Tag Archives: Contributions

Should You Join NYSLRS?

Most State and municipal employees are required to join the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) when they are hired. But for some employees, such as part-time and seasonal workers, membership is optional. If you’re a member and you know someone who could join NYSLRS, consider sharing this piece with them.

join NYSLRS for membership benefits

What is NYSLRS?

NYSLRS is the third largest retirement system in the nation, with more than 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries. State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli administers the Retirement System and is trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds and invests NYSLRS assets. The Fund had a value of $210.5 billion as of March 31, 2019.

Why Join NYSLRS?

Joining NYSLRS will improve your chances of a secure financial future. You’ll earn credit toward a pension that will provide monthly payments throughout your retirement. But NYSLRS also provides other important benefits.

What Does NYSLRS Offer?

As a NYSLRS member, you’ll be eligible for a pension after you earn ten years of service credit. (This is called being vested.) If you work part-time, service credit is pro-rated. For example, if you work half of the hours that a full-time employee works, you’ll receive six months credit for every year you work.

Also, as a NYSLRS member you’ll be able take loans from your contributions if you’ve earned a year of service credit and meet other requirements. You’ll be eligible for a death benefit once you have one year of service credit, and disability benefits after you have ten years of service credit. (If your disability results from an on-the-job accident, not due to your own willful negligence, there is no minimum service requirement.)  

Over 3,000 employers participate in NYSLRS, allowing you to continue to build on your benefits if you go to work for another government employer. Your benefits also may be transferable to six other public retirement plans in New York.

Making Contributions

As a Tier 6 member, you’ll contribute between 3 and 6 percent of your earnings to the Retirement System. Tier 6 contribution rates vary based on each member’s annual compensation. If you don’t join NYSLRS when you first start working and later decide to purchase your previous service credit, you will need to contribute 6 percent of those earnings plus interest, even if your salary level for the prior time period would have resulted in a lower contribution rate.   

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on your service credit and salary, not on the amount you contribute. A NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit. Unlike a 401-k, there is no risk that your pension benefits will be reduced during your retirement.

But what if you join NYSLRS and decide to leave public service before you are vested? You won’t lose your contributions. In fact, you can withdraw your accumulated contributions, plus interest, and roll that money into a retirement savings plan at your new job.

More Information

If you would like to join NYSLRS or just want more information, please contact your employer’s human resources (personnel) office. You may also be interested in our booklet, Membership in a Nutshell.

Your Contributions to NYSLRS

Most NYSLRS members contribute a percentage of their earnings to the Retirement System. Unlike a 401k or IRA, these contributions don’t determine the amount of your pension. So how do NYSLRS contributions work?

NYSLRS retirement plans differ from defined contribution plans, such as 401k 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 lifetime benefit, and there is the risk that the money will run out during the worker’s retirement years.

Your NYSLRS contributions, however, don’t go into a personal retirement account. That’s because NYSLRS is a defined benefit plan. Your contributions go into the New York Common Retirement Fund along with employer contributions and investment income. This pool of money pays out retirement benefits for you and other NYSLRS members.

Once you’re vested, you’re entitled to a pension that will provide monthly payments for the rest of your life. The amount of those payments will be based on your years of service and final average salary, not on how much you contributed to the Retirement System.

How Much Do I Contribute?

If you joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6. Tier 6 contributions range from 3 to 6 percent of earnings.

To put that into perspective, financial experts advise workers in defined contribution plans to save 10 to 15 percent of their earnings in their retirement accounts.

Visit our Member Contributions page for other tier contribution rates.

Tier 6 contributions

Can I Withdraw My Contributions?

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 benefits.

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:

NYSLRS’ Top Five Retirement Myths from 2016

Retirement Myths vs FactsWith two retirement systems, six tiers and 346 retirement plan combinations, it’s quite possible that the NYSLRS benefit information your coworker is talking about may not apply to you. That’s why, periodically, we like to clear up some common misconceptions we hear from members and retirees. Here are our top five retirement myths from 2016.


Myth #1  “NYSLRS can change the rules determining pension contributions and retirement benefits.

Fact  We can’t. The contributions you make and the benefits you enjoy are dictated by law — as passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. NYSLRS administers these programs.

This is also true for retirement incentives; the decision to offer an incentive comes from the Legislature and the Governor. Individual employers, like your town or police department, may decide to offer their own incentives to employees, but these do not affect a member’s NYSLRS pension benefits.


Myth #2  “Your final average salary (FAS) is based on the years immediately preceding your retirement

Fact  While the number of years used to calculate your FAS varies by tier and plan, they aren’t limited to your final years of employment. We look at your entire employment history while you were a member of NYSLRS to find the consecutive years when you earned the most, and those years are used in the calculation for your FAS. For more information, visit our website.


Myth #3  “NYSLRS membership ends when you stop working for a NYSLRS participating employer.

Fact  Even when you leave public employment before you’re eligible to retire, you’re still a NYSLRS member. If you’re vested, you will be eligible for a pension benefit once you reach the retirement age specified by your plan. If you’re not vested, your contributions stay with NYSLRS and continue to earn 5 percent interest for seven years. If you leave public employment with less than 10 years of service, you can end your NYSLRS membership and request a refund of your retirement contributions.

What else happens when you leave public employment? Check out your plan publication to learn more about your benefits. You can also visit our website for more information.


Myth #4  “You can’t make extra payments to pay off a NYSLRS loan faster.

Fact  You can make additional payments or pay your loan in full at any time, with no prepayment penalties. For the payoff balance on your loan, call our automated phone service (1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area and press 3 for members; then 1 or 2 for the Employees’ Retirement System or the Police and Fire Retirement System; and then 1 for loan services). For more information, visit Loans: Getting One and Paying it Back.


Myth #5  “If Call Center lines are busy, there’s no way to get benefit information.

Fact  Even when the Call Center phone lines are busy, our automated phone system can help members and retirees with a number of tasks 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Press 3 for Member Services, which includes current loan balance and application status information.

Press 4 for Retiree/Beneficiary Services, which includes COLA eligibility and federal tax withholding information.

Press 6 for Other Services, which includes requesting forms by fax.

Another way to get benefit information is to visit the Contact Us page on our website, which has answers to many commonly asked questions. You can also email us using our secure email form.


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What to Know About ERS Tier 5

Any Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) member who joined NYSLRS on or after January 1, 2010 but before April 1, 2012 is a member of Tier 5. There are currently 53,123 ERS Tier 5 members who make up 8.7 percent of ERS.

ERS Tier 5 Membership Milestones

As a Tier 5 member earns service credit over their career, they become eligible for certain benefits in their retirement plan. Here are some important milestones for Tier 5 members: 

ERS Tier 5 member milestones

ERS Tier 5 Contributions

Most Tier 5 members must contribute 3 percent of their salary for all their years of service, except Uniformed Court and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System, who must contribute 4 percent for all their years of public service. State Correction Officers contribute 3 percent for no more than 30 years.

With the exception of those retiring under special retirement plans, Tier 5 members must have 10 or more years of service to be vested (eligible for a retirement benefit). They can retire as early as age 55 with reduced benefits. The full benefit age for Tier 5 is 62.

The Final Average Salary (FAS) Calculation

The retirement benefit for Tier 5 members is 1.66 percent of their final average salary (FAS) for each year of service if the member retires with less than 20 years. FAS is the average of the wages earned in the three highest consecutive years of employment. For Tier 5 members, each year’s compensation used in the FAS calculation is limited to no more than 10 percent above the average of the previous two years.

If a Tier 5 member retires with between 20 and 30 years of service, the benefit is two percent of their FAS for each year of service. If a Tier 5 member retires with more than 30 years of service, the benefit is 1.5 percent of their FAS for each year of service over 30 years.

You can find out more info about Tier 5 retirement benefits on our website.

NYSLRS Basics: Member Contributions

As a NYSLRS member, you may be making or have made contributions as part of your membership. When you make contributions, a percentage of your salary joins a pool of money called the Common Retirement Fund (the Fund). The Fund is also made up of employer contributions and investment income. By investing contributions, the Fund helps to meet its obligation of paying out benefits to past, present and future retirees.

What this means for you is that you, and other members like you, are all doing your part to fund your future retirement.

Types of Member Contributions

If you belong to a contributory retirement plan, you make required contributions. This means you must make contributions for the length of time listed in your retirement plan. Some members may contribute for only part or all their public service careers. If you belong to a non-contributory plan, this means you aren’t required to make contributions. Instead, you could make voluntary contributions over the course of your career, if your plan allows it. This would provide you with an annuity in addition to your pension when you retire.

(Check out the “Contributing Toward Your Retirement” section in your specific retirement plan publication to see what contributions you make.)

contributions-ers-pfrs-tiers-3-6

Withdrawing Your Member Contributions

What happens to your contributions if you leave public employment? One option is to take your contributions with you. If you have less than ten years of service credit or aren’t vested, you can withdraw your contributions plus the interest they’ve earned. However, withdrawing your contributions also terminates your membership with NYSLRS. Once your membership ends, you won’t be eligible for a retirement benefit.

Another option is to leave your contributions where they are. After all, if you leave public employment, there’s a chance you may return as well. If you do, then your contributions will be waiting for you when you rejoin NYSLRS. If you don’t return to public service, aren’t vested, and have been off the public payroll for seven years, by law we must terminate your membership. Any contributions left will stop accruing interest.

If you have ten or more years of service credit, you can’t withdraw your contributions from NYSLRS. In that situation, if you’re vested before you leave public employment, you can apply for a retirement benefit at a later date (age 55 for most members).

(Read our publication “What If I Leave Public Employment?” for more information, particularly the taxability of withdrawing your contributions.)

If you have questions, visit our website to learn more about member contributions. Want to read more NYSLRS Basics? Check out our earlier posts on:

Understanding Your Tier 6 Contributions

In the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), Tier 6 members make contributions based on their earnings. This means your contribution rate could change from year to year depending on how much you earned in previous years. As of April 1, 2015, there are two ways we determine the contribution rates of Tier 6 members.

For your first three years of membership, we base your contribution rate on an estimated annual wage we receive from your employer. After three years, we start using the record of your past earnings to determine your contribution rate. We call this the two-year look back.

During the two-year look back, we look back at your earnings from two years before and use that amount to determine your contribution rate for the current year. Watch the video below for more information. If you have questions about Tier 6 contributions, please contact us.


Video Transcript:

As a Tier 6 member, the contributions you make toward retirement are based on your earnings. This means your contribution rate could change from year to year depending on how much you earned in previous years.

If you’re a Tier 6 member with three or more years of membership in NYSLRS, we determine your contribution rate using a method called the two-year look back.

This means we look back at your earnings from two years before. We use those earnings to determine your contribution rate for the current year starting April first.

So, we look back to what you earned from April first to March thirty-first two years ago, and use those earnings to determine your contribution rate. This will be your contribution rate for the entire year until next April first, when we’ll do the look-back again to determine your new rate.

Remember, as a Tier 6 member, your contribution rate could change each year depending on your earnings. You may not see a change right away, but over time, you could wind up contributing more or less than you did before.

If you have any questions about Tier 6 contribution rates or your benefits, visit our website or contact us. Thanks for watching.

Contributing Towards Your Retirement

What are Member Contributions?

Most New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) members contribute a percentage of their gross earnings to the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund). These member contributions, in addition to employer contributions and investment earnings, help make sure the Fund stays well-funded to support the retirement benefits earned by members and retirees.

Types of Member Contributions

Membership-Contributions_TimelineYour tier and retirement plan determine if you must contribute and what percentage of your earnings you contribute. At NYSLRS, there are two types of member contributions: required and voluntary. If you belong to a retirement plan with required contributions, you must make member contributions for the length of time stated in your retirement plan. If you make voluntary contributions, you belong to a retirement plan where you don’t have to make contributions, but you can volunteer to make contributions.

To help you understand how much you are supposed to be contributing, here is some useful information regarding contributions, broken down by what system you are in:

Employees Retirement System (ERS)

  • Most ERS Tier 1 and 2 members are not required to contribute, but may contribute voluntarily. ERS Tier 1 and 2 members receive an annuity based on their voluntary contribution balance in addition to their pension at retirement.
  • All ERS Tier 3 and 4 members are required to contribute 3 percent of their gross earnings until they’ve been NYSLRS members for ten years, or have ten years of service credit (whichever comes first).
  • ERS Tier 5 members are required to contribute 3 percent of their gross earnings for their entire career.
  • ERS Tier 6 members are required to contribute for their entire career a specific percentage of their earnings based on their salary.

ERS Exceptions

  • Though most ERS Tier 5 and Tier 6 members are required to contribute for all their years of service, the contributions of State Correction Officers in these tiers are limited to 30 years of service.
  • ERS Tier 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System must contribute 4 percent of their salary for all their years of public service.

Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS)

  • Most PFRS Tier 1 and Tier 2 members, as well as PFRS Tier 3 (Article 11) members, are not required to contribute, but may contribute voluntarily.
  • PFRS Tier 3 (Article 14) members must contribute 3 percent of their gross reportable earnings for 25 years or until retirement (whichever comes first).
  • PFRS Tier 6 members are required to contribute a specific percentage of their earnings based on their salary for their entire career.

PFRS Exceptions

  • Though most PFRS Tier 5 members must contribute 3 percent of their gross reportable earnings for all their years of public service, PFRS Tier 5 members enrolled in a retirement plan limiting the amount of creditable service they may accrue will not be required to contribute once they reach the maximum amount of service allowed by their plan.
  • If a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement in effect on January 9, 2010 required an employer to offer a 20- or 25-year plan, any new employees who join while that agreement is in place will not have to contribute.