Tag Archives: members

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 emergency continues, police and healthcare professionals are reporting an increase in domestic violence. With many of our one million NYSLRS members and retirees now being asked to stay home, we want to help keep you safe. If you are in an abusive relationship, or fear your situation may turn violent, there is help.

domestic violence

You don’t have to stay in a dangerous environment. Safe shelter is available. 

Here are some resources:

Because abuse victims are often closely watched by their abuser, New York State has launched a new texting program and confidential service to help New Yorkers experiencing domestic violence.

Text 844-997-2121 or visit www.opdv.ny.gov to confidentially chat with a professional at any time of day or night.

New York State Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-942-6906
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “Got5” to 741-741.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-799-7233
  • TTY 1-800-787-3224 (for the deaf or hard of hearing)
  • If it is not safe for you to call, you can live chat online at thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat.
  • Or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.

If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.

How Tier 6 Contribution Rates Can Change

Most members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) contribute a percentage of their earnings toward their pensions. For Tier 6 members, that percentage, or contribution rate, can vary from year to year. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

Tier 6 contribution rate

When Tier 6 Contribution Rates are Determined

Tier 6 contribution rates are calculated annually. New rates become effective each year on April 1, the beginning of the State’s fiscal year. Once your contribution rate is set for a fiscal year, it will not change for the rest of that fiscal year. However, depending on your earnings, it may change the following year.

How Your Tier 6 Contribution Rate is Calculated

As a Tier 6 member, your contribution rate is based on how much you earn. Changes in your earnings may result in changes to your contribution rate.

For the first three years as a NYSLRS member, your contribution rate is based on an estimated annual wage we receive from your employer. After three years, the rate is based on what you actually earned two years prior. The minimum contribution rate is 3 percent of your earnings, and the maximum is 6 percent.

See our Member Contributions page for additional information.

Learn More

The percentage you contribute toward your pension while you work does not affect the pension amount you may receive in retirement. Your NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit based on your retirement plan, years of service credit and final average salary. You can learn more about your pension by reading your plan booklet on our Publications page. For help finding the right plan book, read our blog post, Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning. For more information about ERS Tier 6 memberships, read our blog post, What to Know About ERS Tier 6.

Power of Attorney

We continue to receive reports of NYSLRS members who have become ill, or seriously ill, as a result of COVID-19. It is vitally important that these members, and their loved ones, be aware of the provisions contained in a NYSLRS Power of Attorney.

NYSLRS provides a Special Durable Power of Attorney form that is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements. It can be filed with NYSLRS at any time so the designated agent can act immediately in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness. There’s no need to wait until something happens to file a NYSLRS POA form.

father and son discuss power of attorney

A power of attorney (POA) allows a person to designate someone else to act on their behalf. The designated person, referred to as an “agent,” could be a spouse, another family member or a trusted friend.

A person can designate more than one person as an agent, and can decide if those agents act together or separately. In addition to an agent or agents, a person may designate “successor agents” to act on an individual’s behalf if the person designated as the “primary” agent is unable or unwilling to serve. Successor agents can be named using the “Modifications” section (g) of the POA.

Why is a NYSLRS POA Important?

Normally, NYSLRS won’t release benefit information to anyone without your permission — even to a spouse. With a POA on file, we would be able to discuss your benefits and conduct business with the agent you appointed. This could be especially important now as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic. If you suddenly become ill and are unable to contact us personally, your agent would be able to take care of your retirement needs for you.

What Can Agents Do?

Agents can file applications and forms, such as service or disability retirement applications. They can get account-specific benefit information, request copies of retirement documents, update addresses or phone numbers or take out loans. For retirees, agents can change the amount withheld from pensions for taxes.

It’s important to note that the NYSLRS POA form only covers Retirement System transactions. It does not authorize an agent to make health care decisions or changes to a Deferred Compensation plan.

Special Authority

If you use the NYSLRS POA form, and your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they have “self-gifting authority.” That means they can direct deposit money into a joint bank account you have with them, designate themselves as a beneficiary to your pension benefits, and/or choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death.

If your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they do not automatically have “self-gifting” authority, which means they cannot name themselves as a beneficiary or direct deposit money into a joint bank account with their name on it. If you wish to give an agent(s) or successor agent(s) ”self-gifting” authority, you should specifically indicate so in section (g) “Modifications” of the POA. In that section you should identify your agent(s) or successor agent(s) by name and state the specific authority granted to them.

Please note only biological or legally adopted children are considered your “child” for NYSLRS POA purposes. All other children must be granted specific authority in section (g) “Modifications.”

How to Submit a NYSLRS POA Form

If your decision to submit a NYSLRS POA is related to the COVID-19 emergency, please note that on the form in section (g) “Modifications.” If you file a retirement application, consider submitting a NYSLRS POA with your application.

You can scan and email a copy of your POA to NYSLRS using the secure email form on our website.

You can also mail your POA (original or photocopy). You may wish to mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested, so that you know when NYSLRS receives it. The address is:

NYSLRS
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001.

Find Out More

A power of attorney is a powerful document. Once you appoint someone, that person may act on your behalf with or without your consent. We strongly urge you to consult an attorney before you execute this document.

Please read the Power of Attorney page on our website for additional information.

Retirement Online Makes Applying for Retirement Fast, Easy

During this challenging time, NYSLRS staff continues to work hard to serve you, which includes processing retirement applications. If you are eligible and planning to retire, you don’t need to delay filing. And, if you become ill with COVID-19, you may want to file for retirement to protect your loved ones.

Regardless of your reason for retiring, you can now file for a service retirement benefit using Retirement Online. This new feature makes applying for retirement faster and easier than ever before. If you don’t already have an account, register today.

filing a retirement application

File for a Service Retirement Online

After signing in to your Retirement Online account, scroll down to the ‘My Account Summary.’ On the right, under the heading ‘I want to…,’ click the green “Apply for Retirement” button.

From there, you’ll go through a series of screens where you’ll be able to:

A big advantage of filing for retirement online is that you do not have to get anything notarized.

After you click the “Submit” button, it is important that you do not close your browser until you receive a confirmation message that your retirement application has been successfully submitted.

This help guide offers step-by-step instructions.

Notarized Signatures

If you decide to file your application by mail, you will have to have your signature notarized on the application and on the payment option election form.

You can have forms notarized using audio-video technology, which allows a notary to witness a signature remotely. You can find more information about the virtual notary process on the New York Secretary of State website.

If you are in quarantine and unable to use a virtual notary, you can submit a signed form that is not notarized. You’ll need to include a letter to NYSLRS to explain that you were under quarantine when the form was signed, and submit notarized forms once the quarantine is lifted.

Filing for Service Retirement by Mail

You can still print an Application for Service Retirement and pension payment option election form and mail them to NYSLRS. If you mail the application, we recommend “certified mail, return receipt requested.” When we receive the form, the postmark date will serve as the filing date.

If you use regular mail, the filing date will be the date we receive it. If you die between the time you mail it and the time we receive it, a legible postmark will serve as the date of filing. (If you mail it from a post office, you can ask for a hand cancellation, which may help ensure the postmark is legible.)

If you plan to mail your application, you may want to read our blog post, Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement.

Disability Retirement Benefit

If you become seriously ill, you may wish to file for a disability retirement benefit. That way, if you were to die before your retirement date, your beneficiary may still be eligible for a continuing pension, rather than a one-time, in-service death benefit. You may apply for a disability retirement at the same time you apply for a service retirement — there is no 15 day waiting period when filing for disability retirement.

For information about applying for a disability retirement benefit as a result of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, please read the Filing for Retirement Benefits During the COVID-19 Emergency blog post or visit our Disability Retirement Benefits page.

For More Details, Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

Your service and disability retirement benefits and death benefits are based on your tier, plan, service credit, and other factors. For details about your available benefits, please read your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page, or you can call our Contact Center at 866-805-0990 if you have questions.

Managing Your NYSLRS Loan Payment

During this time of economic uncertainty, you may be considering how you can lower your NYSLRS loan payment. We understand your concerns and want to provide you with information that can help.

loan payments

How to Lower Your Loan Payment

You may be able to lower your payment amount as long as you still pay the minimum amount required to repay your loan. There are two ways to request a lower loan payment:

  • Manage Your Loan Payment with Retirement Online
    Once you sign in to your account, go to the My Account Summary section and click “Manage My Loans.” You’ll be able to check your payoff balance and minimum payment (payroll deduction) amount as well as change your payment amount.
  •  
  • Send a Loan Payment Change Form
    Fill out our Loan Payment Change form (RS5521) and send it to:
    • NYSLRS
      110 State Street
      Albany, NY 12244

NYSLRS Loan Payments are Set by Law

Loan payments must be paid:

  • At least quarterly (NYSLRS will calculate your minimum payment when you take a loan); and
  • In a sufficient enough amount to repay the loan within five years from the date it was issued.

These are requirements established by both NYS Retirement & Social Security Law (RSSL) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If you are on payroll, your loan will be repaid through payroll deductions.

Can Loan Payments be Deferred?

In certain instances, you may be eligible for a deferment of your loan payment.

If you are on an authorized leave of absence with your employer, the IRS allows for the suspension of loan payments for up to one year from the date your leave began or until you return to the payroll (whichever occurs first). To receive this deferment, your employer must send us a fax (518-486-9877) on their letterhead that indicates the date your leave began and when they expect it will end.

It’s important to note that if you defer your loan payments during an authorized leave of absence, your payments will need to be recalculated and increased upon your return. This will ensure your loan will be paid off within the five-year period.

Active military personnel may also be able to defer their loan payments. The five-year repayment period for these members can be extended, however your loan balance will continue to accrue interest and you must resume payments once you end active duty. Visit our Loans page for more information.

What Happens If You Go Off Payroll?

If you go off payroll, to avoid your loan going into default, you must make minimum payments at least quarterly and repay the loan within five years. To avoid a default, contact us as soon as you leave public employment, so we can tell you the exact amount you need to pay. If you are in danger of defaulting on your loan, we will notify you. Retirement Online is the easiest way to make loan payments if you are off payroll. Read the Make Lump Sum Payments information on our Loans page for details.

Filing for Retirement Benefits During the COVID-19 Emergency

The unfortunate reality of the COVID-19 emergency is that some NYSLRS members may become seriously ill and some may die from the disease. That is why it is vitally important that members understand how to apply for retirement benefits, if they need to take that step.

NYSLRS members who become seriously ill from COVID-19 may wish to file for a disability retirement benefit so their beneficiary may be eligible for a continuing pension, rather than a one-time in-service death benefit, if the member dies. 

These members, or their employer on their behalf, need to file the disability retirement application that is appropriate for them according to their retirement plan.

filing for disability retirement benefits during the COVID-19 emergency

Please visit our Disability Benefits page and select “Find Your Application” to help you find the right application. Additionally, the member,  or the member’s spouse, should file a pension payment option election form to identify a beneficiary to receive the continuing benefit. An option election form cannot be filed by the employer. A continuing benefit cannot be paid to a beneficiary unless we receive an option election form.

Applications and option election forms can be emailed directly to NYSLRS’ Disability Processing Unit. If the member dies after applying, the disability retirement application would be effective upon death. If the member recovers, he or she would be allowed to withdraw the disability retirement application. 

Eligible members may also file for a service retirement.  However, a service retirement cannot be canceled if your retirement date has passed. You can file a disability and a service retirement application at the same time. Service retirements can be filed electronically using Retirement Online.

Please call our Contact Center at 866-805-0990 if you have questions.

tax

Taxes and Your NYSLRS Pension

Tax season is here again.

In late January, NYSLRS mailed 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 or local income taxes, but in most cases they are subject to federal taxes. In January, we mailed 1099-R tax forms to almost 500,000 retirees who receive taxable benefits. We also mailed 1099-Rs to beneficiaries who received taxable income from NYSLRS in 2019, members who have taken taxable NYSLRS loans or have defaulted on their loans, and those who ended their membership and withdrew their contributions in 2019.

tax info - 1099-R tutorial

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 didn’t get your 1099-R, you can request a reprint. This year, reprints will be available for calendar years 2017, 2018 and 2019. Your 1099-R will be mailed to the address we have on file for you. Sign in to Retirement Online to check or update your mailing address before requesting a reprint.

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

If you need to make changes to your federal withholding, you can send us a W-4P form at any time. You can use this form to change your withholding status, increase or decrease the number of your exemptions, or request that an additional amount be withheld.

You can use our federal tax withholding calculator to see how these changes would affect your withholding.

Please note: If you change your withholding, it may take a few months before the changes are reflected in your pension payments. You can look up your current payment breakdown, including tax withholding, using Retirement Online.

ERS Tier 6

ERS Tier 6 Member Milestones

As an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6 member, your years of service are critical to your benefits. As time goes by, and you earn service credit, you’ll reach a number of career milestones. These milestones are points where you become eligible for certain benefits or your existing benefits improve. Understanding these milestones will help you better plan your career and retirement.

In ERS Tier 6, you reach your first milestone on your first day of membership. This milestone covers you for certain job-related death and disability benefits. (You can learn more about them in your Tier 6 retirement plan booklet.)

ERS Tier 6

10 & 20 Years Make a Big Difference

For all NYSLRS members, there is one critical milestone: becoming vested. Being vested means that you have earned the right to a pension, even if you leave public employment before retirement age. ERS Tier 6 members become vested after they earn 10 years of service credit.

For most ERS Tier 6 members, another big milestone is the 20-year mark, when your retirement benefit improves significantly. If you retire with less than 20 years of service, you earn 1.66 percent of your final average salary (FAS) for each year of service. At 20 years, you receive 35% of your FAS. After 20 years, you’ll earn an additional 2 percent of your FAS for each year of service beyond 20.

ERS Tier 6 Special Plans

For ERS Tier 6 members in special plans, such as corrections officers, many of the milestones are the same. For example, you will become vested with 10 years of service credit.

But there are also major differences. Most importantly, correction officers in the special 25-year plan can retire after 25 years regardless of age. You can find more information in your retirement plan booklet.

Public Employees Value Their Retirement Benefits

A recent survey gauged how important retirement benefits are to state and local government workers, and the crucial role that pensions and other benefits play in recruiting and retaining workers.

In 2015, more than 19 million Americans worked for state or local governments, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Retirement benefits, including defined benefit and defined contribution plans, were available to most of those workers.

Last year, the National Institute on Retirement Security commissioned a survey of more than 1,100 public sector employees. Teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public workers were asked questions on a variety of work-related subjects, from job satisfaction to health care benefits. The majority of public workers surveyed (86 percent) cited retirement benefits as a major reason they stay in their jobs.

retirement benefits

Defined Benefit vs. Defined Contribution

An overwhelming number (94 percent) of government employees surveyed said pensions help attract and retain workers. The same percentage had a favorable view of defined benefit pension plans.

As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit plan, also known as a traditional pension plan. Your pension is a lifetime benefit based on years of service and earnings. It is not based on your individual contributions to the Retirement System.

With defined contributions plans, such as 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, the employer, employee or both make contributions to an individual retirement account. The money in the account is invested, and the amount the employee has at retirement is based on investment returns. A market downturn can affect the value of the benefit and employees risk outliving their money.

When Retirement Benefits Get Reduced

In an effort to cut costs, some state and local governments have replaced defined benefit plans with defined contribution plans. But these moves have had unexpected consequences.

The Institute’s study cites the experience of Palm Beach, Florida, which gutted its defined benefit plan. The town soon realized that it was spending large sums to recruit and train new police officers, only to see them move to nearby communities with better benefits. The town reconsidered and improved its pension plan.

Then there’s the case of West Virginia, where officials found that switching to a defined contribution plan for teachers actually cost more money. Because the traditional pension plan stopped receiving contributions from new teachers and their employers, it became harder for the state to meet its pension obligations. After 14 years, the state went back to offering a defined benefit plan to all new teachers. Teachers already in the 401(k)-style plan were allowed to switch to the traditional plan, and 79 percent made the switch. State officials project that the return to a defined benefit system will save them $1.2 billion in the first 30 years.

Meanwhile, Alaska is still struggling with its decision to drop its defined benefit plan. A report by the Alaska Department of Public Safety cited “the inability to provide a defined benefits retirement system” as a factor in the “critically low staffing levels” for Alaska state troopers.

How to Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

In an earlier blog, we explained how to locate your retirement plan booklet. Your retirement plan booklet is an essential resource that you should consult throughout your career. It will help you in planning for your retirement and guide you when your retirement date draws near. Today we discuss what information you’ll find in that booklet and what it means.

retirement plan booklet

About Your Membership

This section has information about your membership and tier status. Look here to find out if your plan requires contributions toward retirement, when you will be eligible for a retirement benefit, and how to withdraw your membership.

Service Credit

Service credit is one of the main factors in determining how much your pension will be. If you work full-time for the State or a participating municipal employer for 12 months, you’ll earn a year of service credit. If you work part-time, your service credit is prorated.

You’ll also find information about how your service credit is calculated, how to purchase credit for previous public employment and military service, how leaves of absence affect service credit, and how sick leave can be used for extra service credit at retirement.

Final Average Salary

Final average salary (FAS) is another major factor in determining the amount of your pension. Your FAS is your highest average earnings during a period of consecutive years. This can be three or five years, depending on your tier.

This section describes what types of payments are used in calculating your FAS and any limitations that may apply.

Service Retirement Benefits

This section describes your retirement eligibility and how your benefit is calculated. If you have questions about how much your pension will be, this is an important section of your retirement plan booklet to read through.

Choosing a Pension Payment Option

There are several ways you can collect your pension. Some payment options, in exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, will allow you to provide for your spouse or other beneficiary after you die. When reading through this section, consider each payment option carefully, as you’ll only have a limited time to change it after you retire.

Items That May Affect Your Pension

This section describes different factors that can change the amount of your pension. For example, if you retire with an outstanding loan, your pension will be permanently reduced. Also, if you get a divorce, your ex-spouse may be entitled to a portion of your benefit.

A Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), on the other hand, could increase your benefit once you become eligible.

Vested Retirement Benefits

If you leave public employment before retirement age, but have met the minimum service requirement to receive a pension, you can apply for a vested retirement benefit when you become eligible.

Disability and Death Benefits

Your NYSLRS benefits include more than a pension. If you are no longer able to perform your job because of a medical condition, you may be eligible for a disability retirement. If you die before retirement, your survivors may be eligible for a death benefit.

Receiving Your Benefits

Before you can receive a retirement benefit, you must file the appropriate form with the Office of the State Comptroller. Here you’ll learn where to find the form and what deadlines apply.

Where to Find Your Retirement Plan Booklet

Look for your retirement plan booklet on the Publications page on our website.