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Welcome, New Members

Welcome, new members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS).

What is NYSLRS? NYSLRS administers retirement benefits for New York State employees and municipal and non-teaching school district employees outside of New York City. With more than 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries, NYSLRS is one of the largest public retirement systems in the nation.

NYSLRS is here to help you plan for a financially secure retirement. Your retirement may be far in the future, but decisions you make now will have a big impact on your later years. Here are a few things you should know:

How Pensions Work

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 set by State law.

However, many employees in the United States, particularly in the private sector, are enrolled in 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, or have no employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. The ultimate value of a 401(k) plan is based on the contributions made to individual accounts and investment returns on those contributions.

While a 401(k)-style plan can supplement a pension and Social Security benefits, it does not provide the same level of financial security as a defined-benefit plan. Unlike your NYSLRS pension, these plans do not guarantee a lifetime benefit.

New Members Checklist

Earning Service Credit

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on factors such as your tier, retirement plan, age at retirement, final average earnings and service credit. You’ll earn one year of service credit for every year of full-time employment with a participating employer. Part-time employment is prorated. You may also be able to receive credit for previous public employment or military service, which in most cases would increase your pension.

Plan Ahead: Start Saving Now

Your pension is only one part of a financially secure future. It’s also a good idea to save additional money for retirement. Your retirement savings can be a hedge against inflation and a source of cash in an emergency. A healthy retirement account will give you more flexibility during retirement, helping ensure that you’ll be able to do the things you want to do.

State workers and some local government employees can save for retirement through the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan, which also has some tax advantages. You can start by having as little as $10 deducted from each paycheck. You can choose how your money will be invested from a variety of options. Because of how compound interest works, the earlier you start saving, the better off you’ll be.

Your Next Steps as a New NYSLRS Member

If you haven’t already, sign up for a Retirement Online account. You can use Retirement Online to conduct business with NYSLRS, including naming a beneficiary for your death benefit, updating your contact information, and looking up your retirement plan information. This online tool will be an important resource throughout your career, especially as you near retirement, when you can use our benefit calculator to estimate your pension.

More Information

You can find more information about NYSLRS and your benefits in our booklet, Membership in a Nutshell.

Retirees Contribute: A Century of Economic Impact

Over the past century, NYSLRS has provided pension security for retired public workers, whose spending has contributed to the economic strength and stability of their communities.

Currently, there are more than 384,000 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries living in New York. In every corner of the Empire State, NYSLRS retirees shop at local stores and patronize local businesses, which in turn helps create jobs. NYSLRS retirees also pay a hefty share of local taxes.

Retirees Contribute: A Century of Economic Impact

Economic Stability

Spending by NYSLRS retirees provides something else for their communities: economic stability.

Because a NYSLRS pension is a defined-benefit retirement plan, retirees and beneficiaries receive a guaranteed monthly payment for life. Defined-benefit plans, which pay benefits based on a pre-set formula, differ from defined-contribution plans, such as a 401k, which are essentially retirement savings accounts.

Recipients of defined-benefit plans don’t have to worry about their money running out during retirement or a drop in their monthly income because of a dip in the stock market. They are better able to maintain their spending during economic downturns, which helps local businesses stay afloat during hard times.

That stability is particularly important in rural parts of the State, which are more susceptible to downturns because they lack the economic diversity of more-urban areas.

Defined-benefit pensions don’t just help New York State. Across the nation, these pensions are benefitting millions of pensioners and their communities. In 2018, defined-benefit pension plans paid $578.7 billion to 23.8 million retired Americans, and their spending supported 6.9 million jobs and generated $1.3 trillion in economic activity, according to a study by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS).

Cost-of-Living Adjustment Coming in September

Eligible NYSLRS retirees will see a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in their monthly pension payments beginning in late September 2021. For payment dates, check our pension payment calendar.

This COLA is a permanent annual increase to your retirement benefit. It is based on the cost-of-living index and is designed to address inflation.

cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) coming soon

How Cost-of-Living Adjustment is Determined

COLA payments are based on the rate of inflation, as reflected in the consumer price index published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The law requires that COLA payments be calculated based on 50 percent of the annual rate of inflation, measured at the end of the fiscal year (on March 31st). In addition, the COLA cannot be less than 1 percent or greater than 3 percent of your benefit.

The COLA adjustment is applied to the first $18,000 of your benefit calculated as a Single Life Allowance, even if you selected a different pension payment option. Once your COLA payments begin, you will automatically receive an increase to your monthly benefit each September.

The September 2021 COLA equals 1.4 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $252.00, or $21.00 per month before taxes.

eligibility for cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)

When Will You See the Increase?

Eligible retirees will see the first 2021 COLA payment in their September pension payment. It will be available to those with direct deposit on September 30, 2021. If you receive a paper check, the COLA will be included in the check mailed on September 29, 2021.

You can sign in to your Retirement Online account to view a current breakdown of your pension payment. If you have direct deposit and are eligible for a COLA increase, you will receive notification of the net change in your monthly payment amount in September.

If you are not eligible for a COLA yet, you will receive your first increase in the month after you become eligible. This payment will include a prorated amount to cover the month you became eligible. After that, you will receive a COLA increase each September.

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.