PFRS Member Milestones

The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) covers nearly 32,000 police officers and firefighters across New York State. 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.

Some milestones are common to most PFRS members; others are shared by members in a particular tier or retirement plan. For example, your plan determines when you would be eligible to apply for a non-job-related disability benefit.

A recent amendment to Retirement law changed a milestone for some members. As of April 9, 2022, Tier 5 and 6 members are now vested after earning five years of service credit. Previously, members in these tiers needed ten years of service to become vested. Being vested means you are entitled to a NYSLRS pension, even if you leave public employment before retirement age.

Member Milestones to Remember

PFRS member milestones

Most PFRS members are in special plans that allow them to retire with full benefits, regardless of age, after 20 or 25 years of service. If you are in a special plan, only certain job titles would give you creditable service toward a 20- or 25-year milestone. For example, if you are in the State Police plan, service with a city police department would be creditable, but service as a sheriff’s deputy or corrections officer would not be.

PFRS members in regular plans can retire as early as age 55, but may face a benefit reduction if they retire before their full retirement age.

Your specific milestones, along with your pension calculation, are determined by your retirement plan, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the details of your plan. You can find information about your milestones in your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page. Not sure which retirement booklet is yours? Your retirement plan is listed in your Retirement Online account or you can ask your employer. You can also read our recent blog post for tips on finding your plan booklet.

Retroactive Payments and Your NYSLRS Pension

Retroactive payments are lump sum payments you receive from your employer. These payments can be from new union contracts, arbitration awards or legal settlements that took place while you were on your employer’s payroll.

If you receive a retroactive payment from your employer, it could affect your pension benefit calculation.

How Retroactive Payments Can Affect Your Benefit

Retroactive Payments

Your final average earnings (FAE) are a major factor in your pension benefit calculation. It’s the average of your three (five for Tier 6 members) highest consecutive years of earnings. For most people, their highest years of earnings come at the end of their careers.

Retroactive payments are applied to the pay periods when they were earned, not when they were paid. So, retroactive payments can increase your FAE, and therefore your pension benefit, as long as the time period in which you earned that money is part of the time period your FAE is based on.

However, please be aware that the law limits the FAE of all members who joined on or after June 17, 1971. For most members, if your earnings increase significantly through the years used in your FAE, some of those earnings may not be able to be used toward your pension. You can find information about earnings limitations by tier, including examples, on the Final Average Earnings page on our website. If your FAE has already been affected by these earnings limits, your retroactive payment will not increase your pension benefit.

Payments Received Before Retirement. If you receive a retroactive payment from your employer before you retire, your employer will report your earnings to us through their regular reporting process. You do not need to notify us of payments you receive.

Payments Received After Retirement (State Employees). If you retired from New York State and you receive a retroactive payment after you retire, we will recalculate your pension automatically. NYSLRS receives State payroll information automatically and you do not need to notify us. You will receive correspondence from us explaining any change in your pension benefit.

Payments Received After Retirement (Non-State Employees). If you retired from a non-State employer and you receive a retroactive payment after you retire, send a letter to our Recalculation Unit in the Benefit Calculations & Disbursement Services Bureau. Please include a copy of your check stub and any correspondence you received from your employer related to the payment. Mail it to:

NYSLRS
Attn: BCDS – Recalculation Unit
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001

You can also email and upload this information to the Retirement System through our secure contact form.

Your Pension Recalculation Will Be Completed

We continue to receive a record number of pension recalculations and are working diligently to address them. If you are currently waiting for your pension amount to be recalculated, please rest assured that we will get to it. Once we complete your recalculation, you will receive payment of all the money you are owed, and a letter explaining the change in your pension amount.

Recent PEF Retroactive Payments

If you were a Public Employees Federation (PEF) member before retiring from State service, you may have recently received a retroactive payment. The current PEF contract, covering employment from April 1, 2019 through March 31, 2021, was ratified last summer. If you were a PEF member, worked during these dates and have not received your retroactive payment, please check with your previous employer.

If you retired recently and your FAE included earnings from on or after April 1, 2019, your NYSLRS pension will be increased automatically. You do not need to notify us that you received a retroactive payment.

CSEA Contract Negotiations

If you were a member of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) before you retired, your contract and any retroactive payment is currently being negotiated. Contact CSEA if you have questions.

Making Loan Payments When You Leave Public Employment

To repay a NYSLRS loan, you make loan payments automatically through payroll deductions. But what happens if you go off the public payroll before the loan is paid off?

The answer is…it depends. If you leave your job because you’re retiring, then your pension will be reduced. (Employees’ Retirement System members may repay their loan after retiring, but they must pay the full balance in a single payment.)

However, if you leave public employment for any other reason, you must make loan payments directly to NYSLRS at least quarterly and pay off your loan balance within five years from the date the loan was issued. If you fail to meet either of these conditions, your loan will go into default.

You will still need to repay the outstanding balance to NYSLRS, and the loan will continue to accrue interest and insurance charges until it’s paid in full.

loan payments when you leave public employment

What Happens If My Loan Defaults?

If your loan defaults, NYSLRS will report your outstanding balance, minus any previously taxed amount, to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a distribution to you. You must also include the loan on your federal income tax return for the year it defaults. (If it was taxable before default, you will not be re-taxed on that portion of the loan.)

If you’re younger than 59½ in the year the loan defaults, the IRS will charge an additional 10 percent penalty on the taxable portion of the loan. (There are no New York State or local taxes due on the distribution.)

We also cannot issue a new loan until the defaulted loan has been repaid.

Managing Your Loan Payments

If you leave public employment, contact us as soon as possible. We’ll tell you the exact amount you’ll need to repay each quarter to avoid defaulting.

Retirement Online offers a convenient way to manage your NYSLRS loan. Sign in to check your balance. You can also use Retirement Online to make quarterly loan payments or pay off the balance. If you don’t have an account, sign up today.

If you mail your loan payments by check, be sure to write “loan payment” on your check and include your NYSLRS ID number so we can apply it to the correct account. Mail payments to:

NYSLRS
Attn: Accounts Receivable
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001

Member Milestones for ERS Tier 3 and 4

Knowing your member milestones can help you plan for your retirement. Most Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 3 and Tier 4 members (unless they are in special retirement plans) retire under the Article 15 retirement plan. If you’re covered by this retirement plan, you have a set of member milestones that affect how your pension is calculated and how much you’ll receive at retirement.

ERS Tier 3 and 4 member milestones

Here are some important Tier 3 and 4 milestones:

  • With ten years of service credit, you would be eligible to apply for a non-job-related disability benefit if you are permanently disabled and cannot perform your duties because of a physical or mental condition.
  • Also with ten years of service credit, your beneficiaries may be eligible for an out-of-service death benefit if you leave public employment and die before retirement.
  • With ten years of service credit, you are no longer able to withdraw your membership and receive a refund of your contributions if you leave public employment.
  • You are eligible to retire once you are age 55 and have five years of service credit. However, there would be reductions to your benefit if you retire before age 62 with less than 30 years of service credit.
  • You can retire with full benefits at age 62.
  • If you retire with less than 20 years of service credit, the benefit is 1.66 percent of your final average earnings (FAE) for each year of service.
  • If you retire with 20 to 30 years of service credit, the benefit is 2 percent of your FAE for each year of service.
  • If you retire with more than 30 years of service credit, the benefit is 2 percent of your FAE for each year of service up to 30. For each year of service beyond 30, you will receive 1.5 percent of your FAE.

The amount of your pension depends on several factors, including your years of service credit and your age when you retire. Read our blog post, Tier 3 & 4 Members: When Is The Right Time To Retire?, for information to consider. You can also estimate your pension in Retirement Online and enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit.

What is Your Net Worth?

When it comes to understanding your finances, a good place to start is by calculating your net worth.

Net worth is the total value of everything you own, minus the money you owe. It is a measure of your wealth and an indicator of your financial condition. It can also provide you with valuable insight as you start developing your financial plan for retirement.

How to Calculate Net Worth

The formula for calculating your net worth is simple:

net worth formula

Assets and Liabilities

Your assets are items of value that you own, including:

  • Your house
  • Other real estate (a vacation home, rental property)
  • Money in checking and saving accounts
  • Retirement savings, such as a 401(k) or Deferred Compensation account
  • Stocks, bonds and other investments
  • Your car and other vehicles
  • Jewelry, furniture and household items

Your liabilities are your debts. Your mortgage, credit card debts and loan balances factor into your total liabilities.

If you owe more than the value of your total assets, you have a negative net worth. A negative net worth may not necessarily mean you’re in financial trouble — it just means that at the moment you have more debts than assets.

If you’re just beginning your career and still have student loans, you may find yourself in negative territory. But your net worth is likely to increase over time as you pay down debts and save money.

Knowing Your Net Worth Can Help You Get a Handle on Your Finances

Your net worth shows your current financial status. When you know where you stand, you’ll be better prepared to make decisions about spending, saving and investing, which will help you achieve your short- and long-term financial goals. Your net worth can show you where you’re doing well and where there’s room for improvement. For example, it may indicate a need to curb your spending or reduce your credit card debt.

Your net worth is likely to change over time, so it’s a good idea to calculate it periodically. With this updated financial information, you’ll be able to track trends and make adjustments if necessary.

To learn more about net worth and what it means, you may wish to read What’s Your Net Worth Telling You?

When Retirees Rejoin NYSLRS

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted some NYSLRS retirees to return to work in the public sector. If you are one of these retirees, we want to make sure you know that the post-retirement earnings limit of $35,000 a year for retirees in a public sector job who are under age 65 has been suspended through much of 2020, 2021 and 2022 by executive order. Additionally, if you work for a school district or BOCES, legislation has suspended your earnings limit through June 30, 2023. Read more in our blog post, Update Regarding Retiree Earnings Limit During COVID-19 Emergency.

rejoin NYSLRS

Some retirees have considered ending their retirement to rejoin NYSLRS. While rejoining the Retirement System is an option, you should understand how this decision could affect your pension benefits.

Rejoining NYSLRS may increase your total service credit, allowing you to reach certain milestones that would increase your pension. An increase in earnings could also result in a higher pension. However, depending how long you work after rejoining, your new pension may not be higher than your original amount.

Note: This post applies to service retirees of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) or the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) who are rejoining the same system. Different rules may apply to retirees of other retirement systems, retirees joining a system other than the one they retired from, and disability retirees.

What Happens to Your Pension When You Rejoin NYSLRS?

If you rejoin NYSLRS, your pension will be suspended. If you are in Tiers 2 through 6, and you earn less than two years of new service credit after you rejoin, your original pension would be reinstated when you retire the second time. Any new service credit and earnings would not affect your pension. (Tier 1 members would receive an additional benefit even if they earn less than two years of service in their new membership.)

If you earn two or more years of new service, you can either receive your original pension or you can receive a recalculated benefit that includes your additional service. If you choose the recalculated benefit, you would have to repay the entire pension amount you have already received, plus interest. (The pension amount you repay would be based on the Single Life Allowance rate.) You may repay that amount in a lump sum or by installments before you retire again — or request a permanent reduction to your new pension.

Other Factors

Here are other things to consider before you rejoin NYSLRS:

  • When you retire again, your new retirement date can delay your eligibility for cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs).
  • If you are in Tier 1 or 2, rejoining may affect your death benefit.

Where to Go for Help

If you are seriously considering rejoining NYSLRS, we strongly recommend you speak with a customer service representative to discuss how rejoining would affect your benefits. You can call them at 1-866-805-0990 or email them using our secure contact form.

You may also wish to read our publication Life Changes: What If I Work After Retirement?

NYSLRS Basics: Special Beneficiary Designations

What makes special beneficiary designations so special?

As a NYSLRS member, it’s important for you to name beneficiaries. Your beneficiaries may be eligible to receive a death benefit upon your death.

You can choose anyone you wish to receive your death benefit; it does not have to be a family member. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a person. You can name your estate, a charity or a trust.

But before we talk more about these special beneficiary designations, let’s quickly go over the two main types of beneficiaries. These are important to know as some special designations may affect who you can designate.

About Primary and Contingent Beneficiaries

A primary beneficiary is someone you choose to receive your benefit if you die. A contingent beneficiary would only receive the benefit if the primary beneficiary dies before you. If a beneficiary dies before you, you should update your beneficiary information to ensure that your benefit is distributed according to your wishes.

As a reminder, Retirement Online is the convenient and secure way to view and update your beneficiaries. If you don’t already have an online account, you can learn more on our website.

About Special Beneficiary Designations

Here are some examples of special beneficiary designations and the rules for each one:

special beneficiary designations

Estates

You may name your estate as the primary or contingent beneficiary of your death benefit. If you name your estate as your primary beneficiary, you cannot name a contingent. If a benefit is payable, the executor of your estate will distribute it according to the terms of your will.

Trusts

If you have executed a trust agreement or provided for a trust in your will, your trust can be your primary or contingent beneficiary. To name a trust, sign in to Retirement Online or use our Trust with Contingent Beneficiaries form (RS5127-T). We’ll need a copy of your trust document, which you can mail to NYSLRS or upload using Retirement Online.

With this type of designation, the trust is the beneficiary, not the individuals who will receive the trust. If you revoke the trust or it expires, you will want to make new beneficiary designations as soon as possible to ensure benefits are paid according to your wishes.

You should talk to an attorney if you’d like more information on trust agreements.

Entities

You may name any charitable, civic, religious, educational or health-related organization as a primary or contingent beneficiary. Be sure to include the organization’s full name and address in your designation.

Minor Children

If your beneficiary is under age 18 at the time of your death, your benefit will be paid to the child’s court-appointed guardian. You may instead choose a custodian to receive the benefit on the child’s behalf under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). Custodians can be designated in Retirement Online. Before making this type of designation, please contact us for more information.

More Information

Please note that some of these beneficiary designations will be subject to a NYSLRS legal review.

For more information, please read our publication “Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary?” You can find your current NYSLRS beneficiaries listed in Retirement Online, or in your most recent Member Annual Statement.

ERS Tier 6 Benefits – A Closer Look

Financial advisers say you will need to replace between 70 and 80 percent of your salary to maintain your lifestyle after retirement. Your NYSLRS pension could go a long way in helping you reach that goal, especially when combined with your Social Security benefit and your own retirement savings. Here’s a look at how Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members in Tier 6 (who are vested once they’ve earned five years of credited service), can reach that goal. Members who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012 are in Tier 6.

formula for a financially secure retirement

Calculating an ERS Tier 6 Member’s Pension

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on your Final Average Earnings (FAE) and the number of years you work in public service. FAE is the average of the five highest-paid consecutive years. Note: The law limits the FAE of all members who joined on or after June 17, 1971. For example, for most members, if your earnings increase significantly through the years used in your FAE, some of those earnings may not be used toward your pension.  

Although ERS members can generally retire as early as age 55 with reduced benefits, the full retirement age for Tier 6 members is age 63.

For ERS Tier 6 members in regular plans (Article 15), the benefit is 1.66 percent of your FAE for each full year you work, up to 20 years. At 20 years, the benefit equals 1.75 percent per year for a total of 35 percent. After 20 years, the benefit grows to 2 percent per year for each additional year of service. (Benefit calculations for members of the Police and Fire Retirement System and ERS members in special plans vary based on plan.)

Say you begin your career at age 28 and work full-time until your full retirement age of 63. That’s 35 years of service credit. You’d get 35 percent of your FAE for the first 20 years, plus 30 percent for the last 15 years, for a total benefit that would replace 65 percent of your salary. If you didn’t start until age 38, you’d get 45 percent of your FAE at 63.

Examples of ERS Tier 6 Pension Calculation

So, that’s how your NYSLRS pension can help you get started with your post-retirement income. Now, let’s look at what the addition of Social Security and your own savings can do to help you reach your retirement goal.

Other Sources of Post-Retirement Income

Social Security: According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security currently replaces about 40 percent of the wages of a typical worker who retires at full retirement age. In the future, these percentages may change, but you should still factor it in to your post-retirement income.

Your Savings: Retirement savings can also replace a portion of your income. How much, of course, depends on how much you save. The key is to start saving early so your money has time to grow. New York State employees and some municipal employees can participate in the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you haven’t already looked into Deferred Compensation, you might consider doing so now.

Debt and Retirement

If you’re planning to retire in the near future, it’s a good idea to take inventory of any debt you may owe. Paying off your debt now can give you more breathing room to enjoy the type of retirement you want.

Where to Start: Repay Your NYSLRS Loans

A high priority should be any loans you have taken from NYSLRS. If you have an outstanding NYSLRS loan balance when you retire, it will reduce your pension.

For example, if a 60-year-old Tier 4 member of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) retires this year owing $10,000, the annual pension reduction would be $482.84. And that reduction would continue even after the total reduction exceeds the amount owed. What’s more, at least part of the loan balance at retirement would be subject to federal taxes.

ERS members may repay their loan after retiring. However, if you choose to pay back your loan after you retire, you must pay back the full amount of the outstanding balance that was due when you retired in one lump-sum payment. Following your full repayment, your pension benefit will be increased from that point going forward, but it will not be adjusted retroactively back to your date of retirement. Visit our Repaying Your Loan After Retirement page for more information if you are considering retiring with an outstanding loan.

debt and retirement - benefit reductions for loan balances

Other Debt to Check

Another priority is paying off credit cards. The average American household with credit card debt owes more than $6,006 in revolving balances and pays about $1,029 a year in interest, according to a recent analysis of federal data.

Fortunately, a federal law makes it easier to get a handle on your credit card debt. Credit card statements must now carry a “Minimum Payment Warning.” This tells you how long it will take, and how much it will cost, to pay off your balance if you only make minimum payments. It also tells you how much it will cost each month to pay off the balance in three years.

If you have more than one credit card balance, many financial advisers recommend you pay as much as you can on the card with the highest interest, while paying at least the minimum on lower-interest cards. Once you’ve paid off the high-interest card, focus on the card with the second-highest rate, and so forth. But some advisers say it might be better to pay off the card with the smallest balance first. That will give you a sense of accomplishment, which could make the process seem less daunting.

Mortgage balances make up 70 percent of the $15.24 trillion in U.S. household debt. But should you strive to pay off your mortgage before you retire? Financial advisers differ on that question. Paying off the house will eliminate a major expenditure and allow you to spend your retirement income on other things. On the other hand, if your mortgage rate is relatively low, you may want to focus on paying off other debts or boosting your retirement savings. What will work best for you depends on your particular financial situation.

NYSLRS Membership Basics

Whether you’re a new member or have been part of the Retirement System for years, you’re sure to have questions about your NYSLRS membership. What is vesting? Final average earnings? Maybe you’re wondering what tier you’re in or why that even matters. While NYSLRS administers many different retirement plans, the core concepts of a NYSLRS membership remain the same. Here are the basics.

Your NYSLRS Membership Basics

Four Things to Understand About Your NYSLRS Membership

When learning about your NYSLRS benefits, you should become familiar with these four basic concepts:

  • Tier. Your tier is based on the date you joined NYSLRS and helps determine the benefits available to you. If you’re a new NYSLRS member, you’re likely in Tier 6. Tier 6 members joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012.
  • Service Credit. You earn a year of service credit for each year you work for a participating NYSLRS employer. Part-time work is prorated. Your total service credit at retirement is a major factor in determining the amount of your pension.
  • Vesting. You become vested after you earn five years of service credit. It’s a significant milestone to reach because once you become vested, you’ll be eligible for a NYSLRS pension when you reach retirement age, even if you leave public service.
  • Final Average Earnings. Final average earnings is the average of your earnings during a period when your pay is highest. It’s another major factor in determining the amount of your pension.

Once you understand these basics, it can make learning more about your NYSLRS membership and benefits easier and help you get ahead on your retirement planning.

Your NYSLRS Pension and Other Benefits

Being a NYSLRS member means you are part of a defined benefit retirement plan. This means your NYSLRS pension will be a lifetime benefit, and it will be based on your final average earnings and service credit, not the contributions you make toward your retirement.

NYSLRS also provides other important benefits for its members, including:

Where to Get More Information

We want to provide you with the information you’ll need to plan for your retirement and make critical decisions about your future. Here are the resources available to you:

Retirement Online is the quickest way to access account information such as your tier, retirement plan and estimated total service credit. Sign up for a Retirement Online account if you don’t already have one.

If you have questions about your NYSLRS membership or benefits, you can find answers on our NYSLRS website. You can find different webpages, such as our Understanding Your NYSLRS Benefits page, that explain what benefits and services are available to you. Reading your retirement plan publication is a great way to get a comprehensive understanding of your benefits. Go to our Publications page to find your retirement plan and other helpful information.

If you have questions about your account or your NYSLRS benefits, please email us using our secure contact form.