Tag Archives: defined benefit plans

What is a Defined Benefit Plan?

As a NYSLRS member, you are enrolled in a defined benefit plan, also known as a traditional pension plan.

How a Defined Benefit Plan Works

Defined benefit pension plans provide a specified payment amount at retirement. If you are vested and retire from NYSLRS, you will receive a monthly pension payment for the rest of your life. Your pension will be calculated using a preset formula based on your earnings and years of service. Your individual contributions to NYSLRS will not affect the pension you receive when you retire.

Defined benefit plans are supported by contributions from both members and employers. 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 help to reduce the impact of market turmoil. NYSLRS employs an experienced group of investment managers.

The biggest contributor to your pension plan is the New York State Common Retirement Fund. Over the past 20 years, the Fund’s investment returns have covered 75 percent of the cost of pensions.

understand your defined benefit plan

Defined Contribution Plans — And Their Risks

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 employee, the employer or both make contributions to an individual retirement account for the employee, and the money in the account is invested. In most cases, the employee decides how and where the money is invested (or the plan may offer pre-packaged investment options). At retirement, the employee will be able to draw from the accumulated value of contributions and investment returns, minus any fees.

The amount of money the employee has at retirement depends on the investment returns of the individual account. So, market downturns, especially near retirement, can negatively affect the value of the benefit. Employees depending on defined contribution plans run the risk of outliving their savings.

NYSLRS’ Defined Benefit Plans

NYSLRS administers more than 300 retirement plan combinations, but all of them are defined benefit plans and share certain features. NYSLRS plans:

  • Provide a guaranteed benefit for life;
  • Offer a pension 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.

We strongly encourage you to review your retirement plan publication for a complete description of your benefits. To find your retirement plan publication, visit our Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication page and follow the steps listed.

Advantages of Defined Benefit Plans

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.

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. According to a study released by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) in 2021, 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.

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.”

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.

Top Five Pre-Retirement Goals for NYSLRS Members in 2018

January is a great time to set goals for the coming year. And setting pre-retirement goals is crucial in planning for a successful retirement. Here are five goals to consider for 2018:

Plan ahead for retirement

1. Choose a sensible savings plan that works for you.There are several ways to save for retirement, including starting a deferred compensation plan like the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. An important part of developing a savings plan is to start early. The sooner you start saving, the more time your money has to grow. Check out our Weekly Investment Plan chart to see how a weekly investment can grow by age 65.

2. Track your expenses and income. Tracking your current expenses for a month or two will give you a better idea of how much you’re likely to spend in retirement and how much you’ll need to supplement your pension. Use the expense and income worksheets on our website to create a retirement budget. Be sure to include periodic expenses, such as car insurance and property taxes.

3. Request a pension estimate. If you’re within 18 months of your anticipated retirement date, it’s a good idea to request an estimate of what your retirement benefit will be. You can do this by sending us an email using our secure contact form or by calling 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, NY area). If you are not certain that you’ve received credit for all your public service in New York State, you can submit a Request for Estimate form (RS6030) and be sure to provide detailed information about your public employment in section eight of the form. If your planned retirement date is farther away, you may want to use our online Benefit Calculator. This estimates your pension based on information you provide, so have your Member Annual Statement handy before you start, or sign in to your Retirement Online account to check your current service credit.

4. Pay off any NYSLRS loans. An outstanding loan balance at retirement will permanently reduce your NYSLRS retirement benefit. You cannot make loan payments after you retire, and the pension reduction does not go away after we recover the balance of the loan. Visit the Loans page on our website for information about making additional payments or increasing your loan payment amount.

5. Consider seeking the advice of a financial planner. Financial planners don’t manage your money, but can help you assess your present financial condition and develop a practical plan to meet your specific goals and needs. Also consider doing your own research by seeking Do-It-Yourself financial planning guides on the web.

If you ever have any retirement-related questions, please contact us.

How Much Will My Pension Be?

Estimate Your Pension

For anyone thinking about retirement, one big question looms: How much money will I have to live on after I stop working? Your NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit. Having a good idea of what that monthly amount will be is essential to effective retirement planning. Fortunately, we offer tools to help you estimate your future pension.

Most members* can use our Benefit Projection Calculator to estimate their pension. You can use this calculator even if your planned retirement date is a long way off. The calculator provides estimates based on information you enter. By changing each variable (date of retirement, average salary, beneficiary information), you can see the impact it would have on your pension benefit.
how to estimate pension infographic
If you are a vested member who has enough NYSLRS service to be eligible for a pension, you can request a benefit projection by calling our automated information line at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are nearing retirement eligibility and you aren’t certain that you have credit for all of your NYSLRS-eligible employment, complete and submit a Request for Estimate (RS6030) form. If you are a member of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), you may use this form if you will be eligible to retire within five years. Members of the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) can submit this form within 18 months of their retirement eligibility date.

As part of your retirement planning process, you may also want to check on your Social Security benefits.

*At this time, you cannot use this calculator if you are in ERS Tier 5 or 6; PFRS Tier 3, 5 or 6; or certain special plans.

NYSLRS’ Partial Lump Sum Payments

When you retire, you’ll choose a payment option for your monthly lifetime benefit. Eligible NYSLRS members may also choose to receive a partial lump sum payment. The payment, which you’ll receive when we finish calculating your pension benefit, is a percentage of the actuarial value of your retirement benefit at the time you retire. By accepting this one-time lump sum payment, your lifetime monthly benefit will be permanently reduced.

Who is Eligible for the Partial Lump Sum Payment?

If you’re a Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) member covered by a special 20- or 25-year plan, you may be eligible to choose this payment. Certain Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members (sheriffs, undersheriffs, deputy sheriffs, and county correction officers) are eligible if their employer offers this benefit. (Read the other eligibility requirements for PFRS members and ERS members.)

Partial Lump Sum PaymentsHow the Partial Lump Sum Payment Works

The percentage amounts you can choose from depend on how long you’ve been eligible to retire. You can choose a lump sum payment that equals 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 percent of the value of your retirement benefit.

The payment can be made directly to you, or you can also have it paid in a direct rollover to an Individual Retirement Annuity or other plan that accepts rollovers. Before you decide, you may want to speak with a tax advisor to see if the partial lump sum payment is right for you. Certain partial lump sum distributions could be subject to federal income tax.

How Do I Choose the Partial Lump Sum?

If you’re eligible for the partial lump sum, we’ll send you a special option election form when you file for retirement. You can use this form to choose both the partial lump sum and the payment option you want for your continuing lifetime monthly benefit.

Please read Partial Lump Sum (PLS) Payment at Retirement – For Eligible Retirement System Members for more information.

Taxes and Your NYSLRS Retirement Benefit

Your NYSLRS retirement benefit isn’t subject to New York State or local taxes, but it is subject to federal income tax. Before you retire, take some time to think about how taxes could affect your retirement planning.

Will Your Pension Get Taxed in Another State?

While New York State won’t tax your NYSLRS retirement benefit, other states might. If you’re thinking of moving after retirement, you’ll need to consider the tax laws of the state you move to. The Retired Public Employees Association keeps a list of which states tax pension income on their website. And remember, if you do move, we’ll need your updated mailing address for our records.

Federal Tax Withholding Status for Your Pension

taxesAfter you’ve filed for retirement, we’ll reply back to you with a confirmation letter and some forms. One of these forms will be a W-4P form (Withholding Certificate for Pension or Annuity Payments). You’ll need to fill out this form to choose the amount you want withheld from your benefit each month for federal taxes. You can choose the withholding tax status that suits you, and you can change it any time afterward by completing a new W-4P form.

If you’re not sure how much you’ll need withheld for federal taxes, consider meeting with a tax professional to assist you before submitting the form.

Getting Your 1099-R

Once you start receiving your pension benefit, we’ll send you a 1099-R form for federal income tax filing purposes. A 1099-R form lists the distributions you’ll receive from your NYSLRS pension. We mail 1099-Rs out each year by January 31, so make sure we have your correct mailing address on file. This is especially important if you plan on moving in retirement.

We also feature an interactive 1099-R tutorial on our website. It can be a helpful tool to look at the first time you receive your 1099-R.

Visit our Taxes and Your Pension page for more information.

Tackling Retirement Security for Working Americans

retirement-security

Many Americans are lacking access to employer-sponsored retirement plans.

America is facing a retirement security crisis. The shift away from defined benefit (DB) pensions in favor of defined contribution (DC) plans is considered a common cause. The number of workers with a DB plan decreased pdf-icon (PDF) from 67 percent to 43 percent between 1989 and 1998, while those with a DC plan rose from 33 to 57 percent during that same time. The lack of access to any sort of employer-sponsored retirement plan is another factor: 43.3 million American workers didn’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan in 2013.

The unfortunate truth, though, is that many Americans just aren’t prepared to retire.

A State Solution to the Retirement Crisis?

A few weeks ago, we mentioned how AARP NY called for a state-sponsored retirement savings program to address this problem. According to AARP NY, Americans are 15 times less likely to open a retirement savings plan on their own compared to if their employer offered one. Even more startling, about 3.6 million New Yorkers working in the private sector don’t have access to any kind of employer-sponsored retirement plan.

At the federal level, creating a DC plan with automatic enrollment has been unsuccessful. The president recently asked the Department of Labor to clarify how states can move forward with state-sponsored plans. This could help states manage how to enroll employees into a 401(k), providing workers a chance to start saving for retirement.

Pensions: A Major Part of Retirement Security

Workers will need more than their Social Security and personal savings for a secure retirement. This is where more employer-sponsored retirement plans can help workers. About two thirds of working age Americans aren’t taking part in a retirement plan pdf-icon (PDF) . But even though DC plans are now more common than DB plans, that doesn’t mean they’re the best answer to providing steady retirement income. A DB plan provides a steady source of income for the pensioner’s lifetime. There’s no guarantee a DC plan will provide a retiree with enough or any income during retirement. If too many workers retire without an employer-sponsored plan, they could face levels of poverty in retirement.

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: ERS Tier 1

When you joined the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you were assigned to 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) — so there are many different ways to determine benefits for our members. Our series, NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time, walks through each tier and gives you a quick look at the benefits members are eligible for before and at retirement.

One of our smallest tiers is ERS Tier 1, which represents 0.7 percent of NYSLRS’ total membership. Overall, there are 4,520 ERS Tier 1 members. Today’s post looks at the major Tier 1 retirement plan in ERS – the New Career Plan (Section 75-h or 75-i).
ERS-Tier-1-Benefits_001
If you’re an ERS Tier 1 member in an alternate plan, you can find your retirement plan publication below for more detailed information about your benefits:

Be on the lookout for more NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time posts. Want to learn more about the different NYSLRS retirement tiers? Check out some earlier posts in the series:

New Report Questions Retirement Readiness of U.S. Workforce

Fewer Americans are participating in employer-sponsored defined benefit and defined contribution plans. In fact, according to a recent report from the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, from 1999 through 2011, 53 percent of working Americans were not enrolled in a retirement plan at work — down from 61 percent. When you add in people who did not participate in a plan offered to them or who were not working, 68 percent of working-age people (25-64) did not participate in an employer-sponsored plan.

According to the report, because of these low retirement plan enrollment numbers, 55% of U.S. households nearing retirement may have to rely on Social Security income exclusively for financial survival in retirement.

The Dwindling Number of Defined Benefit Plan Participants Fare Best

The report, entitled Are U.S. Workers Ready for Retirement? Trends in Plan Sponsorship, Participation and Preparedness, was released in April and co-authored by Theresa Ghilarducci, a nationally recognized expert in retirement security. It found that of working-age Americans with an employer-sponsored retirement plan available to them, only 16 percent had a defined benefit plan, while 63 percent had a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k).

In a comparison of net worth, the households who are enrolled in a defined benefit pension plan fare the best, with a median net worth of $116,973, compared to $107,250 for those in a defined contribution plan, and $4,450 for those without an employer-sponsored plan of any kind.

Regrettably, as bleak and discouraging as this picture is, things could still be worse.

Too Many Future Retirees Face the Possibility of Poverty

According to the report, 33 percent of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement based on their current levels of retirement savings and total assets. While a sizable share of the retiree population will be at risk of living in poverty in all states, workers in Massachusetts and Virginia are more likely to enjoy a secure retirement than their counterparts nationally, with only 22 percent of workers 55 to 64 likely to be at-risk for a poor standard of living in retirement.

It’s a much more troubling story here in New York where 32 percent of near-retirement workers may experience poverty or near-poverty in retirement based on their current savings levels.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s Position On Retirement Security

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the administrator of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), has long addressed the topic of retirement security and said that policy makers and the community-at-large should be directing their energies to ensure retirement security for everyone, including workers in the private sector.

Comptroller DiNapoli discusses this issue in remarks he delivered last June during a Retirement Summit at the Schwartz Center.