Countdown To Retirement — 18 Months Out

After taking time to plan and learn about your NYSLRS retirement benefits, you’ve decided to retire. In the final months leading up to your retirement date, there are important things you need to do. Our Countdown to Retirement series will help you know what to do and when — beginning with 18 months out.

18 Months Out

You should request a NYSLRS retirement estimate 18 months before you plan to retire. Your estimate will provide your approximate pension payment amounts under different payment options, as well as information about your retirement benefits.

To get your NYSLRS retirement estimate, send us a completed Request for Estimate form (RS6030). On the form, make sure you include:

  • Planned retirement date
  • Name and birth date of your intended beneficiary
  • Public employment history

Your public employment history dates don’t have to be exact, but NYSLRS will use this information to review your account to see whether you are eligible for any additional service

pension verification letter infographic

Your NYSLRS Retirement Estimate

When you receive your NYSLRS retirement estimate, you can expect to see your:

With your NYSLRS retirement estimate, you can see how an outstanding loan balance or additional service credit might affect your pension. This is information you need now; it shouldn’t be a surprise when you retire. You may receive your estimate and decide that you’re not ready to retire. That’s fine; you can request a new one later on.

The NYSLRS retirement estimate is based on the information we have on file for you, so it’s important to review it carefully. If your estimate isn’t what you expected, report any inconsistencies to us as soon as possible.

Counting Down

Your planned retirement date will be here before you know it. As it gets closer, check out the rest of our Countdown to Retirement series for steps to take 12 months, eight months, four to six months and one to three months before your retirement date.

A Good Plan Can Ease Transition to Retirement

When people talk about retirement planning, they’re usually talking about money. But there is another aspect that people often forget. What will you do with all that newfound free time?

Sure, after decades of hard work, thoughts of sleeping late and taking it easy seem pretty good. But retirement is a big transition, and many retirees don’t consider its potential psychological consequences.

steps to ease transition to retirement

Create a Plan and Schedule

While you may have some complaints about your job, it is an important part of your life. It helps define who you are and can give you a sense of accomplishment. It provides structure, mental stimulation and social interaction. Leaving the workforce creates a big void, and watching daytime TV or frequent trips to the grocery store may not be enough to fill that void. Empty or aimless hours can lead to boredom, disenchantment and even depression.

You may have a long list of things to do, places to go, books to read, but it won’t mean much if you don’t act. To successfully manage your time, you’ll need to actively plan and create a schedule. Set down how you will spend each day of the week, blocking out time for chores, social engagements, hobbies and exercise. Sticking to a schedule will give your days structure and give you a sense of purpose.

Stay Active and Engaged

For most people, staying busy and remaining socially engaged are essential to a satisfying retirement. That’s why some retirees go back to work full-time, while others opt for part-time or seasonal jobs.

But a retirement job doesn’t necessary mean continuing to do the same old thing. Retirement is an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, something fun and challenging.

Hopefully, you’ve planned your retirement so you won’t need to work to meet basic needs, so your retirement gig won’t have to pay a lot. In fact, maybe the job for you is one that doesn’t pay at all, at least monetarily. There are countless organizations looking for volunteers, so it shouldn’t be hard to find opportunities that match your skills and interests.

Volunteering just a few hours a week will give you something to look forward to and keep you connected to the outside world. And studies show that it can improve both your mental and physical well-being.

Exercise Your Body and Brain

Regular exercise not only keeps you physically fit, it also increases your sense of well-being. Whatever you do to get exercise, make it part of your regular schedule. Consider taking a fitness class at a local gym, which also adds a social element to your workout. (And you can up the ante by trying something new, like a martial arts class.)

Don’t forget to exercise your brain. A course or workshop can help you discover a new side to yourself (the painter, the mystery writer, the master of topiary). You may want to enroll in classes at a local community college or even return to school full-time.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s part of a plan – a plan for a happier retirement.

Pension Verification Letters

As a retiree, you may find yourself needing a letter verifying your pension income — maybe for housing or as part of an application for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). There are four ways to get a pension verification letter.

Four Ways to Get a Pension Verification Letter

1. Retirement Online

Retirement Online is fastest and most convenient way to get a pension verification letter. First, sign in. Then, on your account homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the Generate Income Verification Letter link.

A pop-up box with a confirmation message will appear. Once you click OK, your pension income verification letter will open in a new browser tab, ready for you to print or save.

pension verification letter infographic

2. Email

You can email us your request using our secure contact form. Tell us what information you need, and be sure to include your daytime phone number, in case our customer service representatives have a question. In most cases, we’ll mail your letter in five to seven business days.

3. Phone

You can call us with your request at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). Our Call Center is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 am – 5:00 pm. As with email, we usually mail letters in five to seven business days.

4. Fax

You can also fax your request to 518-473-5590. Include your retirement or registration number, current address, signature and phone number in case we have questions. Tell us whether you want the letter mailed or faxed to you (provide a fax number).

Sending a Pension Verification Letter to a Third Party

At your request, we can send a letter verifying your pension income directly to a lending institution, housing authority, nursing home or other third party. However, because this information is confidential, we need your signed written permission.

If you decide you want us to send a letter to a third party, they must fax us a request and include a signed release from you giving us permission to release your information.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

NYSLRS paid $12.03 billion in benefits to 470,596 retirees and beneficiaries during the state fiscal year that ended on March 31. Seventy-five percent of the cost of those benefits came from returns on investments of the New York State Common Retirement Fund (the Fund).

The Fund was valued at $207.4 billion at the end of the fiscal year. The average return on Fund investments was 11.35 percent for the year, exceeding the long-term expected return rate of 7 percent.

a look at NYSLRS retirement fund, benefits and membership

 

NYSLRS Membership

But NYSLRS is more than just the pension fund. The system had 652,030 members as of March 31, including county workers, professional firefighters and State troopers. Here are some facts about them:

  • NYSLRS’ 533,415 active members (that is, members still on a public payroll) work for more than 3,000 public employers statewide.
  • One-third of those active members work for New York State. The rest work for counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts and public authorities.
  • Nearly 94 percent of active members are in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS). The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) accounts for 6 percent of NYSLRS membership.

More than one-third of all NYSLRS members are in Tier 6. (But two-thirds of PFRS members are in Tier 2.)

NYSLRS Retirees and Beneficiaries

The average pension for an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) retiree was $23,680; the average for a Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) was $50,922. But NYSLRS pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 79 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $9.8 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

Extensive information about NYSLRS members and retirees, the Fund, and Fund investments can be found in the 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). NYSLRS received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2017 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 14 years.

NYSLRS Basics: Special Beneficiary Designations

As a NYSLRS member, it’s important for you to name beneficiaries. When you die, your beneficiaries may be eligible to receive a death benefit. You can choose anyone you wish to receive your death benefit; it does not have to be a family member. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a person. You can name your estate, a charity or a trust, but it helps to know how these special beneficiary designations work.

There are two main types of beneficiaries. A primary beneficiary is someone you choose to receive your benefit if you die. A contingent beneficiary would receive the benefit if the primary beneficiary dies before you. If a beneficiary dies before you, you should update your beneficiary information to ensure that your benefit is distributed according to your wishes. You can name more than one primary or contingent beneficiary.

Retirement Online is the convenient and secure way to update your beneficiaries. If you don’t already have an online account, you can learn more on our website.

Benefit Distribution

If you name more than one primary beneficiary, each will share the benefit equally. You can also have a certain percentage of the benefit paid to each beneficiary. The percentages don’t have to be equal, but they must add up to 100 percent. (For example, John Doe, 50 percent; Jane Doe, 25 percent; and Mary Doe, 25 percent). The same rule applies for multiple contingent beneficiaries.

Special Beneficiary Designations

Here are the rules pertaining to special beneficiary designations:

special beneficiary designations

Trusts

If you have executed a trust agreement or provided for a trust in your will, your trust can be your primary or contingent beneficiary. To name a trust, sign in to Retirement Online or use our Trust with Contingent Beneficiaries form (RS5127-T).  We’ll need a copy of your trust document, which you can mail to NYSLRS.

With this type of designation, the trust is the beneficiary, not the individuals who will receive the trust. If you revoke the trust or it expires, you will want to make new beneficiary designations as soon as possible to ensure benefits are paid according to your wishes.

You should talk to a lawyer if you’d like more information on trust agreements.

Estates

You may name your estate as the primary or contingent beneficiary of your death benefit. If you name your estate as your primary beneficiary, you cannot name a contingent. If a benefit is payable, the executor of your estate will distribute it according to your will.

Entities

You may name any charitable, civic, religious, educational or health-related organization as a primary or contingent beneficiary.

Minor Children

If your beneficiary is under age 18 at the time of your death, your benefit will be paid to the child’s court-appointed guardian. You may also choose a custodian to receive the benefit on the child’s behalf under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). Before making this type of designation, please contact us for more information.

More Information

Please note that some of these beneficiary designations will be subject to a NYSLRS legal review.

For more information, please read our publication “Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary?” You can find your current NYSLRS beneficiaries listed in Retirement Online, or in your Member Annual Statement, which is sent out every summer.

Firefighters Deserve A Salute Every Day

Recognizing Firefighters

It’s National Fire Prevention Week this week and, while attention is properly focused on promoting fire prevention, we also think it’s a great time to recognize all the firefighters who are members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS).

Of the 533,415 members in NYSLRS, 32,470 are in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). More than 6,000 of these brave men and women are firefighters.

NYSLRS Firefighters data

NYSLRS Membership and Firefighters

All firefighters working for participating employers are PFRS members. With that membership comes a variety of benefits, including certain death and disability benefits as well as a pension. As firefighters and other PFRS members progress through their careers they become eligible for these benefits. For example, from day one, PFRS members are covered by job-related death and disability benefits. However, with ten years of service credit, most members are also eligible for a non-job-related disability benefit.

In addition, most PFRS employers offer their employees special retirement plans. A special plan lets members retire after completing 20 or 25 years of credited service in specific job titles rather than reaching a certain age. Most firefighters — and, in fact, nearly 80 percent of all PFRS members (25,784) — are enrolled in a set of special 20- and 25-year plans. Whether members need 20 or 25 years depends on their retirement plan.

Firefighters are Heroes

To the members of the New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York and the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs; to the county fire marshals, supervising fire marshals, fire marshals, assistant fire marshals, assistant chief fire marshals and chief fire marshals: Thank you for your service to New York and its citizens. We are grateful for the valuable service you provide all of us.

Earning NYSLRS Service Credit as a School Employee

In an earlier post, we talked about how full-time and part-time service credit works for NYSLRS members. We mentioned how earning NYSLRS service credit for workers in an educational setting can be a little different.
There are non-teachers earning NYSLRS service credit.

While most New York teachers and administrators are in the New York State Teacher’s retirement system, other school employees are members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). In fact, 1 out of 5 NYSLRS members works for a school district. Most work according to the school year, which could be only 10 or 11 months long. So how do we determine service credit for them?

Earning NYSLRS Service Credit When You Work Full-Time

If you’re a school employee who works full-time, you receive one year of service per school year. Generally, a full-time 10-month school year requires at least 180 days worked in any school year. Depending on your employer, a full academic year can range from 170 to 200 days.

Earning NYSLRS Service Credit When You Work Part-Time

Part-time school employees earn service credit based on the number of days they work. The number of hours in a full-time day is set by your employer (it’s between six and eight hours). If you don’t work full-time, your employer converts the number of hours you worked into the equivalent number of full-time days. Your employer reports that number to us, and your days worked are plugged into the formulas below.

Regardless of whether you work full- or part-time, depending on the length of your school year, your service is credited in the following ways:

For all BOCES and school district employees, as well as
teachers working at New York State schools for the deaf and blind

Number of days works ÷ 180 days

For college employees

Number of days worked ÷ 170 days

For institutional teachers

Number of days worked ÷ 200 days

Infographic showing how to calculate part-time service credit for school employees

Check Your Member Annual Statement

Your Member Annual Statement is provided to you every summer. For most members, your statement will show how much service credit you’ve earned for the past fiscal year (April 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018). It will also show your total service credit as of March 31, 2018. Make sure to look it over to see how much service credit you’ve earned over your career. You can also check your Retirement Online account to find your service credit totals.

For more information on service credit, read our booklet, Service Credit for Tiers 2 through 6 (VO1854), or your own retirement plan publication.

Common Retirement Fund Earns Strong Investment Returns

The New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) holds retirement investments in trust for more than 1 million New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) members. In the State fiscal year ending March 31, 2018, it generated strong investment returns of 11.35 percent. The Fund ended the year with an audited value of $207.4 billion.

New York State Common Retirement Fund Value

Strong Investment Returns

Independent studies regularly confirm the financial soundness of NYSLRS. Just this year, a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts ranked NYSLRS among the best-funded state retirement systems. In fact, a new State fiscal year 2018 report from our actuary ranks NYSLRS at 98 percent funded, which puts us well above the national average of 66 percent funded.

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the Fund, credits the growth to a long term, diversified investment strategy and solid market growth through most of the fiscal year, despite a volatile fourth quarter

Investing for Retirement Security

The Fund is the country’s third-largest public pension fund. NYSLRS provides retirement security to more than 1 million active state and local government employees, retirees and their beneficiaries. During the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2018, NYSLRS paid out $11.45 billion in retirement and death benefits. More than $9.8 billion of that went to residents of New York State, which generated local spending and provided economic support to New York businesses and communities.

Investing Responsibly

While successfully providing financial security for New York’s government workers and retirees, Comptroller DiNapoli’s has also put investment dollars to work helping New York businesses grow and addressing the long-term threat of climate change.

The In-State Private Equity Program invests in New York-based business ventures, companies and other programs that spur economic growth and create and retain jobs. Recently, Comptroller DiNapoli raised the program’s total commitments to $1.6 billion. Since 2000, it has returned $863 million on $583 million invested in 139 transactions.

And recently, the Asset Owners Disclosure Project once again named the Fund as the number one U.S. pension fund — and the third globally — for its work to address climate risk. The Fund’s portfolio includes $7 billion dedicated to sustainable investments, including $4 billion in a low emissions index that shifts stock holdings away from the biggest carbon emitters.

Dual Membership in NYSLRS

The New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) consists of two retirement systems: the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Your job title determines what system you’re in. In some cases, however, it’s possible to have a dual membership, to be a member of both systems. As of State fiscal year end 2018, 1,574 members had memberships in both ERS and PFRS.

How Does Dual Membership Work?

dual membership in NYSLRSLet’s say you work as a fire fighter, so you’re a member of PFRS. 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. You fill out the membership application, and now you’re a member of both ERS and PFRS. The date you join each system determines your tier in each membership.

Implications of Dual Membership

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

There are other implications to dual membership. Assuming you’re vested in both memberships and meet the service credit and age requirements, you could retire and collect a pension from both systems. You’d need to file separate retirement applications for ERS and PFRS, and we’d calculate each pension separately. We’d calculate your ERS pension using the final average salary (FAS) you earned as a bus driver and your PFRS pension using the FAS from your time as a fire fighter.

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

Questions?

You’ll want to make sure to know the details of your retirement plan in each system. If you have any questions about dual membership, or to discuss your particular situation when you decide to retire, please contact us.

Certain Payment Options Provide a Lifetime Benefit for a Loved One

When you apply for a NYSLRS pension, you’ll be asked to pick a pension payment option. All options will provide you with a monthly benefit for the rest of your life. With the Single Life Allowance, all payments stop at your death and nothing is paid to a beneficiary.

Infographic describing pension payment options

Providing for a Beneficiary

If you’re married and need to provide for your spouse, or if you have someone else you would like to provide a lifetime pension for after you’re gone, there are payment options that let you do that.  In exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, Joint Allowance options allow a beneficiary to collect all or part of your pension after you die. The amount of the reduction in your pension is based on your life expectancy and the life expectancy of your beneficiary. That means the younger your beneficiary, the deeper the reduction.

You can only choose one beneficiary under a Joint Allowance option, and your beneficiary selection cannot be changed after you retire, regardless of the circumstances. The benefit reduction for Joint Allowance options will continue even if your beneficiary dies before you do.

If we could predict the future, pension choices would be a lot easier. But a Pop-Up payment option is one way to hedge your bet. Like Joint Allowance options, these plans allow you to provide a lifetime payment for a beneficiary after your death. But if your beneficiary dies before you, your future monthly payments would be increased to the amount you would have been receiving had you chosen the Single Life Allowance. (The pop-up only affects future payments. You would not be entitled to any retroactive payments.)

The monthly reduction in your benefit will be greater if you choose a Pop-Up option over a regular Joint Allowance.

Find Out More

There are also options that allow you to leave a monthly payment to more than one beneficiary, and options that leave a benefit for a certain amount of time. Visit our Payment Option Descriptions page for details about all of the available payment options.

For a better idea of how these payments options would work out for you and your beneficiary, you can use our online pension projection calculator. It uses the information you enter to show how much you could expect to receive under each option. Most members who are within five years of retirement eligibility can also request a benefit projection by contacting our Call Center at 1-866-805-0990, or you can submit a Request for Estimate form (RS6030).