Tag Archives: know your benefits

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 payment 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.

Pop-Up Payment Options

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 bets. 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 (press 2 for members, follow the prompts, then press 5 to request a benefit projection), or you can submit a Request for Estimate form (RS6030).

Retirement Age and Your NYSLRS Pension

For some NYSLRS members, your retirement age matters when it comes to receiving your NYSLRS retirement benefits.

Your pension will be based largely on your years of service and final average salary, but your age at retirement is also a factor. How age plays into the equation depends on your tier and retirement plan.

Members in regular retirement plans can retire as early as age 55, but they may face significant pension reductions if they retire before their full retirement age. The full retirement age for members in most tiers is 62, and it’s 63 for Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6 members and for Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) Tier 6 members who leave public employment before retirement age, but have enough service to receive a pension. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

retirement age

Benefit reductions are prorated by month. The closer you are to your full retirement age when you retire, the less the reduction will be. Here are some examples of how that would work.

  • ERS Tiers 2, 3 and 4, PFRS Tiers 2, 3 (Article 11), 5 and 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 16.5 percent.
  • ERS Tier 5: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 20.83 percent.
  • ERS Tier 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 29.5 percent.

Once you retire with a reduced benefit, the reduction is permanent — it does not end when you reach retirement age.

Retirement Age Exceptions

Tier 1 members can retire at 55 without a benefit reduction. Benefit reductions don’t apply to ERS Tier 2, 3 or 4 members if they retire with 30 years of service. Tier 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System can also retire between 55 and 62 without penalty if they have 30 years of service.

More Information

Understanding how age affects your NYSLRS benefits is crucial to retirement planning. To learn more, please review your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page.


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.