Tag Archives: benefit reduction

Public Employees Value Their Retirement Benefits

A recent survey gauged how important retirement benefits are to state and local government workers, and the crucial role that pensions and other benefits play in recruiting and retaining workers.

In 2015, more than 19 million Americans worked for state or local governments, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Retirement benefits, including defined benefit and defined contribution plans, were available to most of those workers.

Last year, the National Institute on Retirement Security commissioned a survey of more than 1,100 public sector employees. Teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public workers were asked questions on a variety of work-related subjects, from job satisfaction to health care benefits. The majority of public workers surveyed (86 percent) cited retirement benefits as a major reason they stay in their jobs.

retirement benefits

Defined Benefit vs. Defined Contribution

An overwhelming number (94 percent) of government employees surveyed said pensions help attract and retain workers. The same percentage had a favorable view of defined benefit pension plans.

As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit plan, also known as a traditional pension plan. Your pension is a lifetime benefit based on years of service and earnings. It is not based on your individual contributions to the Retirement System.

With defined contributions plans, such as 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, the employer, employee or both make contributions to an individual retirement account. The money in the account is invested, and the amount the employee has at retirement is based on investment returns. A market downturn can affect the value of the benefit and employees risk outliving their money.

When Retirement Benefits Get Reduced

In an effort to cut costs, some state and local governments have replaced defined benefit plans with defined contribution plans. But these moves have had unexpected consequences.

The Institute’s study cites the experience of Palm Beach, Florida, which gutted its defined benefit plan. The town soon realized that it was spending large sums to recruit and train new police officers, only to see them move to nearby communities with better benefits. The town reconsidered and improved its pension plan.

Then there’s the case of West Virginia, where officials found that switching to a defined contribution plan for teachers actually cost more money. Because the traditional pension plan stopped receiving contributions from new teachers and their employers, it became harder for the state to meet its pension obligations. After 14 years, the state went back to offering a defined benefit plan to all new teachers. Teachers already in the 401(k)-style plan were allowed to switch to the traditional plan, and 79 percent made the switch. State officials project that the return to a defined benefit system will save them $1.2 billion in the first 30 years.

Meanwhile, Alaska is still struggling with its decision to drop its defined benefit plan. A report by the Alaska Department of Public Safety cited “the inability to provide a defined benefits retirement system” as a factor in the “critically low staffing levels” for Alaska state troopers.

Will Your Retirement Age Affect Your Benefit?

Only you can decide when it’s time to retire, but you should know that your age at retirement can affect your pension benefit. Some New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) members are in special plans that allow for retirement after a certain number of years, regardless of age (for example, police officers, firefighters, correction officers or sheriffs). But for most members, you can retire with full benefits at the age specified by your plan. Most members can choose to retire as early as age 55, but if you do, you may receive a permanently reduced pension benefit.

Full Retirement Ages

Most retirement plans have an age requirement to retire with full benefits. For Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members in Tiers 2, 3, 4 and 5 and Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members in Tiers 2, 3, 5 and 6, the full retirement age is 62. For ERS Tier 6 members, it’s 63. PFRS Tier 6 members who have left their PFRS employer are eligible for their benefits at age 63.

Service Credit Exceptions

In some retirement plans, members with a certain amount of service credit can retire at age 55 without being subject to benefit reductions. Benefit reductions don’t apply to ERS Tier 2, 3 or 4 members who have 30 or more years of service credit and Tier 2, 3, 4 and 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System who have 30 or more years of service.

Benefit Reductions

Retirement benefits for all other ERS Tier 5 and Tier 6 members, and PFRS Tier 2, 3, 5 and 6 members not in a special 20- or 25-year plan, will be reduced for early retirement — even if they have 30 years of service credit.

These benefit reductions are prorated by month, so the closer you are to your full retirement age, the less the reduction will be. Once you retire with a reduced benefit, that reduction is permanent.

Here’s a look at how reductions break down by membership tier:

Contact us if you have any questions about benefit reductions or any other retirement-related topics. Please review your retirement plan booklet for a full description of the benefits you’re entitled to as well as any reductions and restrictions.

Tier 3 & 4 Members: When Is The Right Time To Retire?

Tier 3 and 4 members qualify for retirement benefits after they’ve earned five years of credited service. Once you’re vested, you have a right to a NYSLRS retirement benefit — even if you leave public employment. Though guaranteed, the size of that benefit can vary.

Three Reasons to Keep Working

  1. Age 55 is the earliest that Tier 3 and 4 members can claim their benefits. However, unless you have 30 years of service, a significant penalty for such an early retirement is imposed — a 27-percent reduction. The longer you wait to retire, the greater your benefit will be. At age 62, you can retire with your full benefits.
  2. Your final average salary (FAS) is a significant factor in the calculation of your pension benefit. Since working longer usually means a higher FAS, continued public employment can increase your pension.
  3. The other part of your retirement calculation is your service credit. More service credit obviously earns you a larger pension benefit, but after 20 years, it also gets you a better pension formula. For Tier 3 and 4 members, if you retire with less than 20 years of service, the formula is FAS × 1.66% × years of service; between 20 and 30 years, the formula becomes FAS × 2.00% × years of service.

When is the Right Time to Retire?

If You’re Not Working, Here’s Something to Consider

Everyone’s situation is unique. For example, if you’re vested, you no longer work for a public employer and you don’t think you will again, retiring at 55 might make sense. When you do the math, full benefits at age 62 will take 19 years to match the money you’d have received retiring at age 55 — even with the reduction.

Tools To Help Make Your Decision

Here are two ways to decide what makes sense for you:

  1. Our online retirement benefit calculator allows most members to estimate their benefit with different retirement dates, FAS and service credit totals. By changing each variable, you can see the impact it may have on your benefit.
  2. If you’re a Tier 3 or 4 member with five or more years of service credit, you can request an estimate based on your actual salary and service reported to date. If you’re age 50 or older, we can include additional, projected service credit based on a date of retirement up to five years in the future.

To request your estimate, contact our Call Center toll-free at 1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area. You can also send us a Request for Estimate (RS6030) form.

This post has focused on Tier 3 and 4 members. To see how early retirement affects members in other tiers, visit our About Benefit Reductions page.