Tag Archives: defined benefit plan

Public Pensions Give Economic Boost to Small Towns, Rural Areas

Small towns and rural areas in New York and across the United States get an important economic boost from public pensions, a recent study concludes.

Public Pensions Give Economic Boost to Small Towns and Rural Areas Across New York

Why Public Pensions Give an Economic Boost

Because of their smaller economies, less-populated counties benefit more from pension dollars than larger, urban counties, according to Fortifying Main Street: The Economic Benefit Of Public Pension Dollars In Rural America.

In many small towns and rural communities, the report notes, school districts and local governments are the largest employers. Those public employees typically remain in their communities after retirement, and the authors attribute the economic boosts they found to pension dollars spent locally on goods and services.

Across New York State, public pensions were responsible for 1.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. (GDP, the total value of goods and services produced during a specific period, is a common gauge of economic activity.) However, during the same period:

  • Wyoming County in western New York, where a handful of villages dot a rural landscape, saw public pensions generate 4.6 percent of GDP.
  • Hamilton County, with fewer than 5,000 people, received an economic boost from public pensions that accounted for 6.3 percent of GDP.

The study’s findings are in line with data showing the impact NYSLRS retirees have on local economies and other studies about the economic benefits of pensions.

Notes on the Data

Fortifying Main Street, which was released in July by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), examines pension data from 2,922 counties in 43 states. Based on criteria used by the federal Office of Budget Management, it divides counties into three main categories: metropolitan, small-town (or micropolitan) and rural. The study also analyzes data from counties that are home to the state capital, because these places tend to have higher numbers of public retirees. In Albany County, public pensions generated 2.7 percent of GDP.

Hamilton County is the only county in New York defined as rural in the study, but 16 counties, including Wyoming County, fit the “small town” criteria. You can read the full report on the NIRS website.

The study uses pensions paid by NYSLRS, the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System of New York City and the New York City Employees’ Retirement System in its data for New York State.

NYSLRS Membership Basics

Whether you’re a new member or have been part of the Retirement System for years, you’re sure to have questions about your NYSLRS membership. What is vesting? Final average earnings? Maybe you’re wondering what tier you’re in or why that even matters. While NYSLRS administers many different retirement plans, the core concepts of a NYSLRS membership remain the same. Here are the basics.

Your NYSLRS Membership Basics

Four Things to Understand About Your NYSLRS Membership

When learning about your NYSLRS benefits, you should become familiar with these four basic concepts:

  • Tier. Your tier is based on the date you joined NYSLRS and helps determine the benefits available to you. If you’re a new NYSLRS member, you’re likely in Tier 6. Tier 6 members joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012.
  • Service Credit. You earn a year of service credit for each year you work for a participating NYSLRS employer. Part-time work is prorated. Your total service credit at retirement is a major factor in determining the amount of your pension.
  • Vesting. You become vested after you earn five years of service credit. It’s a significant milestone to reach because once you become vested, you’ll be eligible for a NYSLRS pension when you reach retirement age, even if you leave public service.
  • Final Average Earnings. Final average earnings is the average of your earnings during a period when your pay is highest. It’s another major factor in determining the amount of your pension.

Once you understand these basics, it can make learning more about your NYSLRS membership and benefits easier and help you get ahead on your retirement planning.

Your NYSLRS Pension and Other Benefits

Being a NYSLRS member means you are part of a defined benefit retirement plan. This means your NYSLRS pension will be a lifetime benefit, and it will be based on your final average earnings and service credit, not the contributions you make toward your retirement.

NYSLRS also provides other important benefits for its members, including:

Where to Get More Information

We want to provide you with the information you’ll need to plan for your retirement and make critical decisions about your future. Here are the resources available to you:

Retirement Online is the quickest way to access account information such as your tier, retirement plan and estimated total service credit. Sign up for a Retirement Online account if you don’t already have one.

If you have questions about your NYSLRS membership or benefits, you can find answers on our NYSLRS website. You can find different webpages, such as our Understanding Your NYSLRS Benefits page, that explain what benefits and services are available to you. Reading your retirement plan publication is a great way to get a comprehensive understanding of your benefits. Go to our Publications page to find your retirement plan and other helpful information.

If you have questions about your account or your NYSLRS benefits, please email us using our secure contact form.

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: PFRS Tier 5

When you join the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you’re assigned a tier based on the date of your membership. There are six tiers in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and five in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Each tier has a different benefit structure established by New York State legislation.

Our series, NYSLRS — One Tier at a Time, walks through each tier to give you a quick look at the benefits in both ERS and PFRS. Today’s post looks at PFRS Tier 5. Anyone who joined PFRS from January 9, 2010 through March 31, 2012 is in Tier 5. There were 1,967 PFRS Tier 5 members as of March 31, 2021, making up 5.6 percent of PFRS membership.

About Special Plans

Under a regular plan, you need to reach certain age and service requirements to receive your NYSLRS pension. If you’re covered by a special plan, there is no age requirement, and you can receive your pension after completing 20 or 25 years of service.

Nearly 80 percent of PFRS members are in plans covered under Sections 384, 384-d, 384-e or 384-f of the Retirement and Social Security Law. Read our Police and Fire Retirement System blog post for information about different PFRS plans.

Check out the graphic below for the basic retirement information for PFRS Tier 5.

PFRS Tier 5

If you’re a PFRS Tier 5 member, you can find detailed information about your benefits in the retirement plan booklets listed below:

For special plans under miscellaneous titles, please visit our Publications page.

Check out other posts in the PFRS series:

Popular Blog Posts You May Have Missed

In 2021, NYSLRS members showed a keen interest in posts that helped them learn more about their retirement benefits. In case you missed them, or just want to take another look, here are some of our most popular blog posts from the past year.

most popular blog posts of 2021
 
  1. Tier 6 Benefits – A Closer Look
    Nearly half of all NYSLRS members belong to the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6. Here is a look at how their pensions will be calculated.

  2. Retirement Online Makes Applying for Retirement Fast, Easy
    Many members have discovered the convenience of filing for a service retirement benefit online. You won’t need to have anything notarized and you can skip a trip to the post office.

  3. Tier 3 & 4 Members: When Is The Right Time To Retire?
    Many Tier 3 and 4 members are close to retirement. But their pension amount will depend on several factors, including when they retire. Here is some information to help you get the timing right.

  4. The Police and Fire Retirement System
    The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) is the smaller of the two NYSLRS retirement systems. The vast majority of PFRS members are in special retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years of service.

  5. What is a Defined Benefit Plan?
    As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit plan. But what does that mean and how will it affect your retirement?

Thank you for following New York Retirement News. We look forward to providing you with more information about your NYSLRS benefits and other retirement topics throughout 2022.

Ten Things Every NYSLRS Member Should Know

There’s a lot to know about being a NYSLRS member, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming learning about your retirement benefits when you join or when you’re getting ready to retire. That’s why we’d like to focus on ten things that are important to all our members.

NYSLRS member
  1. Your retirement benefits are guaranteed by the State Constitution. Under Article 5, Section 7, your pension cannot be “diminished or impaired.”
  2. You are part of a defined benefit pension plan. A defined benefit plan provides a lifetime benefit at retirement based on earnings and years of service.
  3. The Pension Fund, the pool of money your retirement benefits will be paid from, is safe and secure. It has been widely recognized as one of the best-funded and best-managed public pension funds in the nation.
  4. Your retirement plan booklet contains a wealth of information about your benefits.
  5. Your tier determines your eligibility for benefits and how those benefits are calculated.
  6. Becoming vested is a key milestone in every NYSLRS member’s career. Once you’re vested, you’ll be eligible for a pension even if you leave public employment before retirement age.
  7. Your final average earnings (FAE) is a major factor in calculating your NYSLRS pension, rather than being dependent on the contributions you make toward retirement.
  8. You can estimate your pension online. Most members can use Retirement Online to create a benefit estimate based on information we have on file for them. (And if you can’t use this calculator, we have alternatives for you.)
  9. You can stay informed about your benefits with Retirement Online. Creating an account is easy, and in many cases, you can use Retirement Online instead of sending in forms or calling NYSLRS.
  10. Retirement savings can supplement your pension and Social Security and give you more flexibility in retirement. The sooner you start, the more time you have to grow your savings.

Already retired? Read our blog post, Ten Things Every NYSLRS Retiree Should Know.

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 are vested and retire from NYSLRS, 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 known as 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 administers more than 300 retirement plan combinations, 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 earnings and years of service;
  • Provide a right to pension benefits (vesting) with five years of service credit;
  • Build a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) into pensions to help offset the effect of inflation; and
  • Include disability retirement 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. Read this blog post for help locating your plan book. Your plan is listed on your Retirement Online account page.

Advantages of Defined Benefit Plans

With defined benefit plans, retirement assets are pooled, and the investment risk is shared. These plans are usually administered by professional managers, whose long-term investment strategies reduce the impact of market turmoil. With defined contribution plans, individual employees bear the brunt of investment risk, so a dip in the stock market can reduce their retirement income.

Defined benefit plans provide important advantages for state and local government employers. For one, offering these plans makes it easier to recruit and retain qualified employees, particularly police officers, fire fighters and teachers. Employers can also reduce the risk of employee turnover, which could help cut training costs and improve productivity.

Defined benefit plans also help support state and local economies because they provide a steady, reliable stream of retirement income for many retirees across New York and the nation.

Read more about the advantages of defined benefit plans.

Retirees Contribute: A Century of Economic Impact

Over the past century, NYSLRS has provided pension security for retired public workers, whose spending has contributed to the economic strength and stability of their communities.

In every corner of the Empire State, NYSLRS retirees shop at local stores and patronize local businesses, which in turn helps create jobs. NYSLRS retirees also pay a significant share of local taxes.

Retirees Contribute: A Century of Economic Impact

Economic Stability

Spending by NYSLRS retirees provides something else for their communities: economic stability.

Because a NYSLRS pension is a defined-benefit retirement plan, retirees and beneficiaries receive a guaranteed monthly payment for life. Defined-benefit plans, which pay benefits based on a pre-set formula, differ from defined-contribution plans, such as a 401k, which are essentially retirement savings accounts.

Recipients of defined-benefit plans don’t have to worry about their money running out during retirement or a drop in their monthly income because of a dip in the stock market. They are better able to maintain their spending during economic downturns, which helps local businesses stay afloat during hard times.

That stability is particularly important in rural parts of the State, which are more susceptible to downturns because they lack the economic diversity of more-urban areas.

Defined-benefit pensions don’t just help New York State. Across the nation, these pensions are benefitting millions of pensioners and their communities. In 2018, defined-benefit pension plans paid $578.7 billion to 23.8 million retired Americans, and their spending supported 6.9 million jobs and generated $1.3 trillion in economic activity, according to a study by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS).

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.

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.

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.