Death Benefits For ERS Members

Among the most important benefits a NYSLRS membership provides are death benefits. When you’re covered by a death benefit, your beneficiary may receive a payment on your behalf at your death.

Death benefits can vary by tier and retirement plan, so for the purpose of today’s post, let’s focus our attention on the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 members in regular plans. (If you’re in a special 20- or 25-year plan or are a Tier 1 member, please review your plan publication to learn more about your death benefits.)

The Ordinary Death Benefit

You’re eligible for the ordinary death benefit when you have one year of service credit. Your beneficiary would receive this benefit if you died while working for a public employer.

  • After one year of service, the ordinary death benefit is equal to your last year’s salary.
  • After two years of service, the benefit equals two times your last year’s salary.
  • After three or more years of service, the benefit equals three times your last year’s salary.

The Post-Retirement Death Benefit

Your beneficiary may also be eligible for a post-retirement death benefit if you retire directly from your employer’s payroll or within one year of leaving covered employment.

  • During your first year of retirement, the post-retirement death benefit is 50 percent of your ordinary death benefit payable at retirement.
  • During your second year of retirement, the benefit is 25 percent of your ordinary death benefit.
  • During your third year and thereafter, the benefit is 10 percent of the ordinary death benefit that would have been payable at age 60 (if any) or at retirement, whichever was earlier.

Post Retirement Death Benefits ERS Regular-PlansThere may be other death benefits available in your retirement plan. Please read the Death Benefit section in your plan publication for more information. If you have any questions about death benefits, please email us using our secure email form.

NYSLRS Tax Overview

Tax season is ramping up, so it’s a good time to talk about the tax information related to your NYSLRS pension benefit.

1099-Rs

NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries who receive a taxable benefit from NYSLRS are sent a 1099-R form each year. Certain NYSLRS members may also receive a 1099-R tax form if, for example, you borrow a taxable NYSLRS loan, default on a NYSLRS loan, or if you end your membership and withdraw your contributions. The 1099-R is a statement that shows:

  • The total benefit paid to you in a calendar year.
  • The taxable amount of your benefit.
  • The amount of taxes withheld from your benefit.

We mail out all 1099-R forms — more than 500,000 — by January 31, so if you haven’t already received your form, be sure to check your mail over the next few days.

If you lose your 1099-R, you can request a reprint from us starting the second week of February. Once reprints are available, we’ll process requests each night and mail them out the next day. This year, reprints will be available for calendar years 2013, 2014, and 2015.

1099-R Interactive Tutorial

1099-r tax form tutorial screenshot

Understanding your 1099-R Tutorial

We feature an interactive tutorial about the 1099-R form on our website. It walks you through a sample 1099-R, and offers a short explanation of specific boxes on the form.

Changing Your Federal Tax Withholdings

Your NYSLRS pension benefit is subject to federal taxes. You can change your federal tax withholding status at any time by sending us a W-4P form. (A handy tutorial about the W-4P form that walks you through the steps on filling it out is available on our website.)

W4-P Tax form tutorial screenshot

Understanding your W-4P Form Tutorial

We also offer a federal tax withholding calculator on our website to help you estimate how much should be withheld.

If you have other tax-related questions about your benefit, please visit our Tax FAQs.

NYSLRS Basics: Becoming Vested

What does it mean to be a vested NYSLRS member? If you’re vested, you’ve reached a major milestone in your membership. Being vested means that you’ve earned enough service credit to qualify for a pension benefit, even if you leave public employment. If you leave public employment after becoming vested, at a later date you can apply for and receive what we call a vested retirement benefit. The vested benefit is based on the service and salary earned when you were an active member with NYSLRS.

When Do I Become Vested?

The amount of service credit you need to be vested is based on what tier you’re in. If you’re a Tier 5 or 6 member, you need ten years of service to be vested. If you’re in another tier (Tier 1, 2, 3 or 4), you’re vested once you earn five years of service credit.

Applying for the Vested Benefit

For most vested members, if you leave the payroll before age 55, you’ll be eligible for a retirement benefit when you reach age 55. Tier 1 and Tier 2 members are eligible for a benefit on the first of the month following their 55th birthday. Tier 3, 4, 5 are eligible for a benefit on their 55th birthday. Employees’ Retirement System Tier 6 members are also eligible on their 55th birthday, but Police and Fire Retirement System Tier 6 members are eligible on their 63rd birthday.

Please note these are the earliest ages that you become eligible for the vested benefit. An early age reduction may apply under certain plans. Please review your retirement plan booklet to see if early age reductions apply.

Becoming Vested

Receiving your vested retirement benefit is not automatic. You must file a retirement application when you become eligible and wish to receive your benefit.

Visit our website to learn more about vesting.

Want to read more in our NYSLRS Basics series? Check out past posts on:

NYSLRS Basics: Member Contributions

As a NYSLRS member, you may be making or have made contributions as part of your membership. When you make contributions, a percentage of your salary joins a pool of money called the Common Retirement Fund (the Fund). The Fund is also made up of employer contributions and investment income. By investing contributions, the Fund helps to meet its obligation of paying out benefits to past, present and future retirees.

What this means for you is that you, and other members like you, are all doing your part to fund your future retirement.

Types of Member Contributions

If you belong to a contributory retirement plan, you make required contributions. This means you must make contributions for the length of time listed in your retirement plan. Some members may contribute for only part or all their public service careers. If you belong to a non-contributory plan, this means you aren’t required to make contributions. Instead, you could make voluntary contributions over the course of your career, if your plan allows it. This would provide you with an annuity in addition to your pension when you retire.

(Check out the “Contributing Toward Your Retirement” section in your specific retirement plan publication to see what contributions you make.)

contributions-ers-pfrs-tiers-3-6

Withdrawing Your Member Contributions

What happens to your contributions if you leave public employment? One option is to take your contributions with you. If you have less than ten years of service credit or aren’t vested, you can withdraw your contributions plus the interest they’ve earned. However, withdrawing your contributions also terminates your membership with NYSLRS. Once your membership ends, you won’t be eligible for a retirement benefit.

Another option is to leave your contributions where they are. After all, if you leave public employment, there’s a chance you may return as well. If you do, then your contributions will be waiting for you when you rejoin NYSLRS. If you don’t return to public service, aren’t vested, and have been off the public payroll for seven years, by law we must terminate your membership. Any contributions left will stop accruing interest.

If you have ten or more years of service credit, you can’t withdraw your contributions from NYSLRS. In that situation, if you’re vested before you leave public employment, you can apply for a retirement benefit at a later date (age 55 for most members).

(Read our publication “What If I Leave Public Employment?” for more information, particularly the taxability of withdrawing your contributions.)

If you have questions, visit our website to learn more about member contributions. Want to read more NYSLRS Basics? Check out our earlier posts on:

NYSLRS Retirees at Home and Abroad

If you’re a current NYSLRS member, you’re a state or local employee who works within New York State. But once you retire, you can spend time in warmer climates or move closer to family.

From an economic standpoint, we’re fortunate to have 78 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries stay in New York. As we’ve mentioned before in previous posts, NYSLRS retirees contribute to the New York economy in a big way:

  • $12 billion generated in economic activity
  • $1.6 billion paid in real property taxes
  • $514 million paid in state and local sales tax
  • 60,400 jobs created from local spending

However, we haven’t looked at the other 22 percent of our retirees and beneficiaries. If they aren’t living in New York, where have they gone?

NYSLRS Retirees in the United States

NYSLRS Retirees in US

We’d be lying if we said we were surprised that Florida is the state with the second highest number of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries. Florida is currently home to 35,014 NYSLRS retirees. (Keep in mind New York is home to 337,406.) And you can find many other retirees and beneficiaries all along the East Coast…

  • North Carolina: 8,190
  • New Jersey: 7,171
  • South Carolina: 5,105
  • Pennsylvania: 4,300
  • Virginia: 3,585

…the West Coast…

  • California: 2,226
  • Oregon: 284
  • Washington: 478

…and even as far as Alaska (currently 60) and Hawaii (116). All told, 429,591 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live throughout the United States and its territories.

NYSLRS Retirees Around the Globe

Where in the world are NYSLRS Retirees?Out of our 430,308 total NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries, there are only 717 globetrotters. These retirees and beneficiaries live throughout the world, with the most common countries being:

  • Canada: 164
  • Israel: 56
  • United Kingdom: 36
  • Italy: 31
  • Jamaica: 31

Whether you retire close to home or move away, you’ll always be a part of NYSLRS. Make sure you stay in the loop about your benefits by visiting our Retirees home page.

The Top 10 Blog Posts of 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, let’s look at the top 10 blog posts you shared with friends this past year:

  1. NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: ERS Tier 1

    A One Tier at a Time feature that looked at one of our smallest plans in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS): Tier 1.

  2. NYSLRS Retirees: 1% COLA Payment Coming September 30

    An update for eligible NYSLRS retirees about the cost-of-living adjustment they’d receive in September 2015.

  3.  Keeping the Pension Fund Funded

    How NYSLRS plans ahead to maintain the funds it needs to pay current and future benefits.

  4. Protecting the Pension System

    How Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli defends NYSLRS against the abuse of public funds.

  5. NYSLRS – One Tier At a Time: PFRS Tier 1

    Tier 1 may be the smallest tier in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), but it was the third most popular One Tier at a Time post to share.

  6. The NYSLRS Member Annual Statement

    Each summer, we mail out approximately 700,000 Member Annual Statements filled with personalized benefit information you need to know.

  7. NYSLRS Basics: Understanding Your Final Average Salary

    A NYSLRS Basics feature that looks at what your final average salary is and the part it plays in your pension calculation.

  8.  NYSLRS Basics: Pension Payment Options

    Choosing how we’ll pay your retirement benefit is a big decision. Which payment option best meets your needs?

  9. NYSLRS Retirees Help Power New York’s Economy

    Comptroller DiNapoli spoke to a retiree group about how the pension money paid to retirees flows directly back into our communities, stimulating and growing our local economies.

    …and, the most shared post of 2015 is:

  10. NYSLRS – One Tier At a Time: ERS Tiers 3 & 4

    Our most shared blog post is also our first One Tier at a Time post, featuring Tiers 3 & 4 in ERS.

Thanks for sharing, and Happy New Year!

Spending Budgets Change in Retirement

What are some of the changes you can expect in retirement? Sleeping in past 8 a.m.? Shopping during regular business hours? Retirement can bring many changes, but one you should be aware of is how your spending could change.

According to an Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) study, average spending goes down in retirement, but not for everyone. Some households’ expenses stayed the same while others increased. In the first two years of retirement, almost 46 percent of households spent more than what they had spent just before retirement. EBRI offered a suggestion for this trend – people may want to splurge on hobbies or vacations during the first few years of retirement.

Keep in mind, the EBRI study is meant to understand trends in retiree spending, but it brings up a good question. Have you thought about how you’ll spend money in retirement?

Prepare a Post-Retirement Budget

As you get closer to retirement, you may be saving and investing more to meet your financial goals. Making the switch from saving to spending in retirement can be easy if you plan ahead. By looking at how you spend your money now, you can get an idea of how to spend your money in retirement.

When you set a post-retirement budget, look at what your expenses currently are. Don’t forget to include periodic expenses, like car insurance payments or property/school taxes. Track how you spend your money over a month or two. Then, consider your current monthly income and your post-retirement income. Your current monthly income should cover your current expenses, so estimate what your post-retirement income will be. If your post-retirement income is less than your current income, you might want to adjust your expenses or even your retirement plans.

These worksheets can help you prepare a budget and list out your post-retirement income sources. Print them out and start planning ahead for post-retirement spending.

Monthly budgeting worksheets (PDF)

Monthly Worksheets (PDF)

NYSLRS Basics: Understanding Your Final Average Salary

As a NYSLRS member, you have a defined benefit pension plan. With a defined benefit plan, you’ll receive a lifetime pension benefit based on a formula set by law that uses service credit and final average salary as part of the pension calculation. You’re probably familiar with service credit – it’s the years of service you earn while working with a participating employer. But what is a final average salary?

When we calculate your pension, we look at a specific set of years when your earnings were highest. We take the average of these earnings to create your final average salary. For most members, your final average salary is based on the years just before you retire. However, the years of earnings we use to calculate your final average salary may not match up to a calendar year or the New York fiscal year. For the purposes of calculating your final average salary, each “year” represents earnings during a time that equals one full-time year of service credit.

Types of Final Average Salary

Your tier and plan determines how we calculate your final average salary:NYSLRS Basics: Understanding your Final Average Salary

  • Three-Year Final Average Salary: for all members in Tier 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
  • Five-Year Final Average Salary: for all members in Tier 6.
  • One-Year Final Average Salary: only for members in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). This benefit must be adopted by your employer. It’s not available to PFRS members covered by Article 14 and generally not available to PFRS Tier 6 members.

Find out more about how the final average salary is calculated and the limits for each membership tier on our website.

Want to read more NYSLRS Basics? Check out our posts on when you can retire and choosing your pension payment option.

Tier 6 Member Milestones

Understanding Your Benefits Can Help You Plan Ahead

If you’re a Tier 6 member, meaning you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, it’s important to start learning about your benefits. Even though retirement seems far off, it’s never too early to start thinking ahead. You can start planning your path to retirement by finding out what milestones you’ll reach on the way.

Your Tier 6 member milestones are markers for when you earn a certain amount of service credit. You can reach some milestones within your first few months of membership. You reach others once you’ve earned 10 or more years of service credit.

Common Tier 6 Member Milestones

When you join NYSLRS, you reach your first milestone on the first day of your membership. This milestone covers you for certain job-related death and disability benefits. (You can learn more about them in your Tier 6 retirement plan publication.)

Once you reach 10 years of service credit, you hit another milestone: you become vested. This means that you will be eligible for a retirement benefit even if you leave public employment before age 55, although the benefit is reduced if it’s collected before age 63. Tier 6 members in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) are eligible to receive the full vested benefit at age 55. Tier 6 members in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) are eligible at age 63.

Later on, the other milestones you’ll reach will focus more on retirement.

ERS Membership Milestones

For Tier 6 members in regular plans, the biggest milestone will be when you reach 20 years of service credit. This is when you’ll have enough service credit to retire with a full benefit. As noted above, if you retire before age 63, the benefit is reduced (you must be at least 55 to apply for the vested benefit). For Tier 6 correction officers, you’ll reach this milestone when you reach 25 years of service credit. Check out some of the other milestones for ERS Tier 6 members using the graphic below, or visit our website for a more detailed listing of ERS member milestones.

ERS Tier 6 Member Milestones

PFRS Membership Milestones

Some of the milestones for PFRS Tier 6 members are similar to ERS milestones, but some milestones vary based on what retirement plan you have. Check out the graphic below, or visit our website for a more detailed listing of PFRS member milestones.

PFRS Tier 6 Member Milestones

If you have any questions about Tier 6 membership milestones or the milestones for other tiers, please email us.

Who Are Financial Planners?

When you’re preparing for retirement, you want to avoid costly mistakes. And while hiring an attorney or accountant may help, think about hiring a financial planner too. A financial planner can help you develop a practical plan to help you meet your retirement goals.

What Do Financial Planners Do?

Financial planners do not manage your money. According to the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts, financial planners assess your current financial health. They examine your assets, liabilities, income, and more. They help you develop a realistic plan to meet your goals by looking at your financial weaknesses and strengths. With their help, you can put your plan into action and keep track of its progress. If your goals change over time, they can also help you adjust your plan.

Choosing a Financial Planner

Retirement-Savings_5-Rules-to-RememberIf a financial planner has a CFP next to his or her name, that means they are a certified financial planner. Certified financial planners have passed a national test given by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. The certification test covers:

  • Insurance
  • Investments
  • Taxation
  • Employee benefits
  • Retirement and estate planning

Certified financial planners must also abide by a code of ethics.

Do Your Research

Choosing a financial planner is like hiring any other professional. Make sure you do your research so you can make a well-founded decision. While we can’t offer specific advice about hiring a financial planner, there are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Check credentials, educational background and experience.
  • Find out if he or she is a member of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.
  • Get referrals from people you trust – ask friends, relatives and business associates.
  • And finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions:
    • Do they research the financial products they recommend?
    • Do they offer a free consultation?
    • Are they paid by fee, commission, or salary?