Tag Archives: final average earnings

Retirement Planning: Know Your Membership Milestones

Even if your retirement is years in the future, you should be aware of certain membership milestones that may help you narrow down when to retire.

There are two types of membership milestones: ones pertaining to age and ones pertaining to service credit. Since most NYSLRS members reach service credit milestones first, we’ll start with them.

Service Credit Milestones

Vesting is a key retirement milestone. Once you become vested, you will be eligible for a NYSLRS pension even if you leave public employment before retirement. Members in Tiers 1-4 with at least five years of credited service are vested. (Most members in these tiers have already reached this milestone.) Tier 5 and 6 members must have ten years of credited service to be vested.

membership milestones - service credit

After reaching 20 years of service, most members will be eligible to have a higher percentage of their final average earnings included in their pension benefit. How that benefit is calculated depends on your retirement plan and tier. You can find more information in your retirement plan booklet.

Members in some special plans can retire with 20 years of service, regardless of their age. Other special plans allow for retirement after 25 years, regardless of age.

At 30 years of service, Tier 2-4 members who are at least 55 years old can retire without a pension reduction.

Age Milestones

Once you reach your full retirement age, you can retire without a pension reduction. For Tiers 2-5, the full retirement age is 62. The full retirement age for Tier 6 members is 63.

membership milestones - age

Members in regular retirement plans can retire as early as age 55, but they may face a pension reduction if they retire before their full retirement age. The closer you are to your full retirement age at retirement, the less the reduction will be.

If you would like to see what your pension would be at different ages, use Retirement Online’s pension benefit estimator.

More About NYSLRS Membership Milestones

For more information about NYSLRS milestones, please see:

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.

Tier 6 Benefits – A Closer Look

Tier 6 members (those who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012) are eligible for a lifetime pension benefit once they’ve earned 10 years of credited service. And that pension can replace a portion of your salary throughout your retirement.

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on your Final Average Earnings (FAE) and the number of years you work in public service. FAE is the average of the five highest-paid consecutive years. For most members, those higher-paid years come at the end of their careers. Since retirement is still some years in the future for most of you, we won’t focus on the dollar amount of your FAE today. But we can look at what percentage of that salary would be replaced by your pension if you continue in the system until retirement age.

For Tier 6 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), the benefit is 1.66 percent of your FAE for each year you work, up to 20 years. (Benefit calculations for members of the Police and Fire Retirement System vary based on plan.) At 20 years, the benefit equals 1.75 percent per year (for a total of 35 percent). After 20 years, the benefit grows to 2 percent per year.

Financial advisers say you will need to replace between 70 to 80 percent of your salary to maintain your lifestyle during retirement. Let’s see how we can get there.
Tier 6 Salary Replacement
NYSLRS Pension: Say you begin your career at age 30 and work until your full retirement age of 63. That’s 33 years of Service Credit. You’ll get 35 percent of your FAE for the first 20 years, plus 26 percent for the last 13 years, for a total benefit that would replace 61 percent of your salary. If you started at age 25, and continue till 63, you’d get 71 percent of your FAE. If you didn’t start till age 35, you’d still get 51 percent at 63.

Social Security: You also should factor in Social Security. According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security now replaces about 36 percent of the wages of a typical worker who retires at full retirement age. In the future, it’s estimated that Social Security might still replace between 25 and 30 percent of a typical worker’s pay.

Savings: Retirement savings can also replace a portion of your income. How much, of course, depends on how much you save. The key is to start saving early so your money has time to grow. New York State employees and some municipal employees can participate in the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you haven’t already looked into Deferred Compensation, you might consider doing so now.