Retirement Online pension calculator. Please contact us to request a pension estimate if you receive this notification. If you are in Tier 2 through 6, you can use the “Quick Calculator“ on the NYSLRS website. The Quick Calculator generates estimates based on information you provide.