Tag Archives: members

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.

Taxes and Your NYSLRS Pension

Tax season is coming.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will begin accepting tax returns later this month. In late January, NYSLRS will mail tax information to retirees (and some members and beneficiaries) so they can file their taxes.

1099-Rs

NYSLRS pensions are not subject to New York State income taxes, but they are subject to federal taxes. By January 31, we’ll mail 1099-R tax forms to nearly half a million retirees and beneficiaries. We also mail 1099-Rs to beneficiaries who received taxable income from NYSLRS in 2018, members who have taken taxable NYSLRS loans or have defaulted on their loans, and those who ended their membership and withdrew their contributions in 2018.

A 1099-R shows:

  • The total benefit paid to you in a calendar year.
  • The taxable amount of your benefit.
  • The amount of taxes withheld from your benefit.

If you don’t get your 1099-R by the second week of February, you can request a reprint. This year, reprints will be available for calendar years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

1099-R Interactive Tutorial

1099-r tax form tutorial screenshot

Understanding your 1099-R Tutorial

If you have questions about the information on the form, we feature an interactive 1099-R tutorial on our website. It walks you through a sample 1099-R and offers a short explanation of specific boxes on the form.

Changing Your Federal Tax Withholdings

Because federal tax law was revised for 2018, you may discover that you had too little or too much withheld. You can change your federal tax withholding at any time by sending us a W-4P form. (A handy tutorial about the W-4P  walks you through the steps on filling it out.)

W4-P Tax form tutorial screenshot

Understanding your W-4P Form Tutorial

We offer a federal tax withholding calculator. Enter a marital status and a number of exemptions into the calculator to see how much we would withhold based on current tax tables.

For more information, please visit the Taxes and Your Pension page on our website.

Countdown To Retirement — 12 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 18 months away from retirement. As we continue our Countdown to Retirement series, let’s take a look at what you should be doing 12 months out.

12 Months Out

Domestic Relations Order

Pensions earned during a marriage are considered marital property. So, if you divorce, you may need to split your retirement benefit with your ex-spouse. If you agreed to such a division, or if a court ordered you to share a portion of your pension benefits with your ex-spouse, now is the time to make sure NYSLRS has a valid domestic relations order (DRO) on file:

If you have a DRO, send it to our Matrimonial Bureau, which will review it for consistency with New York State law. If your DRO isn’t complete, visit our website for a NYSLRS-developed DRO template and tips to help the review process move more quickly. We’ll need certified photocopies of the final DRO and your judgement of divorce, before we can distribute any pension benefits to an ex-spouse.

This process can take some time, which is why you want to begin 12 months before you retire.

If you have questions about DROs, you can review our Guide to Domestic Relations Orders.

Review your health insurance coverage

NYSLRS doesn’t administer health insurance benefits, but they’re an important part of a financially secure retirement. Check with your health benefits administrator to determine what coverage you’re eligible for once you retire. Now is the time to investigate private health insurance plans if you’re not eligible for post-retirement coverage or if you need to supplement it. If you are a New York State employee, you may want to review the Planning for Retirement guide from the Department of Civil Service.

countdown to retirement - 12 months out

Counting Down

Your planned retirement date is just a year away. As it gets closer, check out the rest of our Countdown to Retirement series for steps to take eight months, four to six months and one to three months before your retirement date. If you have any questions, please contact us.

A Good Plan Can Ease Transition to Retirement

When people talk about retirement planning, they’re usually talking about money. But there is another aspect that people often forget. What will you do with all that newfound free time?

Sure, after decades of hard work, thoughts of sleeping late and taking it easy seem pretty good. But retirement is a big transition, and many retirees don’t consider its potential psychological consequences.

steps to ease transition to retirement

Create a Plan and Schedule

While you may have some complaints about your job, it is an important part of your life. It helps define who you are and can give you a sense of accomplishment. It provides structure, mental stimulation and social interaction. Leaving the workforce creates a big void, and watching daytime TV or frequent trips to the grocery store may not be enough to fill that void. Empty or aimless hours can lead to boredom, disenchantment and even depression.

You may have a long list of things to do, places to go, books to read, but it won’t mean much if you don’t act. To successfully manage your time, you’ll need to actively plan and create a schedule. Set down how you will spend each day of the week, blocking out time for chores, social engagements, hobbies and exercise. Sticking to a schedule will give your days structure and give you a sense of purpose.

Stay Active and Engaged

For most people, staying busy and remaining socially engaged are essential to a satisfying retirement. That’s why some retirees go back to work full-time, while others opt for part-time or seasonal jobs.

But a retirement job doesn’t necessary mean continuing to do the same old thing. Retirement is an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, something fun and challenging.

Hopefully, you’ve planned your retirement so you won’t need to work to meet basic needs, so your retirement gig won’t have to pay a lot. In fact, maybe the job for you is one that doesn’t pay at all, at least monetarily. There are countless organizations looking for volunteers, so it shouldn’t be hard to find opportunities that match your skills and interests.

Volunteering just a few hours a week will give you something to look forward to and keep you connected to the outside world. And studies show that it can improve both your mental and physical well-being.

Exercise Your Body and Brain

Regular exercise not only keeps you physically fit, it also increases your sense of well-being. Whatever you do to get exercise, make it part of your regular schedule. Consider taking a fitness class at a local gym, which also adds a social element to your workout. (And you can up the ante by trying something new, like a martial arts class.)

Don’t forget to exercise your brain. A course or workshop can help you discover a new side to yourself (the painter, the mystery writer, the master of topiary). You may want to enroll in classes at a local community college or even return to school full-time.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s part of a plan – a plan for a happier retirement.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

NYSLRS paid $12.03 billion in benefits to 470,596 retirees and beneficiaries during the state fiscal year that ended on March 31. Seventy-five percent of the cost of those benefits came from returns on investments of the New York State Common Retirement Fund (the Fund).

The Fund was valued at $207.4 billion at the end of the fiscal year. The average return on Fund investments was 11.35 percent for the year, exceeding the long-term expected return rate of 7 percent.

a look at NYSLRS retirement fund, benefits and membership

 

NYSLRS Membership

But NYSLRS is more than just the pension fund. The system had 652,030 members as of March 31, including county workers, professional firefighters and State troopers. Here are some facts about them:

  • NYSLRS’ 533,415 active members (that is, members still on a public payroll) work for more than 3,000 public employers statewide.
  • One-third of those active members work for New York State. The rest work for counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts and public authorities.
  • Nearly 94 percent of active members are in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS). The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) accounts for 6 percent of NYSLRS membership.

More than one-third of all NYSLRS members are in Tier 6. (But two-thirds of PFRS members are in Tier 2.)

NYSLRS Retirees and Beneficiaries

The average pension for an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) retiree was $23,680; the average for a Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) was $50,922. But NYSLRS pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $9.8 billion worth of benefits stayed in the State. And that money supported local businesses, paid local taxes and generated economic development statewide.

An Award-Winning Publication

Extensive information about NYSLRS members and retirees, the Fund, and Fund investments can be found in the 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). NYSLRS received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2017 CAFR. The Certificate of Achievement is a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports. NYSLRS has won this award for the last 14 years.

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.

Earning NYSLRS Service Credit as a School Employee

In an earlier post, we talked about how full-time and part-time service credit works for NYSLRS members. We mentioned how earning NYSLRS service credit for workers in an educational setting can be a little different.
There are non-teachers earning NYSLRS service credit.

While most New York teachers and administrators are in the New York State Teacher’s retirement system, other school employees are members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). In fact, 1 out of 5 NYSLRS members works for a school district. Most work according to the school year, which could be only 10 or 11 months long. So how do we determine service credit for them?

Earning NYSLRS Service Credit When You Work Full-Time

If you’re a school employee who works full-time, you receive one year of service per school year. Generally, a full-time 10-month school year requires at least 180 days worked in any school year. Depending on your employer, a full academic year can range from 170 to 200 days.

Earning NYSLRS Service Credit When You Work Part-Time

Part-time school employees earn service credit based on the number of days they work. The number of hours in a full-time day is set by your employer (it’s between six and eight hours). If you don’t work full-time, your employer converts the number of hours you worked into the equivalent number of full-time days. Your employer reports that number to us, and your days worked are plugged into the formulas below.

Regardless of whether you work full- or part-time, depending on the length of your school year, your service is credited in the following ways:

For all BOCES and school district employees, as well as
teachers working at New York State schools for the deaf and blind

Number of days works ÷ 180 days

For college employees

Number of days worked ÷ 170 days

For institutional teachers

Number of days worked ÷ 200 days

Infographic showing how to calculate part-time service credit for school employees

Check Your Member Annual Statement

Your Member Annual Statement is provided to you every summer. For most members, your statement will show how much service credit you’ve earned for the past fiscal year (April 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018). It will also show your total service credit as of March 31, 2018. Make sure to look it over to see how much service credit you’ve earned over your career. You can also check your Retirement Online account to find your service credit totals.

For more information on service credit, read our booklet, Service Credit for Tiers 2 through 6 (VO1854), or your own retirement plan publication.

Common Retirement Fund Earns Strong Investment Returns

The New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) holds retirement investments in trust for more than 1 million New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) members. In the State fiscal year ending March 31, 2018, it generated strong investment returns of 11.35 percent. The Fund ended the year with an audited value of $207.4 billion.

New York State Common Retirement Fund Value

Strong Investment Returns

Independent studies regularly confirm the financial soundness of NYSLRS. Just this year, a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts ranked NYSLRS among the best-funded state retirement systems. In fact, a new State fiscal year 2018 report from our actuary ranks NYSLRS at 98 percent funded, which puts us well above the national average of 66 percent funded.

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the Fund, credits the growth to a long term, diversified investment strategy and solid market growth through most of the fiscal year, despite a volatile fourth quarter

Investing for Retirement Security

The Fund is the country’s third-largest public pension fund. NYSLRS provides retirement security to more than 1 million active state and local government employees, retirees and their beneficiaries. During the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2018, NYSLRS paid out $11.45 billion in retirement and death benefits. More than $9.8 billion of that went to residents of New York State, which generated local spending and provided economic support to New York businesses and communities.

Investing Responsibly

While successfully providing financial security for New York’s government workers and retirees, Comptroller DiNapoli’s has also put investment dollars to work helping New York businesses grow and addressing the long-term threat of climate change.

The In-State Private Equity Program invests in New York-based business ventures, companies and other programs that spur economic growth and create and retain jobs. Recently, Comptroller DiNapoli raised the program’s total commitments to $1.6 billion. Since 2000, it has returned $863 million on $583 million invested in 139 transactions.

And recently, the Asset Owners Disclosure Project once again named the Fund as the number one U.S. pension fund — and the third globally — for its work to address climate risk. The Fund’s portfolio includes $7 billion dedicated to sustainable investments, including $4 billion in a low emissions index that shifts stock holdings away from the biggest carbon emitters.

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. As of State fiscal year end 2018, 1,574 members had memberships in both ERS and PFRS.

How Does Dual Membership Work?

dual membership in NYSLRSLet’s say you work as a fire fighter, 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 fire fighter, 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 salary (FAS) you earned as a bus driver and your PFRS pension using the FAS from your time as a fire fighter.

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 any questions about dual membership, or to discuss your particular situation when you decide to retire, please contact us.