Tag Archives: retirement plan

Why Your Retirement Plan Publication Is So Important

Your plan publication is an essential resource that you should consult throughout your career. It will help you plan for retirement and guide you when your retirement date draws near.

Reminder: you can use this tool to help you find your retirement plan publication.

Let’s explore the information you’ll find in your plan publication and what it means.

retirement plan publication

About Your Membership

This section has basic information about your membership, including your tier, contributions, when you will be eligible for a pension and how to withdraw your membership if you leave public employment.

Service Credit

Service credit is one of the main factors in determining your pension benefit amount. If you work full-time for the State or a participating municipal employer for 12 months, you’ll earn a year of service credit. If you work part-time, your service credit is prorated.

You’ll also find information about how your service credit is calculated, how to purchase credit for previous public employment or military service, how leaves of absence affect service credit, and how sick leave can be used for extra service credit at retirement.

Final Average Earnings

Final average earnings (FAE) are another major factor in determining the amount of your pension. Your FAE is the average earnings during the set of consecutive years (three or five years, depending on your tier and retirement plan) when your earnings were highest.

This section describes what types of payments are used in calculating your FAE and any limitations that may apply.

Service Retirement Benefits

This section describes your retirement eligibility and how your benefit is calculated. If you have questions about how much your pension will be, you should read this section.

Choosing a Pension Payment Option

You can choose from several options for the payment of your pension. Some payment options allow you to provide for your spouse or other beneficiary after you die in exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment. Consider each payment option carefully, as you’ll only have at most 30 days to change it after you retire.

Items That May Affect Your Pension

This section describes factors that can change the amount of your pension. For example, if you retire with an outstanding loan, your pension will be permanently reduced. Also, if you get a divorce, your ex-spouse may be entitled to a portion of your benefit.

A cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), on the other hand, would increase your benefit once you become eligible.

Vested Retirement Benefits

If you leave public employment before retirement age but have met the minimum service requirement to receive a pension, you can apply for a vested retirement benefit when you become eligible.

Disability and Death Benefits

Your NYSLRS benefits include more than a pension. If you are no longer able to perform your job because of a medical condition, you may be eligible for a disability retirement. If you die before retirement, your survivors may be eligible for a death benefit.

Receiving Your Benefits

Before you can receive your pension, you must file an application with the Office of the State Comptroller. This section describes the process of applying for your retirement benefits, including information about filing online.

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: ERS Tiers 3 and 4

(We know that’s two, but let us explain.) When you join the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you’re assigned a tier based on your date of membership. There are six tiers in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and five in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Your tier determines such things as your eligibility for benefits, the calculation of those benefits, death benefit coverage and whether you need to contribute toward your benefits.

Our series, NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time, walks through each tier and gives you a quick look at the benefits in both ERS and PFRS. Today’s post looks at ERS Tiers 3 and 4. Of our current 650,251 ERS members, 263,561 are in Tiers 3 and 4, representing 40.5 percent of ERS membership.

Most ERS Tier 3 and Tier 4 members (unless they are in special retirement plans) retire under the Article 15 retirement plan. Check out the graphic below for the basic retirement information for Tiers 3 and 4 members in this plan.

ERS Tiers 3 and 4 - Article 15

Membership Milestones for ERS Tiers 3 and 4

ERS members in Tiers 3 or 4 need five years of service credit to become vested. Once vested, they’re eligible for a lifetime pension benefit as early as age 55. However, if they retire before the full retirement age of 62 with fewer than 30 years of service credit, their benefit will be reduced. Some Tier 3 and 4 members, such as sheriffs or correction officers, can retire with 20 or 25 years of service, regardless of age and without penalty.

You can check your service credit total and estimate your pension using Retirement Online. Most members can use our online pension calculator to create an estimate based on the salary and service information NYSLRS has on file for them. You can enter different retirement dates to see how your choices would affect your potential benefit.

For more information about Tier 3 and 4 membership, find your NYSLRS retirement plan publication. It’s a comprehensive description of the benefits provided by your specific plan.

What is a Defined Benefit Plan?

As a NYSLRS member, you are enrolled in a defined benefit plan, also known as a traditional pension plan.

How a Defined Benefit Plan Works

Defined benefit pension plans provide a specified payment amount at retirement. If you are vested and retire from NYSLRS, you will receive a monthly pension payment for the rest of your life. Your pension will be calculated using a preset formula based on your earnings and years of service. Your individual contributions to NYSLRS will not affect the pension you receive when you retire.

Defined benefit plans are supported by contributions from both members and employers. With defined benefit plans, retirement assets are pooled and the investment risk is shared. These plans are usually administered by professional managers, whose long-term investment strategies help to reduce the impact of market turmoil. NYSLRS employs an experienced group of investment managers.

The biggest contributor to your pension plan is the New York State Common Retirement Fund. Over the past 20 years, the Fund’s investment returns have covered 75 percent of the cost of pensions.

understand your defined benefit plan

Defined Contribution Plans — And Their Risks

Defined benefit plans are often confused with 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, which are known as defined contribution plans.

With a defined contribution plan, the employee, the employer or both make contributions to an individual retirement account for the employee, and the money in the account is invested. In most cases, the employee decides how and where the money is invested (or the plan may offer pre-packaged investment options). At retirement, the employee will be able to draw from the accumulated value of contributions and investment returns, minus any fees.

The amount of money the employee has at retirement depends on the investment returns of the individual account. So, market downturns, especially near retirement, can negatively affect the value of the benefit. Employees depending on defined contribution plans run the risk of outliving their savings.

NYSLRS’ Defined Benefit Plans

NYSLRS administers more than 300 retirement plan combinations, but all of them are defined benefit plans and share certain features. NYSLRS plans:

  • Provide a guaranteed benefit for life;
  • Offer a pension based on final average earnings and years of service;
  • Provide a right to pension benefits (vesting) with five years of service credit;
  • Build a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) into pensions to help offset the effect of inflation; and
  • Include disability retirement and death benefits.

We strongly encourage you to review your retirement plan publication for a complete description of your benefits. To find your retirement plan publication, visit our Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication page and follow the steps listed.

Advantages of Defined Benefit Plans

Defined benefit plans provide important advantages for state and local government employers. For one, offering these plans makes it easier to recruit and retain qualified employees, particularly police officers, fire fighters and teachers. Employers can also reduce the risk of employee turnover, which could help cut training costs and improve productivity.

Defined benefit plans also help support state and local economies, because they provide a steady, reliable stream of retirement income for many retirees across New York and the nation.

Read more about the advantages of defined benefit plans.

Left Public Employment? Don’t Forget to File for Retirement

If you expect to leave public employment before retirement age, or if you’ve already left, take note of this important information about your NYSLRS pension.

Once you become a vested NYSLRS member, you’re eligible for a NYSLRS pension even if you leave public employment before retirement age. Vesting is automatic but receiving retirement benefits is not. You’ll need to apply for your pension. But when should you apply?

Filing for Retirement If You Have Left Public Employment

Most NYSLRS members can begin collecting their pension as early as age 55. If you file for your retirement benefit between age 55 and your full NYSLRS retirement age, you may face a permanent benefit reduction. Full retirement age for a NYSLRS pension is 62 or 63, depending on your plan and tier.

retirement age for full benefits if you left public employment

Waiting longer than your full retirement age, however, could cost you a lot of money.

If you aren’t working for a NYSLRS participating employer, your NYSLRS pension will not increase after your full retirement age. Pension benefits are not retroactive, and you will not be able to recover the monthly pension payments that you would have received if you retired at full retirement age.

How Social Security and NYSLRS Rules Differ

NYSLRS and Social Security are different systems with different milestones. You can collect Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. If you delay taking Social Security, your benefit amount will continue to increase 8 percent per year until you reach age 70 (for those born in 1943 or later).

But if you wait until you’re 70 to apply for your NYSLRS pension, you’ll miss out on years of NYSLRS benefit payments.

The information above applies only to members who leave public employment before their full retirement age.

(In most cases, if you are still working for a participating public employer in New York State, your pension amount will continue to increase, even if you work past your retirement age.)

Steps You Can Take

Your retirement may be years or even decades in the future. Here are a few steps you can take to help you keep track of your NYSLRS pension if you leave public employment:

  • Estimate your NYSLRS pension at different ages using the benefit calculator in Retirement Online.
  • Create a plan for retirement, taking into account the milestones above.
  • Review your plan periodically and update it as necessary.
  • Keep your contact information up to date using Retirement Online.
  • Contact NYSLRS if you have questions about your benefits.

Welcome, New Members

Welcome new members to 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 nearly 1.2 million members, retirees and beneficiaries, NYSLRS is one of the largest public retirement systems in the nation.

NYSLRS is here to help you plan a financially secure retirement. Retirement may seem like a distant concern, but decisions you make now will have a big impact on your post-work life. Here are a few things you should do now as a new member:

Checklist for New Members

new members checklist

Learn About Defined Benefit Plans

Your NYSLRS pension is a defined benefit plan. This means that, once you are eligible and apply for retirement, you are guaranteed a monthly pension payment for the rest of your life. The amount of your payments will be calculated using a formula set by State law.

Defined benefit plans should not be confused with 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, which are known as defined contribution plans. The value of these plans is limited to the contributions made to an individual’s account and the investment returns on those contributions. And, unlike your NYSLRS pension, these plans do not guarantee a lifetime benefit.

While a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan can supplement a pension and Social Security benefits, it does not provide the same level of financial security as a defined benefit plan.

Sign Up for Retirement Online

If you haven’t already, sign up for a Retirement Online account. You can use Retirement Online to look up your estimated total service credit, name a beneficiary for your death benefit, purchase past service credit and more. This online tool will be an important resource throughout your career, especially as you plan for retirement when you can use our benefit calculator to estimate your pension.

Find Your Retirement Plan Publication

Your retirement plan publication is an essential resource that provides comprehensive information about your NYSLRS benefits. You can look up your specific plan using our Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication tool. All you need is your benefit plan code and Tier, which you can find in Retirement Online.

Designate a Beneficiary

Your retirement plan provides you with a death benefit, so it’s important that you designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries. You can designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries through Retirement Online or by mailing us a Designation of Beneficiary form (RS5127).

Understand Service Credit

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on factors such as your tierretirement planage at retirementfinal average earnings and your 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. If you worked for a public employer or served in the U.S. armed forces before you were a member of NYSLRS, you may be eligible to receive credit for that past service. Because it is a major factor in calculating a NYSLRS pension, additional service credit would increase your pension in most cases. You can request this service through Retirement Online or by mailing us a Request to Purchase Service Credit (Including any Military Service) form (RS5042).

Start Saving for Retirement

Your pension is only one part of a secure financial future. It’s a good idea to save additional money for retirement. Healthy retirement savings will give you more flexibility to do the things you want to do in retirement. They also can be a hedge against inflation and a source of cash in an emergency. You don’t want to wait to start saving; the sooner you do, the more time your money has to grow.

More Information

Visit our Welcome New Members page for more information about NYSLRS and your benefits.

Find Your Retirement Plan Publication

Your retirement plan publication is an essential resource that explains your NYSLRS benefits in detail — how long you’ll need to work to receive a pension, how your benefit is determined, what death and disability benefits may be available and more. You should consult it throughout your career, but it’s especially important to read as you prepare for retirement.

finding your retirement plan publication

Finding Your Retirement Plan Publication

NYSLRS administers two retirement systems, six membership tiers and many retirement plans that are described in dozens of retirement plan publications. We want to make sure you find the specific retirement plan information that pertains to you, which is why we have a new tool to help you Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication. To use it, you just need to know your retirement plan code. You can find your code in the ‘My Account Summary’ section of your Retirement Online account homepage, or check the second page of your latest Member Annual Statement. You also can also use the new tool to search for your plan publication by retirement system, tier and occupation type (uniformed or non-uniformed).

Looking Up Your Plan Milestones

Once you have found your publication, check to see what minimum age or service milestones you’ll need to reach to receive your pension. Most retirement plans allow for full pension benefits at 62 (63 for Tier 6 members) or a reduced benefit starting at age 55. Members in some plans can apply for their pension once they reach 20 or 25 years of service credit, regardless of age.

The years of service credit you earn may also change the calculation of your pension. For example, the percentage of earnings used to determine your retirement benefit may increase once you reach certain milestones — such as when you have 20 years of credited service — but that depends on what retirement plan you are in.

Knowing your plan-specific age and service requirements can help you decide when to retire and anticipate the income your benefit would provide in retirement. If you want to work until a certain age or need to earn a specific amount of service, now you can set that goal and prepare accordingly.  

For more detailed information on what you can find in your plan publication, check out our blog post, How to Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet.

Help for New Members

New NYSLRS members may also be interested in our New Member webpage. This page collects several resources that can help you understand your NYSLRS membership and pension.

What to Consider When Choosing Your Retirement Date

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

Your Retirement Date

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

As of April 9, 2022, Tier 5 and 6 members only need five years of service credit to be vested. If you are a Tier 5 or 6 member with five or more years of service credit you can contact us to request a benefit estimate.

choosing your retirement date

Your Health

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

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

Your Savings

It’s always a good idea for members to plan to supplement their NYSLRS pension and Social Security with savings. Retirement savings are a hedge against inflation, can help in an emergency and give you more freedom to do the things you want to do in retirement.

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

State employees and some municipal employees can take advantage of the New York State Deferred Compensation PlanIn 2022, you can save up to $20,500 per year in a Deferred Compensation account, under Internal Revenue Service rules. Starting in the year you turn 50, you can save an additional catch-up amount. The age 50-plus catch-up amount for 2022 is $6,500.

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

Your Current Job

The type of work you do is an important factor in determining when to retire. A physically demanding job can get even harder as you age.

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

Your Plans for Retirement

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

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

Member Milestones for ERS Tier 3 and 4

Knowing your member milestones can help you plan for your retirement. Most Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 3 and Tier 4 members (unless they are in special retirement plans) retire under the Article 15 retirement plan. If you’re covered by this retirement plan, you have a set of member milestones that affect how your pension is calculated and how much you’ll receive at retirement.

ERS Tier 3 and 4 member milestones

Here are some important Tier 3 and 4 milestones:

  • With ten years of service credit, you would be eligible to apply for a non-job-related disability benefit if you are permanently disabled and cannot perform your duties because of a physical or mental condition.
  • Also with ten years of service credit, your beneficiaries may be eligible for an out-of-service death benefit if you leave public employment and die before retirement.
  • With ten years of service credit, you are no longer able to withdraw your membership and receive a refund of your contributions if you leave public employment.
  • You are eligible to retire once you are age 55 and have five years of service credit. However, there would be reductions to your benefit if you retire before age 62 with less than 30 years of service credit.
  • You can retire with full benefits at age 62.
  • If you retire with less than 20 years of service credit, the benefit is 1.66 percent of your final average earnings (FAE) for each year of service.
  • If you retire with 20 to 30 years of service credit, the benefit is 2 percent of your FAE for each year of service.
  • If you retire with more than 30 years of service credit, the benefit is 2 percent of your FAE for each year of service up to 30. For each year of service beyond 30, you will receive 1.5 percent of your FAE.

Note: 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 during the years used in your FAE, it’s possible that some of those earnings may not be used toward your pension. The specific limits vary by tier. Visit our Final Average Earnings page for more information.

The amount of your pension also depends on several factors, including your years of service credit and your age when you retire. Read our blog post, Tier 3 & 4 Members: When Is The Right Time To Retire?, for information to consider. You can also estimate your pension in Retirement Online and enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit.

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). Your tier determines such things as your eligibility for benefits, the calculation of those benefits, death benefit coverage and whether you need to contribute toward your benefits.

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 almost 40 percent of PFRS membership, totaling 13,956 members, making it the second largest tier in PFRS.

About Regular Plans and Special Plans

Under a regular plan, you need to reach certain age and service requirements to receive your NYSLRS pension. If you’re covered by a special plan, there is no age requirement, and you can receive your pension after completing 20 or 25 years of service.

Nearly 80 percent of PFRS members are in plans covered under Sections 384, 384-d, 384-e or 384-f of the Retirement and Social Security Law. Read our Police and Fire Retirement System blog post for information about different PFRS plans.

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. 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.

For special plans under miscellaneous titles, please visit our Publications page. Check out other posts in the PFRS series:

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.