Tag Archives: benefits

Membership in a Nutshell

If you’re a new NYSLRS member, or have been part of the Retirement System for years, you’re sure to have at least some questions about your NYSLRS benefits. What is vesting? Final average salary? Maybe you’re wondering what tier you’re in or why that even matters. Whether you’re a firefighter on Long Island or a State worker in Buffalo, you can find answers to many of your questions in Membership in a Nutshell. This publication is about the basics. It defines terms and explains concepts that are common to all NYSLRS retirement plans. Consider it essential reading.
Membership in a Nutshell

What’s Inside Membership in a Nutshell?

Membership in a Nutshell provides a brief description of the Retirement System, which comprises the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). It also explains the Comptroller’s role as administrator of the System.

That’s followed by a list of some of the benefits provided to members, including:

  • Service Retirement Benefits (Pensions)
  • Disability Benefits
  • Death Benefits
  • Vesting of Benefits
  • Loans for Contributing Members

A larger section is dedicated to the details of membership, such as tier status, membership contributions, earning service credit and becoming vested.

Services We Offer

Perhaps the most helpful section describes Services We Offer Members. We want to provide you with the information you’ll need to plan for your retirement and make critical decisions about your future.

Retirement Online is a safe and convenient way to conduct business with NYSLRS, and to access benefit information such as your tier, retirement plan, service credit and beneficiaries. Register today if you don’t already have an account.

As you get closer to retirement, you can request an estimate of your pension from NYSLRS based on our records of your salary and years of service. We also offer one-on-one consultations with NYSLRS information representatives who can explain your benefits, answer your questions and help you feel confident about making your retirement decision.

Your Obligations

As a member, it’s important that you keep your information with NYSLRS up to date. This section discusses the different kinds of information, such as your mailing address and beneficiaries, that you should keep current. Much of this information can be updated using Retirement Online, or you can contact us.

More Information

There’s more information in this publication, but we’ll let you find it for yourself. We’ll also be featuring other publications in future blogs, including such favorites as:

What to Know About ERS Tier 6

Tier status is a major factor in determining your NYSLRS retirement benefits. Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, are in Tier 6. They have plenty of company. There were 205,020 ERS Tier 6 members as of March 31, 2018, making up one-third of ERS membership.

ERS Tier 6 members contribute to the Retirement System based on their earnings, but the amount of their pensions will be determined by years of service and final average salary, not by the amount of their contributions.

ERS Tier 6 Membership Milestones

ERS Tier 6 members need ten years of service credit to become vested. Once vested, they’re eligible for a lifetime pension benefit as early as age 55, but if they retire before the full retirement age of 63, their benefit will be reduced. Tier 6 correction officers, however, can retire with 25 years of service, regardless of age, without penalty.

ERS Tier 6 Benefits

The Final Average Salary (FAS) Calculation

An ERS Tier 6 member’s final average salary is the average of their earnings in the five highest-paid consecutive years of employment. Earnings in any year included in the period cannot exceed the average earnings of the previous four years by more than 10 percent.

Tier 6 Service Retirement Benefit

Generally, if an ERS Tier 6 member retires with less than 20 years, the benefit is 1.66 percent of their final average salary for each year of service. If a member retires with exactly 20 years of service, the benefit is 1.75 percent of their final average salary for each year of service (35 percent of the member’s final average salary).

If a member retires with more than 20 years of service, they receive 35 percent for the first 20 years, plus 2 percent for each additional year. For example, a member with 35 years of service can retire at 63 with a pension worth 65 percent of their final average salary.

If you’re an ERS Tier 6 member, you can find out more about your benefits in one of these plan booklets:

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.

Your pension is based on a preset formula that takes into account your salary and years of service. It will not be based on your individual contributions to the Retirement System.

If you retire with a NYSLRS pension, you will receive a monthly pension payment for the rest of your life.

Defined Contribution Plans

Defined benefit plans are often confused with 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, which are defined contribution plans.

With a defined contribution plan, the employer, employee or both make contributions to an individual retirement account, and the money in the account is invested. In most cases, it is the responsibility of the employee to make investment decisions, or the plan may offer pre-packaged investment options. At retirement, the employee will have an account that includes the accumulated value of contributions and investment returns, minus any fees.

The amount of money the employee has at retirement is dependent on the investment returns of the individual account, so market downturns, especially near retirement, can affect the value of the benefit. The employee also can run the risk of outliving their savings.

defined benefit plan

NYSLRS’s Defined Benefit Plans

NYSLRS actually administers more than 300 retirement plans, but all are defined benefit plans and share certain features. NYSLRS plans:

  • Provide a guaranteed lifetime retirement benefit;
  • Offer a pension that is based on final average salary and years of service;
  • Provide a right to pension benefits (vesting) with five years of service credit (ten for Tier 5 and 6 members);
  • Build a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) into pensions to help offset the effect of inflation; and
  • Include disability and death benefits.

To find out details about your own NYSLRS plan, check your retirement plan booklet. You can find a copy on the Publications page of our website.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Firefighters Deserve A Salute Every Day

Recognizing Firefighters

It’s National Fire Prevention Week this week and, while attention is properly focused on promoting fire prevention, we also think it’s a great time to recognize all the firefighters who are members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS).

Of the 533,415 members in NYSLRS, 32,470 are in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). More than 6,000 of these brave men and women are firefighters.

NYSLRS Firefighters data

NYSLRS Membership and Firefighters

All firefighters working for participating employers are PFRS members. With that membership comes a variety of benefits, including certain death and disability benefits as well as a pension. As firefighters and other PFRS members progress through their careers they become eligible for these benefits. For example, from day one, PFRS members are covered by job-related death and disability benefits. However, with ten years of service credit, most members are also eligible for a non-job-related disability benefit.

In addition, most PFRS employers offer their employees special retirement plans. A special plan lets members retire after completing 20 or 25 years of credited service in specific job titles rather than reaching a certain age. Most firefighters — and, in fact, nearly 80 percent of all PFRS members (25,784) — are enrolled in a set of special 20- and 25-year plans. Whether members need 20 or 25 years depends on their retirement plan.

Firefighters are Heroes

To the members of the New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York and the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs; to the county fire marshals, supervising fire marshals, fire marshals, assistant fire marshals, assistant chief fire marshals and chief fire marshals: Thank you for your service to New York and its citizens. We are grateful for the valuable service you provide all of us.

Certain Payment Options Provide a Lifetime Benefit for a Loved One

When you apply for a NYSLRS pension, you’ll be asked to pick a pension payment option. All options will provide you with a monthly benefit for the rest of your life. With the Single Life Allowance, all payments stop at your death and nothing is paid to a beneficiary.

Infographic describing pension payment options

Providing for a Beneficiary

If you’re married and need to provide for your spouse, or if you have someone else you would like to provide a lifetime pension for after you’re gone, there are payment options that let you do that.  In exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, Joint Allowance options allow a beneficiary to collect all or part of your pension after you die. The amount of the reduction in your pension is based on your life expectancy and the life expectancy of your beneficiary. That means the younger your beneficiary, the deeper the reduction.

You can only choose one beneficiary under a Joint Allowance option, and your beneficiary selection cannot be changed after you retire, regardless of the circumstances. The benefit reduction for Joint Allowance options will continue even if your beneficiary dies before you do.

If we could predict the future, pension choices would be a lot easier. But a Pop-Up payment option is one way to hedge your bet. Like Joint Allowance options, these plans allow you to provide a lifetime payment for a beneficiary after your death. But if your beneficiary dies before you, your future monthly payments would be increased to the amount you would have been receiving had you chosen the Single Life Allowance. (The pop-up only affects future payments. You would not be entitled to any retroactive payments.)

The monthly reduction in your benefit will be greater if you choose a Pop-Up option over a regular Joint Allowance.

Find Out More

There are also options that allow you to leave a monthly payment to more than one beneficiary, and options that leave a benefit for a certain amount of time. Visit our Payment Option Descriptions page for details about all of the available payment options.

For a better idea of how these payments options would work out for you and your beneficiary, you can use our online pension projection calculator. It uses the information you enter to show how much you could expect to receive under each option. Most members who are within five years of retirement eligibility can also request a benefit projection by contacting our Call Center at 1-866-805-0990, or you can submit a Request for Estimate form (RS6030).

World Trade Center Presumption Deadline Extended

For NYSLRS members who participated in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery or clean-up efforts, the deadline to reserve your rights under the World Trade Center Presumption Law has been extended.

The new deadline is September 11, 2022.

World Trade Center Presumption

What is the World Trade Center Presumption Law?

The World Trade Center Presumption Law provides a presumption to eligible NYSLRS members and retirees who become permanently disabled and are unable to do their jobs due to certain conditions, that they can claim their permanent disabilities are the result of participation in World Trade Center rescue, recovery or clean-up operations. The presumption will apply unless it’s proven the condition was the result of other factors.

If you meet the eligibility requirements, the presumption allows you to:

  • File for an accidental disability retirement at some time in the future;
  • Have an existing disability retirement benefit reclassified as an accidental disability retirement benefit; or
  • Leave your beneficiaries an accidental death benefit.

Your disability or death must be due to one of the qualifying conditions specified in the law.

Who should file?

You must file an Application for World Trade Center Notice (RS6047-N) prior to submitting an Application for World Trade Center Accidental Disability Presumption (RS6047-W). Even if you do not currently suffer one of the qualifying conditions, filing this notice will protect your right — and the right of your beneficiaries — to apply for benefits in the future.

Once you file a notice with NYSLRS, there is no subsequent deadline to file for an accidental disability retirement or retirement reclassification should the need arise.

Questions?

If you have any questions, check out our Frequently Asked Questions, email us or contact our Call Center toll-free at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area).