Countdown to Retirement — Final Three Months

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 four to six months away from retirement. As we wrap up our Countdown to Retirement, let’s take a look at what you should be doing in the final three months.

Final Three Months: Filing for Retirement

You need to file an Application for Service Retirement (RS6037) with us 15–90 days before your retirement date. You can download the form from our website or pick up a physical copy at one of our consultation sites. Make sure to fill out the application completely and have it notarized.

If you send the form by “Certified Mail — Return Receipt Requested,” we will consider your application filed on the date it was mailed. Please don’t give your application to your employer; send it directly to NYSLRS.

Next Steps

Once we receive your application, we’ll mail you a confirmation letter. If you’ve received an estimate from us within the past 18 months, we will include three forms with the letter:

  • Use the W-4P form to decide how much you want withheld from your pension benefit for federal taxes.
  • Use the Direct Deposit Enrollment Application (RS6370) to receive your pension benefit payments electronically, right in your bank account.
  • Use the option election form to choose how you want your pension benefit paid and whether you would like to leave a lifetime pension to a beneficiary when you die.

If you haven’t received an estimate, we will just send you the W-4P and Direct Deposit Enrollment Application forms. We will begin processing your estimate, and once it’s complete, we will send it to you along with an option election form.

final three months

Choosing Your Pension Payment Option

Select a payment option based on your most recent estimate. All of the options provide a monthly benefit for life, and some provide payments to a designated beneficiary when you die. You must file this form by the last day of the month in which you retire (unless otherwise notified).

Make Sure You’re Prepared

As your retirement date draws near, think about scheduling an appointment at one of our consultation sites. A consultation is not required, but our information representatives can answer any questions you have, help you complete the paperwork and notarize your retirement application. You can also contact us if you have questions.

Computer System Upgrades This Spring

From April 19 through mid-May, NYSLRS will conduct a series of computer system upgrades to improve the services available to our customers.

Throughout the upgrade period, you will be able to conduct business with NYSLRS by email, mail and phone, but not through Retirement Online.
system upgrades

  • If you need to apply for a loan during the upgrade period, you can fill out a loan application and mail it to our office. Visit our Loans page for links to the applications and more information.
  • If you need to update your beneficiaries, fill out the Designation of Beneficiary form (RS5127). If you mail it to us “Certified Mail — Return Receipt Requested,” we will consider it as having been filed on the date it was mailed. Your beneficiaries will be updated in our system shortly after the upgrade is completed.
  • We will continue to process requests for income verification letters promptly.
  • Your monthly pension payments will not be affected.

For the latest information about the upgrade, please visit our Contact Us page. If you have any questions, please contact our Call Center at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, NY area), or email them using our secure contact form.

Retiree Annual Statements Coming

If you are a NYSLRS retiree and received benefits in 2018, your Retiree Annual Statement (RAS) should be coming in the mail soon, if you haven’t received it already.

The Retiree Annual Statement provides important information about your retirement account. You should keep your copy in a safe place.

couple reviewing their Retiree Annual Statement

What’s Inside

Information in your annual statement includes:

  • Your retirement number. To protect your privacy, use this number instead of your Social Security number when conducting business with NYSLRS.
  • Your monthly benefit before taxes and deductions.
  • Your total net benefit for the year. (Your benefit after taxes, deductions and credits.)
  • The total amount of any cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
  • Your total Medicare credits.
  • Federal tax withholding and other deductions taken from your pension, such as union dues.
  • Health insurance premiums. (NYSLRS doesn’t administer health insurance benefits, but we deduct a retiree’s premiums at the request of a former employer.)

Not a Tax Document

While your Retiree Annual Statement includes information about your benefit payments and tax withholding, it is not a tax document and should not be used for filing your federal income tax return. NYSLRS mailed 1099-R tax forms to retirees and beneficiaries in January.

If you need a reprint of your 2018 1099-R to file your taxes, you can order one online. Reprints will be mailed to the address we have on file for you, so if you’ve moved recently, you should check to make sure your contact information is up-to-date before requesting a reprint. The easiest way to check and update your address is with Retirement Online, or you can contact us for help.

Staying Informed

News & Notes, our semiannual newsletter, will be included with your RAS. The newsletter will help you keep up with the latest news about NYSLRS and other topics of interest.

Your RAS provides a snapshot of your NYSLRS account as of December 31, 2018, but you can get up-to-date information by signing in to Retirement Online. Retirement Online is also a convenient and safe way to conduct business with NYSLRS. If you don’t already have an account, you can learn more or register today.

And when there is a change in your net benefit amount, NYSLRS will notify you by mail or email. Let us know how you would like to receive information from NYSLRS by choosing your correspondence preference via Retirement Online.

Countdown to Retirement — Four to Six 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 eight months away from retirement. As we continue our Countdown to Retirement, let’s take a look at what you should be doing four to six months out.

Six Months: Post-Retirement Budget

At 18 months out, we suggested requesting a NYSLRS retirement estimate. You should have that estimate by now and, with it, a much better idea of what your retirement benefit could be. Now, you can prepare a post-retirement budget and make decisions about your goals and how you want to spend your money in retirement.

We offer worksheets to help you prepare a post-retirement budget on our website. For a more realistic budget, keep track of your current spending for a month or two to get an idea of your expenses. Be sure to factor in periodic expenses, such as car insurance and taxes.

Countdown to Retirement: 4 to 6 months out

Four Months: Proof of Your Birth Date

We will need proof of your date of birth before we can pay you any benefits. You won’t need to send it in until you submit your retirement application, but now is a good time to make sure you have what you need. We’ll accept any of these documents as proof:

  • Birth certificate;
  • Baptismal certificate;
  • Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD-214);
  • New York State driver’s license issued on or after January 1, 2005;
  • Passport; or
  • Naturalization papers.

In most cases, a photocopy is acceptable. If you do send us the original, we will return it to you.

It’s a good idea to look for proof of your birth date sooner rather than later, in case you need to arrange to get a replacement. Also, if you’re thinking about choosing a pension payment option that provides a lifetime benefit to a beneficiary, we will need proof of your beneficiary’s birth date too.

Counting Down

Your planned retirement date is just a few months away. As you approach three months away from retirement, check back for the final post of our Countdown to Retirement series on filing your Application for Service Retirement (RS6037) and other forms. If you have any questions as you prepare for retirement, please contact us.

Becoming Vested

What does it mean to be a vested NYSLRS member?

You become vested after you earn sufficient service credit to be eligible for a pension, even if you leave public employment before retirement. Becoming vested is a crucial milestone in your NYSLRS membership.

When Will I Be Vested?

The amount of service credit you need to be vested depends on your tier. If you’re in Tier 5 or 6, you need ten years of service to be vested. If you’re in another tier (Tier 1, 2, 3 or 4), you’re vested once you earn five years of service credit.

vesting requirements

If you work part-time, it will take you longer to become vested. For example, if you work half-time, you earn six months of credit toward vesting for each year on the job. (For more information, read our recent blog about part-time service credit.)

If you purchase credit for previous public service or military service, that credit can help you become vested.

What You Need to Do

Vesting is automatic. You do not need to file any paperwork to become vested.

If you are vested, you will need to file a retirement application at least 15, but no more than 90, days before you can receive a pension. Most NYSLRS members are eligible to collect a pension as early as age 55, but benefits may be permanently reduced if you retire before you reach your plan’s full retirement age.

Visit our website to learn more about vesting.

Countdown to Retirement — Eight 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 12 months away from retirement. As we continue our Countdown to Retirement series, let’s take a look at what you should be doing eight months out.

Eight Months Out: Review Retirement Income

Some experts say that you need 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your standard of living once you stop working. There’s a good chance that your NYSLRS pension alone won’t provide that level of income. With retirement lasting 20 years, 25 years or even longer, it’s important to have a plan in place for the extra income you’ll need.

That’s why, at least eight months before your planned retirement date, you should start reviewing any other income you’ll have available. Some common sources include:

Check out our Straight Talk About Financial Planning for Your Retirement publication for monthly income and expense worksheets to help you assess your retirement finances.
Countdown to Retirement - Eight Months Out

Counting Down

Your planned retirement date is less than a year away. As the day gets closer, check out the rest of our Countdown to Retirement series for posts covering your retirement budget, what we accept as proof of your date of birth, what to do after you’ve filed your Application for Service Retirement (RS6037) and more.

Retirement and your credit score

Retirement and Your Credit Score

Throughout your working years, you strived to maintain good credit. But if you’re retired, or about to retire, is a good credit score that important? The answer is yes, according to many financial experts. You don’t want to be burdened with debt in your retirement years, but you may need to get a car loan or refinance a mortgage. A good credit score will assure you can borrow the money at a decent interest rate.

But your credit score can affect you even if you don’t borrow money. A bad credit score could prevent you from landing a job or renting an apartment. It could even force you to pay higher insurance premiums.

Fortunately, maintaining a good credit score is not that difficult. In most cases, it’s a matter of continuing what you’ve already been doing.
Retirement and your credit score

How to Maintain a Good Credit Score

  • Pay your bills on time. Your payment history accounts for about a third of your credit score.
  • Don’t max out your credit cards. The ratio of debt to available credit is also a big factor. If all your credit cards have balances near the limit, your credit score will suffer.
  • Don’t close credit card accounts you’ve had for a long time. These accounts show your long history of being responsible with credit, helping to boost your score.
  • Charge something. Getting off the credit grid entirely can hurt your rating. So use a credit card regularly for some purchases. If you pay off the balance each month, you’ll avoid interest.
  • Check credit reports. Even if you’re doing everything right, misinformation in the files of credit rating companies can hurt your credit. (And, no, requesting a credit report will not hurt your credit score.)

Things like age and salary are not part of the credit score equation, so being retired does not hurt your score. However, lenders do take income into account when you apply for a loan, so you may find it harder to borrow after retirement, even if you have good credit.

Checking Credit Reports

Under federal law, the three nationwide credit reporting companies are required to provide you with a free credit report once every 12 months. But you must request it. You can do it online at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. (AnnualCreditReport, a website maintained by the three major credit reporting agencies, is the only free-credit-report site authorized by the federal government. Beware of impostor sites.)

Divorce Affects Other NYSLRS Benefits

signing divorce documents

We’ve written here before about how divorce affects your NYSLRS pension, what a DRO is and why it’s required. However, NYSLRS members have other benefits besides their pensions. Divorce and DROs may affect some of them as well.

Ordinary Death Benefit

As with your pension, a DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of your ordinary death benefit. You should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. We will prepare a custom beneficiary form that complies with the DRO. Also be sure to choose additional beneficiaries for any remainder of the benefit and submit your changes to NYSLRS.

Post-Retirement Ordinary Death Benefit

Most Tier 2, 3, 4 or 5 members of the Employees Retirement System (ERS) are covered by a post-retirement ordinary death benefit. A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of the benefit. You should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. Be sure to contact us to choose additional beneficiaries as allowed by the DRO.

Loans

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. Unless a DRO specifically provides that the ex-spouse’s share of the pension be calculated without reference to outstanding loans, the ex-spouse’s portion will also be reduced if a NYSLRS loan is not paid off before retirement.

Refunds

Occasionally, NYSLRS may refund a member’s contributions because of a tier reinstatement, membership withdrawal, membership transfer or excess contributions. If the member is divorced and NYSLRS has a DRO on file, the DRO will determine whether a portion of the refund must go to the ex-spouse. Generally, if the DRO doesn’t mention a contributions refund, the member receives the full amount.

Keeping Your Ex-Spouse as Beneficiary

A divorce, annulment or judicial separation removes a member’s former spouse as beneficiary of certain death benefits and retirement options, except as provided by the divorce judgment or decree, or a DRO. So, if you have gone through a divorce, annulment or judicial separation and you do NOT have a DRO, you must resubmit your beneficiary designation to NYSLRS to retain your former spouse as a beneficiary.

The easiest way to do this is by using Retirement Online, our secure, self-service web application. You can also submit a Designation of Beneficiary form.

Taxes and Your NYSLRS Pension

Tax season is coming.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will begin accepting tax returns later this month. In late January, NYSLRS will mail 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 income taxes, but they are subject to federal taxes. By January 31, we’ll mail 1099-R tax forms to nearly half a million retirees and beneficiaries. We also mail 1099-Rs to beneficiaries who received taxable income from NYSLRS in 2018, members who have taken taxable NYSLRS loans or have defaulted on their loans, and those who ended their membership and withdrew their contributions in 2018.

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 don’t get your 1099-R by the second week of February, you can request a reprint. This year, reprints will be available for calendar years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

1099-R Interactive Tutorial

1099-r tax form tutorial screenshot

Understanding your 1099-R Tutorial

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

Because federal tax law was revised for 2018, you may discover that you had too little or too much withheld. You can change your federal tax withholding at any time by sending us a W-4P form. (A handy tutorial about the W-4P  walks you through the steps on filling it out.)

W4-P Tax form tutorial screenshot

Understanding your W-4P Form Tutorial

We offer a federal tax withholding calculator. Enter a marital status and a number of exemptions into the calculator to see how much we would withhold based on current tax tables.

For more information, please visit the Taxes and Your Pension page on our website.

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.