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NYSLRS Membership Basics

Whether you just joined or you’re a longtime member, you likely have questions about your NYSLRS membership. What is vesting? What are final average earnings? What tier are you in, and why does it even matter?

NYSLRS Membership

Basic Concepts of NYSLRS Membership

While NYSLRS administers many different retirement plans, the core concepts of our memberships are the same. Your pension will be calculated using a preset formula based on your earnings and years of service. To better understand your NYSLRS benefits, you should become familiar with these four basic concepts:

  • Tier. Your tier is based on the date you joined NYSLRS and helps determine the benefits available to you. If you’re a new NYSLRS member, you’re likely in Tier 6. Tier 6 members joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012.
  • Service Credit. Generally, you earn a year of service credit for each year you work for a participating NYSLRS employer. Part-time work is prorated. Your total service credit at retirement is a major factor in determining the amount of your pension.
  • Vesting. You become vested after you earn five years of service credit. It’s a significant milestone, because once you’re vested, you’re eligible for a NYSLRS pension when you reach retirement age, even if you leave public service.
  • Final Average Earnings. Final average earnings are the average of your earnings during the period when your pay is highest. It’s another major factor in determining the amount of your pension.

Your NYSLRS Pension and Other Benefits

As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit retirement plan. This means your NYSLRS pension will be a lifetime benefit based on your final average earnings and service credit, not on the contributions you make toward your retirement.

Your NYSLRS membership also provides other important benefits, including:

More Information

We want to make sure you have the information you’ll need to plan for your retirement and make critical decisions about your future. Here are some resources available to you:

Retirement Online is the quickest way to access account information such as your tier, retirement plan and estimated total service credit. If you don’t already have one, sign up for a Retirement Online account now.

Explore the NYSLRS website to learn more about your NYSLRS membership. Our Welcome New Members page explains more about the benefits that are available to you. Your retirement plan publication offers a comprehensive overview of your benefits, and you can find it with our Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication tool.

If you have questions about your account or your NYSLRS benefits, please message us using our secure contact form.

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.

NYSLRS Membership by Tier

NYSLRS, which administers the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), had 685,450 members as of March 31, 2022. Our members are State government, local government, school district and other public-sector employees from across New York — 650,251 in ERS and 35,199 in PFRS. About 74 percent of our members were active, which means they were on a public payroll as of March 31.

NYSLRS Membership Over Time

A decade ago, more than 80 percent of NYSLRS members were in Tiers 3 and 4. Now, those tiers represent less than 40 percent of our membership. Tier 6, which includes members who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012, now has 367,013 members, or 53.5 percent of total membership.

NYSLRS Membership by Tier

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

Tier 1: NYSLRS’ oldest tier, whose members first joined the system before July 1, 1973 (July 31, 1973, for PFRS members), is dwindling. Tier 1 represented only 0.2 percent of our membership. There were only 1,043 Tier 1 ERS members and 17 Tier 1 PFRS members.

Tier 2: With 18,074 members, Tier 2 represented 2.6 percent of membership. Ninety-four percent of Tier 2 members were in PFRS.

Tiers 3 & 4: Tiers 3 and 4, which have similar retirement plans, had 263,734 members, 38.5 percent of the total membership. Tiers 3 and 4 are primarily ERS tiers. There is no Tier 4 in PFRS, and only 173 PFRS members were in Tier 3.

Tier 5: Tier 5 covers members who joined from January 1, 2010, through March 31, 2012. With 35,569 members, Tier 5 represented 5.2 percent of membership.

Tier 6: This tier covers members who joined since April 1, 2012. Its ranks grew by about 13 percent during the last fiscal year.

Why Your Tier Matters

Your tier is an essential component of your NYSLRS membership because it is one of the factors that determines your benefits. You can find out more by reading your retirement plan booklet. Our recent blog posts explain how to find your plan booklet and how to get the most out of it.

PFRS Member Milestones

The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) covers nearly 32,000 police officers and firefighters across New York State. 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.

Some milestones are common to most PFRS members; others are shared by members in a particular tier or retirement plan. For example, your plan determines when you would be eligible to apply for a non-job-related disability benefit.

A recent amendment to Retirement law changed a milestone for some members. As of April 9, 2022, Tier 5 and 6 members are now vested after earning five years of service credit. Previously, members in these tiers needed ten years of service to become vested. Being vested means you are entitled to a NYSLRS pension, even if you leave public employment before retirement age.

Member Milestones to Remember

PFRS member milestones

Most PFRS members are in special plans that allow them to retire with full benefits, regardless of age, after 20 or 25 years of service. If you are in a special plan, only certain job titles would give you creditable service toward a 20- or 25-year milestone. For example, if you are in the State Police plan, service with a city police department would be creditable, but service as a sheriff’s deputy or corrections officer would not be.

PFRS members in regular plans can retire as early as age 55, but may face a benefit reduction if they retire before their full retirement age.

Your specific milestones, along with your pension calculation, are determined by your retirement plan, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the details of your plan. You can find information about your milestones in your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page. Not sure which retirement booklet is yours? Your retirement plan is listed in your Retirement Online account or you can ask your employer. You can also read our recent blog post for tips on finding your plan booklet.

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.

Tier 6 FAS Limits (ERS)

 

 

First, a year of earnings in the FAS period can’t exceed the average of the previous four year’s earnings by more than 10 percent. Anything beyond that will not be included in the pension calculation.

Additionally, several types of payments will not be part of the FAS calculation for ERS Tier 6 members:

  • Lump-sum vacation pay,
  • Wages from more than two employers,
  • Payment for unused sick leave,
  • Payments for working during a vacation,
  • Any payments that cause your annual salary to exceed that of the Governor (currently $179,000),
  • Termination pay,
  • Payments made in anticipation of retirement,
  • Lump-sum payments for deferred compensation and
  • Any payments made for time not worked.

Generally speaking, here’s what an ERS Tier 6 FAS will include: regular salary, holiday pay, overtime pay (regular and noncompensatory) earned in the FAS period and up to one longevity payment per year, if earned in the FAS period.

Overtime Limits

While overtime pay generally is part of an ERS Tier 6 FAS, the amount that can be included is limited. The limit is adjusted for inflation each year based on the change in the Consumer Price Index over the one-year period ending September 30 of the previous year. Under a new law, beginning January 1, 2018, the Tier 6 limit will be updated on a calendar year basis instead of on a fiscal year basis.

The 2018 calendar year overtime limit for Tier 6 members is $16,406.

For more information about the Tier 6 FAS, find your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page, or check out our Final Average Salary and Overtime Limits for Tier 6 pages.

Transferring Your Membership

People make a lot of moves during their working lives. New towns, new jobs and, in some cases, new retirement systems.

Perhaps you were a teacher, but recently began working for New York State. Or maybe you had a job with New York City, but took a position with a municipality outside of the city. If you’ve recently joined NYSLRS and are still an active member of another public retirement system in New York State, you may be able to transfer that membership to NYSLRS.

Transferring to NYSLRS

To request a transfer to NYSLRS, contact the other system while you are still an active or vested member of that system. If you are still employed in a position covered by the other retirement system, or your membership in the other system has been terminated or withdrawn, you are not eligible to transfer.

When we receive your request to transfer from the other retirement system, we will compare your date of membership in NYSLRS with your date of membership in the other system. When the transfer is completed, your date of membership will be the earlier of the two dates. If applicable, your tier will also change.

Transferring from NYSLRS to Another Retirement System

To transfer from NYSLRS to another public pension system in New York State, you must complete and submit an Application for Transfer of Membership (RS5223).

Under certain circumstances, it may not be beneficial to transfer your membership to another retirement system. If you have any questions concerning your transfer, or if you are covered by a special plan, you should contact our Call Center toll-free at 1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area before completing the application.

Whether you are transferring in or out of NYSLRS, the transfer is effective upon receipt of your application and may be irrevocable.

You can find more information about transferring membership on our website.

NYSLRS Basics: When Can You Retire?

There are core elements behind each NYSLRS retirement plan that every member should know. Knowing your retirement plan details like what your pension payment options are and how your final average salary (FAS) works is essential. Learning these NYSLRS Basics can give you a good foundation of information and help you prepare for retirement.

When Can I Retire?

This is a popular question we hear from members. Because of the large number of retirement plans we manage, there isn’t one single answer to this question, but we do have answers.

If you’re in a regular retirement plan (the vast majority of members are in regular plans), you can retire any time on or after your 55th birthday. However, some service credit requirements do apply:

  • Tier 1 members, depending on their plan, may need two or five years of service credit if they recently changed employers
  • Tier 2, 3, or 4 members need five or more years of service credit
  • Tier 5 and 6 members need ten or more years of service credit

Note: service credit is defined as the credit you receive for your paid public employment with a NYSLRS participating employer.

If you’re in a special retirement plan (most police officers, firefighters, sheriffs and correction officers are in special plans), you can retire at any age as long as you’ve met the service credit requirement for that plan. Special plan members can retire once they reach 20 or 25 years of service credit, whichever their plan requires.

Retiring at Age 55 vs. Full Retirement Age

Keep in mind that even though you could retire as early as 55, you may receive a benefit reduction* for not waiting until the full retirement age. (Visit our Early Age Reduction page to see the reductions for your tier.) Under NYSLRS regular retirement plans, you can retire with no reduction once you reach your full retirement age.Full_Benefit_Retirement_Age

It’s important to know that if you decide to retire with a reduced benefit, the reduction is permanent – it doesn’t end once you reach your full retirement age. Keep this in mind once you start preparing for retirement.

Knowing what your full retirement age is and when you’re first eligible to retire is just one part of the NYSLRS Basics series. Look out for a future post on retirement option selection.


*There are some exceptions: Tier 1 members can retire at age 55 without a benefit reduction; ERS Tier 2, 3 & 4 members and Tier 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System can retire at age 55 with 30 or more years of service credit without a benefit reduction.

NYSLRS Loans: What You Need To Know

If you’ve taken a loan against your New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) contributions, please remember to pay it back before you retire. An outstanding NYSLRS loan balance at retirement will permanently reduce your retirement benefit. You can’t make loan payments after you retire, and the reduction doesn’t go away after we recover the funds.

Loan Reduction Examples

Here are some loan reduction examples you might find helpful:

Loan Reduction Amount at Retirement (ERS Tiers 3, 4, 5 and 6)

At Age Outstanding Loan Balance Annual Pension Reduction
55 $1,000 $53.18
$5,000 $265.90
$10,000 $531.80
60 $1,000 $59.35
$5,000 $296.74
$10,000 $593.47
62 $1,000 $62.35
$5,000 $311.74
$10,000 $623.48
65 $1,000 $67.59
$5,000 $337.95
$10,000 $675.90
70 $1,000 $79.12
$5,000 $395.60
$10,000 $791.20

Loan Reduction Amount at Retirement (PFRS Tiers 3, 5 and 6)

At Age Outstanding Loan Balance Annual Pension Reduction
45 $1,000 $45.02
$5,000 $225.11
$10,000 $450.23
50 $1,000 $49.06
$5,000 $245.31
$10,000 $490.63
55 $1,000 $54.46
$5,000 $272.30
$10,000 $544.60
60 $1,000 $61.70
$5,000 $308.49
$10,000 $616.98
62 $1,000 $65.25
$5,000 $326.26
$10,000 $652.53
65 $1,000 $71.45
$5,000 $367.27
$10,000 $714.54

Tax Implications

Members who retire with outstanding NYSLRS loans that exceed the federal limit for non-taxable loans may face significant tax consequences. Part or all of your loan balance may be considered taxable funds that were credited to your account and would be subject to federal income tax in the year that you retire. Also, if you’re under age 59½ at the time your loan becomes reportable, you may be subject to an additional 10 percent penalty tax.

Contact Us

For the payoff balance on your NYSLRS loan, call our automated phone service toll-free at 1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 within the Albany, New York area. For information on how to make additional payments or increase your loan payment amount, please visit our Loans: Getting One and Paying it Back page.