Tag Archives: members

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.

Computer System Upgrades This Spring

From April 19 through mid-May, NYSLRS will conduct a series of computer system upgrades to improve the services available to our customers.

Throughout the upgrade period, you will be able to conduct business with NYSLRS by email, mail and phone, but not through Retirement Online.
system upgrades

  • If you need to apply for a loan during the upgrade period, you can fill out a loan application and mail it to our office. Visit our Loans page for links to the applications and more information.
  • If you need to update your beneficiaries, fill out this form. If you mail it to us “Certified Mail — Return Receipt Requested,” we will consider it as having been filed on the date it was mailed. Your beneficiaries will be updated in our system shortly after the upgrade is completed.
  • We will continue to process requests for income verification letters promptly.
  • Your monthly pension payments will not be affected.

For the latest information about the upgrade, please visit our Contact Us page. If you have any questions, please contact our Call Center at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, NY area), or email them using our secure email form.

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.

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.