Tag Archives: pension

Retirement Planning vs. Reality

As we sit down to plan our retirement, we ask ourselves some tough questions: Am I saving enough? Am I ready for the lifestyle change? Do I need to tighten my budget now or will I need to in retirement?

These questions are all aimed at helping us answer one central question: When is the right time to retire?

According to recent Gallup research, there is often a significant gap between the age we plan to retire and how old we are when we actually do.

Retirement Survey

Gallup’s April 2016 survey asked workers, “At what age do you expect to retire?” And, it asked retirees, “At what age did you retire?”

On average, there is a significant gap between the percent of workers who plan to retire within a certain age range and the percent of retirees who actually did. For example, 31 percent of workers intend to retire at age 68 or older. However, only 12 percent of retirees actually do. And, only 23 percent of workers think they’ll retire before age 62. Nevertheless, 36 percent of retirees ended up doing so. On average, Americans expect to retire at age 66, but actually retire at age 61.  That means a significant number of us may be underestimating how many years our retirement savings need to last.

Age and Your NYSLRS Pension

Regular readers may recall that most NYSLRS retirement plans have a minimum age requirement to retire with a full benefit. However, once you are vested, you are generally able to retire as early as age 55.

An early retirement may come with a significant — and permanent — benefit reduction, though. So, if you plan to retire with a full benefit at age 62 (or 63 for Tier 6 members), but end up retiring early instead, your pension will be less than you planned.

Retirement Planning

NYSLRS has several resources to help you make your retirement plans and stay on target. We distribute your Member Annual Statement (MAS) between May and July. It contains valuable information to help you understand your benefits and plan for the future, including: your earnings, your service credit total and up to three pension projections based on your specific details. You can also check out our Preparing for Retirement — A Checklist and 5 Step Plan for Retirement pages on our website. Our Life Changes: How Do I Prepare to Retire? publication offers a step–by–step guide to the retirement process, a list of available resources and some key factors to consider as you plan.

If you have any questions about your retirement plan, we’re glad to help. Email us using our secure email form, which allows us to safely contact you about your personal account information.

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.

NYSLRS’ Top Five Retirement Myths from 2015

Retirement Myths vs FactsFrom the day you become a NYSLRS member to the day you retire, you’re exposed to all sorts of retirement information. Unfortunately, sometimes what you learn can get jumbled along the way. We want to help clear up some common misconceptions we’ve heard from members and retirees over the past year. Here are the top five retirement myths from 2015:


Myth #1 “I’ll receive the full amount of my monthly retirement benefit when my payments start.”

Fact For the first few months of retirement, most NYSLRS retirees will receive partial payments while we finish calculating their final benefit. (We need to collect information on final payments and pensionable leave credits from their employers, a process that can take some time.) The partial payments are based on their most recent NYSLRS retirement estimate and usually make up 90 – 95 percent of their final benefit. Partial payments are paid by check and mailed to the address we have on file for the retiree.


Myth #2 “Family members always receive death benefits.”

Fact With the exception of accidental death benefits, NYSLRS members may name any person, trust, or organization as their beneficiary to receive death benefits. It doesn’t have to be a family member. Accidental death benefit recipients are outlined in the law.


Myth #3 “I can’t collect my pension until I start receiving Social Security.”

Fact Members can apply for retirement as soon as they meet the eligibility requirements of their retirement plan.


Myth #4 “NYSLRS manages my retiree health insurance.”

Fact NYSLRS does not administer health insurance programs for its retirees. We deduct premiums from a retiree’s monthly retirement benefit to pay for their health insurance if we’re told to do so by their former employer.

(If you have questions about your health insurance coverage or premium deductions, please contact your former employer. If you retired from a New York State agency, you can contact the New York State Department of Civil Service.)


Myth #5 “NYSLRS decides when there’s a retirement incentive.”

Fact This isn’t the case. The New York State Legislature (not NYSLRS) enacts retirement incentive programs. Incentives are approved by both houses and signed into law by the Governor. NYSLRS administers programs that are signed into law.


Check out your plan publication to learn more about your benefits. You can also visit our website for more information.

NYSLRS Basics: Final Average Salary

As a NYSLRS member, you have a defined-benefit retirement plan that provides a lifetime pension when you retire. Laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor have established the formulas used to calculate these benefits. Your specific benefit will be based on two main factors: service credit and final average salary. You’re probably familiar with service credit — it’s generally the years of service you’ve spent working for a participating employer. But, what is a final average salary (FAS)?

When we calculate your pension, we find the set of years (one, three or five, depending on your tier and retirement plan) when your earnings were highest. The average of these earnings is your FAS. Usually your FAS is based on the years right before retirement, but they can come anytime in your career. In fact, the years used to calculate your FAS may not match up to a calendar year or even a fiscal year. For FAS purposes, a “year” is any period during which you earned one full-time year of service credit.

Types of Final Average SalaryNYSLRS Basics: Understanding your Final Average Salary

Your tier and plan determine how your FAS is calculated:

  • Three-year FAS: Members in Tier 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
  • Five-year FAS: Members in Tier 6.
  • One-year FAS: Members in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Your employer must choose to offer this benefit. It’s not available to PFRS members covered by Article 14 and generally not available to PFRS Tier 6 members.

Exclusions and Limits

The law limits the FAS of all members who joined on or after June 17, 1971. For example, for most members, if your earnings increase significantly through the years used in your FAS, some of those earnings may not be used toward your pension. The specific limits vary by tier; check out your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page for details.

Since 2010, with the creation of Tiers 5 and 6, the Legislature and the Governor have introduced additional limits to the earnings that can be used toward the FAS:

Tier 5

  • Overtime pay is capped — $18,448.11 in calendar year 2017 and $19,001.55 in 2018.

Tier 6

  • Overtime pay is capped — $15,721 in fiscal year 2017 and $16,048 in 2018.
  • Lump sum vacation pay and wages from more than two employers are no longer included in your FAS.
  • Any earnings beyond the Governor’s salary — currently $179,000 — are left out of your FAS.

Find out more about how FAS are calculated on our website.

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

Dual Membership in NYSLRS

As a New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) member, you’re either part of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) or the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). In some cases, however, it’s possible to have a dual membership, or be a member of both systems. As of last year, 3,392 members had memberships in both ERS and PFRS.

How Does Dual Membership Work?

You can be a member of more than one retirement system if you hold a different position in each system. Let’s say you work as a fire fighter—this would mean that you’re already a member of PFRS. One day, you decide to take on a part-time job as a bus driver for your local school district. Your school district participates in ERS, so you’re eligible for ERS membership. After you fill out the membership application, you’re now an ERS member, while at the same time being a PFRS member.

As a member of both systems, you’d have separate membership accounts in those systems. Let’s look again at our fire-fighting bus driver example. While working as a fire fighter, you’d make any required contributions and earn service credit toward your PFRS pension. The PFRS contributions and service credit wouldn’t go toward your ERS pension. The same goes when you’d work as a bus driver—your required contributions and earned service credit would go toward your ERS pension and not PFRS.

There are other implications to dual membership as well. Assuming you met the service credit and age requirements, you could retire from both systems. You’d need to file a separate retirement application for ERS and PFRS, and we’d work on calculating each pension. We’d calculate your ERS pension using the final average salary (FAS) you earned while working as a bus driver. We’d then use the FAS you earned as a fire fighter to calculate your PFRS pension.

And, since you’d have an ERS pension and a PFRS pension, you would need to choose a beneficiary for each in the event of your death.

Dual membership in NYSLRS is nothing fancy—just make sure to follow your retirement plan in each system.

If you have any questions about dual membership, please contact us.