Tag Archives: Information is the Key

Welcome, New Members

Welcome, new members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS).

What is NYSLRS? NYSLRS administers retirement benefits for New York State employees and municipal and non-teaching school district employees outside of New York City. With more than 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries, NYSLRS is one of the largest public retirement systems in the nation.

NYSLRS is here to help you plan for a financially secure retirement. Your retirement may be far in the future, but decisions you make now will have a big impact on your later years. Here are a few things you should know:

How Pensions Work

A NYSLRS pension is a defined-benefit plan. Under this type of plan, once you are eligible for a pension and apply for retirement, you will receive a monthly payment for the rest of your life. The amount of your pension will be calculated using a formula set by State law.

However, many employees in the United States, particularly in the private sector, are enrolled in 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, or have no employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. The ultimate value of a 401(k) plan is based on the contributions made to individual accounts and investment returns on those contributions.

While a 401(k)-style plan can supplement a pension and Social Security benefits, it does not provide the same level of financial security as a defined-benefit plan. Unlike your NYSLRS pension, these plans do not guarantee a lifetime benefit.

New Members Checklist

Earning Service Credit

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on factors such as your tier, retirement plan, age at retirement, final average earnings and service credit. You’ll earn one year of service credit for every year of full-time employment with a participating employer. Part-time employment is prorated. You may also be able to receive credit for previous public employment or military service, which in most cases would increase your pension.

Plan Ahead: Start Saving Now

Your pension is only one part of a financially secure future. It’s also a good idea to save additional money for retirement. Your retirement savings can be a hedge against inflation and a source of cash in an emergency. A healthy retirement account will give you more flexibility during retirement, helping ensure that you’ll be able to do the things you want to do.

State workers and some local government employees can save for retirement through the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan, which also has some tax advantages. You can start by having as little as $10 deducted from each paycheck. You can choose how your money will be invested from a variety of options. Because of how compound interest works, the earlier you start saving, the better off you’ll be.

Your Next Steps as a New NYSLRS Member

If you haven’t already, sign up for a Retirement Online account. You can use Retirement Online to conduct business with NYSLRS, including naming a beneficiary for your death benefit, updating your contact information, and looking up your retirement plan information. This online tool will be an important resource throughout your career, especially as you near retirement, when you can use our benefit calculator to estimate your pension.

More Information

You can find more information about NYSLRS and your benefits in our booklet, Membership in a Nutshell.

Tier 3 & 4 Members: When Is The Right Time To Retire?

Tier 3 and 4 members in the Article 15 retirement plan qualify for retirement benefits after they’ve earned five years of credited service. Once you’re vested, you have a right to a NYSLRS retirement benefit — even if you leave public employment. Though your pension is guaranteed, the amount of your pension depends on several factors, including when you retire. Here is some information that can help you determine the right time to retire.

Three Reasons to Keep Working

  1. Tier 3 and 4 members can claim their benefits as early as age 55, but they’ll face a significant penalty for early retirement – up to a 27 percent reduction in their pension. Early retirement reductions are prorated by month, so the penalty is reduced as you get closer to full retirement age. At 62, you can retire with full benefits. (Tier 3 and 4 Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who are in the Article 15 retirement plan and can retire between the ages of 55 and 62 without penalty once they have 30 years of service credit.)
  2. Your final average earnings (FAE) are a significant factor in the calculation of your pension benefit. Since working longer usually means a higher FAE, continued public employment can increase your pension.
  3. The other part of your retirement calculation is your service credit. More service credit can earn you a larger pension benefit, and, after 20 years, it also gets you a better pension formula. For Tier 3 and 4 members, if you retire with less than 20 years of service, the formula is FAE × 1.66% × years of service. Between 20 and 30 years, the formula becomes FAE × 2.00% × years of service. After 30 years of service, your pension benefit continues to increase at a rate of 1.5 percent of FAE for each year of service.

When is the Right Time to Retire infographic

 

If You’re Not Working, Here’s Something to Consider

Everyone’s situation is unique. For example, if you’re vested and no longer work for a public employer, and you don’t think you will again, taking your pension at 55 might make sense. When you do the math, full benefits at age 62 will take 19 years to match the money you’d have received retiring at age 55 — even with the reduction.

An Online Tool to Help You Make Your Decision

Most members can use Retirement Online to estimate their pensions.

A Retirement Online estimate is based on the most up-to-date information we have on file for you. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit, which could help you determine the right time to retire. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.

If you are unable to use our online pension calculator, please contact us to request a pension estimate.

This post has focused on Tier 3 and 4 members. To see how retirement age affects members in other tiers, visit our About Benefit Reductions page.

Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning

Information is the key to being fully prepared for your retirement years. The single most important thing you can do to achieve this goal is to know what NYSLRS retirement plan you’re in. Once you know that, the next thing you must do is understand the benefits your plan provides.

Your retirement plan booklet covers things like how long you’ll need to work in order to receive a pension, how your pension amount is determined, and what kind of death and disability benefits may be available to you. You can find a copy of your plan booklet on our website’s Publications page.

But here’s the challenge: NYSLRS manages 335 retirement plan combinations, which are described in 51 plan booklets. How do you figure out which is yours? The information below should help.

Retirement plan booklet infographic

Two Key Questions

To get started, you need to answer two questions.

Question One: Which retirement system are you in? NYSLRS is made up of two different systems:

  • The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), which is for public employees in non-teaching positions. It also includes some law enforcement personnel, such as correction officers, sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies.
  • The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), which is for paid firefighters and police officers, including SUNY police, State Park police, Encon officers and State Forest Rangers.

Question Two: Which tier are you in? There are six tiers in ERS and five tiers in PFRS. Your tier, based on when you joined NYSLRS, determines such things as when you become eligible for benefits and how much you contribute. You can find your tier by checking your Account Information in Retirement Online or by checking the NYSLRS website.

For many members, knowing your retirement system and tier are enough. But for other members, especially those in law enforcement, it may help to have your retirement plan number as well. The plan number indicates the section of Retirement and Social Security Law the plan is based on. For example, Plan A15 indicates that you are covered by Article 15. You can find your plan number in the Account Information section of Retirement Online.

Roughly three-quarters of all ERS members are covered by Article 15; they just need to know their tier to find the correct booklet.

State policeSUNY policeState Encon OfficersState Park Police and Forest Rangers each have their own plan booklet, which can be found in the PFRS section of the Publications page. That’s also where you’ll find the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans, which cover officers in most municipal police departments. (Members in these special plans should see 384, 384-d or 384-e listed in Retirement Online.)

If you are still unsure which retirement plan booklet covers your benefits, you can send us an email using our secure contact form, or you can ask your employer.

Take the Time to Understand Your Retirement Plan

It cannot be stated enough how important it is to read your plan publication to learn all you can about your benefits. It is the key to solid retirement planning. Remember, no one has a more vested stake in your retirement than you do.

Dual Membership in NYSLRS

The New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) consists of two retirement systems: the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Your job title determines what system you’re in. In some cases, however, it’s possible to have a dual membership, to be a member of both systems.

How Does Dual Membership Work?

dual membership in NYSLRSLet’s say you work as a firefighter, so you’re a member of PFRS. You decide to take on a part-time job as a bus driver for your local school district. Your school district participates in ERS, so you’re eligible for ERS membership. You fill out the membership application, and now you’re a member of both ERS and PFRS. The date you join each system determines your tier in each membership.

Implications of Dual Membership

As a member of both systems, you’d have separate membership accounts. Let’s look again at our fire-fighting bus driver example. While working as a firefighter, you make any required contributions and earn service credit toward your PFRS pension only. The same is true for your work as a bus driver—your required contributions and earned service credit only go toward your ERS pension, not your PFRS pension.

There are other implications to dual membership. Assuming you’re vested in both memberships and meet the service credit and age requirements, you could retire and collect a pension from both systems. You’d need to file separate retirement applications for ERS and PFRS, and we’d calculate each pension separately. We’d calculate your ERS pension using the final average earnings (FAE) you earned as a bus driver and your PFRS pension using the FAE from your time as a firefighter.

And, since you’d have both an ERS pension and a PFRS pension, you would need to choose a beneficiary for each in the event of your death.

Questions?

You’ll want to make sure to know the details of your retirement plan in each system. If you have questions about dual membership, or want to discuss your particular situation when you decide to retire, please contact us.

Popular Blog Posts of 2018

Before we say goodbye to 2018, let’s take a look back at a few of the year’s most popular blog posts.

most popular posts of 2018

NYSLRS Basics: Final Average Salary

For NYSLRS members, the formulas used to calculate our pension benefits are based on two main factors: service credit and final average salary. While service credit is fairly straightforward — it’s generally the years of service you’ve spent working for a participating employer — what is a final average salary (FAS)?

Will Your Retirement Age Affect Your Benefit?

Some special plans allow NYSLRS members to retire after 20 or 25 years with no pension reduction. However, most of us have a choice to make: wait until the full retirement age specified by their plans or retire as early as age 55. It’s an important decision; those who retire early may receive a permanently reduced pension benefit.

Federal Withholding and Your Pension

Retirees: While your NYSLRS pension is not taxed by New York State, it is still subject to federal income tax. If your tax bill is larger than expected, or if you’ve been getting a hefty tax refund regularly, you may want to adjust the federal withholding from your NYSLRS pension. Follow these step-by-step instructions.

NYSLRS — One Tier at a Time: ERS Tiers 3 & 4

Many Tier 3 and 4 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) are eligible to retire under the same retirement plan, so we often think about them together. According to our most recent numbers, the combined tiers make up nearly 60 percent of ERS members — by far the largest segment. Here is a quick look at the benefits these members may receive before and after retirement.

Age Milestones for Retirement Planning

Even with a defined-benefit plan like you receive through NYSLRS, retirement planning is not a one-time task. Whether you’re reviewing your NYSLRS benefits or other retirement matters (like Medicare coverage or required minimum distributions), there are important considerations at almost every age leading up to retirement — and even in the years that follow.

Retirement Planning Tip: Required Minimum Distributions

Required Minimum DistributionsIf you have tax-deferred retirement savings (such as certain 457(b) plans offered by NYS Deferred Comp), you will eventually have to start withdrawing that money. After you turn 70½, you’ll be subject to a federal law requiring that you withdraw a certain amount from your account each year. If you don’t make the required withdrawals, called Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs), you could face significant penalties.

RMDs are never eligible for rollover into other retirement accounts. You must take out the money and pay the taxes.

Calculating the Distribution

The RMD amount must be calculated annually. It’s based on the account’s balance at the end of the previous calendar year and the life expectancy of you and your beneficiary. Check out AARP’s Required Minimum Distribution Calculator for an easy way to determine your required distributions. Many retirement plan administrators, including the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan, will inform you of your RMD amount, but it’s your responsibility to take the required distribution.

Potential Penalty

If you don’t take the required distribution, or if you withdraw less than the required amount, you may have to pay a 50 percent tax on the amount that was not distributed. (You must report the undistributed amount on your federal tax return and file IRS Form 5329.)

The IRS may waive the penalty if you can show that your failure was due to a “reasonable error” or that you have taken steps to correct the situation. You can find information about requesting a waiver on page 8 of the Form 5329 instructions.

What Accounts Require Minimum Distributions?

Most retirement accounts you’re familiar with require these annual withdrawals:

  • 457(b) plans
  • IRAs (traditional, SEP and SIMPLE)
  • 401(k) plans
  • 403(b) plans
  • Profit-sharing plans
  • Money purchase plans

Since contributions to Roth IRAs have already been taxed, the IRS does not require distributions from Roth IRAs at any age.

As with most things investment-related, a lot depends on your particular circumstances. If you have questions, contact your financial advisor or your plan administrator.

NYSLRS Basics: Special Beneficiary Designations

As a NYSLRS member, it’s important for you to name beneficiaries. When you die, your beneficiaries may be eligible to receive a death benefit. You can choose anyone you wish to receive your death benefit; it does not have to be a family member. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a person. You can name your estate, a charity or a trust, but it helps to know how these special beneficiary designations work.

There are two main types of beneficiaries. A primary beneficiary is someone you choose to receive your benefit if you die. A contingent beneficiary would receive the benefit if the primary beneficiary dies before you. If a beneficiary dies before you, you should update your beneficiary information to ensure that your benefit is distributed according to your wishes. You can name more than one primary or contingent beneficiary.

Retirement Online is the convenient and secure way to update your beneficiaries. If you don’t already have an online account, you can learn more on our website.

Benefit Distribution

If you name more than one primary beneficiary, each will share the benefit equally. You can also have a certain percentage of the benefit paid to each beneficiary. The percentages don’t have to be equal, but they must add up to 100 percent. (For example, John Doe, 50 percent; Jane Doe, 25 percent; and Mary Doe, 25 percent). The same rule applies for multiple contingent beneficiaries.

Special Beneficiary Designations

Here are the rules pertaining to special beneficiary designations:

special beneficiary designations

Trusts

If you have executed a trust agreement or provided for a trust in your will, your trust can be your primary or contingent beneficiary. To name a trust, sign in to Retirement Online or use our Trust with Contingent Beneficiaries form (RS5127-T).  We’ll need a copy of your trust document, which you can mail to NYSLRS.

With this type of designation, the trust is the beneficiary, not the individuals who will receive the trust. If you revoke the trust or it expires, you will want to make new beneficiary designations as soon as possible to ensure benefits are paid according to your wishes.

You should talk to a lawyer if you’d like more information on trust agreements.

Estates

You may name your estate as the primary or contingent beneficiary of your death benefit. If you name your estate as your primary beneficiary, you cannot name a contingent. If a benefit is payable, the executor of your estate will distribute it according to your will.

Entities

You may name any charitable, civic, religious, educational or health-related organization as a primary or contingent beneficiary.

Minor Children

If your beneficiary is under age 18 at the time of your death, your benefit will be paid to the child’s court-appointed guardian. You may also choose a custodian to receive the benefit on the child’s behalf under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). Before making this type of designation, please contact us for more information.

More Information

Please note that some of these beneficiary designations will be subject to a NYSLRS legal review.

For more information, please read our publication “Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary?” You can find your current NYSLRS beneficiaries listed in Retirement Online, or in your Member Annual Statement, which is sent out every summer.

Top 5 Retirement Myths

retirement myths versus facts

Retirement law can be confusing. Sometimes a small misunderstanding can have a big impact on your benefit. That’s why it’s important to correct some common retirement myths. Here are the top five:

Retirement Myth #1

mythMy NYSLRS loan has gone into default, but I’ve already paid taxes on it. That means I no longer need to repay it.

factYou still need to repay your loan. In fact, it continues to accrue interest until you do. And, if you haven’t paid back your loan by the time you retire, your pension amount will be reduced.

Retirement Myth #2

mythI am required to contribute toward my retirement. When I do retire, my benefit will be based on what I contributed.

fact Your required member contributions aren’t a factor in the calculation of your pension. Your pension is based primarily on your service credit and the salary you earn while working for public employers. Your retirement plan and, in most cases, your age at retirement are also factors.

Retirement Myth #3

mythI can’t collect my pension until I start receiving Social Security.

fact You can collect your pension as soon as you meet the eligibility requirements of your retirement plan. Most members can retire as early as age 55, though there may be a permanent reduction in your benefit if you retire before full retirement age (62 or 63 depending on your tier). You should check the eligibility requirements for your plan and tier when you’re planning for retirement.

Retirement Myth #4

mythIf I am vested (have enough service to be eligible for a pension benefit) and no longer working for a public employer, NYSLRS will automatically start paying my pension as soon as I’m eligible.

fact Only you can decide when it’s time to retire. You must file an Application for Service Retirement (RS6037) to begin collecting your pension benefits.

Retirement Myth #5

mythI recently applied for retirement by giving my employer the paperwork.

factGiving your employer your NYSLRS forms does not mean that you have filed for retirement. To receive your NYSLRS pension, you must file your retirement application with the Office of the State Comptroller. Your application, or any form, is “filed with the Comptroller,” when it’s received by our Albany office or one of our consultation sites.

Have a concern that wasn’t covered? Visit our Contact Us page for more answers. If you have account-specific questions, you can also send us a message through our secure email form.

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.

Tier 6 FAS Limits (ERS)

 

 

First, a year of earnings in the FAS period can’t exceed the average of the previous four year’s earnings by more than 10 percent. Anything beyond that will not be included in the pension calculation.

Additionally, several types of payments will not be part of the FAS calculation for ERS Tier 6 members:

  • Lump-sum vacation pay,
  • Wages from more than two employers,
  • Payment for unused sick leave,
  • Payments for working during a vacation,
  • Any payments that cause your annual salary to exceed that of the Governor (currently $179,000),
  • Termination pay,
  • Payments made in anticipation of retirement,
  • Lump-sum payments for deferred compensation and
  • Any payments made for time not worked.

Generally speaking, here’s what an ERS Tier 6 FAS will include: regular salary, holiday pay, overtime pay (regular and noncompensatory) earned in the FAS period and up to one longevity payment per year, if earned in the FAS period.

Overtime Limits

While overtime pay generally is part of an ERS Tier 6 FAS, the amount that can be included is limited. The limit is adjusted for inflation each year based on the change in the Consumer Price Index over the one-year period ending September 30 of the previous year. Under a new law, beginning January 1, 2018, the Tier 6 limit will be updated on a calendar year basis instead of on a fiscal year basis.

The 2018 calendar year overtime limit for Tier 6 members is $16,406.

For more information about the Tier 6 FAS, find your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page, or check out our Final Average Salary and Overtime Limits for Tier 6 pages.