Tag Archives: ERS

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

Sunshine on the Retirement Savings Horizon

Headlines in recent years offer a stormy retirement forecast: “Americans Get a Grade C in Retirement Readiness,” “More Than Four in Ten Households Wrong About Retirement Readiness,” “The Shockingly Small Amount Americans Have in Retirement Savings.”

Unfortunately, research and statistics tend to back up these dire warnings. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, a significant portion of Americans — 42 percent — lack access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b) or 457(b). Among those whose employers do offer a plan, only 49 percent actually participate.

In fact, research from the Federal Reserve suggests that 28 percent of people who haven’t retired yet have no retirement savings whatsoever. So, it’s not surprising that a report from the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis predicts that the “number of 65-year-olds per year who are poor or near poor will increase by 146 percent between 2013 and 2022.”

The Good News

There is promising news about retirement, though, if you look for it. Americans — particularly Millennials (those born 1979 through 1996) — are starting to save for retirement much sooner than previous generations. According to the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies, Millennials begin to put away for retirement at a median age of 22. Generation X workers waited until 27, and Baby Boomers didn’t start until age 35.

Sunshine on the Retirement Savings Horizon

Perhaps this earlier focus on saving is responsible for other good news. For example, Fidelity Investments reports record 401(k) balances in 2016: $92,500 at the end of the fourth quarter, which is up $4,300 from 2015. And, earlier this year, the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 55.4 percent of investors — more than ever before — are maxing out their individual retirement account (IRA) contributions.

That said …

Americans do have a retirement problem. New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli speaks regularly about the need for policies at the state and federal levels of government to ensure retirement security for everyone, including workers in the private sector.

As individuals, the solution is simple: We need to save, and we need to start early. NYSLRS members have the rare advantage of a well-funded, defined-benefit pension. However, your pension and Social Security benefits are only part of a well-rounded financial plan. Consider contributing to a New York State Deferred Compensation Plan (NYSDCP) account. NYSDCP is a voluntary retirement savings plan — similar to private sector 401(k) or 403(b) plans — created for employees of New York State and other participating employers. If you work for a local government employer, please check with your human resources administrator to find out what savings plans are available to you.

What Unused Sick Leave Might Mean For You at Retirement

If you’ve accumulated unused, unpaid sick leave, you may be able to use it toward your NYSLRS pension benefit.

New York State employees are eligible for this benefit. You also may be eligible if your employer has adopted Section 41(j) for the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), or 341(j) for the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), of Retirement and Social Security Law. Not sure? Ask your employer or check your Member Annual Statement.

Here’s How It Works

Your additional service credit is determined by dividing your total unused, unpaid sick leave days by 260. Most ERS members can get credit for up to 165 days (7½ months) of unused sick leave. The benefit is capped at 100 days (4½ months) for most Tier 6 members. State employees in certain negotiating units may be able to use 200 days (about nine months). Those extra “months” would be used in calculating your retirement benefit.

Also, depending on your employer, your unused sick leave may be used to cover some health insurance costs during your retirement. Please check with your employer for information about health insurance.

Restrictions

Unused sick leave cannot be used to reach NYSLRS retirement milestones. Let’s say you have 19½ years of service credit. At 20 years, your pension calculation would improve substantially. You also have 130 days of unused sick leave. Can you add the six months of sick leave credit to get you to 20 years? No. Retirement law does not permit it. You’ll have to work those extra six months to get the 20-year benefit rate, though sick leave credits can still be used in your final pension calculation.

Also, credit for unused sick can’t be used to:

  • Qualify for vesting
  • Reach a minimum retirement age
  • Increase your pension beyond the maximum allowed under your retirement plan
  • Meet the service credit requirement for a special 20- or 25-year plan

Check your retirement plan booklet for more information.

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.

Women and Retirement

Saving for retirement is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for women. Women tend to live longer than men, but they may not spend as many years in the workforce and they may not earn as much. Because of this, women tend to lag behind men when it comes to retirement savings.

On average, a 65-year-old man can expect to live to be about 83, while a 65-year-old woman can expect to live to nearly 86, according to data from the Social Security Administration. That means a woman’s savings need to stretch that much further. But in a survey released in March by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, women reported far lower retirement savings than men. The median savings for women was only $34,000, compared with $115,000 for men.

Women and Retirement

The survey also found that the percentage of women who had no retirement savings was higher than the percentage for men. Women also tended to be less confident about their ability to retire in comfort, according to the survey of over 4,000 U.S. workers.

Here are some things you can do to make sure you’re on track:

  • Start saving for retirement, if you haven’t already. Make regular, consistent additions to your savings.
  • If you’re already saving, increase the amount you save. Even a small increase will make a difference over time. (Try adding 1 percent of your salary, then bump it up next time you get a raise.)
  • Educate yourself about retirement savings and investments.
  • Learn more about your NYSLRS retirement benefits. There is a lot of good information in your Member Annual Statement. You may also wish to read the NYSLRS publication How Do I Prepare to Retire?
  • Learn more about your Social Security
  • If you are close to retirement, make a retirement budget.
  • Talk to a financial adviser.
  • Make a retirement plan. Write it down. And revisit it periodically.

A defined benefit plan, such as the NYSLRS retirement benefit, provides a monthly pension payment for life. But, savings are still important as a supplement to a pension and Social Security, a hedge against inflation and a resource in an emergency.

 

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.

Debt and Retirement

If you’re planning to retire in the near future, it’s a good idea to take inventory of the debts you owe. Why start your next life chapter burdened with debt and interest payments?

A high priority should be any loans you have taken from NYSLRS. You cannot pay off your loan after you retire. If you have an outstanding balance when you retire, it will permanently reduce your pension. For example, if a 60-year-old Tier 3 or 4 member of the Employees’ Retirement System retires this year owing $10,000, the annual reduction would be $560.50. And that reduction would continue even if the total reduction exceeds the amount owed. What’s more, at least part of the balance would be subject to federal taxes. Learn more about paying of a NYSLRS loan.
Debt and Retirement — How a NYSLRS Loan could affect your retirement
Another priority is paying off credit cards. The average American household with credit card debt owes more than $16,000 and pays about $1,300 a year in interest, according to a recent analysis of federal data.

Fortunately, getting a handle on your credit card debt has gotten easier. A recent federal law requires credit card statements to carry a “Minimum Payment Warning.” This tells you how long it will take, and how much it will cost, to pay off your balance if you only make minimum payments. It also tells you how much you need to pay each month to pay off the balance in three years.

If you have more than one credit card balance, most financial advisers recommend you pay as much as you can on the card with the highest interest. Pay at least the minimum, preferably more, on lower-interest cards until the high-interest card is paid off. But some advisers say it might be better to pay off the card with the smallest balance first. That will give you a sense of accomplishment, which could make the process seem less daunting.

Mortgage balances make up two-thirds of the $12.6 trillion in U.S. household debt. But should you strive to pay off your mortgage before you retire? Financial advisers differ on that question, so do your research to consider all the factors.

Read more about debt and retirement in our publication Straight Talk About Financial Planning For Your Retirement.

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.