NYSLRS retirees tend to stay in New York, where their pensions are exempt from State and local income taxes. In fact, 79 percent of NYSLRS 487,407 retirees and beneficiaries lived in the State as of March 31, 2020. And half of them lived in just ten of New York’s 62 counties.
So where in New York do these retirees call home? Well, there are a lot of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries on Long Island. Suffolk and Nassau counties are home to more than 61,000 recipients of NYSLRS retirement benefits, with annual pension payments exceeding $2 billion. But that shouldn’t be surprising. Suffolk and Nassau counties are the largest and third largest counties in the State outside of New York City by population. (The City, which has its own retirement systems for municipal employees, police and firefighters, had 23,700 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries.)
Erie County, which includes Buffalo, ranks number two among counties in the number of NYSLRS retirees, with more than 32,000. Albany County, home to the State capital, ranked fourth with close to 20,000. Monroe, Westchester, Onondaga, Saratoga, Oneida and Dutchess counties round out the top ten.
All told, NYSLRS retirees received $5.9 billion in retirement benefits in the top ten counties, and $10.8 billion statewide.
Hamilton County had the fewest NYSLRS benefit recipients. But in this sparsely populated county in the heart of the Adirondacks, those 499 retirees represent nearly 11 percent of the county population. During fiscal year 2019-2020, $10.8 million in NYSLRS retirement benefits was paid to Hamilton County residents.
Outside of New York, Florida remained the top choice for NYSLRS retirees, with more than 38,000 benefit recipients. North Carolina (9,413), New Jersey (7,893) and South Carolina (6,457) were also popular. There were 639 NYSLRS recipients living outside the United States as of March 31, 2020.
You can now file for a service retirement benefit using Retirement Online. This new feature makes applying for retirement faster and easier than ever before. If you don’t already have an account, sign up today.
And, if you become ill with COVID-19, you may want to file for retirement to protect your loved ones.
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:
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.
If you decide to file your application by mail, you will have to have your signature notarized on the application and on the payment option election form.
You can have forms notarized using audio-video technology, which allows a notary to witness a signature remotely. You can find more information about the virtual notary process on the New York Secretary of State website.
If you are in quarantine and perhaps unable to use a virtual notary, you can submit a signed form that is not notarized. You’ll need to include a letter to NYSLRS to explain that you were under quarantine when the form was signed, and submit notarized forms once the quarantine is lifted.
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 become seriously ill, you may wish to file for a disability retirement benefit. That way, if you were to die before your retirement date, your beneficiary may still be eligible for a continuing pension, rather than a one-time, in-service death benefit. You may apply for a disability retirement at the same time you apply for a service retirement — there is no 15-day waiting period when filing for disability 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
How COLA is Determined
The law requires that COLA payments, subject to certain limitations, equal 50 percent of the previous year’s inflation rate, but are never less than 1 percent or more than 3 percent of your benefit. The adjustment is applied to the first $18,000 of your Single Life Allowance, even if you selected a different pension payment option. Once COLA payments begin, you will receive an increase to your monthly benefit each September.
The September 2020 COLA equals 1 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $180.00, or $15.00 per month before taxes.
Who is Eligible for a COLA?
To begin receiving COLA payments, you must be:
Age 62 or older and retired for five or more years; or
Age 55 or older and retired for ten or more years (uniformed employees such as police officers, firefighters and correction officers covered by a special plan that allows for retirement, regardless of age, after a specific number of years); or
A disability retiree for five years; or
The spouse of a deceased retiree receiving a lifetime benefit under a pension payment option elected by the retiree. An eligible spouse is entitled to one-half the COLA amount that would have been paid to the eligible retiree when the retiree would have met COLA eligibility; or
A beneficiary receiving the accidental death benefit for five or more years on behalf of a deceased Retirement System member.
When Will You See the Increase?
Eligible retirees will see the first 2020 COLA payment in their September pension payment. It will be available to those with direct deposit on September 30, 2020. If you receive a paper check, the COLA will be included in the check to be mailed September 29, 2020.
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.
Most NYSLRS members can now 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.
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.
Most members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) contribute a percentage of their earnings toward their pensions. For Tier 6 members, that percentage, or contribution rate, can vary from year to year. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.
When Tier 6 Contribution Rates are Determined
Tier 6 contribution rates are calculated annually. New rates become effective each year on April 1, the beginning of the State’s fiscal year. Once your contribution 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 contribution rate.
For the 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 prior. The minimum contribution rate is 3 percent of your earnings, and the maximum is 6 percent.
The percentage you contribute toward your pension while you work does not affect the pension amount you may receive in retirement. Your NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit based on your retirement plan, years of service credit and final average salary. 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. For more information about ERS Tier 6 memberships, read our blog post, What to Know About ERS Tier 6.
We continue to receive reports of NYSLRS members who have become ill, or seriously ill, as a result of COVID-19. It is vitally important that these members, and their loved ones, be aware of the provisions contained in a NYSLRS Power of Attorney.
NYSLRS provides a Special Durable Power of Attorney form that is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements. It can be filed with NYSLRS at any time so the designated agent can act immediately in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness. There’s no need to wait until something happens to file a NYSLRS POA form.
A power of attorney (POA) allows a person to designate someone else to act on their behalf. The designated person, referred to as an “agent,” could be a spouse, another family member or a trusted friend.
A person can designate more than one person as an agent, and can decide if those agents act together or separately. In addition to an agent or agents, a person may designate “successor agents” to act on an individual’s behalf if the person designated as the “primary” agent is unable or unwilling to serve. Successor agents can be named using the “Modifications” section (g) of the POA.
Why is a NYSLRS POA Important?
Normally, NYSLRS won’t release benefit information to anyone without your permission — even to a spouse. With a POA on file, we would be able to discuss your benefits and conduct business with the agent you appointed. This could be especially important now as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic. If you suddenly become ill and are unable to contact us personally, your agent would be able to take care of your retirement needs for you.
What Can Agents Do?
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 or phone numbers or take out loans. For retirees, agents can change the amount withheld from pensions for taxes.
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.
If you use the NYSLRS POA form, and your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they have “self-gifting authority.” That means they can direct deposit money into a joint bank account you have with them, designate themselves as a beneficiary to your pension benefits, and/or choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death.
If your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they do not automatically have “self-gifting” authority, which means they cannot name themselves as a beneficiary or direct deposit money into a joint bank account with their name on it. If you wish to give an agent(s) or successor agent(s) ”self-gifting” authority, you should specifically indicate so in section (g) “Modifications” of the POA. In that section you should identify your agent(s) or successor agent(s) by name and state the specific authority granted to them.
Please note only biological or legally adopted children are considered your “child” for NYSLRS POA purposes. All other children must be granted specific authority in section (g) “Modifications.”
How to Submit a NYSLRS POA Form
If your decision to submit a NYSLRS POA is related to the COVID-19 emergency, please note that on the form in section (g) “Modifications.” If you file a retirement application, consider submitting a NYSLRS POA with your application.
You can scan and email a copy of your POA to NYSLRS using the secure email form on our website.
You can also mail your POA (original or photocopy). You may wish to mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested, so that you know when NYSLRS receives it. The address is:
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.
The unfortunate reality of the COVID-19 emergency is that some NYSLRS members may become seriously ill and some may die from the disease. That is why it is vitally important that members understand how to apply for retirement benefits, if they need to take that step.
NYSLRS members who become seriously ill from COVID-19 may wish to file for a disability retirement benefit so their beneficiary may be eligible for a continuing pension, rather than a one-time in-service death benefit, if the member dies.
or their employer on their behalf, need to file the disability
retirement application that is appropriate for them according to their
Please visit our Disability Benefits page and select “Find Your Application” to help you find the right application. Additionally, the member, or the member’s spouse, should file a pension payment option election form to identify a beneficiary to receive the continuing benefit. An option election form cannot be filed by the employer. A continuing benefit cannot be paid to a beneficiary unless we receive an option election form.
Applications and option election forms can be emailed directly to NYSLRS’ Disability Processing Unit. If the member dies after applying, the disability retirement application would be effective upon death. If the member recovers, he or she would be allowed to withdraw the disability retirement application.
Eligible members may also file for a service retirement. However, a service retirement cannot be canceled if your retirement date has passed. You can file a disability and a service retirement application at the same time. Service retirements can be filed electronically using Retirement Online.
Please call our Contact Center at 866-805-0990 if
you have questions.
You probably have a lot on your mind right now, but one thing you don’t need to worry about is your NYSLRS pension. Despite the turmoil in the financial markets, your retirement benefits are secure.
want to assure the more than one million men and women who rely on the State
pension fund for retirement security that we are well-positioned to weather the
ongoing volatility,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “To
our retirees, your pensions are safe and we will continue to pay your benefits
The New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds and invests NYSLRS assets, has long been recognized as one of best managed and best funded public pension plans in the nation. The strength of the Fund puts NYSLRS in a good position as we navigate through the current economic turmoil.
Fund’s professional managers take a conservative approach to investing and
focus on sustained, long-term results. This approach allows the Fund to capitalize
on investment opportunities in good times and cushions it against market ups
and downs. In recent months, as they recognized increased volatility in the
market, Fund managers began making adjustments to the Fund’s investment
portfolio to prepare for an expected downturn in the economy. They are actively
managing the Fund through these difficult times and are confident the markets
will ultimately recover.