Tag Archives: pension benefits

How Your Tier 6 Contribution Rate Can Change

Most NYSLRS members contribute a percentage of their earnings to help fund pension benefits. For Tier 6 members (those who joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012), that percentage, or contribution rate, can change from year to year based on your earnings. The minimum rate is 3 percent of your earnings, and the maximum is 6 percent.

Tier 6 contribution rates

When Tier 6 Contribution Rates are Determined

A Tier 6 member’s contribution rate is calculated annually. New rates become effective on April 1, the beginning of the state’s fiscal year. Once your rate is determined for a given fiscal year, it doesn’t change for the rest of that fiscal year. We provide rates to your employer in March, a few weeks before they need to apply any rate changes.

How Your Tier 6 Contribution Rate is Calculated

If you are a new NYSLRS member, during your first three years of membership your contribution rate is based on an estimated annual wage that your employer provided when you were enrolled as a new member.

If you have been a member for three or more years, NYSLRS calculates your rate using the earnings reported to us by your employer from the last completed fiscal year, April 1, 2022 through March 31, 2023.

Rates are calculated using your base pay, which includes:

Update for 2024: Overtime is no longer excluded from the Tier 6 contribution rate calculation.

Legislation enacted during the COVID-19 emergency temporarily removed overtime from the Tier 6 contribution rate calculation. For some Tier 6 members, this meant lower contribution rates for up to two years, from April 1, 2022 through March 31, 2024.

Beginning April 1, 2024, overtime will be included in the calculation of contribution rates.

This video will help explain how your contribution rate is determined:

How Your NYSLRS Pension Works

The amount you contribute to the Retirement System does not affect the amount of your pension. A NYSLRS pension is a defined-benefit plan. Under this type of plan, once you are eligible for a pension and apply for retirement, you will receive a monthly payment for the rest of your life. The amount of your pension will be calculated using a formula based on your retirement plan, years of service and final average earnings.

You can learn more about how your pension will be calculated by reading your retirement plan publication. Use our Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication tool to find yours.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s Fight Against Pension Fraud

Since taking office in 2007, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has been committed to fighting public corruption and protecting the New York State and Local Retirement System from pension fraud.

fighting pension fraud

Teamwork

Comptroller DiNapoli, through his Division of Investigations, partners with federal, state, and local law enforcement at every level of government. The Division’s pension fraud investigations have resulted in dozens of arrests and convictions and the recovery of nearly $3 million dollars.

The Retirement System’s Pension Integrity Bureau (PIB) is responsible for recovering erroneously paid pension benefits. In many cases, this is due to the survivors’ failure to report the death of a retiree in a timely manner, but some cases involve schemes to conceal the retiree’s death to continue pocketing pension payments. When PIB comes across apparent criminal activity, it refers the case to the Division of Investigations.

Recent Cases

In June 2021, an Ontario County woman pleaded guilty to grand larceny for stealing $2,076 that was intended for a deceased friend. The woman and her friend, who was retired from the Tonawanda Public Works Department, had a joint bank account. After his death, the woman unlawfully withdrew his pension payment and $3,216 in Veterans Affairs benefits and closed the account.

That same month, an Orange County woman was arrested and charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing her late mother’s pension payments. She attempted to hide her mother’s death from NYSLRS and more than $50,000 in pension payments were deposited into a joint account after her mother’s death. The woman allegedly used the money to pay bills and make personal purchases, including fast food, liquor, clothing, gas and entertainment.

Other Notable Cases

Some people have taken elaborate measures to keep the pension payments coming in. For example, there was the Queens man who left his father’s body in a morgue for more than a year while he siphoned off $7,542 in pension payments and $17,790 in Social Security from his father’s bank account.

In many instances, the pension fraud involves substantial amounts of money which can lead to serious penalties for those who get caught. A few years ago, a Florida woman was sentenced to 2-to-6 years in State prison after she was convicted of stealing more than $120,000 in pension payments after her uncle’s death. She sent false information to his bank indicating he was still alive, then used her power of attorney to withdraw pension payments for several years.

Then there was the man who impersonated his dead brother in order to collect more than $180,000 in pension benefits. The Retirement System learned of the brother’s death and stopped payments to a trust account the man controlled. The man phoned the NYSLRS Call Center pretending to be his deceased brother demanding his money and insisted he was alive. The ploy failed and he was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation. He also signed a $180,140 judgment and had to repay NYSLRS.

Your Pension Fund is Secure

The Pension Fund, which provides the money for pension payments and was valued at an estimated $254.8 billion as of March 31, 2021, has long been recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public pension funds in the nation. The State Comptroller’s ongoing effort to combat pension fraud and abuse is just one more reason that the Fund remains safe and secure.

New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555.

The Common Retirement Fund: 100 Years of Strength and Security

In 1921, NYSLRS’ pension fund held several million dollars and provided benefits to just a few dozen State employees. Today, the Common Retirement Fund (Fund) provides more than a billion dollars per month to hundreds of thousands of retirees and beneficiaries.

The System’s founders showed foresight in establishing the framework for a sustainable retirement system capable of providing long-term pension security for its members and retirees. Today, one hundred years later, we are considered one of the strongest public pension funds in the country, thanks in large part to the stewardship of Comptroller DiNapoli, trustee of the Common Retirement Fund and administrator of NYSLRS for the past 14 years.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s diligent efforts to maintain the financial well-being of the Fund, the fact that NYSLRS’ participating employers contribute their share into the Fund, and New York’s constitutional requirement that lifetime pension benefits be guaranteed to all NYSLRS retirees — all these elements combine to ensure that NYSLRS retirees will enjoy secure benefits for generations to come.

Common Retirement Fund - A Snapshot of Growth

Investments

The Common Retirement Fund has been widely recognized as one the best-funded and best-managed public pension fund’s in the nation. (In June 2020, the Pew Charitable Trusts ranked NYSLRS as the second-best-funded public retirement system in the nation, based on 2018 data.) The cornerstone of the Fund’s reputation is its sound investment policies. At the direction of Comptroller DiNapoli, Fund managers use a long-term investment strategy designed to take advantage of growth opportunities during good economic times, while helping the Fund weather economic downturns.

The Comptroller seeks the input of a wide range of internal and external advisors, consultants and legal counsel who help to determine the best investment choices and allocation of assets for the Fund. These advisors provide independent advice and oversight of all investment decisions, serve as part of the chain of approval on all investment decisions before they reach the Comptroller for final approval and participate on advisory committees that meet periodically throughout the year.

Fund assets are invested in a diversified portfolio. About 55 percent of the assets are invested in publicly traded stocks. Other investments include bonds, mortgages, real estate and private equity.

The Fund is also strengthened by a forward-looking approach to addressing climate change-related investment risks and capitalizing on the opportunities created by the transition to a low-carbon economy. Comptroller DiNapoli recognizes that climate change poses an enormous threat to the global economy and to the Fund’s investment portfolio. Recently, he announced plans to transition the Fund’s portfolio to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This process will include a review of investments in energy companies and, where consistent with his fiduciary responsibility to maintain the long-term financial health of the Fund for NYSLRS members, divestment of companies that don’t meet minimum standards. This policy will help ensure that the Fund adapts to a changing global economy and maintains its growth in coming decades.

The Common Retirement Fund’s Impact on New York Businesses

The Common Retirement Fund’s In-State Private Equity Program invests in new and expanding New York companies and makes capital available to qualifying small businesses. As of March 31, 2020, the Fund’s private equity portfolio included investments in over 330 New York businesses with a total value of $1.9 billion. These investments boost the State’s economy while at the same time generating significant returns for the Fund.

Looking Forward

As the Common Retirement Fund’s assets have grown over the years, so have its obligations. As of March 31, 2020, there were 487,407 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries, who were paid $13.4 billion in benefits over the previous year. That’s up from 67,689 retirees and beneficiaries, who were paid $194 million in benefits in 1971. Roughly a third of NYSLRS members are expected to retire over the coming decade.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s focus on continuing the Fund’s record of strong growth ensures that the Retirement System will be ready to meet the challenges of the future. The New York State Common Retirement Fund’s estimated overall investment return was 33.55 percent for the State fiscal year that ended March 31, 2021, reflecting the financial markets’ dramatic rebound from lows reached during the COVID-19 pandemic. The return on investments increased the Fund’s value to an estimated $254.8 billion. More than 1.1 million NYSLRS members, retirees and beneficiaries can continue to rely on the Retirement System for their retirement security.

Final Average Earnings

As a NYSLRS member, you have a defined benefit retirement plan that provides a lifetime pension when you retire. The formula used to calculate these benefits is based on two main factors: service credit and final average earnings. You’re probably familiar with service credit — it’s generally the years you’ve spent working for a participating employer. But what are final average earnings (FAE)?

When we calculate your pension, we find the set of consecutive years (one, three or five, depending on your tier and retirement plan) when your earnings were highest. The average of these earnings is your FAE. Usually your FAE is based on the years right before retirement, but they can come anytime in your career. The years used in determining your FAE do not necessarily correspond to a calendar year. For FAE purposes, a “year” is any period when you earned one full-time year of service credit.

Types of Final Average Earnings

Your tier and plan determine how your final average earnings is calculated:

  • Three-year FAE: Members in Tier 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
  • Five-year FAE: Members in Tier 6.
  • One-year FAE: Members in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Your employer must choose to offer this benefit. It’s not available to PFRS members covered by Article 14 and generally not available to PFRS Tier 6 members.

If you are not sure what retirement plan you are in, you may want to read our recent blog post.

Exclusions and Limits

The law limits the final average earnings of all members who joined on or after June 17, 1971. For example, for most members, if your earnings increase significantly through the years used in your FAE, some of those earnings may not be used toward your pension. The specific limits vary by tier; check your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page for details.

final average earnings

Since 2010, with the creation of Tiers 5 and 6, the Legislature and the Governor have introduced additional limits to the earnings that can be used toward the FAE:

Tier 5

  • Overtime pay is capped — For Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), $20,763.51 in 2021. For PFRS, the cap is 15 percent of earnings.

Tier 6

  • Overtime pay is capped – For ERS, $17,301 in 2021. For PFRS, the cap is 15 percent of earnings.
  • Lump sum vacation pay and wages from more than two employers are no longer included in your FAE.
  • Any earnings above the Governor’s salary cannot be included in your FAE.

Calculating Your Final Average Earnings

Your final average earnings is based on money earned during the period used to calculate your pension. This may include payments you receive after you retire, such as retroactive pay from a contract negotiation or pay for unused vacation days.

Calculating your FAE at retirement can take time because we must collect salary information from your employer(s) and factor in items such as retroactive payments and earnings you receive after your date of retirement. This is necessary to ensure that your pension calculation is accurate and that you receive all the benefits you are entitled to.

Find out more about how FAE is calculated on our website.

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.

Five and Ten Year Pension Payment Options

NYSLRS pension payment options are designed to fit your needs after you retire. Understanding these options will make it easier for you to choose the one that’s right for you.

While the basic option, the Single Life Allowance, would provide you with a monthly payment for the rest of your life, all payments would end at your death. Other options, in exchange for a reduced benefit, allow you to provide for a spouse or other loved one after you’re gone.

Five and Ten Year Certain options don’t provide a lifetime benefit for a beneficiary, but they have advantages you may want to consider.

pension payment options

How These Pension Payment Options Work

The Five Year Certain or Ten Year Certain options provide you with a reduced monthly benefit for your lifetime. If you die within the five- or ten-year period after your retirement, your beneficiary would receive pension payments for the remainder of the five or ten years. If you live beyond the five- or ten-year period, your beneficiary would not receive a pension benefit upon your death.

Let’s say you choose the Five Year option. If you die two years after retiring, your beneficiary will receive a benefit for three years. If you choose the Ten Year option, and die after two years, your beneficiary will get a benefit for eight years. In either case, your beneficiary would receive the same amount you were receiving, though they would not be eligible for any COLA increases.

Another feature of these plans is that you can change the beneficiary at any time within the five- or ten-year period.

Whatever your situation, you should review the payment options and choose carefully. Visit our Payment Option Descriptions page for details about all available pension payment options. For a better idea of how these payment options would work out for you and your beneficiary, try our online Benefit Calculator.