NYSLRS’ Special Retirement Plans

NYSLRSCertain PFRS and ERS members are under Special Retirement Plans manages more than 300 retirement plan combinations for its members, which are described in more than 50 plan booklets. But, for all that complexity, they breakdown into just two main types: regular plans and special plans. Under a regular plan, you need to reach certain age and service requirements to receive a pension. For instance, if you’re a Tier 4 member in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) with a regular plan, you’re eligible for a benefit when you turn 55 and have five or more years of service credit. Most of our ERS members are in regular plans.

Special plans are a little different. With special plans, NYSLRS members can receive a pension after completing 20 or 25 years of service. There is no age requirement; you can retire at any age once you have the full amount of required service credit. Both ERS and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) have special plans.

Special Plans for Special Services to the State

As of March 31, 2018, seven percent of active ERS members and 98 percent of active PFRS members are in special plans. These members fill roles such as:

  • Police officer;
  • Firefighter;
  • Correction officer;
  • Sheriffs undersheriff, and deputy sheriff; and
  • Security hospital treatment assistant.

Public employees in jobs like these face dangers and difficulties throughout their careers. They fight fires, patrol our neighborhoods, assist ill patients and more. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for the challenging, sometimes life-threatening work they do each day.

If you’d like to learn more about your retirement plan, please visit the Publications page of our website and review your plan publication. If you’re not sure which booklet covers your benefits, you can check your Member Annual Statement, ask your employer or send us an email using our secure contact form.

Popular Blog Posts of 2018

Before we say goodbye to 2018, let’s take a look back at a few of the year’s most popular blog posts.

most popular posts of 2018

NYSLRS Basics: Final Average Salary

For NYSLRS members, the formulas used to calculate our pension benefits are based on two main factors: service credit and final average salary. While service credit is fairly straightforward — it’s generally the years of service you’ve spent working for a participating employer — what is a final average salary (FAS)?

Will Your Retirement Age Affect Your Benefit?

Some special plans allow NYSLRS members to retire after 20 or 25 years with no pension reduction. However, most of us have a choice to make: wait until the full retirement age specified by their plans or retire as early as age 55. It’s an important decision; those who retire early may receive a permanently reduced pension benefit.

Federal Withholding and Your Pension

Retirees: While your NYSLRS pension is not taxed by New York State, it is still subject to federal income tax. If your tax bill is larger than expected, or if you’ve been getting a hefty tax refund regularly, you may want to adjust the federal withholding from your NYSLRS pension. Follow these step-by-step instructions.

NYSLRS — One Tier at a Time: ERS Tiers 3 & 4

Many Tier 3 and 4 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) are eligible to retire under the same retirement plan, so we often think about them together. According to our most recent numbers, the combined tiers make up nearly 60 percent of ERS members — by far the largest segment. Here is a quick look at the benefits these members may receive before and after retirement.

Age Milestones for Retirement Planning

Even with a defined-benefit plan like you receive through NYSLRS, retirement planning is not a one-time task. Whether you’re reviewing your NYSLRS benefits or other retirement matters (like Medicare coverage or required minimum distributions), there are important considerations at almost every age leading up to retirement — and even in the years that follow.

Now is a Good Time to Review Your Retirement Savings

Saving for retirement? Under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules, you’ll be allowed to contribute more to your retirement savings account during 2019.

If you’re having part of your pay deposited directly into an employer-sponsored retirement savings account, such as New York State Deferred Compensation, you’ll be able to contribute up to $19,000 next year. That’s up from $18,500 for 2018. If you’re over 50, catch-up provisions allow you to save up to $25,000. The old limit was $24,500.

Even if you’re nowhere near the contribution limit, this is good time to review your retirement savings strategy. Are you saving enough to meet your retirement goals? Can you save more in 2019? And if you aren’t saving for retirement, now’s the best time to start.

Review Your Retirement Savings

Why Save for Retirement?

Financial experts say you’ll need 70 to 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your lifestyle during retirement. Retirement savings can supplement your NYSLRS pension and Social Security, helping you reach that goal. Retirement savings can also be a hedge against inflation and a source of cash in an emergency. A healthy retirement account will give you more flexibility during retirement, helping ensure that you’ll be able to do the things you want to do.

Getting Started

For New York State employees and many other NYSLRS members, there’s an easy way to get started. If you work for a participating employer, you can join the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you are a NYSLRS member but do not work for New York State, check with your employer to see if you are eligible. (Deferred Comp is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)

Once you sign up for Deferred Comp, your contributions will automatically be deducted from your paycheck and deposited into your account. You can choose from a variety of investment packages or choose your own investment strategy.

With a tax-deferred savings plan, the impact on your paycheck will be less than the amount going into your account. (Deferred Comp even has a calculator to help you estimate the impact.)

You may also eligible for a Roth account, which lets you make contributions in after-tax dollars. In exchange for paying taxes upfront, your savings grow tax-free and you pay no taxes when you withdraw the funds in retirement. This approach may be advantageous for younger workers in lower tax brackets.

Countdown to Retirement — 12 Months Out

Once you decide to retire and begin preparing, the final months leading up to your retirement date go by quickly. Previously, we discussed the steps to take when you’re 18 months away from retirement. As we continue our Countdown to Retirement series, let’s take a look at what you should be doing 12 months out.

12 Months Out

Domestic Relations Order

Pensions earned during a marriage are considered marital property. So, if you divorce, you may need to split your retirement benefit with your ex-spouse. If you agreed to such a division, or if a court ordered you to share a portion of your pension benefits with your ex-spouse, now is the time to make sure NYSLRS has a valid domestic relations order (DRO) on file:

If you have a DRO, send it to our Matrimonial Bureau, which will review it for consistency with New York State law. If your DRO isn’t complete, visit our website for a NYSLRS-developed DRO template and tips to help the review process move more quickly. We’ll need certified photocopies of the final DRO and your judgement of divorce, before we can distribute any pension benefits to an ex-spouse.

This process can take some time, which is why you want to begin 12 months before you retire.

If you have questions about DROs, you can review our Guide to Domestic Relations Orders.

Review your health insurance coverage

NYSLRS doesn’t administer health insurance benefits, but they’re an important part of a financially secure retirement. Check with your health benefits administrator to determine what coverage you’re eligible for once you retire. Now is the time to investigate private health insurance plans if you’re not eligible for post-retirement coverage or if you need to supplement it. If you are a New York State employee, you may want to review the Planning for Retirement guide from the Department of Civil Service.

countdown to retirement - 12 months out

Counting Down

Your planned retirement date is just a year away. As it gets closer, check out the rest of our Countdown to Retirement series for steps to take eight months, four to six months and one to three months before your retirement date. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Retirees: Know Your Post-Retirement Earnings Limit

Retirees: Know Your Post-Retirement Earnings LimitAs a NYSLRS retiree, you can work for a public employer after retirement and still receive your pension, but there may be limits on how much you can earn.

Public employers include New York State, municipalities in the State (cities, counties, etc.), school districts and public authorities. If you’re self-employed or work for a private employer, another state, or the federal government, you can collect your full NYSLRS pension no matter how much you earn. (However, earnings for most disability retirees are limited whether they work for a public or private employer. To find out your earnings limit, please contact us.)

Two sections of New York State Retirement and Social Security Law (RSSL) apply to NYSLRS service retirees who return to work in the public sector.

Section 212: Earnings Limit

Section 212 of the RSSL allows retirees to earn up to $30,000 per calendar year from public employment. There is generally no earnings restriction beginning in the calendar year you turn 65. (Special rules apply to elected officials.) If you are under 65 and earn more than the Section 212 limit, you must:

  • Pay back, to NYSLRS, an amount equal to the retirement benefit you received after you reached the limit. And, if you continue to work, your retirement benefit will be suspended for the remainder of the calendar year.

OR

  • Rejoin NYSLRS, in which case your retirement benefit will be suspended.

Section 211: Employer Approval

Under Section 211, the earnings limit can be waived if your prospective employer gets prior approval. (In most cases, the New York State Department of Civil Service would be the approving agency.)

Section 211 approvals apply to a fixed period, normally up to two years. Approval is not automatic; it is based on the employer’s needs and your qualifications.

Before you decide to return to work, please, please read our publication, What If I Work After Retirement? If you still have questions or concerns, please contact us.

A Snapshot of NYSLRS Retirees

This fall, NYSLRS published our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), with the latest data from the State fiscal year ending March 31, 2018. It’s a publication full of details about NYSLRS members, retirees and beneficiaries, as well as information about NYSLRS investments.

In this post, let’s dive in and take a look at NYSLRS retirees and the places they call home.

NYSLRS Retirees by the Numbers

As of March 31, 2018 (the end of the State fiscal year), NYSLRS provides pension benefits to 470,596 retirees and beneficiaries.

Six hundred ninety-five of them live outside the United States, in places like England and the Philippines. However, the vast majority live here in the U.S. In fact, while 22 retirees and beneficiaries have found themselves in the Great Plains of North Dakota, and more than 37,000 now make the sunshine state of Florida home, nearly 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries — some 370,329 — live right here in New York.

Where NYSLRS Retirees live in the US

NYSLRS Pensions at Work

NYSLRS retirees live in our communities, in every county of the State. Their pension money flows right back into our neighborhoods, stimulating and growing local economies. In 2017 alone, NYSLRS retirees generated $12 billion in economic activity in New York State. They pay property taxes, state and local sales taxes, and they spend money at local businesses. In fact, in 2017, spending by NYSLRS retirees and their beneficiaries was responsible for the creation of an estimated 73,000 local jobs.

An Award-Winning Publication

NYSLRS has received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the CAFR for the last 14 years. It’s a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports.

There’s more to find out about retirees, members and NYSLRS’ investments. You can check out this year’s CAFR and CAFRs from years past on our website.

Retirement Planning Tip: Required Minimum Distributions

Required Minimum DistributionsIf you have tax-deferred retirement savings (such as certain 457(b) plans offered by NYS Deferred Comp), you will eventually have to start withdrawing that money. After you turn 70½, you’ll be subject to a federal law requiring that you withdraw a certain amount from your account each year. If you don’t make the required withdrawals, called Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs), you could face significant penalties.

RMDs are never eligible for rollover into other retirement accounts. You must take out the money and pay the taxes.

Calculating the Distribution

The RMD amount must be calculated annually. It’s based on the account’s balance at the end of the previous calendar year and the life expectancy of you and your beneficiary. Check out AARP’s Required Minimum Distribution Calculator for an easy way to determine your required distributions. Many retirement plan administrators, including the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan, will inform you of your RMD amount, but it’s your responsibility to take the required distribution.

Potential Penalty

If you don’t take the required distribution, or if you withdraw less than the required amount, you may have to pay a 50 percent tax on the amount that was not distributed. (You must report the undistributed amount on your federal tax return and file IRS Form 5329.)

The IRS may waive the penalty if you can show that your failure was due to a “reasonable error” or that you have taken steps to correct the situation. You can find information about requesting a waiver on page 8 of the Form 5329 instructions.

What Accounts Require Minimum Distributions?

Most retirement accounts you’re familiar with require these annual withdrawals:

  • 457(b) plans
  • IRAs (traditional, SEP and SIMPLE)
  • 401(k) plans
  • 403(b) plans
  • Profit-sharing plans
  • Money purchase plans

Since contributions to Roth IRAs have already been taxed, the IRS does not require distributions from Roth IRAs at any age.

As with most things investment-related, a lot depends on your particular circumstances. If you have questions, contact your financial advisor or your plan administrator.

Countdown to Retirement — 18 Months Out

After taking time to plan and learn about your NYSLRS retirement benefits, you’ve decided to retire. In the final months leading up to your retirement date, there are important things you need to do. Our Countdown to Retirement series will help you know what to do and when — beginning with 18 months out.

18 Months Out

You should request a NYSLRS retirement estimate 18 months before you plan to retire. Your estimate will provide your approximate pension payment amounts under different payment options, as well as information about your retirement benefits.

To get your NYSLRS retirement estimate, send us a completed Request for Estimate form (RS6030). On the form, make sure you include:

  • Planned retirement date
  • Name and birth date of your intended beneficiary
  • Public employment history

Your public employment history dates don’t have to be exact, but NYSLRS will use this information to review your account to see whether you are eligible for any additional service

countdown to retirement - 18 months out

Your NYSLRS Retirement Estimate

When you receive your NYSLRS retirement estimate, you can expect to see your:

With your NYSLRS retirement estimate, you can see how an outstanding loan balance or additional service credit might affect your pension. This is information you need now; it shouldn’t be a surprise when you retire. You may receive your estimate and decide that you’re not ready to retire. That’s fine; you can request a new one later on.

The NYSLRS retirement estimate is based on the information we have on file for you, so it’s important to review it carefully. If your estimate isn’t what you expected, report any inconsistencies to us as soon as possible.

Counting Down

Your planned retirement date will be here before you know it. As it gets closer, check out the rest of our Countdown to Retirement series for steps to take 12 months, eight months, four to six months and one to three months before your retirement date.

A Good Plan Can Ease Transition to Retirement

When people talk about retirement planning, they’re usually talking about money. But there is another aspect that people often forget. What will you do with all that newfound free time?

Sure, after decades of hard work, thoughts of sleeping late and taking it easy seem pretty good. But retirement is a big transition, and many retirees don’t consider its potential psychological consequences.

steps to ease transition to retirement

Create a Plan and Schedule

While you may have some complaints about your job, it is an important part of your life. It helps define who you are and can give you a sense of accomplishment. It provides structure, mental stimulation and social interaction. Leaving the workforce creates a big void, and watching daytime TV or frequent trips to the grocery store may not be enough to fill that void. Empty or aimless hours can lead to boredom, disenchantment and even depression.

You may have a long list of things to do, places to go, books to read, but it won’t mean much if you don’t act. To successfully manage your time, you’ll need to actively plan and create a schedule. Set down how you will spend each day of the week, blocking out time for chores, social engagements, hobbies and exercise. Sticking to a schedule will give your days structure and give you a sense of purpose.

Stay Active and Engaged

For most people, staying busy and remaining socially engaged are essential to a satisfying retirement. That’s why some retirees go back to work full-time, while others opt for part-time or seasonal jobs.

But a retirement job doesn’t necessary mean continuing to do the same old thing. Retirement is an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, something fun and challenging.

Hopefully, you’ve planned your retirement so you won’t need to work to meet basic needs, so your retirement gig won’t have to pay a lot. In fact, maybe the job for you is one that doesn’t pay at all, at least monetarily. There are countless organizations looking for volunteers, so it shouldn’t be hard to find opportunities that match your skills and interests.

Volunteering just a few hours a week will give you something to look forward to and keep you connected to the outside world. And studies show that it can improve both your mental and physical well-being.

Exercise Your Body and Brain

Regular exercise not only keeps you physically fit, it also increases your sense of well-being. Whatever you do to get exercise, make it part of your regular schedule. Consider taking a fitness class at a local gym, which also adds a social element to your workout. (And you can up the ante by trying something new, like a martial arts class.)

Don’t forget to exercise your brain. A course or workshop can help you discover a new side to yourself (the painter, the mystery writer, the master of topiary). You may want to enroll in classes at a local community college or even return to school full-time.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s part of a plan – a plan for a happier retirement.

Pension Verification Letters

As a retiree, you may find yourself needing a letter verifying your pension income — maybe for housing or as part of an application for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). There are four ways to get a pension verification letter.

Four Ways to Get a Pension Verification Letter

1. Retirement Online

Retirement Online is fastest and most convenient way to get a pension verification letter. First, sign in. Then, on your account homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the Generate Income Verification Letter link.

A pop-up box with a confirmation message will appear. Once you click OK, your pension income verification letter will open in a new browser tab, ready for you to print or save.

pension verification letter infographic

2. Email

You can email us your request using our secure contact form. Tell us what information you need, and be sure to include your daytime phone number, in case our customer service representatives have a question. In most cases, we’ll mail your letter in five to seven business days.

3. Phone

You can call us with your request at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). Our Call Center is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 am – 5:00 pm. As with email, we usually mail letters in five to seven business days.

4. Fax

You can also fax your request to 518-473-5590. Include your retirement or registration number, current address, signature and phone number in case we have questions. Tell us whether you want the letter mailed or faxed to you (provide a fax number).

Sending a Pension Verification Letter to a Third Party

At your request, we can send a letter verifying your pension income directly to a lending institution, housing authority, nursing home or other third party. However, because this information is confidential, we need your signed written permission.

If you decide you want us to send a letter to a third party, they must fax us a request and include a signed release from you giving us permission to release your information.