Tag Archives: pension

Becoming Vested

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).

Becoming Vested - New Legislation Changes Requirements for Tier 5 and 6 Members

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.”

Overtime Limits for Tier 5 and 6 Members

The formula used to calculate a NYSLRS pension varies by tier and plan, but your credited service and final average earnings (FAE) are the main factors. You earn service credit for paid service with participating employers, and you also may purchase credit for previous public employment. Your FAE is the average wage you earned during the period when your earnings were highest (36 consecutive months for Tier 5 and 60 consecutive months for Tier 6).

Your FAE can include overtime pay you earn during that period, but for Tier 5 and 6 members there are limits to how much overtime can be used to calculate your pension.

You can still earn overtime pay beyond the limit — it just won’t be used in your FAE. Members also aren’t required to make contributions on overtime pay that is above the limit.

Overtime Limits for Tier 5 and 6 Members

Tier 5 Overtime Limits

The overtime limit for Tier 5 Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members increases each calendar year by 3 percent. In 2022, the limit for Tier 5 ERS members is $21,386.41.

For Tier 5 Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members, the overtime limit is 15 percent of your regular earnings each calendar year.

Tier 6 Overtime Limits

The overtime limit for Tier 6 ERS members increases each calendar year based on the annual increase of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In 2022, the limit for Tier 6 ERS members is $18,233.

For Tier 6 PFRS members, the overtime limit is 15 percent of your regular earnings each calendar year.

Learn More

Find more information about the overtime limit, FAE and retirement calculations in your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page.

Taxes After Retirement

Estimating your post-retirement expenses is crucial to effective retirement planning, and it’s important to remember that taxes are also part of that equation. Most retirees pay less in taxes than when they were working, partly because their incomes are lower. But there are other reasons why your tax burden may be lighter after you stop working.

taxes after retirement

New York State Taxes

As a NYSLRS retiree, your pension will not be subject to New York State or local 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) of your gross earnings 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 from Social Security taxes. Of course, if you get a paying job after retirement, Social Security and Medicare taxes will be deducted from your paycheck.

Once you turn 65, you may be able to claim a larger standard deduction on your federal tax return.

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

Estimate Your Pension in Retirement Online

How much will your pension be?

Fortunately, it is now easier than ever to find out. Most NYSLRS members can create their own pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online.

Retirement Online estimate is based on the most up-to-date account information we have on file for you. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.

estimate your pension in Retirement Online

How to Create Your Pension Estimate

Before you can use the pension calculator, you will need a Retirement Online account. Once you sign in, go to the My Account Summary section of your account homepage and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button.

You can enter an estimated retirement date (or retirement age), your current salary and expected annual salary increases. You can also include any service credit you plan to purchase and anticipated lump sum payment for unused vacation. If you add the birthdate for a beneficiary, you’ll also see the estimated monthly payment you would receive if you were to choose a pension payment option that provides a benefit for a survivor.

Any pension estimate you generate with the online calculator would be an approximation of your potential benefit; it is not a guarantee that you’ll receive a certain amount when you retire.

Alternative Ways to Get an Estimate

While more than 90 percent of NYSLRS members (most Tier 3 through 6 members) can use the benefit calculator, some members should have NYSLRS generate their benefit estimate. For example, if you recently transferred your membership to NYSLRS or are covered under certain special plans, it would be better if NYSLRS created an estimate for you.

The system will notify you if your estimate cannot be completed using Retirement Online’s estimate tool. Please contact us to request a pension estimate if you receive this notification. Also, if you are in Tiers 1 through 4, you can still use the Quick Calculator on the NYSLRS website. The Quick Calculator generates estimates based on information you provide.

Ten Things Every NYSLRS Retiree Should Know

Even after you retire, it’s important to stay informed about your NYSLRS benefits. Here are ten things every NYSLRS retiree should know.

NYSLRS retiree
  1. Your retirement benefits are guaranteed by the State Constitution. Under Article 5, Section 7, your pension benefit cannot be “diminished or impaired.”
  2. The Common Retirement Fund, the pool of money your retirement benefits are paid from, is safe and secure. It has been widely recognized as one of the best-funded and best-managed public pension funds in the nation.
  3. Your NYSLRS pension is not subject to New York State or local income taxes, but it may be subject to federal income tax. Visit our Taxes and Your Pension page for more information.
  4. If you move to another state, your pension may be subject to that state’s income tax. Find out which states tax NYSLRS pensions.
  5. More than 95 percent of NYSLRS retirees use direct deposit for their monthly payment and their payments promptly arrive in their accounts on the last business day of each month. You can find out when your next pension payment is coming by checking our online pension payment calendar.
  6. You can stay informed about your benefits with Retirement Online. Creating an account is easy, and in many cases, you can use Retirement Online instead of sending in forms or calling NYSLRS.
  7. If you need proof of your retirement income to rent an apartment or get a mortgage, you can generate a pension verification letter in Retirement Online.
  8. Once you become eligible for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), you will receive annual increases in your pension amount. When your net benefit amount changes, NYSLRS will inform you.
  9. Your beneficiaries may be entitled to a death benefit after you die.
  10. A Guide for Retirees is a handy resource on our website. It provides important information about your benefits and the services NYSLRS provides for its retirees.

Not retired yet? Read our blog post Ten Things Every NYSLRS Member Should Know.

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 are vested and retire from NYSLRS, 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 known as 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 administers more than 300 retirement plan combinations, 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 earnings and years of service;
  • Provide a right to pension benefits (vesting) with five years of service credit;
  • Build a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) into pensions to help offset the effect of inflation; and
  • Include disability retirement 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. Read this blog post for help locating your plan book. Your plan is listed on your Retirement Online account page.

Advantages of Defined Benefit Plans

With defined benefit plans, retirement assets are pooled, and the investment risk is shared. These plans are usually administered by professional managers, whose long-term investment strategies reduce the impact of market turmoil. With defined contribution plans, individual employees bear the brunt of investment risk, so a dip in the stock market can reduce their retirement income.

Defined benefit plans provide important advantages for state and local government employers. For one, offering these plans makes it easier to recruit and retain qualified employees, particularly police officers, fire fighters and teachers. Employers can also reduce the risk of employee turnover, which could help cut training costs and improve productivity.

Defined benefit plans also help support state and local economies because they provide a steady, reliable stream of retirement income for many retirees across New York and the nation.

Read more about the advantages of defined benefit plans.

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 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.)

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 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.

Where in New York are NYSLRS Retirees?

NYSLRS retirees tend to stay in New York, where their pensions are exempt from State and local income taxes. In fact, 79 percent of NYSLRS’ 496,628 retirees and beneficiaries lived in the State as of March 31, 2021. And more than half of them lived in just ten of New York’s 62 counties.

So where in New York do these retirees call home? Well, there are a lot of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries on Long Island. Suffolk and Nassau counties are home to nearly 63,000 recipients of NYSLRS retirement benefits, with annual pension payments exceeding $2.2 billion. But that shouldn’t be surprising. Suffolk and Nassau counties have the largest and third largest number of pension benefit recipients, respectively, of all the counties in the State outside of New York City by population. (The City, which has its own retirement systems for municipal employees, police and firefighters, had 23,655 residents who were NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries.)

NYSLRS retirees in New York

Erie County, which includes Buffalo, ranked number two among counties in the number of NYSLRS retirees, with more than 32,000. Albany County, home to the State capital, ranked fourth with close to 20,000. Monroe, Westchester, Onondaga, Saratoga, Dutchess and Oneida counties round out the top ten.

All told, retirees and beneficiaries in the top ten counties received $6.2 billion in NYSLRS retirement benefits in 2020-2021.

Hamilton County had the fewest NYSLRS benefit recipients. But in this sparsely populated county in the heart of the Adirondacks, those 496 retirees represent nearly 10 percent of the county’s population. During fiscal year 2020-2021, $11 million in NYSLRS retirement benefits was paid to Hamilton County residents.

NYSLRS Retirees Across the Globe

Outside of New York, Florida remained the top choice for NYSLRS retirees, with 38,872 benefit recipients. North Carolina (9,695), New Jersey (8,078) and South Carolina (6,873) were also popular. There were 638 NYSLRS benefit recipients living outside the United States as of March 31, 2021.

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: ERS Tier 5

When you joined the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you were assigned a tier based on the date of your membership. There are six tiers in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and five in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Each tier has a different benefit structure established by State Law. Our series, NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time, walks through each tier to give you a quick look at the benefits in both ERS and PFRS.

Today’s post looks at ERS Tier 5, which covers ERS members who joined from January 1, 2010 through March 31, 2012. There were 37,114 ERS Tier 5 members — 5.8 percent of all ERS members — as of March 31, 2021.

ERS Tier 5 Information

ERS Tier 5 Membership Milestones

ERS Tier 5 members need ten years of service credit to become vested, which means they’ll be eligible for a lifetime pension when they retire.

When a Tier 5 member can retire is based on whether they are in the regular retirement plan (Article 15) or a special plan. Most Tier 5 members are in the regular plan, which means they can retire as early as age 55, but if they retire before age 62, their benefit will be reduced.

Tier 5 members in special plans, such as sheriffs and correction officers, can retire with 20 or 25 years of service (depending on their retirement plan), regardless of age, without penalty.

See your plan booklet (listed below) for details.

The Final Average Earnings (FAE)

An ERS Tier 5 member’s final average earnings is the average of their earnings in the three highest-paid consecutive years of employment. Earnings in any year included in the period cannot exceed the average earnings of the previous two years by more than 10 percent.

Tier 5 Service Retirement Benefit

If an ERS Tier 5 member retires with less than 20 years, the benefit is 1.66 percent of their FAE for each year of service.

If a Tier 5 member in a regular plan retires with 20 to 30 years of service, the benefit is 2 percent of their FAE for each year of service. For each year of service beyond 30 years, they will receive 1.5 percent of their FAE. For example, a Tier 5 member with 35 years of service can retire at 62 with 67.5 percent of their FAE.

For Tier 5 members in special plans, the benefit is generally 50 percent of their FAE with 20 or 25 years of service, depending on their retirement plan.

Where to Find More Information

ERS Tier 5 members can find more details about their benefits in the publications listed below:

For benefit information about special plans for miscellaneous titles, please visit our Publications page. Stay tuned for more NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time posts.

A Snapshot of NYSLRS Retirees

NYSLRS was providing pension benefits to 496,628 retirees and beneficiaries as of March 31, 2021.

Nearly 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries — some 391,454 — live right here in New York State, and they can be found in every county. The Capital District, for instance, is home to more than 63,000 retirees and beneficiaries, while more than 62,000 live on Long Island.

These New York retirees live in our communities, and their pension money flows right back into our neighborhoods. Retirees in New York pay local property and sales taxes, and their spending supports local businesses, stimulates the economy and generates thousands of jobs.

NYSLRS Retirees in the US

NYSLRS Retirees in the US

NYSLRS retirees can also be found in every state. Florida, not surprisingly, is the number two choice, with nearly 39,000 calling the Sunshine State home. North Carolina is third, with 9,695 retirees, followed by New Jersey, with 8,078. North Dakota has the fewest, with only 23 retirees and beneficiaries. Another 638 live outside the United States.

Learn More

Extensive information about our retirees and members, the Common Retirement Fund and Fund investments can be found in our latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. This report, published each fall, has a wealth of information about the Retirement System, its investments, strategies and financial position. It also provides details about NYSLRS’ 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries.