Tag Archives: benefits

Know Your Benefits: Your NYSLRS Pension

Generally, three main components determine your NYSLRS pension: your retirement plan, your final average salary (FAS) and your total service credit.

Your Retirement Plan

NYSLRS retirement plans are established by law. Your plan lays out the formula we’ll use to calculate your pension as well as eligibility requirements. It’s important to read your plan booklet, which you can find on our Publications page.  If you aren’t certain what retirement plan you’re in, check your Member Annual Statement or ask your employer.

NYSLRS Pension Chart

Final Average Salary

Your FAS is the average of your earnings during the set period of time when they were the highest. For ERS and PFRS members in Tiers 1 through 5, that period is three consecutive years; for Tier 6 members, it’s five consecutive years. Some PFRS members may be eligible for a one-year period, if their employer offers it. We will use your FAS, age at retirement, total service credit and the formula from your retirement plan to calculate your NYSLRS pension.

Generally, the earnings we can use for your FAS include regular salary, overtime and recurring longevity payments earned within the period. Some payments you receive won’t count toward your FAS, even when you receive them in the FAS period. The specifics vary by tier, and are listed in your retirement plan booklet.

In most cases, the law also limits how much your pensionable earnings can increase from year to year in the FAS period. Earnings above this cap will not count toward your pension.

Our Your Retirement Benefits publications, (ERS and PFRS), provide the limits for each tier and examples of how we’ll determine your FAS.

Service Credit

Service credit is credit for time spent working for a participating public employer. For most members who work full-time, 260 workdays equals one year of service credit. Members who work part-time or in educational settings can refer to their retirement plan publication for their service credit calculation.

Service credit is a factor in the calculation of your NYSLRS pension. Generally, the more credit you have, the higher your pension will be. Some special plans (usually for police officers, firefighters or correction officers) let you retire at any age once you’ve earned 20 or 25 years of service credit. In other plans, if you retire without enough service credit and don’t meet the age requirements of your retirement plan, your pension will be reduced.

Planning Ahead for Your NYSLRS Pension

As you get closer to retirement age, keep an eye on your service credit and FAS. Make sure we have an accurate record of your public employment history. You can sign in to Retirement Online or check your latest Member Annual Statement to see the total amount of service credit you’ve earned. You may also want to take a look at our budgeting worksheet or try our Benefit Projector Calculator as you plan for your retirement.

If you have questions, or want to find out more information about what makes up your NYSLRS pension, please contact us.

Will Your Retirement Age Affect Your Benefit?

Only you can decide when it’s time to retire, but you should know that your age at retirement can affect your pension benefit. Some New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) members are in special plans that allow for retirement after a certain number of years, regardless of age (for example, police officers, firefighters, correction officers or sheriffs). But for most members, you can retire with full benefits at the age specified by your plan. Most members can choose to retire as early as age 55, but if you do, you may receive a permanently reduced pension benefit.

Full Retirement Ages

Most retirement plans have an age requirement to retire with full benefits. For Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members in Tiers 2, 3, 4 and 5 and Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members in Tiers 2, 3, 5 and 6, the full retirement age is 62. For ERS Tier 6 members, it’s 63. PFRS Tier 6 members who have left their PFRS employer are eligible for their benefits at age 63.

Service Credit Exceptions

In some retirement plans, members with a certain amount of service credit can retire at age 55 without being subject to benefit reductions. Benefit reductions don’t apply to ERS Tier 2, 3 or 4 members who have 30 or more years of service credit and Tier 2, 3, 4 and 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System who have 30 or more years of service.

Benefit Reductions

Retirement benefits for all other ERS Tier 5 and Tier 6 members, and PFRS Tier 2, 3, 5 and 6 members not in a special 20- or 25-year plan, will be reduced for early retirement — even if they have 30 years of service credit.

These benefit reductions are prorated by month, so the closer you are to your full retirement age, the less the reduction will be. Once you retire with a reduced benefit, that reduction is permanent.

Here’s a look at how reductions break down by membership tier:

Contact us if you have any questions about benefit reductions or any other retirement-related topics. Please review your retirement plan booklet for a full description of the benefits you’re entitled to as well as any reductions and restrictions.

Divorce and Your Other Benefits

We’ve written here before about how divorce affects your NYSLRS pension, what a DRO is and why it’s required. However, NYSLRS members have other benefits besides their pensions. Divorce and DROs may affect some of them as well.

Ordinary Death Benefit

As with your pension, a DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of your ordinary death benefit. You should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court.  We will prepare a custom beneficiary form that complies with the DRO.  Also be sure to choose additional beneficiaries for any remainder of the benefit and submit your changes to NYSLRS.

Post-Retirement Ordinary Death Benefit

Most Tier 2, 3, 4 or 5 members of the Employees Retirement System (ERS) are covered by a post-retirement ordinary death benefit. A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of the benefit. Similarly, you should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court, and be sure to contact us to choose additional beneficiaries as allowed by the DRO.

Loans

NYSLRS members who meet eligibility requirements can borrow a certain percentage of their contribution balance. DROs may be written to prohibit members from taking future loans.

Outstanding loan balances at retirement permanently reduce retirees’ pension benefits. As a result, unless a DRO specifically provides that the ex-spouse’s share of the pension be calculated without reference to outstanding loans, the ex-spouse’s portion will also be reduced if a NYSLRS loan is not paid off before retirement.

Refunds

Occasionally, NYSLRS may refund a member’s contributions because of a tier reinstatement, membership withdrawal, membership transfer or excess contributions. If the member is divorced and NYSLRS has a DRO on file, the DRO will determine whether a portion of the refund must go to the ex-spouse. Generally, if the DRO doesn’t mention a contributions refund, the member receives the full amount.

NOTE: A divorce, annulment or judicial separation revokes a member’s prior designation of a former spouse as beneficiary of certain death benefits and retirement options, except as provided by the express terms of the judgment or decree, or a DRO. So, if you have gone through a divorce, annulment or judicial separation and you do NOT have a DRO, and you wish to retain your former spouse as a beneficiary, you must resubmit your beneficiary designation to NYSLRS. The easiest way to do this is by using Retirement Online, our secure, self-service web application. You can also submit a Designation of Beneficiary form.

Can I Change My Beneficiary After I Retire?

That depends. Some beneficiary decisions are irrevocable, while others can be changed at any time.

Some options, such as Five Year and Ten Year Certain, allow you to change your beneficiary after you retire. But if you choose an option that provides a lifetime benefit to a survivor, you cannot change your beneficiary even if your beneficiary dies before you do. For details, visit the Payment Option Descriptions page on our website.

But there are other possible death benefits for which NYSLRS retirees can name beneficiaries. Available death benefits and eligibility requirements vary by tier and retirement plan. You can find your retirement plan information on our Publications page.

NYSLRS retirees may have up to three types of death benefits that could provide a benefit for a beneficiary: pension payment option, survivor's benefit, and post-retirement death benefit.

When you retire, you must choose a payment option for your NYSLRS pension. If your choice is Single Life Allowance, there is no pension beneficiary. But other payment options provide a reduced monthly benefit in exchange for a possible payment to a beneficiary after the retiree’s death.

If you were employed by New York State, you may be eligible for a survivor’s benefit of up to $3,000. You do not need to sign up for this benefit; you are automatically enrolled if you are eligible. If you choose a pension payment option with a beneficiary, that person will also be the beneficiary for your survivor’s benefit. If your beneficiary dies before you do, you may select someone else as beneficiary for the survivor’s benefit. If you choose the Single Life Allowance option, you must name a beneficiary for your survivor’s benefit, and you may change this designation at any time.

What about after Retirement?

You may also be eligible for a post-retirement death benefit, which would be a percentage of the death benefit that was payable at retirement. (This benefit is generally not available to Tier 1 members or members in special retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years of service, regardless of age.) The beneficiary of your post-retirement death benefit does not have to be the same as your pension payment-option beneficiary. And you can change the beneficiary designation for your death benefit at any time.

The easiest way to check and update your beneficiary information for the post-retirement death benefit is with Retirement Online. You can also change your beneficiary by submitting a Designation of Beneficiary (RS5127) form.

Divorced? Some things to consider

Please note: If you are divorced, you may be required to choose a retirement option that provides continuing benefits to your ex-spouse after your death. Also, the beneficiary designation for certain benefits, including the survivor’s benefit, can be revoked when a divorce becomes final. For more information, please read the publication Divorce and Your Benefits on our website.

Protecting the Pension System

Protecting the Pension SystemSince taking office, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has fought against the abuse of public funds. One of his top priorities is to protect the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) from pension scammers.

To date, DiNapoli’s investigations of retirement fraud have led to 24 arrests and the recovery of nearly $3 million in retirement funds. Here are some cases from earlier this year:

Woman Pleads Guilty to Theft of Dead Mother’s Benefits

A Madison County woman pleaded guilty to a felony grand larceny charge for collecting $67,000 of her dead mother’s NYSLRS pension checks. When her mother died in 2009, Tammy Banack did not inform NYSLRS or her bank, and her mother’s pension checks continued to be deposited in a joint checking account. Banack agreed to repay the stolen pension benefits and received five years’ probation.

Man Pleads Guilty to Stealing Pension Checks

A Brooklyn man was arrested for cashing over $22,000 of his mother’s NYSLRS pension checks after she died. Jimmie Buie pleaded guilty and was sentenced to up to three years in prison. He was also ordered to repay the money. The office of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman assisted in this case and the Banack case.

Town Clerk Admits Faking Retirement Benefits

Following a review of monthly retirement reports, the Office of the State Comptroller discovered that a town clerk had been unlawfully using a town computer to inflate her retirement service credit. Springport Town Clerk Deborah Waldron pleaded guilty, resigned and paid fines and surcharges. Her actual hours and benefits were recalculated to ensure she does not receive extra money she did not earn.

Brother Guilty of Bank Larceny in Pension Scheme

Joseph F. Grossmann, a former Albany resident, pled guilty to Bank Larceny after he used fake documents and other schemes to collect $130,624 in his deceased sister’s name. He was sentenced to three years of probation (including one year of home confinement) and ordered to pay back the money.

To learn more about how Comptroller DiNapoli safeguards public funds, and how you can help, visit the Comptroller’s Fighting Public Corruption page. You can also read about past pension fraud investigations.

Update Your Beneficiaries

It’s easy and important

How long has it been since you thought about your NYSLRS beneficiaries? A year, two years, five? Did you get married since then? Get divorced? Have a child?

When you die, your NYSLRS death benefit will be paid to the last beneficiaries you designated. That’s the law. That’s why it’s so important that you check your NYSLRS beneficiary designations periodically.

Luckily, it’s easier to do than ever.

The new Retirement Online is a convenient way to review account details and conduct business with NYSLRS in real time. Now, instead of sending a form through the mail, you can simply sign in to Retirement Online to view your designations and submit changes instantly.

Register and sign in to Retirement Online today to update your beneficiaries and access a variety of other time-saving features.

Types of Beneficiaries

You can designate primary and contingent beneficiaries:

  • A primary beneficiary receives your death benefit. If you name more than one primary beneficiary, they will split the benefit equally.
  • A contingent beneficiary receives a benefit only if all your primary beneficiaries are deceased when you die.

Special Benefit Designations for Beneficiaries

Special Beneficiary Designations

Your beneficiary doesn’t have to be a person:

  • When you die, your estate is all the money and property you owned. If you make your estate a beneficiary, the executor of your estate will distribute your benefit according to your will. If you outlive both your primary and contingent beneficiaries, your benefit will go to your estate by default.
  • A trust is a legal arrangement giving a person you choose legal control over property — such as a death benefit. The trust itself would be your NYSLRS beneficiary, not the individuals for whom you established the trust. (You may want to speak with your attorney if you’re thinking about making your trust a beneficiary.)
  • You can name a charitable, civic, religious, educational or other kind of organization as a beneficiary too.

For more information about beneficiaries, check out our booklet, Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary? (VO1706).

Know Your Benefits: Disability Retirements

Many of us dream about retirement, but not one of us pictures leaving the workplace because we can’t perform our duties anymore. Yet the truth is debilitating medical conditions do happen. Though we hope you never have to use them, NYSLRS members have certain benefits available should you become permanently disabled from performing the duties of your job.

This post is an overview of common disability benefits and how to file for them. It is important to review your retirement plan booklet for specific benefit and eligibility information, and contact us with any questions you have, before you file an application.

Disability Retirements

Benefits

Most members are eligible for what’s called an ordinary disability retirement benefit. Usually, it provides whichever is greater:

  1. 66 percent of your final average salary (FAS) for each year of credited service; or
  2. 66 percent of your FAS for each year of credited service, plus 1.66 percent of your FAS for each year of service you might have earned before age 60, up to one-third of your FAS.

To qualify for an Article 15 disability retirement benefit, you must have at least ten years of credited service, unless your disability results from an accident you sustain on the job. If your disability results from an on-the-job accident, not due to your own willful negligence, there is no minimum service requirement.

Some members have plans that may provide an accidental disability retirement benefit. The benefit amount varies depending on your system (Employees Retirement System or Police and Fire Retirement System), tier and plan. It’s a lifetime benefit, but may be reduced by amounts received from workers’ compensation or Social Security. There is no minimum service requirement for an accidental disability retirement.

“Accident” has a special meaning when used in connection with Retirement System disability benefits. Whether an incident is an “accident” is determined on a case by case basis, using court decisions for guidance.

Members of the Police and Fire Retirement System as well as some members of the Employees Retirement System, such as sheriffs and correctional officers, may be entitled to a performance-of-duty disability benefit. The benefit amount and eligibility requirements vary depending on your system, tier and plan.

Filing

You, your employer, or someone you authorize may file a disability application on your behalf. If you think you might be eligible for a disability retirement, you may want to file your application sooner, rather than later, because there are strict filing deadlines that must be met. If you meet the requirements for a service retirement too, you can apply for both at the same time. If your disability application is approved, you will be able to choose which benefit you accept.

World Trade Center Presumption

If you participated in World Trade Center rescue, recovery or clean-up operations, you may be eligible to apply for a benefit under the World Trade Center Presumption Law. The deadline for members to file a notice with NYSLRS has been extended to September 11, 2018.

Resources/More Information

For specific benefit and eligibility information, be sure to read your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page. Also, check out our Disability Retirements page and our VO1802 Life Changes: Applying for Disability Retirement booklet. You can reach our Call Center by email using our secure contact form or toll-free at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area).

Four Facts about Divorce and Your Pension

Courts consider pensions marital property. So, if you file for divorce, a judge may award your ex-spouse part of your pension or other NYSLRS benefits. The process for dividing retirement assets after a divorce can be complex. Here are four things you need to know:

1. NYSLRS Requires a DRO

To divide your NYSLRS benefits, we need a domestic relations order (DRO). This court order, issued after a final judgment of divorce, gives us specific instructions on how your benefits should be distributed. NYSLRS provides on online fillable DRO that complies with the plan’s requirements for implementation. You are not required to use the online form; however, the System will give priority review to these DROs since the language is pre-approved.

2. A Judge has to Approve Your DRO

Before we can implement a DRO, a trial court judge must review and sign it, and you need to file it with the appropriate County Clerk’s Office. That can be a lengthy process; our Matrimonial Bureau can check your DRO for compliance with the law before you submit the draft order to the court. This way, if the DRO does not meet the requirements, you will have a chance to make revisions.

Once a judge does sign off, we’ll need a certified copy of the DRO and your judgment of divorce. We start payments to your ex-spouse once we’ve calculated and finalized your retirement benefit. If we receive the DRO and judgment before we finalize your retirement benefit, we’ll make retroactive payments back to your date of retirement.

3. Some Beneficiary Designations are Revoked

Reviewing your beneficiary designations periodically is always important, but after a divorce, it’s essential to make sure your benefits will be distributed according to your wishes. As of July 7, 2008, beneficiary designations for certain benefits are revoked when a divorce, annulment or judicial separation becomes final. Please read our Guide to Domestic Relations Orders and review our DRO FAQs before you finalize your divorce.

4. Contact an Attorney with DRO Experience

This last one is not a fact, but it’s a good idea. A lawyer, who’s worked with DROs previously, can help ensure the DRO you submit to the court fairly represents the intentions of both parties.

How Can NYSLRS Help?

We developed an online template  that makes it easier to create a properly formatted DRO. Just enter your tier, plan and employment status, and answer the questions that follow.

To submit your proposed DRO for review, email it, along with scanned copies of your judgment of divorce, to our Matrimonial Bureau at dro@osc.state.ny.us. For DRO proposals prepared using our online worksheet, the review process is simplified and we can complete our review faster.

If you have any questions about divorce and your benefits, please contact our Hearing Administration and Matrimonial Bureau staff.

Email: dro@osc.state.ny.us

Address:
NYSLRS 110 State Street
Mail Drop 7-9
Albany, New York 12244

Tier 6 Benefits – A Closer Look

Tier 6 members (those who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012) are eligible for a lifetime pension benefit with 10 years of credited service. And that pension can replace a portion of your salary throughout your retirement.

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on your Final Average Salary (FAS) and the number of years you work in public service. FAS is the average of the five highest-paid consecutive years. For most members, those higher-paid years come at the end of their careers. Since retirement is still some years in the future for most of you, we won’t focus on the dollar amount of your FAS today. But we can look at what percentage of that salary would be replaced by your pension if you continue in the system until retirement age.

For Tier 6 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), the benefit is 1.66 percent of your FAS for each year you work, up to 20 years. (Benefit calculations for members of the Police and Fire Retirement System vary based on plan.) At 20 years, the benefit equals 1.75 percent per year (for a total of 35 percent). After 20 years, the benefit grows by 2 percent per year.

Financial advisers say you will need to replace between 70 to 80 percent of your salary to maintain your lifestyle during retirement. Let’s see how we can get there.
Tier 6 Salary Replacement
NYSLRS Pension: Say you begin your career at age 30 and work until your full retirement age of 63. That’s 33 years of Service Credit. You’ll get 35 percent of your FAS for the first 20 years, plus 26 percent for the last 13 years, for a total benefit that would replace 61 percent of your salary. If you started at age 25, and continue till 63, you’d get 71 percent of your FAS. If you didn’t start till age 35, you’d still get 51 percent at 63.

Social Security: You also should factor in Social Security. We know, you may have heard that Social Security might not be there for you, but the situation isn’t that dire. According to the Social Security Administration, under current law, payroll taxes will cover about 79 percent of benefits by 2034. Social Security now replaces about 36 percent of the wages of a typical worker who retires at full retirement age. So even if benefits take a hit – and that’s a big IF – Social Security might still replace around 25 to 30 percent of a typical worker’s pay.

Savings: Retirement savings can also replace a portion of your income. How much, of course, depends on how much you save. The key is to start saving early so your money has time to grow. If you haven’t already looked into the New York State Deferred Compensation Program, please consider doing so now.

Spending Changes in Retirement

Just like starting your first job, getting married or having kids, retirement will change your life. Some changes are small, like sleeping in or shopping during regular business hours. Others, however, are significant and worth examining ahead of time…like how much you’ll spend each month or each year.

An Employee Benefit Research Institute study offers some good news for prospective retirees. Household spending generally drops at the beginning of retirement — by 5.5 percent in the first two years, and by 12.5 percent in the third and fourth years. On the other hand, a significant portion of households — nearly 46 percent — actually spend more in the first two years of retirement.

So, have you considered how you’ll spend money once you retire?

Prepare a Post-Retirement Budget

Like a fiduciary choir, financial advisors all sing the same refrain: Start young; save and invest regularly to meet your financial goals. If you do, making the switch from saving to spending in retirement can be easy. But, in order to plan, you need a budget.

The first step toward a post-retirement budget is a review of what you spend now. For a few months, track how you spend your money. Don’t forget to include periodic costs, like car insurance payments or property taxes. By looking at your current spending patterns, you can get an idea of how you’ll spend money come retirement.

Then, consider your current monthly income, and estimate your post-retirement income. If your post-retirement income is less than your current income, you might want to plan to adjust your expenses or even consider changing your retirement plans.

We have monthly expense and income worksheets to help with this exercise. You can print them out and start planning ahead for post-retirement spending.

Monthly budgeting worksheets (PDF)

Monthly Worksheets (PDF)

For those of you who carry smart phones, Forbes put together a list of popular apps for tracking your daily spending. All of them are free, though some do sell extra features. Many of them can automatically pull in information from your bank and credit card accounts, but if you’d rather avoid that exposure or if you use cash regularly, we recommend you try an app that lets users enter transactions manually.