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Retroactive payments

Retroactive Payments and Your NYSLRS Pension

Retroactive Payments

Retroactive payments are lump sum payments you receive from your employer. These payments can be from new union contracts, arbitration awards or legal settlements that took place while you were on your employer’s payroll.

If you receive a retroactive payment from your employer, it could affect your pension benefit calculation.

How Retroactive Payments Can Affect Your Benefit

Your final average earnings (FAE) are a major factor in your pension benefit calculation. It’s the average of your three (five for Tier 6 members) highest consecutive years of earnings. For most people, their highest years of earnings come at the end of their careers.

Retroactive payments are applied to the pay periods when they were earned, not when they were paid. So, retroactive payments can increase your FAE, and therefore your pension benefit, as long as the time period in which you earned that money is part of the time period your FAE is based on.

Your employer should let us know if you receive a retroactive payment before or after you retire. If you are a State employee who receives a retroactive payment after you retire, we will recalculate your pension automatically; you do not need to notify us. You will receive correspondence from us explaining any change in your pension benefit.

If you receive a retroactive payment from a non-State employer after your pension calculation is finalized, send a letter to our Recalculation Unit in the Benefit Calculations & Disbursement Services Bureau. Please include a copy of your check stub and any correspondence you received from your employer related to the payment. Mail it to:

NYSLRS
Attn: BCDS – Recalculation Unit
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001.

You can also email and upload this information to the Retirement System through our secure contact form.

For more information about FAE, read our Final Average Earnings blog post. You can also find out specific information about your FAE by reading your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page.

Tier 3 & 4 Members: When Is The Right Time To Retire?

Tier 3 and 4 members in the Article 15 retirement plan qualify for retirement benefits after they’ve earned five years of credited service. Once you’re vested, you have a right to a NYSLRS retirement benefit — even if you leave public employment. Though your pension is guaranteed, the amount of your pension depends on several factors, including when you retire. Here is some information that can help you determine the right time to retire.

Three Reasons to Keep Working

  1. Tier 3 and 4 members can claim their benefits as early as age 55, but they’ll face a significant penalty for early retirement – up to a 27 percent reduction in their pension. Early retirement reductions are prorated by month, so the penalty is reduced as you get closer to full retirement age. At 62, you can retire with full benefits. (Tier 3 and 4 Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who are in the Article 15 retirement plan and can retire between the ages of 55 and 62 without penalty once they have 30 years of service credit.)
  2. Your final average earnings (FAE) are a significant factor in the calculation of your pension benefit. Since working longer usually means a higher FAE, continued public employment can increase your pension.
  3. The other part of your retirement calculation is your service credit. More service credit can earn you a larger pension benefit, and, after 20 years, it also gets you a better pension formula. For Tier 3 and 4 members, if you retire with less than 20 years of service, the formula is FAE × 1.66% × years of service. Between 20 and 30 years, the formula becomes FAE × 2.00% × years of service. After 30 years of service, your pension benefit continues to increase at a rate of 1.5 percent of FAE for each year of service.

When is the Right Time to Retire infographic

 

If You’re Not Working, Here’s Something to Consider

Everyone’s situation is unique. For example, if you’re vested and no longer work for a public employer, and you don’t think you will again, taking your pension at 55 might make sense. When you do the math, full benefits at age 62 will take 19 years to match the money you’d have received retiring at age 55 — even with the reduction.

An Online Tool to Help You Make Your Decision

Most members can use Retirement Online to estimate their pensions.

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

If you are unable to use our online pension calculator, please contact us to request a pension estimate.

This post has focused on Tier 3 and 4 members. To see how retirement age affects members in other tiers, visit our About Benefit Reductions page.

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 vary from year to year.

Tier 6 contribution rate

When Tier 6 Contribution Rates are Determined

A Tier 6 member’s contribution rate is calculated annually. New rates become effective each year on April 1, the beginning of the State’s fiscal year. Once your rate is set for a fiscal year, it will not change for the rest of that fiscal year. However, depending on your earnings, it may change the following year.

How Your Tier 6 Contribution Rate is Calculated

As a Tier 6 member, your contribution rate is based on how much you earn. Changes in your earnings may result in changes to your rate. The minimum rate is 3 percent of your earnings, and the maximum is 6 percent.

During your first three years as a NYSLRS member, your contribution rate is based on an estimated annual wage we receive from your employer. After three years, the rate is based on what you actually earned two years earlier. If you are a Tier 6 member with three or more years of membership in NYSLRS, this video will help explain how your contribution rate is determined:

See our Member Contributions page for more information.

Learn More

The amount you contribute to the Retirement System will not affect the amount of your pension. Your NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit based on your retirement plan, years of service and final average earnings. You can learn more about your pension by reading your plan booklet on our Publications page. For help finding the right plan book, read our blog post Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning.

Defined Benefit Pension Plans Boost National Economy

Defined benefit pension plans, including NYSLRS, provide retirement security for millions of Americans. Here in New York, NYSLRS pays out more than $10 billion in benefits each year to nearly 400,000 New York State residents. Much of that money is spent at home, contributing to local economies and supporting jobs.

What’s happening here is mirrored across the country. According to a study released by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) in 2021, defined benefit pension plans paid $578.7 billion to 23.8 million retired Americans, and those payments had a significant impact on the nation’s economy.

What Is a Defined Benefit Pension Plan?

A defined benefit pension plan provides a pension that is based on a preset formula that takes into account salary and years of service. Unlike a 401(k)-style retirement plan (also known as defined contribution plan), it is not based on how much you or your employer contribute to your retirement account. A defined benefit plan provides a fixed monthly payment at retirement and is usually a lifetime benefit.

With a defined contribution plan, the amount of money the employee has accumulated at retirement depends on the investment returns of their individual account. A market downturn, especially near retirement, can affect the value of their benefit. With a defined benefit plan, market risk is shared, so a downturn doesn’t affect the benefit.

Most importantly, defined benefit pension recipients don’t have to worry about their money running out during their retirement years.

economic impact of defined benefit pension plans

Who Gets Defined Benefits?

Defined benefit pension plans were once much more common in the United States. Today, defined benefit plans are more commonly offered by public employers, though about 16 percent of full-time private sector employees had access to a define benefit plan in 2018.

Who received these benefits? According to the NIRS study:

  • $308.7 billion was paid to 11 million state and local government retirees and beneficiaries;
  • $105.9 billion was paid to 2.6 million federal retirees and beneficiaries; and
  • $164.1 billion was paid to 10.1 million private sector retirees and beneficiaries.

Employers Benefit from Defined Benefit Plans

Not surprisingly, the financial security provided by defined benefit plans has proved popular among workers. In 2019, the NIRS surveyed 1,100 public employees about their benefits. Most said retirement benefits are good tools for recruiting and retaining workers, and 86 percent said their retirement benefits are a major reason they stick with their jobs.

National Economic Benefits of Defined Benefit Plans

The $578.7 billion in pension payments generated spending that supported 6.9 million American jobs with paychecks totaling $394.2 billion, the study estimated. But the economic benefit didn’t stop there. This is because of what economists call the multiplier effect, the measure of the true impact of each dollar spent as it works its way through the economy.  

The study found that each pension dollar paid had a $2.19 multiplier effect, which resulted in nearly $1.3 trillion in economic output. Real estate, food service, healthcare, and wholesale and retail trade were the sectors most impacted.

The study also noted that defined benefit pension payments have a stabilizing effect on local economies. Because they have a steady source of income, retirees with a defined benefit plan are less likely than retirees with defined contributions to curtail spending during economic downturns.

“These plans are a cost effective way to provide secure lifetime income for retired Americans and their beneficiaries after a lifetime of work. Moreover,” the study concluded, “DB pension plans generate economic benefits that reach well beyond those who earned benefits during their working years.”

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.

A 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 new 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 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 new 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.

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.

Your Contributions to NYSLRS

Most NYSLRS members contribute a percentage of their earnings to the Retirement System. Over time, those contributions, with interest, can add up to a tidy sum. But what happens to that money? Will you get your contributions back when you retire? The answer to that question is “no.” Let’s look at what happens to your NYSLRS contributions.

How NYSLRS Retirement Plans Work

NYSLRS plans are defined benefit pension plans. Once you’re vested, you’re entitled to a lifetime benefit that will be based on your years of service and final average earnings. The amount of your contributions does not determine the amount of your pension. (Use Retirement Online to estimate your pension.)

Your NYSLRS plan differs from defined contribution plans, such as a 401-k plan, which are essentially retirement savings plans. In those plans, a worker, their employer, or both contribute to an individual retirement account. The money is invested and hopefully accumulates investment returns over time. This type of plan does not provide a guaranteed lifetime benefit and there is the risk that the money will run out during the worker’s retirement years. Experts recommend that workers who have defined contribution plans contribute anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of their income to their plan. NYSLRS members, in contrast, contribute between 3 and 6 percent of their income, depending on their tier and retirement plan.

Where Your Contributions Go

When you retire, your contributions go into the New York State Common Retirement Fund. The Fund is the pool of money that is invested and used to pay retirement benefits for you and other NYSLRS members.

contributions

Your Contribution Balance

You can find your current contribution balance in Retirement Online. But if your contributions don’t determine your pension, what difference does it make what the balance is? For one thing, your contribution balance helps determine the amount you can borrow if you decide to take a loan from NYSLRS. Also, you may be able to withdraw your contributions, with interest, if you leave the public workforce before retirement age.

Withdrawing Your Contributions

You cannot withdraw your contributions while you are still working for a public employer in New York State. If you leave public employment with less than ten years of service, you can withdraw your contributions, plus interest. If you withdraw, you will not be eligible for a NYSLRS retirement benefit.

If you have more than ten years of service, you cannot withdraw, but you will be entitled to a pension when you reach retirement age. But remember, you will not receive this pension automatically; you must file a retirement application before you can receive any benefit.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

NYSLRS paid $13.4 billion in benefits to 487,407 retirees and beneficiaries during the State fiscal year that ended on March 31. These benefits are paid out through the New York State Common Retirement Fund (the Fund).

NYSLRS By the Numbers

NYSLRS Membership                                                           

But NYSLRS is more than just the pension fund. The system had 673,336 members as of March 31, including county workers, professional firefighters and State troopers. Here are some facts about our membership:

  • 530,547 active members (that is, members still on a public payroll) work for 2,962 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 44 percent of all members are in Tier 6. Fifty-eight percent of PFRS members are in Tier 2 and almost 49 percent of ERS members are in Tiers 3 and 4.

NYSLRS Retirees and Beneficiaries

The average pension for an ERS retiree was $25,105; the average for a PFRS retiree was $54,684. But these pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $10.8 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 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). NYSLRS once again received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2019 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 16 years.

What to Consider When Choosing Your Retirement Date

Before you pin down a retirement date, there are several factors you should consider.

Your Retirement Date

NYSLRS has made it a lot easier for you to determine the best time to retire. Most members can now use our online pension calculator to estimate what their benefit would be at different retirement dates and ages. Just sign in to your Retirement Online account and click the “Estimate my Pension” button to get started.

choosing your retirement date

Your Health

Your current health, and your long-term health prospects, should be a factor in selecting your retirement date. If your health is poor, you may want to consider retiring earlier to give yourself more time to enjoy retirement. On the other hand, if you anticipate significant out-of-pocket health costs, working longer might give you more time to save for those costs.

If your health is good, your retirement may last longer than average. In most cases, staying on the job a little longer will increase your NYSLRS pension and provide an opportunity to increase your savings.

Your Savings

NYSLRS has always encouraged its members to save for retirement as a supplement to their NYSLRS pension and Social Security. Retirement savings are a hedge against inflation, can help in an emergency and allow you to do the things you want to do during retirement.

Having retirement savings gives you more flexibility, and if you have enough saved, that may offset any penalty if you decide to retire early. On the other hand, if you have no savings or are short of what you’d like to have, working a little longer offers a chance to save more.

State employees and some municipal employees can take advantage of the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you don’t work for New York State, check with your employer to see if you are eligible. If you are not eligible, your employer may be able to direct you to an alternative retirement savings program. (The Deferred Compensation Plan is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)

In 2021, you can save up to $19,500 per year in a Deferred Compensation account, under Internal Revenue Service rules. Starting in the year you turn 50, you can save an additional catch-up amount. The age 50-plus catch-up amount for 2021 is $6,500, for a total limit of $26,000.

Your Current Job

The type of work you do is an important factor in determining when to retire. A physically demanding job can get even harder as you age, but if you’re working in an office, that’s generally not the case.

But there are other things to consider about your current job. Some members want to retire as soon as they’re eligible to go, but if your job gives you satisfaction and a sense of purpose, are you ready to walk away from it? Do you look forward to social interactions with your coworkers? Will you miss your job more than you enjoy being retired?

Your Plans for Retirement

Is retirement the end of something or the beginning of something new? Answering that question could go a long way to determining your ideal retirement date. If you have dreams of starting your own business or going mountain climbing in Spain, you may not want to delay retirement.

But if you don’t have a plan to fill the long hours of retirement, you risk becoming bored or depressed. For some, that risk is a reason to keep working. But whether you decide to retire earlier or later, having a plan for retirement can help make it a more satisfying experience.

The Police and Fire Retirement System

NYSLRS is actually two retirement systems: The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).

PFRS, which provides retirement benefits for police officers and paid firefighters, is the smaller of the two systems, with about 35,000 members. Roughly a third of PFRS members work for cities, while 20 percent work for New York State. The remainder work for towns, counties and villages.

There are five tiers in PFRS, reflecting when the members joined the system: Tiers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 (there is no Tier 4). Tier 2, which includes PFRS members who joined the Retirement System from July 31, 1973 through June 30, 2009, is the largest tier, accounting for almost 60 percent of membership. If you joined PFRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

The vast majority of PFRS members (98 percent) are in special retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years of creditable service. If you are in one of these plans, once you have the full amount of required service, you can retire at any age.

Some PFRS members are in regular retirement plans, which require a member to reach a certain age before they are eligible for a pension.

PFRS infographic

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.

Service Credit

Service credit is a key in determining your eligibility for a pension and other benefits, including the amount of those benefits.

Under most 20- and 25-year plans, not all public employment is creditable. Usually, police and firefighting service can be counted as special-plan service. You may also be able to use military service to help you reach 20 or 25 years. If you have questions about the service that can be used to calculate your pension, please check your retirement plan booklet or contact us.

PFRS Plan Booklets

You can find details about your NYSLRS benefits in your retirement plan booklet.

For the majority of PFRS members, that’s the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans booklet. This booklet is for PFRS Tier 2, 3, 5 and 6 members covered by Sections 384, 384-d and 384-e of the State Retirement and Social Security Law.

If you are a PFRS member who works for New York State, your booklet is based on your specific job. There are separate booklets for state police, forest rangersregional state park policestate university police and EnCon police.

If you are not covered by one of the plan booklets listed above, you can find your booklet on our Publications page. If you’re not sure what retirement plan you’re in, you can find that information in the My Account Summary section of your Retirement Online account. You can also check your Member Annual Statement, ask your employer or email us using our secure contact form.