Tag Archives: PFRS

Knowing Your Retirement Plan
is the Key to Retirement Planning

Information is the key to being fully prepared for your retirement years. The single most important thing you can do to achieve this goal is to know what NYSLRS retirement plan you’re in. Once you know that, the next thing you must do is understand the benefits your plan provides.

Your retirement plan booklet covers things like how long you’ll need to work in order to receive a pension, how your pension amount is determined, and what kind of death and disability benefits may be available to you. You can find a copy of your plan booklet on our Publications page.

But here’s the challenge: NYSLRS manages 335 retirement plan combinations, which are described in 51 plan booklets. How do you figure out which is yours?  The information below should help.

Retirement plan

Two Key Questions

To get started, you need to answer two questions.

Question One: Which retirement system are you in? NYSLRS is made up of two different systems:

  • The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), which is for public employees in non-teaching positions. It also includes some law enforcement personnel, such as correction officers, sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies.
  • The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), which is for paid firefighters and police officers, including SUNY police, State Park police, Encon officers and State Forest Rangers.

Question Two: Which tier are you in? There are six tiers in ERS and five tiers in PFRS. Your tier, based on when you joined NYSLRS, determines such things as when you become eligible for benefits and how much you contribute. You can find your tier by checking your Account Information in Retirement Online or by checking the What Tier Are You In? page on the NYSLRS website.

Know Your Retirement Plan Number

For many members, knowing your retirement system and tier are enough. But for other members, especially those in law enforcement, it may help to have your retirement plan number as well. The plan number indicates the section of Retirement and Social Security Law the plan is based on. For example, Plan A15 indicates that you are covered by Article 15. You can find your plan number in the Account Information section of Retirement Online.

Roughly three-quarters of all ERS members are covered by Article 15; they just need to know their tier to find the correct booklet.

State policeSUNY policeState Encon OfficersState Park Police and Forest Rangers each have their own plan booklet, which can be found in the PFRS section of the Publications page. That’s also where you’ll find the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans, which cover officers in most municipal police departments. (Members in these special plans should see 384, 384-d or 384-e listed in Retirement Online.)

If you are still unsure which retirement plan booklet covers your benefits, you can send us an email using our secure contact form, or you can ask your employer.

Take the Time to Understand Your Retirement Plan

It cannot be stated enough how important it is to read your plan publication to learn all you can about your benefits. It is the key to solid retirement planning. Remember, no one has a more vested stake in your retirement than you do.

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: PFRS Tier 6

When you join the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you’re 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 New York State legislation. 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 PFRS Tier 6. Anyone who joined PFRS on or after April 1, 2012 is in Tier 6. Tier 6 members currently make up about 32 percent of PFRS membership, totaling 10,942 members, making it the second largest tier in PFRS.

Check out the graphic below for the basic retirement information for PFRS Tier 6 members.

PFRS Tier 6

Where to Find PFRS Tier 6 Information

If you’re a PFRS Tier 6 member, please find your retirement plan publication from the list below for more details about your benefits:

Please visit our Publications page for special plans under miscellaneous titles.

Stay tuned for more NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time posts. Check out some earlier posts in the series:

Why Designate a Beneficiary?

When you designate a beneficiary, you choose a person to receive a benefit after your death. By choosing a beneficiary, you’re ensuring that money goes to the person you want to receive it.

Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary? is a short, but informative booklet that explains beneficiary designations and how you can change them.

It is important to designate a beneficiary because that person may be eligible to receive a death benefit. If you are a State employee, they may also be eligible for New York State survivor’s benefit. Most retirees are eligible for a post-retirement death benefit depending on their retirement plan and tier. You can designate a beneficiary to receive this one-time, lump sum benefit after your death.

A beneficiary is often a spouse, a child or another relative, but it does not have to be a family member or even a person. You can designate a trust or organization to receive your ordinary death benefit.

designate a beneficiary

Types of Beneficiaries

The booklet describes the two types of beneficiaries.

A primary beneficiary is the person who receives your death benefit. You can name more than one primary beneficiary. Each will share the benefit equally, unless you indicate specific percentages to be paid to each beneficiary.

A contingent beneficiary will receive your death benefit if all the primary beneficiaries die before you.

The booklet also has a section describing special beneficiary designations, which is helpful if you wish to name a minor child, a trust or an estate as a beneficiary

When to Designate a Beneficiary

You should review your beneficiary information periodically to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date and reflect your current desires. Retirement Online provides convenient access to this information, which you can also find in your most recent Member Annual Statement.

If you get married, get a divorce or have a child, you may wish to change your beneficiary designation. Retirement Online is the convenient and secure way to update your beneficiaries. Sign in to your account, then click “Manage My Beneficiaries.” You can also complete a Designation of Beneficiary form and mail it to NYSLRS.

You can change the beneficiary designation for your death benefit at any time. But remember, a beneficiary designation is a legal document, so you’ll want to avoid some common errors that could make your choices void. Fortunately, this booklet includes a list of guidelines that will help you avoid these pitfalls, and it is available online whenever you need to consult it.

Other Publications

Read our recent blog posts about other NYSLRS publications.

NYSLRS Membership by Tier

NYSLRS, which comprises the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), had 658,176 members as of March 31, 2019. Our members are State government, local government and school district employees from across New York, including 623,090 in ERS and 35,086 in PFRS. Eighty-one percent of our members are active, which means they were on a public payroll as of March 31.

NYSLRS Membership Over Time

A decade ago, nearly 90 percent of NYSLRS members were in Tiers 3 and 4. Now, those tiers represent roughly half of our membership, while Tier 6 members are close to surpassing them in numbers. Tier 6, which includes members who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012, has 253,633 members, or 38.5 percent of total membership. As new public employees come on board and more Tier 3 and 4 members retire, Tier 6 is expected to represent the bulk of NYSLRS membership soon.

Here’s a look at our NYSLRS membership by tier, as of March 31:

NYSLRS Membership
Tier 1: NYSLRS’ oldest tier, whose members first joined the system before July 1, 1973 (July 31, 1973 for PFRS members). Tier 1 now represents only 0.3 percent of our membership. There are only 27 Tier 1 PFRS members.

Tier 2: With 24,216 members, Tier 2 represents 3.7 percent of membership. More than 90 percent of Tier 2 members are in PFRS.

Tier 3 & 4: Tiers 3 and 4, which have similar retirement plans, have 334,836 members, 50.9 percent of the total. (There is no Tier 4 in PFRS.)

Tier 5: Tier 5 covers members who joined from January 1, 2010 through March 31, 2012. With 43,527 members, Tier 5 now represents 6.6 percent of membership.

Tier 6: This tier covers both ERS and PFRS members who joined since April 1, 2012. Its ranks have grown by 18 percent over the past year.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

NYSLRS paid $12.74 billion in benefits to 481,795 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).

The Fund was valued at $210.5 billion at the end of the fiscal year. The average return on Fund investments was 5.23 percent for the year.

A Look inside NYSLRS

NYSLRS Membership

But NYSLRS is more than just the pension fund. The system had 658,176 members as of March 31, including county workers, professional firefighters and State troopers. Here are some facts about them:

  • NYSLRS’ 533,610 active members (that is, members still on a public payroll) work for 3,020 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.

Nearly 39 percent of all NYSLRS members are in Tier 6. (But more than 62 percent of PFRS members are in Tier 2.)

NYSLRS Retirees and Beneficiaries

The average pension for an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) retiree was $24,345; the average for a Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) was $52,804. But NYSLRS pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $10.3 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 2019 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). NYSLRS received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2018 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 15 years.

Certain Payment Options Provide a Lifetime Benefit for a Loved One

When you apply for a NYSLRS pension, you’ll be asked to pick a pension payment option. All payment options will provide you with a monthly benefit for the rest of your life. With the Single Life Allowance, all payments stop at your death and nothing is paid to a beneficiary.

Infographic describing pension payment options

Providing for a Beneficiary

If you’re married and need to provide for your spouse, or if you have someone else you would like to provide a lifetime pension for after you’re gone, there are payment options that let you do that. In exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, Joint Allowance options allow a beneficiary to collect all or part of your pension after you die. The amount of the reduction in your pension is based on your life expectancy and the life expectancy of your beneficiary. That means the younger your beneficiary, the deeper the reduction.

You can only choose one beneficiary under a Joint Allowance option, and your beneficiary selection cannot be changed after you retire, regardless of the circumstances. The benefit reduction for Joint Allowance options will continue even if your beneficiary dies before you do.

Pop-Up Payment Options

If we could predict the future, pension choices would be a lot easier. But a Pop-Up payment option is one way to hedge your bets. Like Joint Allowance options, these plans allow you to provide a lifetime payment for a beneficiary after your death. But if your beneficiary dies before you, your future monthly payments would be increased to the amount you would have been receiving had you chosen the Single Life Allowance. (The pop-up only affects future payments. You would not be entitled to any retroactive payments.)

The monthly reduction in your benefit will be greater if you choose a Pop-Up option over a regular Joint Allowance.

Find Out More

There are also options that allow you to leave a monthly payment to more than one beneficiary, and options that leave a benefit for a certain amount of time. Visit our Payment Option Descriptions page for details about all of the available payment options.

For a better idea of how these payments options would work out for you and your beneficiary, you can use our online pension projection calculator. It uses the information you enter to show how much you could expect to receive under each option. Most members who are within five years of retirement eligibility can also request a benefit projection by contacting our Call Center at 1-866-805-0990 (press 2 for members, follow the prompts, then press 5 to request a benefit projection), or you can submit a Request for Estimate form (RS6030).

How Do I Prepare to Retire?

If you plan to retire in the near future, consider How Do I Prepare to Retire? a must-read.

This NYSLRS publication is a road map for the retirement process — a guide to the steps you’ll need to take before and after you file your retirement application. It highlights resources you can tap to get a better understanding of your benefits, including the NYSLRS website and Retirement Online.

prepare to retire

Retirement Planning Tips

Before you retire, you may need to tie up some loose ends regarding your membership. How Do I Prepare to Retire? discusses how to get credit for all of your service, paying off any outstanding NYSLRS loans, and other matters you should attend to before you file for retirement.

The biggest decision you’ll make as you plan your retirement is setting a date. This booklet includes a discussion about the impact early retirement may have on your pension amount. You’ll also find information about how your final average salary is calculated and how to get an estimate of your future benefits.

Retirement Countdown

Once you seriously begin to consider retirement, the booklet details a few steps you can take to make your path to the big day as smooth as possible.

  • File Proof of Your Date of Birth. Before we can pay any benefits, we must have proof of your date of birth.
  • File Your Domestic Relations Order. If you have a court order showing how your benefits are to be divided with an ex-spouse, we’ll need a certified copy.
  • Review Your Health Insurance. Check what coverage you’ll have or investigate health insurance options. (NYSLRS does not administer health insurance for our retirees, but you may be able to pay for yours through pension deductions.)

Filing for Retirement

Filing an Application for Service Retirement sets the ball in motion. In most cases, your application must be on file with the Office of the State Comptroller 15 to 90 days before you retire. You need to send it directly to NYSLRS; don’t give it to your employer. You can mail it, preferably by certified mail, or drop it off at one of our consultation sites.

This booklet tells you what to do and what to expect as we finalize your pension. There are important documents you’ll need to file, such as a W-4P form, so we know how much we should withhold from your pension. But don’t fret too much about these things: just keep How Do I Prepare to Retire? handy and consult it whenever you have a question.

Other Publications

Read our recent blog posts about other NYSLRS publications.

Retirement Age and Your NYSLRS Pension

For some NYSLRS members, your retirement age matters when it comes to receiving your NYSLRS retirement benefits.

Your pension will be based largely on your years of service and final average salary, but your age at retirement is also a factor. How age plays into the equation depends on your tier and retirement plan.

Members in regular retirement plans can retire as early as age 55, but they may face significant pension reductions if they retire before their full retirement age. The full retirement age for members in most tiers is 62, and it’s 63 for Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6 members and for Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) Tier 6 members who leave public employment before retirement age, but have enough service to receive a pension. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

retirement age

Benefit reductions are prorated by month. The closer you are to your full retirement age when you retire, the less the reduction will be. Here are some examples of how that would work.

  • ERS Tiers 2, 3 and 4, PFRS Tiers 2, 3 (Article 11), 5 and 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 16.5 percent.
  • ERS Tier 5: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 20.83 percent.
  • ERS Tier 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 29.5 percent.

Once you retire with a reduced benefit, the reduction is permanent — it does not end when you reach retirement age.

Retirement Age Exceptions

Tier 1 members can retire at 55 without a benefit reduction. Benefit reductions don’t apply to ERS Tier 2, 3 or 4 members if they retire with 30 years of service. Tier 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System can also retire between 55 and 62 without penalty if they have 30 years of service.

More Information

Understanding how age affects your NYSLRS benefits is crucial to retirement planning. To learn more, please review your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page.


Your Contributions to NYSLRS

Most NYSLRS members contribute a percentage of their earnings to the Retirement System. Unlike a 401k or IRA, these contributions don’t determine the amount of your pension. So how do NYSLRS contributions work?

NYSLRS retirement plans differ from defined contribution plans, such as 401k 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 lifetime benefit, and there is the risk that the money will run out during the worker’s retirement years.

Your NYSLRS contributions, however, don’t go into a personal retirement account. That’s because NYSLRS is a defined benefit plan. Your contributions go into the New York Common Retirement Fund along with employer contributions and investment income. This pool of money pays out retirement benefits for you and other NYSLRS members.

Once you’re vested, you’re entitled to a pension that will provide monthly payments for the rest of your life. The amount of those payments will be based on your years of service and final average salary, not on how much you contributed to the Retirement System.

How Much Do I Contribute?

If you joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6. Tier 6 contributions range from 3 to 6 percent of earnings.

To put that into perspective, financial experts advise workers in defined contribution plans to save 10 to 15 percent of their earnings in their retirement accounts.

Visit our Member Contributions page for other tier contribution rates.

Tier 6 contributions

Can I Withdraw My Contributions?

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 benefits.