The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) covers nearly 32,000 police officers and firefighters across New York State. As a PFRS member, you’ll pass a series of important milestones throughout your career. Knowing and understanding these milestones will help you better plan for your financial future.
Some milestones are common to most PFRS members; others are shared by members in a particular tier or retirement plan. For example, your plan determines when you would be eligible to apply for a non-job-related disability benefit.
A recent amendment to Retirement law changed a milestone for some members. As of April 9, 2022, Tier 5 and 6 members are now vested after earning five years of service credit. Previously, members in these tiers needed ten years of service to become vested. Being vested means you are entitled to a NYSLRS pension, even if you leave public employment before retirement age.
Member Milestones to Remember
Most PFRS members are in special plans that allow them to retire with full benefits, regardless of age, after 20 or 25 years of service. If you are in a special plan, only certain job titles would give you creditable service toward a 20- or 25-year milestone. For example, if you are in the State Police plan, service with a city police department would be creditable, but service as a sheriff’s deputy or corrections officer would not be.
PFRS members in regular plans can retire as early as age 55, but may face a benefit reduction if they retire before their full retirement age.
Your specific milestones, along with your pension calculation, are determined by your retirement plan, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the details of your plan. You can find information about your milestones in your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page. Not sure which retirement booklet is yours? Your retirement plan is listed in your Retirement Online account or you can ask your employer. You can also read our recent blog post for tips on finding your plan booklet.
Whether you’re a new member or have been part of the Retirement System for years, you’re sure to have questions about your NYSLRS membership. What is vesting? Final average earnings? Maybe you’re wondering what tier you’re in or why that even matters. While NYSLRS administers many different retirement plans, the core concepts of a NYSLRS membership remain the same. Here are the basics.
Four Things to Understand About Your NYSLRS Membership
When learning about your NYSLRS benefits, you should become familiar with these four basic concepts:
Tier. Your tier is based on the date you joined NYSLRS and helps determine the benefits available to you. If you’re a new NYSLRS member, you’re likely in Tier 6. Tier 6 members joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012.
Service Credit. You earn a year of service credit for each year you work for a participating NYSLRS employer. Part-time work is prorated. Your total service credit at retirement is a major factor in determining the amount of your pension.
Vesting. You become vested after you earn five years of service credit. It’s a significant milestone to reach because once you become vested, you’ll be eligible for a NYSLRS pension when you reach retirement age, even if you leave public service.
Final Average Earnings.Final average earnings is the average of your earnings during a period when your pay is highest. It’s another major factor in determining the amount of your pension.
Once you understand these basics, it can make learning more about your NYSLRS membership and benefits easier and help you get ahead on your retirement planning.
Your NYSLRS Pension and Other Benefits
Being a NYSLRS member means you are part of a defined benefit retirement plan. This means your NYSLRS pension will be a lifetime benefit, and it will be based on your final average earnings and service credit, not the contributions you make toward your retirement.
NYSLRS also provides other important benefits for its members, including:
If you have questions about your NYSLRS membership or benefits, you can find answers on our NYSLRS website. You can find different webpages, such as our Understanding Your NYSLRS Benefits page, that explain what benefits and services are available to you. Reading your retirement plan publication is a great way to get a comprehensive understanding of your benefits. Go to our Publications page to find your retirement plan and other helpful information.
If you have questions about your account or your NYSLRS benefits, please email us using our secure contact form.
Becoming vested is a crucial milestone in your NYSLRS membership.
You become vested after you earn enough years of service credit. Once you’re vested, you have earned the right to receive a retirement benefit, even if you leave public employment before retirement.
New Legislation Changes Vesting Requirements for Tier 5 and 6 Members
As of April 9, 2022, Tier 5 and 6 members only need five years of service credit to be vested. This affects members of both the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Previously, Tier 5 and 6 members needed 10 years of service to be eligible for a service retirement benefit (the new legislation does not change eligibility for disability retirement benefits that are established by your retirement plan).
You can sign in to your Retirement Online account to view your total estimated service credit. Over the next few months, we will update members’ accounts to reflect any changes to vesting status as a result of these new vesting requirements. If your total estimated service credit in Retirement Online is more than five years, rest assured, you are considered vested and your vesting status will be changed to “Yes.” This will be done by NYSLRS and there is no need to contact us.
In addition, we are working to update the pension estimate tool in Retirement Online. Until vesting status updates are made to the tool, pension estimates produced in Retirement Online will not accurately reflect the vesting status of members impacted by the new legislation.
Effective immediately, if you are a Tier 5 or 6 member with five or more years of service and you meet the minimum age requirements for your retirement plan, you can apply for a service retirement benefit if you wish. We are updating our online services to enable Tier 5 and 6 members to apply for retirement through Retirement Online. In the meantime, you may file for retirement using our paper application. If you have between five and 10 years of service credit and you have questions about filing for retirement, please contact us.
This legislation did not change Tier 5 or 6 benefit rules such as how long you must contribute, your pension benefit calculation, your full retirement age, reductions to retire early or the cost to purchase previous service. However, additional new legislation may affect contribution rates for some Tier 6 members. Information about this legislation will be posted on our blog when it becomes available.
Tier 5 and 6 members who left public employment with five or more years of service and did not withdraw their membership are now considered to be vested.
Tier 5 and 6 members who leave public employment with more than five years of service but less than 10 years, as of April 9, 2022, now have the option to either apply for a retirement benefit once you reach retirement age or withdraw your contributions. You cannot withdraw your contributions once you have 10 years of service. As a reminder, once you withdraw your contributions, you end your membership with NYSLRS and are no longer eligible for a retirement benefit.
If you were a Tier 5 or 6 member and have been off the payroll for more than seven years prior to April 9, 2022, your membership is considered withdrawn and terminated. You would need to return to payroll and reinstate your withdrawn membership in order to be eligible for five-year vesting.
All Members — When Will I Be Vested?
NYSLRS members in Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 need five years of service credit to be vested.
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.
If you purchase credit for previous service or military service, that credit can be used toward vesting.
What You Need to Do
Vesting is automatic. You do not need to file any paperwork to become vested. To find out if you’re vested, you can sign in to your Retirement Online account and find your total estimated service credit in the ‘My Account Summary’ section. Again, if your total estimated service credit in Retirement Online is listed as more than five years, you are considered vested.
Vested members will need to apply for a service retirement benefit in order to receive a pension. Applications must be submitted within 15 – 90 days before the date you wish to retire (you must be eligible to retire on the date you choose).
Most NYSLRS members are eligible to collect a pension as early as age 55, but, depending on your tier and retirement plan, benefits may be reduced if you retire before your full retirement age.
You can estimate your pension benefit based on the salary and service information we have on file for you. From your Retirement Online account, under ‘My Account Summary’ click “Estimate my Pension Benefit.”
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 more 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.
Most ERS Tier 6 members are in the Article 15 retirement plan (Article 15 of the Retirement and Social Security Law [RSSL]). If you are not certain what retirement plan you are in, you can contact us or ask your employer. You can also find your retirement plan number in Retirement Online under ‘My Account Summary’ or in your member annual statement. Your plan number indicates the section of the RSSL the plan is based on. For example, Plan A15 indicates that you are covered by Article 15.
In this plan, 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 the Tier 6 Article 15 retirement plan booklet.)
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 ten years of service credit.
For most ERS Tier 6 members, another big milestone is the 20-year mark, when their retirement benefit improves significantly. If you retire with less than 20 years of service, you earn 1.66 percent of your final average earnings (FAE) for each year of service. At 20 years, you receive 35 percent of your FAE. After 20 years, you’ll earn an additional 2 percent of your FAE for each year of service beyond 20.
ERS Tier 6 Special Plans
For ERS Tier 6 members in special plans, such as corrections officers and deputy sheriffs, many of the milestones are the same. For example, you will become vested with ten years of service credit.
But there are also major differences. Most importantly, depending on their plan, members in special plans can retire after 20 or 25 years, regardless of age. You can find more information in your retirement plan booklet.
Make sure your mailing address and email address are current and check other information in your account. In your Retirement Online account, you’ll find:
The date you joined NYSLRS;
Your tier and membership plan;
Your estimated service credit;
Your annual earnings for the past five years; and
Loan balances and payoff dates.
If you believe information is missing or incorrect in your Retirement Online account, please contact us.
Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet
Your retirement plan booklet provides essential information about your NYSLRS benefits. It shows the formula that NYSLRS will use to calculate your pension and discusses other factors that may affect your pension.
If you’ve been through a divorce since you joined NYSLRS, that may affect your pension.
Retirement benefits are considered marital property and can be divided between you and your ex-spouse. Any division of your benefits must be stated in a domestic relations order (DRO), a legal document that gives us specific instructions on how your benefits should be divided.
If you have a NYSLRS loan, you should plan to pay it off before retirement. Your pension will be reduced if you retire with an outstanding loan. You can use Retirement Online to check your balance, make a lump-sum payment or increase your payment amount. For more information, visit our Loans page.
Your planned retirement date will be here before you know it. Watch for future posts in the Countdown to Retirement series for steps to take at 12 months, four-to-six months and one-to-three months before your retirement date.
Even if your retirement is years in the future, you should be aware of certain membership milestones that may help you narrow down when to retire.
There are two types of membership milestones: those pertaining to age and those pertaining to service credit. Since most NYSLRS members reach service credit milestones first, we’ll start with them.
Service Credit Milestones
Vesting is a key retirement milestone. Once you become vested, you will be eligible for a NYSLRS pension even if you leave public employment before retirement. Members in Tiers 1-4 with at least five years of credited service are vested. (Most members in these tiers have already reached this milestone.) Tier 5 and 6 members must have ten years of credited service to be vested.
After reaching 20 years of service, most members will be eligible to have a higher percentage of their final average earnings included in their pension benefit. How that benefit is calculated depends on your retirement plan and tier. You can find more information in your retirement plan booklet.
Members in some special plans can retire with 20 years of service, regardless of their age. Other special plans allow for retirement after 25 years, regardless of age.
At 30 years of service, Tier 2-4 members who are at least 55 years old can retire without a pension reduction.
Once you reach your full retirement age, you can retire without a pension reduction. For Tiers 2-5, the full retirement age is 62. The full retirement age for Tier 6 members is 63.
Members in regular retirement plans can retire as early as age 55, but they may face a pension reduction if they retire before their full retirement age. The closer you are to your full retirement age at retirement, the less the reduction will be.
NYSLRS, which comprises the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), had 673,336 members as of March 31, 2020. Our members are State government, local government and school district employees from across New York, including 637,746 in ERS and 35,590 in PFRS. Seventy-nine percent of our members were active, which means they were on a public payroll as of March 31.
NYSLRS Membership Over Time
A decade ago, nearly 90 percent of NYSLRS members were in Tiers 3 and 4. Now, those tiers represent less than half of our membership, while Tier 6 members are on the verge of surpassing them. Tier 6, which includes members who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012, has 298,633 members, or 44.4 percent of total membership.
Here’s a look at our NYSLRS membership by tier, as of March 31:
Tier 1: NYSLRS’ oldest tier, whose members first joined the system before July 1, 1973 (July 31, 1973 for PFRS members), is dwindling. Tier 1 represented only 0.2 percent of our membership. There were only 1,552 Tier 1 ERS members and 24 Tier 1 PFRS members.
Tier 2: With 22,262 members, Tier 2 represented 3.3 percent of membership. Ninety-two percent of Tier 2 members were in PFRS.
Tiers 3 & 4: Tiers 3 and 4, which have similar retirement plans, had 311,213 members, 46.2 percent of the total membership. Tiers 3 and 4 are primarily ERS tiers. There is no Tier 4 in PFRS, and only 228 PFRS members were in Tier 3.
Tier 5: Tier 5 covers members who joined from January 1, 2010 through March 31, 2012. With 39,652 members, Tier 5 represented 5.9 percent of membership.
Tier 6: This tier covers members who joined since April 1, 2012. Its ranks grew by 15 percent during the last fiscal year.
If you have general questions about NYSLRS or your benefits, we have a web page that can help you find the answers.
That’s because the NYSLRS Contact Us page does double duty. It not only lists contact information, it also helps you find answers for many of the common questions we get from members, retirees and beneficiaries. It covers subjects like address changes, loans, pension estimates, direct deposit and cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).
To get started, go to the Contact Us page and select the Member, Retiree or Beneficiary button to find the questions and answers you need. Each section has categories specific to that member group.
Member Annual Statement
Mortgage Letter/Account Verification Letter
Withdrawing from NYSLRS
Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)
Pension Verification Letters
Pension Verification Letters
Reporting a Death
Who is a Beneficiary?
Getting Account-Specific Answers
The information on the Contact Us page is general. If you’re looking for information specific to your situation, like your loan balance or a breakdown of your pension payment, sign in to Retirement Online. If you don’t already have a Retirement Online account, sign up today.
Most of us will change jobs over our lifetimes, and some of us will leave public employment before retirement. But if you leave the public workforce, what will become of your NYSLRS retirement benefits?
NYSLRS has published a booklet to provide guidance in that situation. What If I Leave Public Employment? outlines what happens with your benefits and details your rights and responsibilities. If you recently left public employment or plan to leave in the future, here are some key points the publication can help you understand.
If You Leave Public Employment, Will You Still Get a Pension?
If you’re vested, you can collect a NYSLRS pension when you reach retirement age. NYSLRS members are vested once they have five years of service credit. Most vested members can apply for a pension as early as age 55, but their pension may be reduced if they take it before full retirement age (62 or 63).
What if You End Your Membership?
If you’re not vested, you can end your membership and get a refund of your contribution balance, which includes accumulated interest.
After you have been off the public payroll for 15 days, you can request a refund by filing a withdrawal application.
If you leave public employment with more than five years of service but less than ten years, you have the option to either apply for a retirement benefit once you reach retirement age or withdraw your contributions. You cannot withdraw your contributions once you have ten years of service.
If you’re not vested and you don’t withdraw your contributions, they will continue to earn 5 percent interest for seven years. If you’re still off the public payroll after seven years, your membership will automatically end. Your contributions will be deposited into a non-interest account but will not be refunded to you automatically. You must file a withdrawal application to receive them.
If you end your membership, you will no longer be eligible for any NYSLRS benefits. There may also be tax consequences to withdrawing your contributions.
What are Your Responsibilities?
If you leave public employment, but remain a member, it’s your responsibility to notify us of any address changes. You will also need to keep your beneficiary information current.
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.
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 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.
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
Choosing a Pension Payment
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
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
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.