Tag Archives: defined benefit plans

A Look Inside NYSLRS

Want an inside view of NYSLRS and the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund)? Curious about how the Fund is managed and how well its investments are performing? Then check out the latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

The 2017 CAFR, which covers the state fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2017, is chock full of facts and figures that offer a detailed look at the Retirement System and the Fund. The biggest story is the financial health of the Fund. The Fund’s assets were valued at $192.4 billion at the end of the fiscal year and continued to grow, reaching an estimated value of $201.3 billion as of September 30, 2017. The average return on Fund investments in fiscal year 2017 was 11.48 percent, well above the long-term expected rate of return of 7 percent.

The soundness of NYSLRS was confirmed by several recent independent studies, which concluded that the New York State’s pension system is one of the best-funded public pension systems in the nation. And that means NYSLRS’ 652,324 members and 452,455 retirees and beneficiaries can rest assured their pensions will be there for them in retirement.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

The average pension for an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) retiree was $23,026; the average for a Police and Fire Retirement System was $49,123. In all, NYSLRS paid out $11.3 billion in benefits during the fiscal year. (Fund investment earnings covered 75 percent of the cost of these benefits.) But NYSLRS pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 78 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $9.1 billion worth of benefits stayed in the State. And that money supported local businesses, paid local taxes and generated economic development statewide.

An Award-Winning Publication

NYSLRS received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2016 CAFR. The Certificate of Achievement is a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports. NYSLRS has won this award for the last 13 years.

Choosing Your Pension Payment Option

When you retire from NYSLRS, you’ll need to decide how you want to receive your pension benefit.

You’ll have several options. All of them provide a monthly benefit for life. Some also provide a limited benefit for one or more beneficiaries after you die. Others let you pass on a monthly lifetime pension to a single beneficiary. Each option pays a different amount, depending on your age at retirement, your beneficiary’s age and other factors.

Pension Payment Option

That’s a lot to think about, so let’s make this clearer with an example. Meet Jane. Jane plans to retire at age 60, and she has a husband, a granddaughter and a grandson who are financially dependent on her. First, Jane needs to decide whether she wants to leave a benefit to someone after she dies. She does.

That eliminates the Single-Life Allowance option. While it pays the highest monthly benefit, all payments stop when you die.

Jane considers naming her grandchildren as beneficiaries to help pay for their college education.

The Five Year Certain and Ten Year Certain options don’t reduce her pension much, and they allow her to name more than one beneficiary. If Jane dies within five or ten years of retirement, her grandkids would split her normal benefit amount for the rest of that period.

However, the Five and Ten Year options wouldn’t be lifetime benefits. Since her husband doesn’t have his own pension, she’ll leave him her pension and look into a tax-deferred college savings plan for her grandkids instead.

There are a few options that leave a lifetime benefit:

The Joint Allowance — Full and Joint Allowance — Half options continue paying all or half of the retiree’s normal benefit amount to the beneficiary for life.

The Pop-Up/Joint Allowance — Full and Pop-Up/Joint Allowance — Half options also continue the retiree’s normal benefit. They reduce the pension a little more, but they have an advantage: If a retiree outlives his or her beneficiary, the retiree’s monthly payment will “pop up” to the maximum payable under the Single-Life Allowance option.

As you plan for your own retirement, you may also want to consider questions, like:

  • Do you qualify for a death benefit?
  • Do you have life insurance?
  • Do you have a mortgage or unpaid loans that will have to be paid if you die?

These and other factors can significantly impact your retirement planning.

To find out more about pension payment options, check your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page. You can also try our Benefit Calculator, which allows most members to estimate their benefits under the different payment options. For tips on developing a financial strategy that works for you, take a look through Straight Talk about Financial Planning for Your Retirement.

How Much Will My Pension Be?

Estimate Your Pension

For anyone thinking about retirement, one big question looms: How much money will I have to live on after I stop working? Your NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit. Having a good idea of what that monthly amount will be is essential to effective retirement planning. Fortunately, we offer tools to help you estimate your future pension.

Most members* can use our Benefit Projection Calculator to estimate their pension. You can use this calculator even if your planned retirement date is a long way off. The calculator provides estimates based on information you enter. By changing each variable (date of retirement, average salary, beneficiary information), you can see the impact it would have on your pension benefit.
how to estimate pension infographic
If you are a vested member who has enough NYSLRS service to be eligible for a pension, you can request a benefit projection by calling our automated information line at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are nearing retirement eligibility and you aren’t certain that you have credit for all of your NYSLRS-eligible employment, complete and submit a Request for Estimate (RS6030) form. If you are a member of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), you may use this form if you will be eligible to retire within five years. Members of the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) can submit this form within 18 months of their retirement eligibility date.

As part of your retirement planning process, you may also want to check on your Social Security benefits.

*At this time, you cannot use this calculator if you are in ERS Tier 5 or 6; PFRS Tier 3, 5 or 6; or certain special plans.

Welcome New Members

Welcome to new members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS).

NYSLRS is here to help you plan for a financially secure retirement. Your retirement may be far in the future, but decisions you make now will have a big impact on your later years. Here are a few things you should know:

How Pensions Work

A NYSLRS pension is a defined benefit plan. Under this type of plan, once you are eligible for a pension and apply for retirement, you will receive a monthly payment for your lifetime. Your pension benefits are determined by a preset formula set by law. However, many employees in the United States, particularly in the private sector, are enrolled in 401(k)-style plans. The ultimate value of a 401(k) plan is based on the contributions made and investment returns. While 401(k) plans and other individual retirement accounts are a way to supplement your pension and Social Security payments, they do not provide the same level of security as defined benefit plans. Unlike your pension, these plans do not guarantee a lifetime benefit. Learn more about how pensions work.

New Members Checklist

Service Credit

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on factors such as your tier, retirement plan, age at retirement, final average salary, and service credit. One year of full-time employment with a participating employer is equal to a one year of service credit. Part-time employment is prorated. You may also be able to buy service credit for previous public employment or military service, which in most cases would increase your pension.

Start Saving Now

Because having a defined benefit pension plan is only one part of building a financially secure future, it’s essential that you save additional money for retirement. State workers and employees of participating local governments can take advantage of the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. You can start by having as little as $10 deducted from each paycheck. You may choose how your money will be invested from a variety of options. Because of how compound interest works, the earlier you start saving, the better off you’ll be.

More Information

You’ll find more information in our booklet Membership in a Nutshell. We also publish booklets about specific retirement plans. If you know which system you’re in (Employees’ Retirement System or Police and Fire Retirement System) and your tier, you should be able to find your plan. If you are not sure what plan you’re in, ask your employer.

Tier 3 & 4 Members: When Is The Right Time To Retire?

Tier 3 and 4 members qualify for retirement benefits after they’ve earned five years of credited service. Once you’re vested, you have a right to a NYSLRS retirement benefit — even if you leave public employment. Though guaranteed, the size of that benefit can vary.

Three Reasons to Keep Working

  1. Age 55 is the earliest that Tier 3 and 4 members can claim their benefits. However, unless you have 30 years of service, a significant penalty for such an early retirement is imposed — a 27-percent reduction. The longer you wait to retire, the greater your benefit will be. At age 62, you can retire with your full benefits.
  2. Your final average salary (FAS) is a significant factor in the calculation of your pension benefit. Since working longer usually means a higher FAS, continued public employment can increase your pension.
  3. The other part of your retirement calculation is your service credit. More service credit obviously earns you a larger pension benefit, but after 20 years, it also gets you a better pension formula. For Tier 3 and 4 members, the formula for the first 20 years is FAS × 1.66% × years of service; between 20 and 30 years, the formula becomes FAS × 2.00% × years of service.

When is the Right Time to Retire?

If You’re Not Working, Here’s Something to Consider

Everyone’s situation is unique. For example, if you’re vested, you no longer work for a public employer and you don’t think you will again, retiring at 55 might make sense. When you do the math, full benefits at age 62 will take 19 years to match the money you’d have received retiring at age 55 — even with the reduction.

Tools To Help Make Your Decision

Here are two ways to decide what makes sense for you:

  1. Our online retirement benefit calculator allows most members to estimate their benefit with different retirement dates, FAS and service credit totals. By changing each variable, you can see the impact it may have on your benefit.
  2. If you’re a Tier 3 or 4 member with five or more years of service credit, you can request an estimate based on your actual salary and service reported to date. If you’re age 50 or older, we can include additional, projected service credit based on a date of retirement up to five years in the future.

To request your estimate, contact our Call Center toll-free at 1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area. You can also send us a Request for Estimate (RS6030) form.

This post has focused on Tier 3 and 4 members. To see how early retirement affects members in other tiers, visit our About Benefit Reductions page.

What to Know About ERS Tier 6

Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who join NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012 are in Tier 6. There are currently 129,359 ERS Tier 6 members who make up 21.1 percent of ERS membership.

ERS Tier 6 Membership Milestones

ERS Tier 6 members need 10 years of service credit to be vested. That means they are eligible to receive a service retirement benefit as early as age 55. The full retirement benefit age is 63, but they can retire between 55 and 63, with a reduced benefit. Tier 6 correction officers, however, can retire with 25 years of service, regardless of age.
ERS Tier 6 benefits

The Final Average Salary (FAS) Calculation

A member’s final average salary is the average of the wages earned in the five highest consecutive years of employment. For ERS Tier 6 members, each year’s compensation used in the final average salary calculation is limited to no more than 10 percent above the average of the previous four years.

Tier 6 Service Retirement Benefit

Generally, the benefit is 1.66 percent of their final average salary for each year of service if the member retires with less than 20 years. If a member retires with 20 years of service, the benefit is 1.75 percent of their final average salary for each year of service, or 35 percent.

If a member retires with more than 20 years of service, they receive 35 percent for the first 20 years, plus 2 percent of their final average salary for each year of service over 20 years.

If you’re an ERS Tier 6 member, you can find out more about your benefits by reading one of the plan publications listed below:

Retirement Planning Tip: Required Minimum Distributions

Required Minimum DistributionsIf you’re putting money into a retirement savings account, you should know that once you turn 70½ years old, you may need to start using those retirement savings. That’s not some oddly specific financial advice; it’s the law. The same federal tax laws that provide for investments like 401(k) plans and individual retirement arrangements, or IRA accounts, also require you to withdraw at least some of your retirement funds as taxable distributions during your lifetime.

Why Take Required Minimum Distributions?

These required minimum distribution rules are intended to ensure that you don’t simply defer taxation and leave these retirement funds as an inheritance. So, once you turn 70½, you need to begin withdrawing a certain amount from your investments each year.

That amount is calculated annually. It’s based on the account’s balance at the end of the previous calendar year as well as a set of actuarial tables that factor in both your age and your beneficiary’s age. Check out AARP’s Required Minimum Distribution Calculator for an easy way to determine your required distributions.

If you don’t take a distribution, or if the amount you withdraw doesn’t meet the requirement, you may have to pay a 50 percent excise tax on the amount not distributed. Required minimum distributions are never eligible for rollover into other retirement accounts; you must take out the money and pay the taxes.

What Accounts Require Minimum Distributions?

Most retirement accounts you’re familiar with require these annual withdrawals:

  • IRAs (traditional, SEP and SIMPLE)
  • 401(k) plans
  • 403(b) plans
  • 457(b) plans
  • Profit sharing plans
  • Money purchases.

Since contributions to Roth IRAs are not tax-exempt, the IRS does not require distributions from Roth IRAs at any age. For beneficiaries who inherit a Roth IRA, certain minimum distribution rules do apply.

As with most things investment-related, a lot depends on your particular circumstances. If you have questions, contact your financial advisor or your plan administrator.

September COLA Increase for NYSLRS Retirees

In August, we said that eligible NYSLRS retirees could expect a cost of-living adjustment (COLA) increase on September 30. A COLA payment permanently increases your NYSLRS retirement benefit. It’s based on the cost-of-living index, and is designed to address inflation as it occurs. The September 2016 COLA increase equals 1 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $180.00, or $15.00 per month before taxes.

If you are due a COLA, you should have recently received a letter letting you know how much your 2016 increase is and how much your total benefit will be. If you receive your benefit by direct deposit (electronic fund transfer), you can expect to receive a second letter, which will describe the change to your benefit, before pension payments go out at the end of the month.

The COLA you receive from NYSLRS is not the same as the COLA you might receive from the Social Security Administration (SSA). In 2016, the SSA didn’t provide a COLA adjustment for almost 65 million Social Security recipients.

Healthcare in Retirement

There are reductions, such as health insurance, which may offset the COLA increase. NYSLRS does not administer health insurance programs for its retirees. For New York State retirees, the New York State Department of Civil Service administers the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP). If you have questions about your health insurance premiums, you can visit the Department of Civil Service’s website or call them at 1-800-833-4344 or 518-457-5754 to learn more.

If you retired from a public employer other than New York State (a county, city, town, village or school district), your former employer’s benefits administrator should be able to answer your health insurance questions.

Visit our website to learn more about COLA and your eligibility.

A Quick Look at the NYS Common Retirement Fund

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the trustee of the Common Retirement Fund, which is the third largest public pension fund in the country. The Fund’s assets come from three main sources: member contributions, employer contributions, and investment returns. The Fund has two main goals:

  • Provide the means to pay benefits to NYSLRS’ participants; and
  • Minimize employer contributions through an investment program designed to protect and enhance the long-term value of the assets.

Over the last 20 years, 79 percent of benefits have been funded from investment returns. When you retire from NYSLRS, your monthly pension benefit—and the benefits of many others—will be drawn from this fund. Ethical management and a long-term, diversified investment strategy has made NYSLRS one of the best managed and funded plans in the nation.
Common Retirement Fund Assets

Strategic Long-Term Investments

The Fund’s investment program is designed to weather the ups and downs of an increasingly volatile global market. Our long-term target allocation for our investment portfolio is 22 percent in fixed income assets (bonds and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities [TIPS]) and 78 percent in equities, which includes:

  • Domestic and international public equities
  • Real estate
  • Real assets
  • Absolute return strategies
  • Mortgages
  • Private equity investments
  • Opportunistic funds

A diversified investment strategy helps us meet the funding needs for our current and future retirees while also helping to control risk.

The Fund is Well-Managed

An independent review of the Fund commended Comptroller DiNapoli and NYSLRS for strong policies and ethical management. By adhering to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, our members, retirees, and beneficiaries can be confident the Fund is being managed wisely.

Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement

After months of planning and preparation, you’re ready to apply for retirement. To get your pension benefit, you need to send in a NYSLRS retirement application. Let’s look at what you should include with the form to help make the retirement process go more smoothly.

Filling Out the Retirement Application

Unless you’re filing for a disability retirement, you’ll need to fill out the Application for Service Retirement (RS6037). Some items to keep in mind when you fill out the form:

  • Know your registration number. You can find this number on your most recent Member Annual Statement or retirement estimate.
  • Know your past employment. Please list your public employment history, including military service and any memberships in other New York public retirement systems. This helps ensure you receive the proper credit for your public service.
  • Include your beneficiary’s information. This isn’t an official designation, but will help us provide you with the pension payment options available to you.
  • See a notary. The form must be filled out completely and signed by a notary public.

Applying for Retirement

Proof of Birth

Make sure we also have proof of your birth date. You can send it with your retirement application or before or after, but pension benefits cannot be paid without it. We’ll accept photocopies of the following as proof:

Other Forms to Consider

You’ll need to choose your payment option before your pension is payable. Option election forms are available on our website, but we will also send you a form after we process your retirement application. If you choose an option that would provide a pension benefit to a beneficiary upon your death, you must provide us with proof of your beneficiary’s birth date.

Your NYSLRS pension isn’t subject to New York State income tax, but it is subject to federal tax. You can fill out a W-4P form to tell us what amount you want withheld from your monthly benefit. You can change your federal withholding status at any time. We don’t withhold other states’ income taxes. Visit the Retired Public Employees Association’s website to see if your benefit will be taxed in another state.

You can enroll in our direct deposit program at the same time you file for retirement. Just fill out a Direct Deposit Enrollment Application (RS6370) and return it to us. Once your final retirement benefit amount is determined, your payments will be directly deposited into the account you specified on your enrollment application. Direct deposit is the fastest and most secure way for you to receive your pension benefits. We will send you information on your direct deposit payment amount including deductions, and will inform you when the amount changes.

If you’re divorced and your ex-spouse is entitled to part of your pension, you should send us a copy of your Domestic Relations Order (DRO) as soon as possible. We cannot finalize your pension until we have reviewed your DRO and calculated the required distribution of your benefit. The DRO gives us specific instructions on how your benefits should be divided. For more detailed information, please read our Guide to Domestic Relations Orders.

If you have other questions about applying for retirement, read our publication, Life Changes: How Do I Prepare to Retire?