Tag Archives: New York State & Local Retirement System

Membership in a Nutshell

If you’re a new NYSLRS member, or have been part of the Retirement System for years, you’re sure to have at least some questions about your NYSLRS benefits. What is vesting? Final average salary? Maybe you’re wondering what tier you’re in or why that even matters. Whether you’re a firefighter on Long Island or a State worker in Buffalo, you can find answers to many of your questions in Membership in a Nutshell. This publication is about the basics. It defines terms and explains concepts that are common to all NYSLRS retirement plans. Consider it essential reading.
Membership in a Nutshell

What’s Inside Membership in a Nutshell?

Membership in a Nutshell provides a brief description of the Retirement System, which comprises the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). It also explains the Comptroller’s role as administrator of the System.

That’s followed by a list of some of the benefits provided to members, including:

  • Service Retirement Benefits (Pensions)
  • Disability Benefits
  • Death Benefits
  • Vesting of Benefits
  • Loans for Contributing Members

A larger section is dedicated to the details of membership, such as tier status, membership contributions, earning service credit and becoming vested.

Services We Offer

Perhaps the most helpful section describes Services We Offer Members. We want to provide you with the information you’ll need to plan for your retirement and make critical decisions about your future.

Retirement Online is a safe and convenient way to conduct business with NYSLRS, and to access benefit information such as your tier, retirement plan, service credit and beneficiaries. Register today if you don’t already have an account.

As you get closer to retirement, you can request an estimate of your pension from NYSLRS based on our records of your salary and years of service. We also offer one-on-one consultations with NYSLRS information representatives who can explain your benefits, answer your questions and help you feel confident about making your retirement decision.

Your Obligations

As a member, it’s important that you keep your information with NYSLRS up to date. This section discusses the different kinds of information, such as your mailing address and beneficiaries, that you should keep current. Much of this information can be updated using Retirement Online, or you can contact us.

More Information

There’s more information in this publication, but we’ll let you find it for yourself. We’ll also be featuring other publications in future blogs, including such favorites as:

Public Service Recognition Week

Public Service Recognition Week
This week we proudly celebrate the more than 600,000 members and 400,000 retirees of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) for their service to the people of New York State.

A Brief History of Public Service Recognition Week

Public Service Recognition Week was created in 1985 to honor the men and women who serve our nation as federal, state, county and local government employees. They dedicate their careers — and sometimes their lives — to keep others safe and provide for the common good. Their work makes life in our communities better.

This year, Public Service Recognition Week is being celebrated May 5 through May 11.

The Public Servants of NYSLRS

NYSLRS is full of stories about public servants finding value and meaning in the work they do, especially when they help other New Yorkers.

Whether they are protecting our communities, fighting fires, clearing our roads after snowstorms or simply helping government function better, NYSLRS members deliver the critical resources and services many New Yorkers depend on. Even outside of work, many NYSLRS members and retirees give back to our State by serving their communities as volunteers and supporters of charitable causes.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s Faith in Public Service

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the administrator of NYSLRS and trustee of the Common Retirement Fund. His public service career began when he was elected as a trustee to the Mineola Board of Education at the age of 18, making him the first 18-year-old in New York State to hold public office. Comptroller DiNapoli is understandably proud about the career path he has chosen, and he often speaks about the contributions that New York’s public employees make, not just as engaged citizens, but as individuals who bring value to the communities where they live.

Where Are Your Important Documents?

We accumulate a lot of documents over a lifetime — things like birth certificates, diplomas, deeds, wills and insurance policies. If you’re like most people, you probably have papers stuffed in drawers, filing cabinets or boxes in the attic. If you ever needed an important document, do you think you could find it? What’s more, if you passed away, would your loved ones be able to find what they need?
where are your important documents?

Organize Your Important Documents

Important documents and contact information should be kept in a secure but accessible place in your home. This includes personal documents, such as your passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, will and burial instructions. You should also include information about your retirement benefits, income taxes, bank accounts, credit cards and online accounts. And don’t forget the names and phone numbers of your attorney, accountant, stock broker, financial planner, insurance agent and executor of your will.

To make this a little easier, we’ve developed a fillable form called Where My Assets Are. Fill it out, print it and use it to organize your important papers. It will help you or your loved ones locate these documents when they are needed. It’s a good idea to review and update this information regularly.

Be aware that if you keep a safe deposit box, it may be sealed when you die. Don’t keep burial instructions, power of attorney or your will in a safe deposit box because these items may not be available until a probate judge orders the box to be opened. However, a joint lessee of the box, or someone authorized by you, would be permitted to open the box to examine and copy your burial instructions.

Get Your Affairs in Order

Read our publication Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors for guidance about preparing your survivors, organizing your files, and who to contact if a loved one dies.

Power of Attorney

Power of AttorneyThe NYSLRS Special Durable Power of Attorney form allows you to designate someone else to act on your behalf regarding retirement benefit transactions. The person you designate, referred to as an “agent,” could be your spouse, another family member or a trusted friend.

Why is this important? Under normal circumstances, NYSLRS won’t release your benefit information to anyone else without your permission — even to your spouse. With a power of attorney (POA) on file, we would be able to discuss your benefits with the agent you appointed.

The NYSLRS POA form is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements. You may want to designate a power of attorney in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness, but you don’t have to wait until something happens before you file a NYSLRS POA form.

What Can Your Agent Do?

The NYSLRS form is for a “durable” POA, which means the person you designate can act for you if you become incapacitated. But the NYSLRS POA form only covers Retirement System transactions. It does not authorize your agent to make health care decisions for you or make changes to your Deferred Compensation plan.

Your agent can get account-specific information about your benefits by phone, email or mail. Your agent can request copies of documents in your retirement file or update your address or phone number. If you are still an active member, your agent can also take out a NYSLRS loan or file a retirement application for you. If you are retired, the agent can change the amount of taxes withheld from your pension.

Special Authority

If you use NYSLRS POA form, and your agent is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they will have “gifting authority.” That means they can direct deposit money into a joint bank account, designate or change your death benefit beneficiaries, or choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death.

If you wish to assign gifting authority to an agent who is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, you must indicate that you want your agent to have the ability to designate him or herself as a beneficiary. This can be done in the “Modifications” section of the NYSLRS POA form.

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.

You can also find information on the Power of Attorney page on our website.

What to Know About ERS Tier 6

Tier status is a major factor in determining your NYSLRS retirement benefits. Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, are in Tier 6. They have plenty of company. There were 205,020 ERS Tier 6 members as of March 31, 2018, making up one-third of ERS membership.

ERS Tier 6 members contribute to the Retirement System based on their earnings, but the amount of their pensions will be determined by years of service and final average salary, not by the amount of their contributions.

ERS Tier 6 Membership Milestones

ERS Tier 6 members need ten years of service credit to become vested. Once vested, they’re eligible for a lifetime pension benefit as early as age 55, but if they retire before the full retirement age of 63, their benefit will be reduced. Tier 6 correction officers, however, can retire with 25 years of service, regardless of age, without penalty.

ERS Tier 6 Benefits

The Final Average Salary (FAS) Calculation

An ERS Tier 6 member’s final average salary is the average of their earnings in the five highest-paid consecutive years of employment. Earnings in any year included in the period cannot exceed the average earnings of the previous four years by more than 10 percent.

Tier 6 Service Retirement Benefit

Generally, if an ERS Tier 6 member retires with less than 20 years, the benefit is 1.66 percent of their final average salary for each year of service. If a member retires with exactly 20 years of service, the benefit is 1.75 percent of their final average salary for each year of service (35 percent of the member’s final average salary).

If a member retires with more than 20 years of service, they receive 35 percent for the first 20 years, plus 2 percent for each additional year. For example, a member with 35 years of service can retire at 63 with a pension worth 65 percent of their final average salary.

If you’re an ERS Tier 6 member, you can find out more about your benefits in one of these plan booklets:

Taxes After Retirement

Calculating post-retirement expenses is crucial to retirement planning. For instance, predicting how much you will pay in taxes can be difficult, because your tax bill depends on your individual circumstances. Most retirees spend less on taxes than they did when they were working, largely because their incomes have gone down. But there are other reasons you may have a lighter tax burden after retirement.

taxes after retirement

New York State Taxes

As a NYSLRS retiree, your pension will not be subject to New York State income tax. New York doesn’t tax Social Security benefits, either.

You may also get a tax break on any distributions from retirement savings, such as deferred compensation, and benefits from a private-sector pension. Find out more on the Department of Taxation and Finance website.

Be aware that you could lose these tax breaks if you move out of New York. Many states tax pensions, and some tax Social Security. For information on tax laws in other states, visit the website of the Retired Public Employees Association.

Federal Taxes

Unfortunately, most of your retirement income will be subject to federal taxes, but there are some bright spots here.

Your Social Security benefits are likely to be taxed, but at most, you’ll only pay taxes on a portion of your benefits. You can find information about it on the Social Security Administration website. (If you’re already retired, use the Social Security Benefits Worksheet in the Form 1040 instructions to see if any of your benefits are taxable.)

Throughout your working years, you’ve paid payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. For most workers, that’s 6.2 percent (Social Security) and 1.45 percent (Medicare) out of every paycheck. But Social Security and Medicare taxes are only withheld from earned income, such as wages. Pensions, Social Security benefits and retirement savings distributions are exempt. Of course, if you get a paying job after retirement, then Social Security and Medicare taxes will be deducted from that pay check.

Once you turn 65, you may be able to claim a larger standard deduction on your federal tax return. For more information on the amounts of this deduction, please see the 2018 IRS Tax Map.

To better understand how your retirement income will be taxed, it may be helpful to speak with a tax adviser.

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 the Designation of Beneficiary form (RS5127). 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 contact form.

Retiree Annual Statements Coming

If you are a NYSLRS retiree and received benefits in 2018, your Retiree Annual Statement (RAS) should be coming in the mail soon, if you haven’t received it already.

The Retiree Annual Statement provides important information about your retirement account. You should keep your copy in a safe place.

couple reviewing their Retiree Annual Statement

What’s Inside

Information in your annual statement includes:

  • Your retirement number. To protect your privacy, use this number instead of your Social Security number when conducting business with NYSLRS.
  • Your monthly benefit before taxes and deductions.
  • Your total net benefit for the year. (Your benefit after taxes, deductions and credits.)
  • The total amount of any cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
  • Your total Medicare credits.
  • Federal tax withholding and other deductions taken from your pension, such as union dues.
  • Health insurance premiums. (NYSLRS doesn’t administer health insurance benefits, but we deduct a retiree’s premiums at the request of a former employer.)

Not a Tax Document

While your Retiree Annual Statement includes information about your benefit payments and tax withholding, it is not a tax document and should not be used for filing your federal income tax return. NYSLRS mailed 1099-R tax forms to retirees and beneficiaries in January.

If you need a reprint of your 2018 1099-R to file your taxes, you can order one online. Reprints will be mailed to the address we have on file for you, so if you’ve moved recently, you should check to make sure your contact information is up-to-date before requesting a reprint. The easiest way to check and update your address is with Retirement Online, or you can contact us for help.

Staying Informed

News & Notes, our semiannual newsletter, will be included with your RAS. The newsletter will help you keep up with the latest news about NYSLRS and other topics of interest.

Your RAS provides a snapshot of your NYSLRS account as of December 31, 2018, but you can get up-to-date information by signing in to Retirement Online. Retirement Online is also a convenient and safe way to conduct business with NYSLRS. If you don’t already have an account, you can learn more or register today.

And when there is a change in your net benefit amount, NYSLRS will notify you by mail or email. Let us know how you would like to receive information from NYSLRS by choosing your correspondence preference via Retirement Online.