Tag Archives: know your benefits

Planning for an Unplanned Retirement

Retirement comes too soon for some people. Poor health, an injury, family situations, layoffs and other unforeseen circumstances could force you into an unplanned retirement.

unplanned retirement

You may already have a plan based on the date you would like to retire, but do you have a backup plan if that date comes a few years earlier than expected?

Know Your Benefits

As a NYSLRS member, you’re entitled to benefits that may help. Most vested members can begin collecting a lifetime pension as early as age 55, though your benefit may be permanently reduced if you retire before full retirement age. (Full retirement age for NYSLRS members is either 62 or 63, depending on your tier. Full retirement age for Social Security benefits depends on your year of birth.)

If you can no longer do your job because of a physical and mental condition, you may be eligible for a Social Security Disability, or a NYSLRS disability benefit if your disability is permanent.

You may also want to look into Workers’ Compensation if you are injured on the job or Unemployment Insurance if you have been laid off from a position.

Other Ways to Plan for the Unexpected

Doing your homework is important. The more you understand the potential benefits available to you, the better you can estimate your income if you are forced to retire early. Unfortunately, the numbers you come up with may not be enough when dealing with an unplanned retirement.

But one potential source of income can make a big difference: retirement savings. Your savings could help you get by until you are eligible to collect your NYSLRS pension or another retirement benefit. If you are not saving for retirement, consider starting now. And if you are saving, consider increasing your savings. It could become a lifeline if the unexpected happens.

New York State employees and some municipal employees can also save for retirement through the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. Ask your employer if you are eligible.

For more information about the benefits offered by your NYSLRS retirement plan, visit our website to read your plan publication.

Membership in a Nutshell

If you’re a new NYSLRS member, or have been part of the Retirement System for years, you’re sure to have at least some questions about your NYSLRS benefits. What is vesting? Final average salary? Maybe you’re wondering what tier you’re in or why that even matters. Whether you’re a firefighter on Long Island or a State worker in Buffalo, you can find answers to many of your questions in Membership in a Nutshell. This publication is about the basics. It defines terms and explains concepts that are common to all NYSLRS retirement plans. Consider it essential reading.
Membership in a Nutshell

What’s Inside Membership in a Nutshell?

Membership in a Nutshell provides a brief description of the Retirement System, which comprises the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). It also explains the Comptroller’s role as administrator of the System.

That’s followed by a list of some of the benefits provided to members, including:

  • Service Retirement Benefits (Pensions)
  • Disability Benefits
  • Death Benefits
  • Vesting of Benefits
  • Loans for Contributing Members

A larger section is dedicated to the details of membership, such as tier status, membership contributions, earning service credit and becoming vested.

Services We Offer

Perhaps the most helpful section describes Services We Offer Members. We want to provide you with the information you’ll need to plan for your retirement and make critical decisions about your future.

Retirement Online is a safe and convenient way to conduct business with NYSLRS, and to access benefit information such as your tier, retirement plan, service credit and beneficiaries. Register today if you don’t already have an account.

As you get closer to retirement, you can request an estimate of your pension from NYSLRS based on our records of your salary and years of service. We also offer one-on-one consultations with NYSLRS information representatives who can explain your benefits, answer your questions and help you feel confident about making your retirement decision.

Your Obligations

As a member, it’s important that you keep your information with NYSLRS up to date. This section discusses the different kinds of information, such as your mailing address and beneficiaries, that you should keep current. Much of this information can be updated using Retirement Online, or you can contact us.

More Information

There’s more information in this publication, but we’ll let you find it for yourself. We’ll also be featuring other publications in future blogs, including such favorites as:

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.

Countdown to Retirement — Final Three Months

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 four to six months away from retirement. As we wrap up our Countdown to Retirement, let’s take a look at what you should be doing in the final three months.

Final Three Months: Filing for Retirement

You need to file an Application for Service Retirement (RS6037) with us 15–90 days before your retirement date. You can download the form from our website or pick up a physical copy at one of our consultation sites. Make sure to fill out the application completely and have it notarized.

If you send the form by “Certified Mail — Return Receipt Requested,” we will consider your application filed on the date it was mailed. Please don’t give your application to your employer; send it directly to NYSLRS.

Next Steps

Once we receive your application, we’ll mail you a confirmation letter. If you’ve received an estimate from us within the past 18 months, we will include three forms with the letter:

  • Use the W-4P form to decide how much you want withheld from your pension benefit for federal taxes.
  • Use the Direct Deposit Enrollment Application (RS6370) to receive your pension benefit payments electronically, right in your bank account.
  • Use the option election form to choose how you want your pension benefit paid and whether you would like to leave a lifetime pension to a beneficiary when you die.

If you haven’t received an estimate, we will just send you the W-4P and Direct Deposit Enrollment Application forms. We will begin processing your estimate, and once it’s complete, we will send it to you along with an option election form.

final three months

Choosing Your Pension Payment Option

Select a payment option based on your most recent estimate. All of the options provide a monthly benefit for life, and some provide payments to a designated beneficiary when you die. You must file this form by the last day of the month in which you retire (unless otherwise notified).

Make Sure You’re Prepared

As your retirement date draws near, think about scheduling an appointment at one of our consultation sites. A consultation is not required, but our information representatives can answer any questions you have, help you complete the paperwork and notarize your retirement application. You can also contact us if you have questions.

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.