Tag Archives: benefits

Defined Benefit Pension Plans Boost National Economy

Defined benefit pension plans, including NYSLRS, provide retirement security for millions of Americans. Here in New York, NYSLRS pays out more than $10 billion in benefits each year to nearly 400,000 New York State residents. Much of that money is spent at home, contributing to local economies and supporting jobs.

What’s happening here is mirrored across the country. In 2018, defined benefit pension plans paid $578.7 billion to 23.8 million retired Americans, and those payments had a significant impact on the nation’s economy according to a recent study by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS).

What Is a Defined Benefit Pension Plan?

A defined benefit pension plan provides a pension that is based on a preset formula that takes into account salary and years of service. Unlike a 401(k)-style retirement plan (also known as defined contribution plan), it is not based on how much you or your employer contribute to your retirement account. A defined benefit plan provides a fixed monthly payment at retirement and is usually a lifetime benefit.

With a defined contribution plan, the amount of money the employee has accumulated at retirement depends on the investment returns of their individual account. A market downturn, especially near retirement, can affect the value of their benefit. With a defined benefit plan, market risk is shared, so a downturn doesn’t affect the benefit.

Most importantly, defined benefit pension recipients don’t have to worry about their money running out during their retirement years.

economic impact of defined benefit pension plans

Who Gets Defined Benefits?

Defined benefit pension plans were once much more common in the United States. Today, defined benefit plans are more commonly offered by public employers, though about 16 percent of full-time private sector employees had access to a define benefit plan in 2018.

Who received these benefits? According to the NIRS study:

  • $308.7 billion was paid to 11 million state and local government retirees and beneficiaries;
  • $105.9 billion was paid to 2.6 million federal retirees and beneficiaries; and
  • $164.1 billion was paid to 10.1 million private sector retirees and beneficiaries.

Employers Benefit from Defined Benefit Plans

Not surprisingly, the financial security provided by defined benefit plans has proved popular among workers. In 2019, the NIRS surveyed 1,100 public employees about their benefits. Most said retirement benefits are good tools for recruiting and retaining workers, and 86 percent said their retirement benefits are a major reason they stick with their jobs.

National Economic Benefits of Defined Benefit Plans

The $578.7 billion in pension payments generated spending that supported 6.9 million American jobs with paychecks totaling $394.2 billion, the study estimated. But the economic benefit didn’t stop there. This is because of what economists call the multiplier effect, the measure of the true impact of each dollar spent as it works its way through the economy.  

The study found that each pension dollar paid had a $2.19 multiplier effect, which resulted in nearly $1.3 trillion in economic output. Real estate, food service, healthcare, and wholesale and retail trade were the sectors most impacted.

The study also noted that defined benefit pension payments have a stabilizing effect on local economies. Because they have a steady source of income, retirees with a defined benefit plan are less likely than retirees with defined contributions to curtail spending during economic downturns.

“These plans are a cost effective way to provide secure lifetime income for retired Americans and their beneficiaries after a lifetime of work. Moreover,” the study concluded, “DB pension plans generate economic benefits that reach well beyond those who earned benefits during their working years.”

Enhanced Death Benefit for Survivors of COVID-19 Victims

COVID-19 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths across New York State. Sadly, the pandemic’s victims include NYSLRS members who carried out their essential duties despite personal risk.

The families of these selfless members can take some comfort in knowing that they may be eligible for enhanced death benefits. Recently enacted legislation provides certain beneficiaries of public employees who contract COVID-19 on the job and die from COVID-19 with an accidental death benefit.

death benefit for survivors of COVID-19 victims

Most NYSLRS members are eligible for a death benefit if they die while in service; this “ordinary death benefit” provides a member’s designated beneficiary or beneficiaries a single, lump sum payment, worth up to three years’ salary. Alternatively, an “accidental death benefit” may be available to certain beneficiaries if the member’s death is a result of an on-the-job accident. The NYSLRS accidental death benefit is a pension paid to beneficiaries that are defined in statute, first to a surviving spouse, if no spouse to dependent children, then to dependent parent(s).

Generally, the accidental death benefit is equal to 50 percent of the member’s final average salary or last year’s salary depending on the retirement plan the member is enrolled in. You can find your retirement plan information on our Publications page. In addition to the accidental death benefit, a special accidental death benefit may also be payable to a member of the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System.

“This new law is an important step toward protecting public workers who are on the front lines fighting the coronavirus and helping their communities,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “If something happens to them, they deserve their retirement benefits and the peace of mind that their families are provided for.”  

Eligibility Requirements

A NYSLRS member’s statutory beneficiary would be eligible for the accidental death benefit if the member:

  • Worked at either their normal workplace or another assigned workplace, not their residence, as directed by their employer, on or after March 1, 2020;
  • Contracted COVID-19 within 45 days of the last day that the member reported for work;
  • Died on or before December 31, 2022; and
  • Died from COVID-19 or COVID-19 caused or contributed to their death.

The COVID-19 benefit also applies to members who were working as of March 1 but retired prior to July 1, 2020. If the retiree met the eligibility requirements, contracted COVID at work or within 45 days of last reporting to work, and died after retiring, but on or before December 31, 2020, their statutory beneficiary has the option of converting the service retirement benefit or disability retirement benefit to an accidental death benefit.

The COVID-19 benefit is available for all NYSLRS members (Employees’ Retirement System as well as Police and Fire Retirement System members), regardless of job title, or tier.

How to Claim the Benefit

When someone calls NYSLRS to report a death, they should let us know it was COVID-related. We’ll also ask for an original death certificate. We will then reach out to the beneficiary to assist them in claiming the benefit. For the COVID-19 death benefit, NYSLRS will confirm with the employer the dates that the member reported to work and request the required documentation showing COVID-19 as the cause of death. The COVID-19 death benefit will be reduced by any ordinary death benefits paid out to a beneficiary by NYSLRS.

Final Average Earnings

As a NYSLRS member, you have a defined benefit retirement plan that provides a lifetime pension when you retire. The formula used to calculate these benefits is based on two main factors: service credit and final average earnings. You’re probably familiar with service credit — it’s generally the years you’ve spent working for a participating employer. But what are final average earnings (FAE)?

When we calculate your pension, we find the set of consecutive years (one, three or five, depending on your tier and retirement plan) when your earnings were highest. The average of these earnings is your FAE. Usually your FAE is based on the years right before retirement, but they can come anytime in your career. The years used in determining your FAE do not necessarily correspond to a calendar year. For FAE purposes, a “year” is any period when you earned one full-time year of service credit.

Types of Final Average Earnings

Your tier and plan determine how your final average earnings is calculated:

  • Three-year FAE: Members in Tier 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
  • Five-year FAE: Members in Tier 6.
  • One-year FAE: Members in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Your employer must choose to offer this benefit. It’s not available to PFRS members covered by Article 14 and generally not available to PFRS Tier 6 members.

If you are not sure what retirement plan you are in, you may want to read our recent blog post.

Exclusions and Limits

The law limits the final average earnings 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. The specific limits vary by tier; check your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page for details.

final average earnings

Since 2010, with the creation of Tiers 5 and 6, the Legislature and the Governor have introduced additional limits to the earnings that can be used toward the FAE:

Tier 5

  • Overtime pay is capped — For Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), $20,763.51 in 2021. For PFRS, the cap is 15 percent of earnings.

Tier 6

  • Overtime pay is capped – For ERS, $17,301 in 2021. For PFRS, the cap is 15 percent of earnings.
  • Lump sum vacation pay and wages from more than two employers are no longer included in your FAE.
  • Any earnings above the Governor’s salary cannot be included in your FAE.

Calculating Your Final Average Earnings

Your final average earnings is based on money earned during the period used to calculate your pension. This may include payments you receive after you retire, such as retroactive pay from a contract negotiation or pay for unused vacation days.

Calculating your FAE at retirement can take time because we must collect salary information from your employer(s) and factor in items such as retroactive payments and earnings you receive after your date of retirement. This is necessary to ensure that your pension calculation is accurate and that you receive all the benefits you are entitled to.

Find out more about how FAE is calculated on our website.

NYSLRS Retirement Online Routine System Maintenance

Retirement Online will be unavailable for a few days while we complete routine year-end maintenance. Retirement Online will be offline from 3:00 pm on Tuesday, December 29 until 7:00 am on Friday, January 1.

Using the NYSLRS Automated Phone System During the Maintenance Period

Another way you can get information about your NYSLRS benefits is through our automated phone system, which allows you to get personal account information, order forms and conduct other retirement transactions without having to speak with a customer service representative. The automated phone system is generally available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you can conduct business with NYSLRS on your schedule.

Retirees can use the automated phone system to:

  • Request that NYSLRS forms be mailed to them,
  • Report a lost, stolen or late pension check,
  • Get tax information,
  • Get information about cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), and
  • Request a direct deposit form.

Members can use the automated phone system to:

  • Request that NYSLRS forms be mailed to them,
  • Find out if they are eligible for a loan or get their current loan balance,
  • Request that a benefit projection be mailed to them, and
  • Get personalized information about purchasing credit for previous service.

Here are the retiree menu options for the phone system:

automated phone system for retirees

Here are the member menu options for the phone system:

automated phone system for members

Other Ways to Get Information

If you are looking for general information about NYSLRS benefits, you can:

Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning

Information is the key to being fully prepared for your retirement years. The single most important thing you can do to achieve this goal is to know what NYSLRS retirement plan you’re in. Once you know that, the next thing you must do is understand the benefits your plan provides.

Your retirement plan booklet covers things like how long you’ll need to work in order to receive a pension, how your pension amount is determined, and what kind of death and disability benefits may be available to you. You can find a copy of your plan booklet on our website’s Publications page.

But here’s the challenge: NYSLRS manages 335 retirement plan combinations, which are described in 51 plan booklets. How do you figure out which is yours? The information below should help.

Retirement plan booklet infographic

Two Key Questions

To get started, you need to answer two questions.

Question One: Which retirement system are you in? NYSLRS is made up of two different systems:

  • The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), which is for public employees in non-teaching positions. It also includes some law enforcement personnel, such as correction officers, sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies.
  • The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), which is for paid firefighters and police officers, including SUNY police, State Park police, Encon officers and State Forest Rangers.

Question Two: Which tier are you in? There are six tiers in ERS and five tiers in PFRS. Your tier, based on when you joined NYSLRS, determines such things as when you become eligible for benefits and how much you contribute. You can find your tier by checking your Account Information in Retirement Online or by checking the NYSLRS website.

For many members, knowing your retirement system and tier are enough. But for other members, especially those in law enforcement, it may help to have your retirement plan number as well. The plan number indicates the section of Retirement and Social Security Law the plan is based on. For example, Plan A15 indicates that you are covered by Article 15. You can find your plan number in the Account Information section of Retirement Online.

Roughly three-quarters of all ERS members are covered by Article 15; they just need to know their tier to find the correct booklet.

State policeSUNY policeState Encon OfficersState Park Police and Forest Rangers each have their own plan booklet, which can be found in the PFRS section of the Publications page. That’s also where you’ll find the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans, which cover officers in most municipal police departments. (Members in these special plans should see 384, 384-d or 384-e listed in Retirement Online.)

If you are still unsure which retirement plan booklet covers your benefits, you can send us an email using our secure contact form, or you can ask your employer.

Take the Time to Understand Your Retirement Plan

It cannot be stated enough how important it is to read your plan publication to learn all you can about your benefits. It is the key to solid retirement planning. Remember, no one has a more vested stake in your retirement than you do.

Your Contributions to NYSLRS

Most NYSLRS members contribute a percentage of their earnings to the Retirement System. Over time, those contributions, with interest, can add up to a tidy sum. But what happens to that money? Will you get your contributions back when you retire? The answer to that question is “no.” Let’s look at what happens to your NYSLRS contributions.

How NYSLRS Retirement Plans Work

NYSLRS plans are defined benefit pension plans. Once you’re vested, you’re entitled to a lifetime benefit that will be based on your years of service and final average earnings. The amount of your contributions does not determine the amount of your pension. (Use Retirement Online to estimate your pension.)

Your NYSLRS plan differs from defined contribution plans, such as a 401-k plan, which are essentially retirement savings plans. In those plans, a worker, their employer, or both contribute to an individual retirement account. The money is invested and hopefully accumulates investment returns over time. This type of plan does not provide a guaranteed lifetime benefit and there is the risk that the money will run out during the worker’s retirement years. Experts recommend that workers who have defined contribution plans contribute anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of their income to their plan. NYSLRS members, in contrast, contribute between 3 and 6 percent of their income, depending on their tier and retirement plan.

Where Your Contributions Go

When you retire, your contributions go into the New York State Common Retirement Fund. The Fund is the pool of money that is invested and used to pay retirement benefits for you and other NYSLRS members.

contributions

Your Contribution Balance

You can find your current contribution balance in Retirement Online. But if your contributions don’t determine your pension, what difference does it make what the balance is? For one thing, your contribution balance helps determine the amount you can borrow if you decide to take a loan from NYSLRS. Also, you may be able to withdraw your contributions, with interest, if you leave the public workforce before retirement age.

Withdrawing Your Contributions

You cannot withdraw your contributions while you are still working for a public employer in New York State. If you leave public employment with less than ten years of service, you can withdraw your contributions, plus interest. If you withdraw, you will not be eligible for a NYSLRS retirement benefit.

If you have more than ten years of service, you cannot withdraw, but you will be entitled to a pension when you reach retirement age. But remember, you will not receive this pension automatically; you must file a retirement application before you can receive any benefit.

Questions About Your NYSLRS Membership? Look Here for Answers

If you have general questions about NYSLRS or your benefits, we have a web page that can help you find the answers.

That’s because the NYSLRS Contact Us page does double duty. It not only lists contact information, it also helps you find answers for many of the common questions we get from members, retirees and beneficiaries. It covers subjects like address changes, loans, pension estimates, direct deposit and cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).

To get started, go to the Contact Us page and select the Member, Retiree or Beneficiary button to find the questions and answers you need. Each section has categories specific to that member group.

Member

answers
  • Address Change
  • Forms
  • Loans
  • Member Annual Statement
  • Mortgage Letter/Account Verification Letter
  • Pension Estimates
  • Retirement Online
  • Service Credit
  • Withdrawing from NYSLRS

Retiree

answers
  • 1099-R Reprint
  • Address Change
  • Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)
  • Direct Deposit
  • Federal Taxes
  • Forms
  • Health Insurance
  • Pension Checks
  • Pension Verification Letters
  • Retirement Online

Beneficiary

answers
  • 1099-R Reprint
  • Address Change
  • Direct Deposit
  • Federal Taxes
  • Forms
  • Pension Checks
  • Pension Verification Letters
  • Reporting a Death
  • Retirement Online
  • Who is a Beneficiary?

Getting Account-Specific Answers

The information on the Contact Us page is general. If you’re looking for information specific to your situation, like your loan balance or a breakdown of your pension payment, sign in to Retirement Online. If you don’t already have a Retirement Online account, sign up today.

Retirement Age and Your NYSLRS Pension

For some NYSLRS members, your retirement age matters when it comes to receiving your NYSLRS retirement benefits.

Your pension will be based largely on your years of service and final average earnings, but your age at retirement is also a factor. How age plays into the equation depends on your tier and retirement plan.

Members in regular retirement plans can retire as early as age 55, but they may face significant pension reductions if they retire before their full retirement age. The full retirement age for members in most tiers is 62, and it’s 63 for Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6 members and for Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) Tier 6 members who leave public employment before retirement age, but have enough service to receive a pension. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

pension reductions based on retirement age

Benefit reductions are prorated by month. The closer you are to your full retirement age when you retire, the less the reduction will be. Here are some examples of how that would work.

  • ERS Tiers 2, 3 and 4, PFRS Tiers 2, 3 (Article 11), 5 and 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 16.5 percent.
  • ERS Tier 5: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 20.83 percent.
  • ERS Tier 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 29.5 percent.

Once you retire with a reduced benefit, the reduction is permanent — it does not end when you reach retirement age.

Retirement Age Exceptions

Tier 1 members can retire at 55 without a benefit reduction. Benefit reductions don’t apply to ERS Tier 2, 3 or 4 members if they retire with 30 years of service. Tier 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System can also retire between 55 and 62 without penalty if they have 30 years of service.

More Information

Understanding how age affects your NYSLRS benefits is crucial to retirement planning. To learn more, please review your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page.

You can check your service credit total and estimate your pension using Retirement Online. Most members can use our online pension calculator to create an estimate based on the salary and service information NYSLRS has on file for them. You can enter different retirement dates to see how your choices would affect your potential benefit.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)
Coming in September

Eligible NYSLRS retirees will see a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in their monthly pension payments beginning in late September (for payment dates, check our pension payment calendar).

This COLA is a permanent annual increase to your retirement benefit. It is based on the cost-of-living index and is designed to address inflation.

cola coming

How COLA is Determined

The law requires that COLA payments, subject to certain limitations, equal 50 percent of the previous year’s inflation rate, but are never less than 1 percent or more than 3 percent of your benefit. The adjustment is applied to the first $18,000 of your Single Life Allowance, even if you selected a different pension payment option. Once COLA payments begin, you will receive an increase to your monthly benefit each September.

The September 2020 COLA equals 1 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $180.00, or $15.00 per month before taxes.

Who is Eligible for a COLA?

To begin receiving COLA payments, you must be:

  • Age 62 or older and retired for five or more years; or
  • Age 55 or older and retired for ten or more years (uniformed employees such as police officers, firefighters and correction officers covered by a special plan that allows for retirement, regardless of age, after a specific number of years); or
  • A disability retiree for five years; or
  • The spouse of a deceased retiree receiving a lifetime benefit under a pension payment option elected by the retiree. An eligible spouse is entitled to one-half the COLA amount that would have been paid to the eligible retiree when the retiree would have met COLA eligibility; or
  • A beneficiary receiving the accidental death benefit for five or more years on behalf of a deceased Retirement System member.

When Will You See the Increase?

Eligible retirees will see the first 2020 COLA payment in their September pension payment. It will be available to those with direct deposit on September 30, 2020. If you receive a paper check, the COLA will be included in the check to be mailed September 29, 2020.

You can sign in to your Retirement Online account to view a current breakdown of your pension payment. If you have direct deposit and are eligible for a COLA increase, you will receive notification of the net change in your monthly payment amount in September.

If you are not eligible for a COLA yet, you will receive your first increase in the month after you become eligible. This payment will include a prorated amount to cover the month you became eligible. After that, you will receive a COLA increase each September.

Your Member Annual Statement

Your Member Annual Statement includes valuable information about your NYSLRS membership and benefits that can help you plan for retirement. You can view your 2020 Statement right now by signing into Retirement Online. If you don’t already have an account, you can register today.

From your Retirement Online Account Homepage, go to the ‘My Account Summary’ area of the page, click the “View My Member Annual Statement” button and follow the steps. You will also be able to print or save your Statement.

member reading 2020 Member Annual Statement

Delivery of Your Member Annual Statement

NYSLRS members who chose email delivery of their Statement in Retirement Online received an email informing them that their Statement is available online. All other members will receive their 2020 Member Statement in the mail by the end of June.

New Look for 2020

This year’s Member Annual Statement has a new, streamlined look that presents your benefit and membership information in a clear, comprehensive and easy-to-read format. Some information, such as detailed pension estimates and five years of employment history, was removed from your Statement because you now have access to it in Retirement Online. Your Statement provides you with information as of March 31, but Retirement Online provides you with the most up-to-date information available.

Pension Estimates: Most members can create customized pension estimates and calculate their benefit options using Retirement Online. From your Account Homepage, scroll down to ‘My Account Summary’ and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button. You can base your estimate on the salary and service information we have on file or adjust your earnings or service credit to account for possible increases in earnings or purchases of service credit. By entering different retirement dates and beneficiaries, you will see how your choices affect your potential benefit. If you are not able to use the Retirement Online calculator, contact us for an estimate.

Employment History: You can also view your employment history and reported earnings in Retirement Online. From your Account Homepage, scroll down to ‘My Account Summary’ and click the “View my Employment Summary” button. If you find that part of your employment history is missing, you can request credit for the missing service. Return to ‘My Account Summary’ and click the “Manage My Service Credit Purchases” button.

Address Change: To view or update your account information, sign in to Retirement Online. On your Account Homepage, ‘Under My Profile Information,’ you will be able to update your address and other contact information, instead of mailing in a paper form.

Update Your Delivery Preference for Next Year

Want to be notified by email next year when your Statement is ready? Sign in to Retirement Online to change your Statement delivery preference. Go to the ’My Profile Information‘ section on your Retirement Online Account Homepage, click “update” next to ‘Member Annual Statement By,’ then choose “email” from the dropdown menu.

Have Questions About Your Statement?

Remember, your 2020 Statement provides your account information as of March 31, 2020. To view your current membership information any time throughout the year, sign in to your Retirement Online account.

If you have questions about your Member Annual Statement, please visit our Member Annual Statement page.