Tag Archives: defined benefit plan

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.

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.

Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement

After months of planning and preparation, you’re ready to apply for retirement. To get your NYSLRS  pension benefit, you need to send in an application. Let’s look at what you should include with the form to help make the retirement process go more smoothly.

Filling Out the Retirement Application

Unless you’re filing for a disability retirement, you’ll need to fill out the Application for Service Retirement (RS6037). As you fill out the form, make sure you:

  • Know your registration number. You can find it on your most recent Member Annual Statement or retirement estimate.
  • Know your past employment. To help ensure you receive the proper credit for your public service, please list your public employment history. Include any military service and memberships in other New York public retirement systems.
  • Include your beneficiary’s information. You won’t make an official beneficiary designation with this form, but including these details will help us give you specific amounts for the pension payment options  that offer a lifetime benefit for a beneficiary.
  • See a notary. The form must be filled out completely and signed by a notary public.

Proof of Birth

Make sure we have proof of your birth date. You can send it with your retirement application or before or after, but we cannot pay pension benefits without it. We accept photocopies of the following as proof:

Other Forms

Option Election

You’ll need to choose your pension payment option, or how you want your pension paid. Option election forms are available on our website, but we will also send you a form after we process your application. If you choose an option that provides your beneficiary a lifetime pension benefit when you die, you must provide proof of your beneficiary’s birth date.

Federal Income Tax Withholding

Your NYSLRS pension isn’t subject to New York State income tax, but it is subject to federal tax. You can fill out a W-4P form  any time to tell us how much to withhold from your monthly benefit. We don’t withhold income tax for other states. Visit the Retired Public Employees Association’s website to see whether your benefit will be taxed in another state.

Direct Deposit

Direct deposit is the fastest and most secure way to receive your pension benefits. You can enroll in our direct deposit program when you file for retirement. Just fill out a Direct Deposit Enrollment Application (RS6370), and return it to us.

Domestic Relations Order

If an ex-spouse is entitled to part of your pension, you should send us a copy of your domestic relations order (DRO) as soon as possible. The DRO gives us specific instructions on how to divide your benefits. We cannot finalize your pension until we review it and calculate the court-mandated distribution of your benefit. For more detailed information, please read our Guide to Domestic Relations Orders.

Questions

If you have other questions about applying for retirement, read our publication, Life Changes: How Do I Prepare to Retire? or contact us.

How Full-Time and Part-Time Service Credit Works

Service credit plays a vital part in your pension calculation and your eligibility for other NYSLRS benefits. As a NYSLRS member, you earn service credit by working for an employer who participates in the Retirement System. All your paid public employment is creditable. You would not, however, earn credit for any period when you are not receiving a salary, such as an unpaid leave of absence. If you work full-time or part-time, you’re earning service credit, just at different rates.

Earning Service Credit When You Work Full-Time

When you work on a full-time, continuous basis throughout your career, we’ll calculate your total service credit from your date of employment up until the date you leave paid employment. Most full-time workers earn a year of service credit for working 260 work days in a year. For a full-time 12-month employee, 260 work days constitutes a full year. For our members who work for school districts, a full-time 10-month academic year can be 180 work days. (If you work in an educational setting, we covered that in an earlier blog post.)

Earning Service Credit When You Work Part-Time

Your service credit is prorated if you work part-time. Part-time employment is credited as the lesser of:

the number of days worked ÷ 260 days

or

your reported annual salary ÷ (the State’s hourly minimum wage × 2,000)

You can think of it like this: let’s say you work 130 days in a year. If a year’s worth of service credit is earned for working 260 days full-time, you’d earn half a year (0.5) of service credit for your part-time work.

Check Your Member Annual Statement

From May to July, we’ll send out this year’s Member Annual Statements. For most members, your statement will show how much service credit you’ve earned over the past fiscal year (April 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018). It will also show your total service credit as of March 31, 2018. Make sure to look it over to see how much service credit you’ve earned over your career.

For more detailed information about service credit, please refer to your specific retirement plan publication.

Can I Change My Beneficiary After I Retire?

That depends. Some beneficiary decisions are irrevocable, while others can be changed at any time.

Some options, such as Five Year and Ten Year Certain, allow you to change your beneficiary after you retire. But if you choose an option that provides a lifetime benefit to a survivor, you cannot change your beneficiary even if your beneficiary dies before you do. For details, visit the Payment Option Descriptions page on our website.

But there are other possible death benefits for which NYSLRS retirees can name beneficiaries. Available death benefits and eligibility requirements vary by tier and retirement plan. You can find your retirement plan information on our Publications page.

NYSLRS retirees may have up to three types of death benefits that could provide a benefit for a beneficiary: pension payment option, survivor's benefit, and post-retirement death benefit.

When you retire, you must choose a payment option for your NYSLRS pension. If your choice is Single Life Allowance, there is no pension beneficiary. But other payment options provide a reduced monthly benefit in exchange for a possible payment to a beneficiary after the retiree’s death.

If you were employed by New York State, you may be eligible for a survivor’s benefit of up to $3,000. You do not need to sign up for this benefit; you are automatically enrolled if you are eligible. If you choose a pension payment option with a beneficiary, that person will also be the beneficiary for your survivor’s benefit. If your beneficiary dies before you do, you may select someone else as beneficiary for the survivor’s benefit. If you choose the Single Life Allowance option, you must name a beneficiary for your survivor’s benefit, and you may change this designation at any time.

What about after Retirement?

You may also be eligible for a post-retirement death benefit, which would be a percentage of the death benefit that was payable at retirement. (This benefit is generally not available to Tier 1 members or members in special retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years of service, regardless of age.) The beneficiary of your post-retirement death benefit does not have to be the same as your pension payment-option beneficiary. And you can change the beneficiary designation for your death benefit at any time.

The easiest way to check and update your beneficiary information for the post-retirement death benefit is with Retirement Online. You can also change your beneficiary by submitting a Designation of Beneficiary (RS5127) form.

Divorced? Some things to consider

Please note: If you are divorced, you may be required to choose a retirement option that provides continuing benefits to your ex-spouse after your death. Also, the beneficiary designation for certain benefits, including the survivor’s benefit, can be revoked when a divorce becomes final. For more information, please read the publication Divorce and Your Benefits on our website.

Generational Attitudes about Retirement

Attitudes about retirement vary from one generation to the next.

That stands to reason. For Millennials (those born from 1979–2000), retirement is a long way off. For Generation X (born 1965–1978), retirement isn’t too far down the road, while millions of Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964) are already retired.

Generational Attitudes on RetirementA number of recent studies have tracked generational differences concerning retirement, but they also show a substantial amount of agreement among the generations. Surveys show that a majority of workers, regardless of generation, are saving for retirement. But Millennials appear to be outperforming members of the older generations on that count. They tend to start saving early and are on track to outpace Boomers and Gen Xers in building retirement nest eggs.

Concerns about Social Security are high across generations, with many fearing that it won’t be there for them when it comes time for them to retire. (That fear is reasonable, though perhaps exaggerated, based on Social Security Administration projections.)

Social Security’s troubles, plus the general decline of defined-benefit pensions, has left many feeling that they are on their own. According to one report, two-thirds of both Millennials and Gen-Xers expect their retirement savings accounts to be their primary source of income after they stop working.

The take away for NYSLRS members? The cross-generational anxiety about retirement underscore the important role that a defined-benefit retirement plan, such as your NYSLRS retirement plan, plays in securing your financial future. It also reinforces the importance of saving for retirement.

Retirement on the Horizon? Here Are a Few Things to Think About

Things to think aboutYou’re probably looking forward to the day when you file your application for a NYSLRS pension. But before you retire, there are a few questions you should ask yourself. After all, by filing for retirement, you’re making critical decisions about your financial future. And once you’ve retired, some of those decisions will be irrevocable. Whether your planned retirement date is just around the corner or a few years off, this checklist could help you avoid costly mistakes.

Do I have all the service credit I think I have?
Under some retirement plans, service milestones (20 years, 30 years, full retirement age) can have a big impact on the amount of your benefit. If you’re aiming for one of these milestones, but retire just short of reaching it, your pension will take a big hit. To make sure you have enough service credit on your planned retirement date, sign in to Retirement Online to see how much service credit you currently have. You can also file a Request for Estimate form or talk with an information representative at our Contact Center (1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area).

Do I have previous service credit I want to purchase?
You may be able to buy credit for previous public employment or military service, which in most cases would increase your pension. But you can’t purchase service credit after you retire. You can use the “Information about Your Public Employment” section of the Request for Estimate form to request credit for previous public and military service. Read our booklet, Service Credit for Tiers 2 through 6, for more information.

Do you have a balance on a NYSLRS loan?
You cannot pay off your NYSLRS loan after you retire. If you retire with an outstanding balance, your pension will be permanently reduced. You can check your loan balance with Retirement Online or through our automated phone system. Call the toll-free number (above), then press 3 for members, 1 or 2 for the Employees’ Retirement System or the Police and Fire Retirement System, and 1 for loan services. If your retirement is still a few years away, you can increase your payroll deductions or send in extra payments to pay off your loan.

Am I ready to retire?
Are you really ready? The fact that you can retire doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Am I financially prepared? Am I psychologically ready for retirement? These are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself, but there are resources available:

Update Your Beneficiaries

It’s easy and important

How long has it been since you thought about your NYSLRS beneficiaries? A year, two years, five? Did you get married since then? Get divorced? Have a child?

When you die, your NYSLRS death benefit will be paid to the last beneficiaries you designated. That’s the law. That’s why it’s so important that you check your NYSLRS beneficiary designations periodically.

Luckily, it’s easier to do than ever.

The new Retirement Online is a convenient way to review account details and conduct business with NYSLRS in real time. Now, instead of sending a form through the mail, you can simply sign in to Retirement Online to view your designations and submit changes instantly.

Register and sign in to Retirement Online today to update your beneficiaries and access a variety of other time-saving features.

Types of Beneficiaries

You can designate primary and contingent beneficiaries:

  • A primary beneficiary receives your death benefit. If you name more than one primary beneficiary, they will split the benefit equally.
  • A contingent beneficiary receives a benefit only if all your primary beneficiaries are deceased when you die.

Special Benefit Designations for Beneficiaries

Special Beneficiary Designations

Your beneficiary doesn’t have to be a person:

  • When you die, your estate is all the money and property you owned. If you make your estate a beneficiary, the executor of your estate will distribute your benefit according to your will. If you outlive both your primary and contingent beneficiaries, your benefit will go to your estate by default.
  • A trust is a legal arrangement giving a person you choose legal control over property — such as a death benefit. The trust itself would be your NYSLRS beneficiary, not the individuals for whom you established the trust. (You may want to speak with your attorney if you’re thinking about making your trust a beneficiary.)
  • You can name a charitable, civic, religious, educational or other kind of organization as a beneficiary too.

For more information about beneficiaries, check out our booklet, Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary? (VO1706).

Know Your Benefits: Death Benefits

Few people like to discuss dying, but it’s important to think about how those we love will get along when we do. NYSLRS members have important considerations to keep in mind. First, depending on the pension payment option you choose, you could leave behind an ongoing pension. But, beyond that, your loved ones may also receive a death benefit.

This post is an overview of common death benefits and how your survivors should file for them. It is important to review your retirement plan booklet for specific benefit and eligibility information, and to contact us with any questions you have.

Benefits

Most members who die while they’re still working will leave their beneficiaries what’s called an ordinary death benefit. The benefit amount is usually one year of your earnings per year of service, up to a maximum of three years. Depending on your system, tier and retirement plan, other limitations apply.

Generally, to qualify, you must have at least one year of service credit, and you must die while you are on payroll, in public service. Check your plan booklet for other qualifying circumstances.

Ordinary Death Benefit Graphic

Some members who die in an on-the-job accident (not due to their own willful negligence) might leave their spouses or other survivors an accidental death benefit. If paid to a surviving spouse or dependent parent, the benefit is a lifetime pension based on 50 percent of your final average salary (less any workers’ compensation benefit). There is no minimum service credit requirement.

Depending on your system, tier and retirement plan, there may be other benefits you leave your loved ones. For example, beneficiaries of Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members who died after meeting the requirements for a service retirement may receive an alternative death benefit. Most Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members, who retire from service or within a year of leaving public employment, will leave their beneficiaries a post-retirement death benefit.

Filing

Regardless of which death benefit you leave, benefits can’t be paid until we’re notified of your death. That’s why it’s so important to talk with your family now about your benefits and how to report your death to NYSLRS. Check out our Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors publication for more helpful information.

Update Your Beneficiaries

In most cases (unless beneficiaries are determined by law, as in the case of accidental death benefits), your death benefit will be paid to the beneficiaries you designated at some point in the past, so it’s important to be sure yours are up to date. Your beneficiaries are listed on your Member Annual Statement. You can also view and update your beneficiaries using Retirement Online. Just register and sign in to view your designations and submit changes.

Age Milestones for Retirement Planning

Age Milestones for Retirement PlanningWhether you’re 22 or 52, you should be planning for retirement.

NYSLRS retirement benefits are based on tier status, years of service, and average salary. Age is also an important number, and not just the age when you plan to retire. Here are some age milestones to keep in mind while planning for your retirement.

Under 50: It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. Even modest savings can add up over time as investment returns grow and interest compounds.

50: The Age 50 and Over Catch-Up provision allows you to save more pre-tax dollars in a retirement account starting in the calendar year in which you turn 50.

55: The earliest age most NYSLRS members can retire. (Does not apply to members in special retirement plans.) Your pension may be permanently reduced if you retire at 55.

59½: The age you can draw down money from a tax-deferred retirement savings plan, such as an IRA, without facing a potential federal tax penalty. (The penalty does not apply to New York State Deferred Compensation savings if you are retired or have left public service.)

62: Full service retirement age for Tiers 2, 3, 4 and 5 and PFRS Tier 6. Earliest age you can begin collecting a Social Security pension, but the benefit would be reduced. For more information, read When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits.

63: Full retirement age for ERS Tier 6 members.

65: Age most people are eligible for Medicare benefits.

66: Full Social Security retirement age if you were born from 1943 through 1954. Add two months for each year from 1955 through 1959.

67: Full Social Security age if you were born in 1960 or later.

70: If you do not take your Social Security benefit at full retirement age, your benefit will increase each year until you reach age 70. Delaying Social Security after 70 will not increase your benefit.

70½: If you have tax-deferred retirement savings and are no longer working, you must begin withdrawing some of this money after you turn 70½.

One Last Number: Having a rough idea of your life expectancy is essential to retirement planning.

For more information about retirement planning, read our publication Straight Talk About Financial Planning For Your Retirement.