Tag Archives: Service credit

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.

Retirement on the Horizon? Here Are a Few Things to Think About

Things to think aboutYou’re probably looking forward to the day when you file your application for a NYSLRS pension. But before you retire, there are a few questions you should ask yourself. After all, by filing for retirement, you’re making critical decisions about your financial future. And once you’ve retired, some of those decisions will be irrevocable. Whether your planned retirement date is just around the corner or a few years off, this checklist could help you avoid costly mistakes.

Do I have all the service credit I think I have?
Under some retirement plans, service milestones (20 years, 30 years, full retirement age) can have a big impact on the amount of your benefit. If you’re aiming for one of these milestones, but retire just short of reaching it, your pension will take a big hit. To make sure you have enough service credit on your planned retirement date, sign in to Retirement Online to see how much service credit you currently have. You can also file a Request for Estimate form or talk with an information representative at our Contact Center (1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area).

Do I have previous service credit I want to purchase?
You may be able to buy credit for previous public employment or military service, which in most cases would increase your pension. But you can’t purchase service credit after you retire. You can use the “Information about Your Public Employment” section of the Request for Estimate form to request credit for previous public and military service. Read our booklet, Service Credit for Tiers 2 through 6, for more information.

Do you have a balance on a NYSLRS loan?
You cannot pay off your NYSLRS loan after you retire. If you retire with an outstanding balance, your pension will be permanently reduced. You can check your loan balance with Retirement Online or through our automated phone system. Call the toll-free number (above), then press 3 for members, 1 or 2 for the Employees’ Retirement System or the Police and Fire Retirement System, and 1 for loan services. If your retirement is still a few years away, you can increase your payroll deductions or send in extra payments to pay off your loan.

Am I ready to retire?
Are you really ready? The fact that you can retire doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Am I financially prepared? Am I psychologically ready for retirement? These are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself, but there are resources available:

Age Milestones for Retirement Planning

Age Milestones for Retirement PlanningWhether you’re 22 or 52, you should be planning for retirement.

NYSLRS retirement benefits are based on tier status, years of service, and average salary. Age is also an important number, and not just the age when you plan to retire. Here are some age milestones to keep in mind while planning for your retirement.

Under 50: It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. Even modest savings can add up over time as investment returns grow and interest compounds.

50: The Age 50 and Over Catch-Up provision allows you to save more pre-tax dollars in a retirement account starting in the calendar year in which you turn 50.

55: The earliest age most NYSLRS members can retire. (Does not apply to members in special retirement plans.) Your pension may be permanently reduced if you retire at 55.

59½: The age you can draw down money from a tax-deferred retirement savings plan, such as an IRA, without facing a potential federal tax penalty. (The penalty does not apply to New York State Deferred Compensation savings if you are retired or have left public service.)

62: Full service retirement age for Tiers 2, 3, 4 and 5 and PFRS Tier 6. Earliest age you can begin collecting a Social Security pension, but the benefit would be reduced. For more information, read When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits.

63: Full retirement age for ERS Tier 6 members.

65: Age most people are eligible for Medicare benefits.

66: Full Social Security retirement age if you were born from 1943 through 1954. Add two months for each year from 1955 through 1959.

67: Full Social Security age if you were born in 1960 or later.

70: If you do not take your Social Security benefit at full retirement age, your benefit will increase each year until you reach age 70. Delaying Social Security after 70 will not increase your benefit.

70½: If you have tax-deferred retirement savings and are no longer working, you must begin withdrawing some of this money after you turn 70½.

One Last Number: Having a rough idea of your life expectancy is essential to retirement planning.

For more information about retirement planning, read our publication Straight Talk About Financial Planning For Your Retirement.

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.

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.

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.

Overtime Limits for Tier 5 and 6 Members

The exact formula used in calculating your NYSLRS pension varies by tier and plan, but your credited service and final average salary (FAS) are the core variables. You earn service credit for paid service with participating employers and you also may claim it for some previous public service. FAS is the average wage you earned during the time period when your earnings were highest (36 consecutive months for Tier 5 and 60 consecutive months for Tier 6).

Your FAS can include overtime pay that you earned during the FAS period. However, for Tier 5 and 6 members, there are limits to how much overtime can be used to calculate your pension.

Members and employers aren’t required to make contributions on overtime pay above the limit, and your employer shouldn’t report overtime above the ceiling to us. While you can earn overtime beyond the limit, anything over will not count toward your FAS or your retirement benefit.

Tier 5 Overtime Limits

For Tier 5 Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members, the limit changes each calendar year. The overtime ceiling for Tier 5 increases each calendar year by 3 percent. This year, the overtime ceiling for Tier 5 ERS members is $18,448.11. In 2018, it will be $19,001.55. For Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members, the overtime limit is 15 percent of your regular earnings each calendar year.

Tier 5 & 6 Overtime Limits

Tier 6 Overtime Limits

For Tier 6 ERS members, the cap follows the fiscal year (April 1 through March 31), not the calendar year. For 2016-2017, the limit is $15,721. Come April that will increase to $16,048. The limit is adjusted for inflation based on the annual Consumer Price Index (CPI). The overtime ceiling for Tier 6 PFRS members is 15 percent of your regular earnings each calendar year.

Find more information about the overtime limit, FAS and retirement calculations in your plan booklet, available on our Publications page.

Service Credit and Elected Officials

As public employees in New York State, elected and appointed officials are usually NYSLRS members. However, their compensation generally isn’t based on an hourly rate, and their irregular hours can make a typical timekeeping system impractical. So, how do we fairly and accurately credit their service in our system?

In 1975, Regulation 315.4  of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR) established a process for reporting time worked by elected and appointed officials, which we’ve used since with periodic revision.

The Reporting Process

  1. Record of activities (ROA). For three full months, from the start of the term or appointment, the official tracks time spent on work-related activities. This includes things like answering constituent correspondence and phone calls; preparing for and attending board and committee meetings; and attending employer-sponsored forums. They must leave out time spent on call; attending campaign events, political rallies or private meetings; or socializing after board meetings. Officials have 150 days to submit an ROA to the secretary or clerk of the governing board. (Tier 1 members are not required to keep a ROA.)
  2. Reporting resolution. When the governing board receives the official’s ROA, it checks the ROA against the official duties of the position and excludes any improper entries. Based on this record, the board adopts a resolution establishing both the average number of days worked by the official each month and the length of a standard work day (SWD) for the official.
  3. Public notice. After passing the resolution, the governing board must post it on the board’s public website for at least 30 days or, if the board has no public website, on the official sign-board or at the main entrance to the clerk’s office. After 30 days, the governing board has 15 days to file the resolution with NYSLRS.
  4. Next term. An ROA can be valid for up to eight years, but if the official begins a new term or is reappointed before then, NYSLRS needs a new ROA and a new reporting resolution. An official, who feels that the previous ROA still accurately represents the time worked, can certify that in writing in lieu of a new ROA.

Governing boards must keep officials’ ROAs on file for at least 30 years. Any official who does not submit an ROA will receive a warning from NYSLRS. If that goes unheeded, member benefits, including estimates, tier reinstatements and requests for previous service credit will be suspended, and time worked during this period will be excluded from the individual’s pension benefit calculation.

Visit our website for the full details about reporting regulations for elected and appointed officials.