Tag Archives: retirement benefits

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Coming in September

Eligible NYSLRS retirees will see a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in their monthly pension payments beginning in late September 2022. This is a permanent annual increase to your retirement benefit that is based on the cost-of-living index and a formula set by State law.

For payment dates, check our pension payment calendar.

COLA coming soon

How the Cost-of-Living Adjustment is Determined

COLA increases 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 State fiscal year (March 31). The increase cannot be less than 1 percent or greater than 3 percent.

The COLA 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 2022 COLA equals 3 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $540.00, or $45.00 per month before taxes.

COLA eligibility

When Will You See the Increase?

Eligible retirees will see the first 2022 COLA in their end-of-September pension payment. It will be available to those with direct deposit on September 30, 2022. If you receive a paper check, it will be included in the check mailed on September 29, 2022.

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 the 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.

Popular Blog Posts You May Have Missed

In 2021, NYSLRS members showed a keen interest in posts that helped them learn more about their retirement benefits. In case you missed them, or just want to take another look, here are some of our most popular blog posts from the past year.

most popular blog posts of 2021
 
  1. Tier 6 Benefits – A Closer Look
    Nearly half of all NYSLRS members belong to the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6. Here is a look at how their pensions will be calculated.

  2. Retirement Online Makes Applying for Retirement Fast, Easy
    Many members have discovered the convenience of filing for a service retirement benefit online. You won’t need to have anything notarized and you can skip a trip to the post office.

  3. Tier 3 & 4 Members: When Is The Right Time To Retire?
    Many Tier 3 and 4 members are close to retirement. But their pension amount will depend on several factors, including when they retire. Here is some information to help you get the timing right.

  4. The Police and Fire Retirement System
    The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) is the smaller of the two NYSLRS retirement systems. The vast majority of PFRS members are in special retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years of service.

  5. What is a Defined Benefit Plan?
    As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit plan. But what does that mean and how will it affect your retirement?

Thank you for following New York Retirement News. We look forward to providing you with more information about your NYSLRS benefits and other retirement topics throughout 2022.

Ten Things Every NYSLRS Member Should Know

There’s a lot to know about being a NYSLRS member, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming learning about your retirement benefits when you join or when you’re getting ready to retire. That’s why we’d like to focus on ten things that are important to all our members.

NYSLRS member
  1. Your retirement benefits are guaranteed by the State Constitution. Under Article 5, Section 7, your pension cannot be “diminished or impaired.”
  2. You are part of a defined benefit pension plan. A defined benefit plan provides a lifetime benefit at retirement based on earnings and years of service.
  3. The Pension Fund, the pool of money your retirement benefits will be 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.
  4. Your retirement plan booklet contains a wealth of information about your benefits.
  5. Your tier determines your eligibility for benefits and how those benefits are calculated.
  6. Becoming vested is a key milestone in every NYSLRS member’s career. Once you’re vested, you’ll be eligible for a pension even if you leave public employment before retirement age.
  7. Your final average earnings (FAE) is a major factor in calculating your NYSLRS pension, rather than being dependent on the contributions you make toward retirement.
  8. You can estimate your pension online. Most members can use Retirement Online to create a benefit estimate based on information we have on file for them. (And if you can’t use this calculator, we have alternatives for you.)
  9. 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.
  10. Retirement savings can supplement your pension and Social Security and give you more flexibility in retirement. The sooner you start, the more time you have to grow your savings.

Already retired? Read our blog post, Ten Things Every NYSLRS Retiree Should Know.

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.

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 32,000 active members. A third of PFRS members work for cities, while almost 19 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 in PFRS). 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 55 percent of PFRS membership.

If you joined PFRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

Ninety-eight percent of PFRS members 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.

police and fire 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 PoliceForest 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.

Power of Attorney

Under normal circumstances, NYSLRS won’t release your benefit information – even to close family members­ – without your permission. However, if we have an approved copy of your power of attorney (POA) form on record, we can discuss your information with the person you named as your agent in your POA.

For example, your agent could ask for details about your pension payments, get help completing a loan application or call us for clarification if you don’t understand a letter you received.

father and son discuss power of attorney

Your agent could be your spouse, another family member or a trusted friend. You may designate more than one person as your agent, and you may authorize those agents to act together or separately. You may also designate “successor agents” to act on your behalf if the primary agent is unable or unwilling to serve.

A POA form may be filed with NYSLRS at any time, so there’s no need to wait until a “life event” happens to file. With a POA already on record, the designated agent can act immediately in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness.

What Can Agents Do?

The agent named in your POA is authorized to act on your behalf and conduct business with NYSLRS for you.

Agents can file applications and forms, such as service or disability retirement applications. They can get account-specific benefit information, request copies of retirement documents, update addresses and phone numbers, and take out loans. For retirees, agents can change the amount withheld from your pension for taxes.

The NYSLRS POA Form

NYSLRS provides a Special Durable Power of Attorney form that is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements.

If you use the NYSLRS POA form, and your agent or successor agent is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they have “self-gifting authority.” That means they can designate themselves as a beneficiary of your pension benefits or, if you are not yet retired, choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death and designate themselves as a beneficiary for that benefit.

If your agent or successor agent is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they do not automatically have self-gifting authority. If you want them to be able to designate themselves as beneficiaries, you should indicate that in the Modifications section of the POA. You should identify your agent by name and specify the authority you want granted to them.

It’s important to note that the NYSLRS POA form only covers Retirement System transactions. It does not authorize an agent to make health care decisions or changes to a Deferred Compensation plan.

Changes to the POA Law

The law governing POA requirements was changed effective June 13, 2021. Any POA executed on or after that date must comply with the following requirements (the NYSLRS form complies with the requirements):

  • All POAs must be signed by two disinterested witnesses (witnesses who are not listed as an agent in the POA or named in the POA as a person who can receive gifts).
  • The use of a Statutory Gift Rider to grant gifting authority has been eliminated. If you do not use the NYSLRS POA form and instead submit a separately prepared Statutory POA form, gifting authority, even for a close family member, must be granted in the Modifications section of the POA. (See our Power of Attorney page for details.)

If you have an approved POA on file with NYSLRS, you do not need to send a new one. POAs executed before June 13, 2021, will be reviewed in accordance with the laws in effect at the time. POAs executed on or after June 13, 2021, that use an old POA form or do not comply with other requirements of the new law will not be valid.

How to Submit a POA Form

You can scan and email a copy of your POA to NYSLRS using our secure email form.

You can also mail your POA (original or photocopy). You may wish to mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested, so you know when NYSLRS receives it. Mail it to:

NYSLRS
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001.

Find Out More

A power of attorney is a powerful document. Once you appoint someone, that person may act on your behalf with or without your consent. We strongly urge you to consult an attorney before you execute this document.

You may revoke your POA at any time by sending us a signed, notarized statement.

Please read the Power of Attorney page on our website for additional information.

A Century of Security and Stability

A century after its creation, the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) is widely recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public pension systems in the nation. Comptroller DiNapoli recently announced that the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund), which holds and invests the assets of NYSLRS, had an estimated value of $268.3 billion as of June 30, 2021. The security and stability of NYSLRS and the Fund are due, in large part, to the stewardship of Comptroller DiNapoli, as well as a long line of State Comptrollers that came before him. The System has also been bolstered by some key events along the way.

NYSLRS History - key events contributing to the security and stability of the Retirement System and the Fund

In the Beginning

NYSLRS’ security and stability were built in at the start. In 1918, the State Legislature created the Commission on Pensions and charged it with recommending a pension system for State workers.

After surveying pension plans in New York and other states, the Pension Commission recognized the need to calculate the cost of the pension plan through actuarial calculations, which take into account such things as employees’ salaries and how long they are expected to be retired. They also saw the need to make provisions to cover those costs through contributions and other income. They recommended a plan supported by the contributions of employers (New York State and, eventually, local governments) and employees. The improved actuarial calculations the System uses today helps to ensure that member contributions and employer annual contributions are sufficient to keep the System adequately funded.

The Pension Commission also recommended a service retirement benefit be made available to workers who reached a certain age, based on average earnings and years of service. Though they didn’t use the term, their pension plan was very similar to the defined-benefit plan NYSLRS members have now.

Unlike the 401k-style defined-contribution plans common in the private sector today, a defined-benefit plan provides a guaranteed, lifetime benefit. With a defined-benefit plan, you don’t have to worry about your money running out during retirement, and your employer has an excellent tool for recruiting and retaining workers.

Constitutional Protection

In 1938, New York voters approved several amendments to the State Constitution, including Article 5, Section 7, which guarantees that a public pension benefit cannot be “diminished or impaired.” This constitutional language protects the interests of the Fund and its members and beneficiaries, ensuring that the money the Fund holds will be there to pay the pensions for all current and future retirees. The courts have upheld this constitutional provision to protect the Fund several times over the years.

For NYSLRS members and retirees, that means the retirement benefits you were promised when you started your public service career cannot be reduced or taken away.

Sound Investments

Sound investments are crucial to the health of the Fund, but in some cases changes in the law were needed to give Fund managers the flexibility to make the best investments. In 1961, the Fund was allowed to invest in the stock market, opening up the door for growth opportunities. Roughly half of the Fund’s assets are currently invested in stocks.

In 2005, the Legislature expanded the types of investments the Fund could make, allowing the Fund to increase investments in real estate, international stocks and other sectors that had been providing high returns.

Today, under Comptroller DiNapoli’s leadership, the Fund’s investment returns cover the majority of the cost of retirement benefits. After suffering a drop in value at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the Fund had its best year in history, with estimated investment returns of 33.55 percent for fiscal year 2021.

NYSLRS is well-positioned to face the challenges of the future and provide retirement security for more than 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries.

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.

Recently enacted legislation will lower contribution rates for some Tier 6 members for two years. Read about it in our blog post, Overtime Pay Temporarily Excluded From Tier 6 Contribution Rates.

How Your Tier 6 Contribution Rate is Calculated

Tier 6 contribution rates are based on what you earn during a State fiscal year, from April 1 through March 31. The minimum rate is 3 percent of your earnings, and the maximum is 6 percent.

Your contribution rate is calculated by NYSLRS. Rates are based on your earnings from the last completed fiscal year and provided to your employer in March, a few weeks before your employer needs to apply rate changes for all the employees at your organization. The contribution rate you are paying today is based on what you earned from April 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021.

During your first three years as a NYSLRS member, your contribution rate is based on an estimated annual wage we receive from your employer when you were enrolled as a new member. 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.

Retirement Online Makes Applying for Retirement Fast, Easy

You can file for a service retirement benefit using Retirement Online. This feature makes applying for retirement faster and easier than ever before. If you don’t already have an account, sign up today.

applying for retirement

File for a Service Retirement Online

After signing in to your Retirement Online account, scroll down to the ‘My Account Summary.’ On the right, under the heading ‘I want to…,’ click the green “Apply for Retirement” button.

From there, you’ll go through a series of screens where you’ll be able to:

  • Choose a retirement date;
  • Get an estimate of your pension and the payment options available to you;
  • Select a payment option (many provide a continuing benefit for a beneficiary after you die);
  • Sign up for direct deposit; and
  • Attach required documents, such as proof of date of birth.

A big advantage of filing for retirement online is that you do not have to get anything notarized.

After you click the “Submit” button, it is important that you do not close your browser until you receive a confirmation message that states your retirement application has been successfully submitted.

Filing for Service Retirement by Mail

You can still print an Application for Service Retirement and pension payment option election form and mail them to NYSLRS. If you mail the application, we recommend “certified mail, return receipt requested.” When we receive the form, the postmark date will serve as the filing date.

If you use regular mail, the filing date is the date we receive it. However, if you were to die after your application is mailed, but before we receive it, a legible postmark will serve as a filing date. (If you mail it from a post office, you can ask for a hand cancellation, which may help ensure the postmark is legible.)

If you plan to mail your application, you may want to read our blog post, Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement.

For More Details, Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

Your service and disability retirement benefits and death benefits are based on your tier, plan, service credit, and other factors. For details about your available benefits, please read your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page, or you can call our Contact Center at 866-805-0990 if you have questions.

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.