Tag Archives: know your benefits

Countdown to Retirement — Four to Six Months Out

Once you decide to retire and begin preparing, the final months leading up to your retirement date go by quickly. Previously, we discussed the steps to take when you’re eight months away from retirement. As we continue our Countdown to Retirement, let’s take a look at what you should be doing four to six months out.

Six Months: Post-Retirement Budget

At 18 months out, we suggested requesting a NYSLRS retirement estimate. You should have that estimate by now and, with it, a much better idea of what your retirement benefit could be. Now, you can prepare a post-retirement budget and make decisions about your goals and how you want to spend your money in retirement.

We offer worksheets to help you prepare a post-retirement budget on our website. For a more realistic budget, keep track of your current spending for a month or two to get an idea of your expenses. Be sure to factor in periodic expenses, such as car insurance and taxes.

Countdown to Retirement: 4 to 6 months out

Four Months: Proof of Your Birth Date

We will need proof of your date of birth before we can pay you any benefits. You won’t need to send it in until you submit your retirement application, but now is a good time to make sure you have what you need. We’ll accept any of these documents as proof:

  • Birth certificate;
  • Baptismal certificate;
  • Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD-214);
  • New York State driver’s license issued on or after January 1, 2005;
  • Passport; or
  • Naturalization papers.

In most cases, a photocopy is acceptable. If you do send us the original, we will return it to you.

It’s a good idea to look for proof of your birth date sooner rather than later, in case you need to arrange to get a replacement. Also, if you’re thinking about choosing a pension payment option that provides a lifetime benefit to a beneficiary, we will need proof of your beneficiary’s birth date too.

Counting Down

Your planned retirement date is just a few months away. As you approach three months away from retirement, check back for the final post of our Countdown to Retirement series on filing your Application for Service Retirement (RS6037) and other forms. If you have any questions as you prepare for retirement, please contact us.

Becoming Vested

What does it mean to be a vested NYSLRS member?

You become vested after you earn sufficient service credit to be eligible for a pension, even if you leave public employment before retirement. Becoming vested is a crucial milestone in your NYSLRS membership.

When Will I Be Vested?

The amount of service credit you need to be vested depends on your tier. If you’re in Tier 5 or 6, you need ten years of service to be vested. If you’re in another tier (Tier 1, 2, 3 or 4), you’re vested once you earn five years of service credit.

vesting requirements

If you work part-time, it will take you longer to become vested. For example, if you work half-time, you earn six months of credit toward vesting for each year on the job. (For more information, read our recent blog about part-time service credit.)

If you purchase credit for previous public service or military service, that credit can help you become vested.

What You Need to Do

Vesting is automatic. You do not need to file any paperwork to become vested.

If you are vested, you will need to file a retirement application at least 15, but no more than 90, days before you can receive a pension. Most NYSLRS members are eligible to collect a pension as early as age 55, but benefits may be permanently reduced if you retire before you reach your plan’s full retirement age.

Visit our website to learn more about vesting.

Countdown to Retirement — Eight Months Out

Once you decide to retire and begin preparing, the final months leading up to your retirement date go by quickly. Previously, we discussed the steps to take when you’re 12 months away from retirement. As we continue our Countdown to Retirement series, let’s take a look at what you should be doing eight months out.

Eight Months Out: Review Retirement Income

Some experts say that you need 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your standard of living once you stop working. There’s a good chance that your NYSLRS pension alone won’t provide that level of income. With retirement lasting 20 years, 25 years or even longer, it’s important to have a plan in place for the extra income you’ll need.

That’s why, at least eight months before your planned retirement date, you should start reviewing any other income you’ll have available. Some common sources include:

Check out our Straight Talk About Financial Planning for Your Retirement publication for monthly income and expense worksheets to help you assess your retirement finances.
Countdown to Retirement - Eight Months Out

Counting Down

Your planned retirement date is less than a year away. As the day gets closer, check out the rest of our Countdown to Retirement series for posts covering your retirement budget, what we accept as proof of your date of birth, what to do after you’ve filed your Application for Service Retirement (RS6037) and more.

Divorce Affects Other NYSLRS Benefits

signing divorce documents

We’ve written here before about how divorce affects your NYSLRS pension, what a DRO is and why it’s required. However, NYSLRS members have other benefits besides their pensions. Divorce and DROs may affect some of them as well.

Ordinary Death Benefit

As with your pension, a DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of your ordinary death benefit. You should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. We will prepare a custom beneficiary form that complies with the DRO. Also be sure to choose additional beneficiaries for any remainder of the benefit and submit your changes to NYSLRS.

Post-Retirement Ordinary Death Benefit

Most Tier 2, 3, 4 or 5 members of the Employees Retirement System (ERS) are covered by a post-retirement ordinary death benefit. A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of the benefit. You should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. Be sure to contact us to choose additional beneficiaries as allowed by the DRO.

Loans

NYSLRS members who meet eligibility requirements can borrow a certain percentage of their contribution balance. DROs may be written to prohibit members from taking future loans.

Outstanding loan balances at retirement reduce retirees’ pension benefits. Unless a DRO specifically provides that the ex-spouse’s share of the pension be calculated without reference to outstanding loans, the ex-spouse’s portion will also be reduced if a NYSLRS loan is not paid off before retirement.

Refunds

Occasionally, NYSLRS may refund a member’s contributions because of a tier reinstatement, membership withdrawal, membership transfer or excess contributions. If the member is divorced and NYSLRS has a DRO on file, the DRO will determine whether a portion of the refund must go to the ex-spouse. Generally, if the DRO doesn’t mention a contributions refund, the member receives the full amount.

Keeping Your Ex-Spouse as Beneficiary

A divorce, annulment or judicial separation removes a member’s former spouse as beneficiary of certain death benefits and retirement options, except as provided by the divorce judgment or decree, or a DRO. So, if you have gone through a divorce, annulment or judicial separation and you do NOT have a DRO, you must resubmit your beneficiary designation to NYSLRS to retain your former spouse as a beneficiary.

The easiest way to do this is by using Retirement Online, our secure, self-service web application. You can also submit a Designation of Beneficiary form.

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.

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.

Firefighters Deserve A Salute Every Day

Recognizing Firefighters

It’s National Fire Prevention Week this week and, while attention is properly focused on promoting fire prevention, we also think it’s a great time to recognize all the firefighters who are members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS).

Of the 533,415 members in NYSLRS, 32,470 are in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). More than 6,000 of these brave men and women are firefighters.

NYSLRS Firefighters data

NYSLRS Membership and Firefighters

All firefighters working for participating employers are PFRS members. With that membership comes a variety of benefits, including certain death and disability benefits as well as a pension. As firefighters and other PFRS members progress through their careers they become eligible for these benefits. For example, from day one, PFRS members are covered by job-related death and disability benefits. However, with ten years of service credit, most members are also eligible for a non-job-related disability benefit.

In addition, most PFRS employers offer their employees special retirement plans. A special plan lets members retire after completing 20 or 25 years of credited service in specific job titles rather than reaching a certain age. Most firefighters — and, in fact, nearly 80 percent of all PFRS members (25,784) — are enrolled in a set of special 20- and 25-year plans. Whether members need 20 or 25 years depends on their retirement plan.

Firefighters are Heroes

To the members of the New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York and the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs; to the county fire marshals, supervising fire marshals, fire marshals, assistant fire marshals, assistant chief fire marshals and chief fire marshals: Thank you for your service to New York and its citizens. We are grateful for the valuable service you provide all of us.

Certain Payment Options Provide a Lifetime Benefit for a Loved One

When you apply for a NYSLRS pension, you’ll be asked to pick a pension payment option. All options will provide you with a monthly benefit for the rest of your life. With the Single Life Allowance, all payments stop at your death and nothing is paid to a beneficiary.

Infographic describing pension payment options

Providing for a Beneficiary

If you’re married and need to provide for your spouse, or if you have someone else you would like to provide a lifetime pension for after you’re gone, there are payment options that let you do that.  In exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, Joint Allowance options allow a beneficiary to collect all or part of your pension after you die. The amount of the reduction in your pension is based on your life expectancy and the life expectancy of your beneficiary. That means the younger your beneficiary, the deeper the reduction.

You can only choose one beneficiary under a Joint Allowance option, and your beneficiary selection cannot be changed after you retire, regardless of the circumstances. The benefit reduction for Joint Allowance options will continue even if your beneficiary dies before you do.

If we could predict the future, pension choices would be a lot easier. But a Pop-Up payment option is one way to hedge your bet. Like Joint Allowance options, these plans allow you to provide a lifetime payment for a beneficiary after your death. But if your beneficiary dies before you, your future monthly payments would be increased to the amount you would have been receiving had you chosen the Single Life Allowance. (The pop-up only affects future payments. You would not be entitled to any retroactive payments.)

The monthly reduction in your benefit will be greater if you choose a Pop-Up option over a regular Joint Allowance.

Find Out More

There are also options that allow you to leave a monthly payment to more than one beneficiary, and options that leave a benefit for a certain amount of time. Visit our Payment Option Descriptions page for details about all of the available payment options.

For a better idea of how these payments options would work out for you and your beneficiary, you can use our online pension projection calculator. It uses the information you enter to show how much you could expect to receive under each option. Most members who are within five years of retirement eligibility can also request a benefit projection by contacting our Call Center at 1-866-805-0990, or you can submit a Request for Estimate form (RS6030).

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.

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 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.

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 on page 2 of your Member Annual Statement (MAS) or you can check 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 on page 4 of your MAS, in the Salary Information section.
Member Annual Statement example

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 police , SUNY police , State Encon Officers , State 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 the plan information in their MAS.)

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.

Retirement Plan Booklet

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.