Category Archives: Members

News for members of the New York State & Local Retirement System

Avoiding Scams During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During this time of crisis, it’s important to be on the alert for those who would attempt to defraud you or your family. Here are some consumer warnings and safety tips from the Federal Trade Commission:  

  • Ignore offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are selling products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work.
  • Be wary of ads for test kits. Most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate.
  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
  • Beware of emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card or by wiring money.
scams

Reliable Sources of COVID-19 Information

Only rely on trusted sources for information about COVID-19. Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. Here are some good online sources:

Reporting Fraud

If you are a victim of fraud, the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection may be able to help. You can call their Consumer Helpline at 1-800-697-1220 or visit their website.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, is the federal agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting fraud schemes related to natural and man-made disasters. Call 1-866-720-5721.

You can report allegations of fraud involving New York State taxpayer money to the Office of the New York State Comptroller. Call 1-888-672-4555 or report government fraud online.

Protecting Your Identity Online: Tips for Secure Passwords

Secure Passwords

The rules for password creation have changed in recent years, so you may have to unlearn some of the things you’ve been taught in the past about secure passwords.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the federal agency that created the original password guidelines, recently revised those guidelines. Its current recommendations are based on research on both the habits of users and the techniques of hackers. Here are some of their findings:

  • Length is a major factor in a password’s strength, so the longer the password, the better.
  • Complex passwords, with a mix of character types, are hard for people to remember, and do little to deter hackers.
  • Strong passwords can be created from short phrases that are easy for you to remember, but would be meaningless to anyone else.
  • Passwords may be used indefinitely as long as they’re strong and have not been compromised. Obviously, if you have an account with a company that just had a data breach, you’ll want to change that password.

Other Ideas on Secure Passwords

Changing passwords every 30, 60 or 90 days was recommended for thwarting hackers, but some security experts now question that tactic. Changing passwords on a regular schedule may have little security value and can lead to bad habits. Research has shown that people tend to make only minor changes when updating their passwords or create weak passwords that are easier for them to memorize. You’re better off creating a strong password, memorizing it and holding on to it.

While NIST has changed some of its guidelines, some of the old ones still apply. Don’t share your secure passwords with anyone, or leave them on sticky notes by your computer. Create unique passwords for important accounts, such as your bank account and your email, and avoid bad passwords such as “password,” “12345678,” “qwerty” and “iloveyou.”

Woman looking out window

Important Information for Furloughed NYSLRS Members

Unfortunately, the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in record growth in unemployment. If you are a NYSLRS member who finds yourself out of work or furloughed (on an authorized leave of absence or temporarily laid off), you may find the following information helpful.

Woman looking out window

What Happens to Your NYSLRS Loan?

If you have an outstanding NYSLRS loan and are furloughed from your job, you can defer payments until you go back to work, provided you return to work within one year.

You still must repay your loan within the original five-year repayment period. When you return to work, your loan will be recalculated and your minimum payment will be increased to ensure your loan balance is paid off on time. Interest will still accrue during the deferment, and the added interest will be included in the recalculation.

In order to receive this deferment, you must have your employer send a fax to us (518-486-9877), on their letterhead, indicating the date your furlough began and when they predict it will end.

You can find more information about managing your NYSLRS loan payments in our recent blog post.

Leaving Public Employment

If you leave public employment and are not yet ready to retire, you may want to read our booklet What If I Leave Public Employment? This booklet describes your rights as a NYSLRS member and tells you how to claim any benefits you are entitled to when it comes time for you to retire.

If you decide that this is a good time to retire, you should be aware that you can now apply for retirement online. This new Retirement Online feature makes applying for retirement faster and easier than ever before. 

COVID-19 Information

We’ve compiled on our website a number of articles and updates about the COVID-19 emergency that you may find helpful. Here you will find information about enhanced death benefits for survivors of COVID-19 victims, filing for retirement benefits during the pandemic and what you can do to protect your loved ones if you become seriously ill.

Enhanced Death Benefit for Survivors of COVID-19 Victims

COVID-19 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths across New York State. Sadly, the pandemic’s victims include NYSLRS members who carried out their essential duties despite personal risk.

The families of these selfless members can take some comfort in knowing that they may be eligible for enhanced death benefits. Recently enacted legislation provides certain beneficiaries of public employees who contract COVID-19 on the job and die from COVID-19 with an accidental death benefit.

father holding son

Most NYSLRS members are eligible for a death benefit if they die while in service; this “ordinary death benefit” provides a member’s designated beneficiary or beneficiaries a single, lump sum payment, worth up to three years’ salary. Alternatively, an “accidental death benefit” may be available to certain beneficiaries if the member’s death is a result of an on-the-job accident. The NYSLRS accidental death benefit is a pension paid to beneficiaries that are defined in statute, first to a surviving spouse, if no spouse to dependent children, then to dependent parent(s).

Generally, the accidental death benefit is equal to 50 percent of the member’s final average salary or last year’s salary depending on the retirement plan the member is enrolled in. You can find your retirement plan information on our Publications page. In addition to the accidental death benefit, a special accidental death benefit may also be payable to a member of the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System.

“This new law is an important step toward protecting public workers who are on the front lines fighting the coronavirus and helping their communities,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “If something happens to them, they deserve their retirement benefits and the peace of mind that their families are provided for.”  

Eligibility Requirements

A NYSLRS member’s statutory beneficiary would be eligible for the accidental death benefit if the member:

  • Worked at either their normal workplace or another assigned workplace, not their residence, as directed by their employer, on or after March 1, 2020;
  • Contracted COVID-19 within 45 days of the last day that the member reported for work;
  • Died on or before December 31, 2020; and
  • Died from COVID-19 or COVID-19 caused or contributed to their death.

The COVID-19 benefit also applies to members who were working as of March 1 but have since retired prior to July 1, 2020. If a member met the eligibility requirements above, but died after retiring, their statutory beneficiary will have the option of converting the service retirement benefit or disability retirement benefit to an accidental death benefit.

The COVID-19 benefit would be available for all NYSLRS members (Employees’ Retirement System as well as Police and Fire Retirement System members), regardless of job title, or tier. The legislation is effective through December 31, 2020.

How to Claim the Benefit

When someone calls NYSLRS to report a death, they should let us know it was COVID-related. We’ll also ask for an original death certificate. We will then reach out to the beneficiary to assist them in claiming the benefit. For the COVID-19 death benefit, NYSLRS will confirm with the employer the dates that the member reported to work and request the required documentation showing COVID-19 as the cause of death. The COVID-19 death benefit will be reduced by any ordinary death benefits paid out to a beneficiary by NYSLRS.

NYSLRS Loans Using Retirement Online

Most members can get a NYSLRS loan using Retirement Online. Loan eligibility requirements are based on your tier, but generally, you’ll need to be on the payroll of a participating employer, have at least a year of service and have a certain amount of contributions in your account. Retirement Online will provide the eligibility information you need as you step through the application process.

woman using computer at home

Getting Started

Retirement Online is the fastest way to get a NYSLRS loan. It’s also an easy way to find out your current loan balance, the amount you are eligible to borrow and more. To get started, Sign In to your account or Register if you don’t already have an account. (If you have any trouble signing in or registering, check the Tools & Tips section of the Retirement Online page for help.)

The Application Process

Once you’ve signed in, scroll down to “My Account Summary.” Under “I want to…” click the green “Apply for a Loan” button and follow the prompts.

As you work your way through the online application, you’ll see how much you can borrow, the minimum repayment amount, the expected payoff date and how much you can borrow without tax implications.

NYSLRS loans are exempt from New York State and local income taxes. However, the Internal Revenue Service may consider all or part of a NYSLRS loan taxable in some cases – for instance, if you borrow above certain limits. The Retirement Online loan application will show you the maximum amount you can borrow without tax implications. 

If you already have a loan and you want to take another loan, you can take multiple loans or refinance an existing loan. Taking a new loan (the multiple loan option), minimizes your potential tax consequences. Your minimum payment will be higher, but you will pay off your loans faster than you would by refinancing. Refinancing adds the new loan amount to your existing balance and spreads the entire balance over a new five-year term. Your payment will be lower but your tax consequences may be significantly higher.

Repaying Your Loan

Loan payments will be deducted from your paycheck. You can choose the minimum payroll deduction, which would pay off your loan in five years, or you can choose to pay more than the minimum to pay off your loan sooner. The payment calculator in Retirement Online will provide your expected payoff date if you enter an amount higher than the minimum.

If you already have loan from NYSLRS, during this time of economic uncertainty you may be considering whether you can defer your NYSLRS loan payment.

If you are furloughed or on an authorized leave of absence with your employer, the IRS allows for the suspension of loan payments for up to one year from the date your leave began or until you return to the payroll (whichever occurs first). To receive this deferment, have your employer send us a fax (518-486-9877) on their letterhead that indicates the date your leave began and when they expect it will end.

It’s important to note that if you defer your loan payments during an authorized leave of absence, your payments will need to be recalculated and increased upon your return. This will ensure your loan will be paid off within the five-year period.

For more information, please read our blog post, Managing Your NYSLRS Loan Payment.

More Information

For more information, including how retiring with an outstanding loan would affect your pension, visit our Loans page. If you need help with the self-service loan application, click ‘Help’ at the top of the page. Then click next to ‘Requesting a Loan’ and select the guide that best fits your situation. Retirement Online is generally available from 7:00 am to 9:30 pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm on Tuesday; and from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm, on Saturday and Sunday.

Your Member Annual Statement

Your Member Annual Statement includes valuable information about your NYSLRS membership and benefits that can help you plan for retirement. You can view your 2020 Statement right now by signing into Retirement Online. If you don’t already have an account, you can register today.

From your Retirement Online Account Homepage, go to the ‘My Account Summary’ area of the page, click the “View My Member Annual Statement” button and follow the steps. You will also be able to print or save your Statement.

member reading 2020 Member Annual Statement

Delivery of Your Member Annual Statement

NYSLRS members who chose email delivery of their Statement in Retirement Online received an email informing them that their Statement is available online. All other members will receive their 2020 Member Statement in the mail by the end of June.

New Look for 2020

This year’s Member Annual Statement has a new, streamlined look that presents your benefit and membership information in a clear, comprehensive and easy-to-read format. Some information, such as detailed pension estimates and five years of employment history, was removed from your Statement because you now have access to it in Retirement Online. Your Statement provides you with information as of March 31, but Retirement Online provides you with the most up-to-date information available.

Pension Estimates: Most members can create customized pension estimates and calculate their benefit options using Retirement Online. From your Account Homepage, scroll down to ‘My Account Summary’ and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button. You can base your estimate on the salary and service information we have on file or adjust your earnings or service credit to account for possible increases in earnings or purchases of service credit. By entering different retirement dates and beneficiaries, you will see how your choices affect your potential benefit. If you are not able to use the Retirement Online calculator, contact us for an estimate.

Employment History: You can also view your employment history and reported earnings in Retirement Online. From your Account Homepage, scroll down to ‘My Account Summary’ and click the “View my Employment Summary” button. If you find that part of your employment history is missing, you can request credit for the missing service. Return to ‘My Account Summary’ and click the “Manage My Service Credit Purchases” button.

Address Change: To view or update your account information, sign in to Retirement Online. On your Account Homepage, ‘Under My Profile Information,’ you will be able to update your address and other contact information, instead of mailing in a paper form.

Update Your Delivery Preference for Next Year

Want to be notified by email next year when your Statement is ready? Sign in to Retirement Online to change your Statement delivery preference. Go to the ’My Profile Information‘ section on your Retirement Online Account Homepage, click “update” next to ‘Member Annual Statement By,’ then choose “email” from the dropdown menu.

Have Questions About Your Statement?

Remember, your 2020 Statement provides your account information as of March 31, 2020. To view your current membership information any time throughout the year, sign in to your Retirement Online account.

If you have questions about your Member Annual Statement, please visit our Member Annual Statement page.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 emergency continues, police and healthcare professionals are reporting an increase in domestic violence. With many of our one million NYSLRS members and retirees now being asked to stay home, we want to help keep you safe. If you are in an abusive relationship, or fear your situation may turn violent, there is help.

domestic violence

You don’t have to stay in a dangerous environment. Safe shelter is available. 

Here are some resources:

Because abuse victims are often closely watched by their abuser, New York State has launched a new texting program and confidential service to help New Yorkers experiencing domestic violence.

Text 844-997-2121 or visit www.opdv.ny.gov to confidentially chat with a professional at any time of day or night.

New York State Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-942-6906
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “Got5” to 741-741.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-799-7233
  • TTY 1-800-787-3224 (for the deaf or hard of hearing)
  • If it is not safe for you to call, you can live chat online at thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat.
  • Or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.

If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.

How Tier 6 Contribution Rates Can Change

Most members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) contribute a percentage of their earnings toward their pensions. For Tier 6 members, that percentage, or contribution rate, can vary from year to year. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

Tier 6 contribution rate

When Tier 6 Contribution Rates are Determined

Tier 6 contribution rates are calculated annually. New rates become effective each year on April 1, the beginning of the State’s fiscal year. Once your contribution rate is set for a fiscal year, it will not change for the rest of that fiscal year. However, depending on your earnings, it may change the following year.

How Your Tier 6 Contribution Rate is Calculated

As a Tier 6 member, your contribution rate is based on how much you earn. Changes in your earnings may result in changes to your contribution rate.

For the first three years as a NYSLRS member, your contribution rate is based on an estimated annual wage we receive from your employer. After three years, the rate is based on what you actually earned two years prior. The minimum contribution rate is 3 percent of your earnings, and the maximum is 6 percent.

See our Member Contributions page for additional information.

Learn More

The percentage you contribute toward your pension while you work does not affect the pension amount you may receive in retirement. Your NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit based on your retirement plan, years of service credit and final average salary. You can learn more about your pension by reading your plan booklet on our Publications page. For help finding the right plan book, read our blog post, Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning. For more information about ERS Tier 6 memberships, read our blog post, What to Know About ERS Tier 6.

Power of Attorney

We continue to receive reports of NYSLRS members who have become ill, or seriously ill, as a result of COVID-19. It is vitally important that these members, and their loved ones, be aware of the provisions contained in a NYSLRS Power of Attorney.

NYSLRS provides a Special Durable Power of Attorney form that is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements. It can be filed with NYSLRS at any time so the designated agent can act immediately in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness. There’s no need to wait until something happens to file a NYSLRS POA form.

father and son discuss power of attorney

A power of attorney (POA) allows a person to designate someone else to act on their behalf. The designated person, referred to as an “agent,” could be a spouse, another family member or a trusted friend.

A person can designate more than one person as an agent, and can decide if those agents act together or separately. In addition to an agent or agents, a person may designate “successor agents” to act on an individual’s behalf if the person designated as the “primary” agent is unable or unwilling to serve. Successor agents can be named using the “Modifications” section (g) of the POA.

Why is a NYSLRS POA Important?

Normally, NYSLRS won’t release benefit information to anyone without your permission — even to a spouse. With a POA on file, we would be able to discuss your benefits and conduct business with the agent you appointed. This could be especially important now as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic. If you suddenly become ill and are unable to contact us personally, your agent would be able to take care of your retirement needs for you.

What Can Agents Do?

Agents can file applications and forms, such as service or disability retirement applications. They can get account-specific benefit information, request copies of retirement documents, update addresses or phone numbers or take out loans. For retirees, agents can change the amount withheld from pensions for taxes.

It’s important to note that the NYSLRS POA form only covers Retirement System transactions. It does not authorize an agent to make health care decisions or changes to a Deferred Compensation plan.

Special Authority

If you use the NYSLRS POA form, and your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they have “self-gifting authority.” That means they can direct deposit money into a joint bank account you have with them, designate themselves as a beneficiary to your pension benefits, and/or choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death.

If your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they do not automatically have “self-gifting” authority, which means they cannot name themselves as a beneficiary or direct deposit money into a joint bank account with their name on it. If you wish to give an agent(s) or successor agent(s) ”self-gifting” authority, you should specifically indicate so in section (g) “Modifications” of the POA. In that section you should identify your agent(s) or successor agent(s) by name and state the specific authority granted to them.

Please note only biological or legally adopted children are considered your “child” for NYSLRS POA purposes. All other children must be granted specific authority in section (g) “Modifications.”

How to Submit a NYSLRS POA Form

If your decision to submit a NYSLRS POA is related to the COVID-19 emergency, please note that on the form in section (g) “Modifications.” If you file a retirement application, consider submitting a NYSLRS POA with your application.

You can scan and email a copy of your POA to NYSLRS using the secure email form on our website.

You can also mail your POA (original or photocopy). You may wish to mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested, so that you know when NYSLRS receives it. The address is:

NYSLRS
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001.

Find Out More

A power of attorney is a powerful document. Once you appoint someone, that person may act on your behalf with or without your consent. We strongly urge you to consult an attorney before you execute this document.

Please read the Power of Attorney page on our website for additional information.

15-Day Notice for Retirement Waived During COVID-19 Emergency

The 15-day waiting period for a NYSLRS member’s retirement to take effect has been temporarily waived by a governor’s executive order. The waiver, which was requested by Comptroller DiNapoli, is designed to protect families who may lose a loved one to COVID-19 before a member’s retirement is official.

Under the waiver, if you file for retirement between April 16, 2020 and August 6, 2020, you can choose a date of retirement less than 15 days away.

15-day notice waived

Members seeking to service retire should also choose a pension payment option. This is especially important if you wish to name a beneficiary to receive a pension benefit in the event of your death.

Eligible members can file for retirement, choose a date of retirement as early as the next day, and upload retirement-related documents using Retirement Online.

If you choose to file a paper retirement application, you can choose a specific retirement date, or enter “ASAP” and your date of retirement will be the day after your filing date. Find more information about filing for retirement (online or by mail) in our recent blog post, Retirement Online Makes Applying for Retirement Fast, Easy.

A member may withdraw their service retirement application up until the day before they retire.

The waiver will also be effective for members who filed after March 7, 2020 and died due to COVID-19. If these members selected a pension payment option that provides a continuing pension benefit for a beneficiary after their death, and they died of COVID-19, their beneficiary will receive the monthly benefit under the pension payment option that the member chose.

“Many government workers are battling the coronavirus in their communities every day,” New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. “God forbid something should happen to them before their retirement becomes effective. Waiving the waiting period after filing for service retirement benefits ensures their families will get the benefits that were intended for them. My thanks to Governor Cuomo for acting on our request and taking steps to protect our heroic state and local workers and their families in these tough times.”

The executive order waives the legal requirement that a NYSLRS member’s retirement application be received by the Office of the State Comptroller at least 15 days before their retirement date.

To be eligible for a service retirement benefit, a vested NYSLRS member must be at least 55 years old, unless they are in a special plan that allows retirement after 20 or 25 years regardless of age. For details about NYSLRS service retirement benefits and death benefits, please check your retirement plan booklet, which you can find on our Publications page.

Members who are not yet eligible for a service retirement benefit may want to read our recent blog about applying for a disability retirement benefit.