Category Archives: Members

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

Public Employees Value Their Retirement Benefits

A recent survey gauged how important retirement benefits are to state and local government workers, and the crucial role that pensions and other benefits play in recruiting and retaining workers.

In 2015, more than 19 million Americans worked for state or local governments, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Retirement benefits, including defined benefit and defined contribution plans, were available to most of those workers.

Last year, the National Institute on Retirement Security commissioned a survey of more than 1,100 public sector employees. Teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public workers were asked questions on a variety of work-related subjects, from job satisfaction to health care benefits. The majority of public workers surveyed (86 percent) cited retirement benefits as a major reason they stay in their jobs.

retirement benefits

Defined Benefit vs. Defined Contribution

An overwhelming number (94 percent) of government employees surveyed said pensions help attract and retain workers. The same percentage had a favorable view of defined benefit pension plans.

As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit plan, also known as a traditional pension plan. Your pension is a lifetime benefit based on years of service and earnings. It is not based on your individual contributions to the Retirement System.

With defined contributions plans, such as 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, the employer, employee or both make contributions to an individual retirement account. The money in the account is invested, and the amount the employee has at retirement is based on investment returns. A market downturn can affect the value of the benefit and employees risk outliving their money.

When Retirement Benefits Get Reduced

In an effort to cut costs, some state and local governments have replaced defined benefit plans with defined contribution plans. But these moves have had unexpected consequences.

The Institute’s study cites the experience of Palm Beach, Florida, which gutted its defined benefit plan. The town soon realized that it was spending large sums to recruit and train new police officers, only to see them move to nearby communities with better benefits. The town reconsidered and improved its pension plan.

Then there’s the case of West Virginia, where officials found that switching to a defined contribution plan for teachers actually cost more money. Because the traditional pension plan stopped receiving contributions from new teachers and their employers, it became harder for the state to meet its pension obligations. After 14 years, the state went back to offering a defined benefit plan to all new teachers. Teachers already in the 401(k)-style plan were allowed to switch to the traditional plan, and 79 percent made the switch. State officials project that the return to a defined benefit system will save them $1.2 billion in the first 30 years.

Meanwhile, Alaska is still struggling with its decision to drop its defined benefit plan. A report by the Alaska Department of Public Safety cited “the inability to provide a defined benefits retirement system” as a factor in the “critically low staffing levels” for Alaska state troopers.

How to Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

In an earlier blog, we explained how to locate your retirement plan booklet. Your retirement plan booklet is an essential resource that you should consult throughout your career. It will help you in planning for your retirement and guide you when your retirement date draws near. Today we discuss what information you’ll find in that booklet and what it means.

retirement plan booklet

About Your Membership

This section has information about your membership and tier status. Look here to find out if your plan requires contributions toward retirement, when you will be eligible for a retirement benefit, and how to withdraw your membership.

Service Credit

Service credit is one of the main factors in determining how much your pension will be. If you work full-time for the State or a participating municipal employer for 12 months, you’ll earn a year of service credit. If you work part-time, your service credit is prorated.

You’ll also find information about how your service credit is calculated, how to purchase credit for previous public employment and military service, how leaves of absence affect service credit, and how sick leave can be used for extra service credit at retirement.

Final Average Salary

Final average salary (FAS) is another major factor in determining the amount of your pension. Your FAS is your highest average earnings during a period of consecutive years. This can be three or five years, depending on your tier.

This section describes what types of payments are used in calculating your FAS and any limitations that may apply.

Service Retirement Benefits

This section describes your retirement eligibility and how your benefit is calculated. If you have questions about how much your pension will be, this is an important section of your retirement plan booklet to read through.

Choosing a Pension Payment Option

There are several ways you can collect your pension. Some payment options, in exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, will allow you to provide for your spouse or other beneficiary after you die. When reading through this section, consider each payment option carefully, as you’ll only have a limited time to change it after you retire.

Items That May Affect Your Pension

This section describes different factors that can change the amount of your pension. For example, if you retire with an outstanding loan, your pension will be permanently reduced. Also, if you get a divorce, your ex-spouse may be entitled to a portion of your benefit.

A Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), on the other hand, could increase your benefit once you become eligible.

Vested Retirement Benefits

If you leave public employment before retirement age, but have met the minimum service requirement to receive a pension, you can apply for a vested retirement benefit when you become eligible.

Disability and Death Benefits

Your NYSLRS benefits include more than a pension. If you are no longer able to perform your job because of a medical condition, you may be eligible for a disability retirement. If you die before retirement, your survivors may be eligible for a death benefit.

Receiving Your Benefits

Before you can receive a retirement benefit, you must file the appropriate form with the Office of the State Comptroller. Here you’ll learn where to find the form and what deadlines apply.

Where to Find Your Retirement Plan Booklet

Look for your retirement plan booklet on the Publications page on our website.

ERS Tier 5 Milestones

If you became an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 5 member when the tier began in 2010, you’ve crossed one of many milestones in your public service career. You are now vested, which means you are guaranteed a NYSLRS pension even if you leave public employment at a later date.

So, what are milestones, and how do they affect NYSLRS members throughout their career?

Tier 5 milestones

Why Milestones Matter

As a NYSLRS member, you’ll cross a series of thresholds throughout your career. These member milestones occur when you earn a certain amount of service credit. Because these milestones affect how your pension will be calculated, a better understanding of them will help you plan for retirement.

You can find these milestones on the Membership Milestones page and in your retirement plan booklet. Most members ERS Tier 5 members will retire under the Article 15 retirement plan. (This booklet does not cover ERS Tier 5 members in special plans, such as deputy sheriffs and state corrections officers, but they can also find information on the Membership Milestones page.)

Major Milestones for Tier 5

The day you joined NYSLRS, you were automatically covered by certain job-related death and disability benefits. This is the first milestone for ERS Tier 5 members. After your first year of service, you became eligible to borrow from your retirement contributions, and after two years you became eligible to purchase credit for previous public service.

After becoming vested at ten years, the next big milestone is 20 years, when your retirement benefit improves. If you retire with less 20 years of service, your pension will equal 1.66 percent of your final average salary (FAS) for each year of service. But with 20 to 30 years of service credit, your benefit will equal 2 percent of your FAS, multiplied by your years of service.

For each year of service beyond 30 years, you will receive 1.5 percent of FAS.

Other Milestone Blogs

Knowing Your Retirement Plan
is the Key to Retirement Planning

Information is the key to being fully prepared for your retirement years. The single most important thing you can do to achieve this goal is to know what NYSLRS retirement plan you’re in. Once you know that, the next thing you must do is understand the benefits your plan provides.

Your retirement plan booklet covers things like how long you’ll need to work in order to receive a pension, how your pension amount is determined, and what kind of death and disability benefits may be available to you. You can find a copy of your plan booklet on our Publications page.

But here’s the challenge: NYSLRS manages 335 retirement plan combinations, which are described in 51 plan booklets. How do you figure out which is yours?  The information below should help.

Retirement plan

Two Key Questions

To get started, you need to answer two questions.

Question One: Which retirement system are you in? NYSLRS is made up of two different systems:

  • The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), which is for public employees in non-teaching positions. It also includes some law enforcement personnel, such as correction officers, sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies.
  • The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), which is for paid firefighters and police officers, including SUNY police, State Park police, Encon officers and State Forest Rangers.

Question Two: Which tier are you in? There are six tiers in ERS and five tiers in PFRS. Your tier, based on when you joined NYSLRS, determines such things as when you become eligible for benefits and how much you contribute. You can find your tier by checking your Account Information in Retirement Online or by checking the What Tier Are You In? page on the NYSLRS website.

Know Your Retirement Plan Number

For many members, knowing your retirement system and tier are enough. But for other members, especially those in law enforcement, it may help to have your retirement plan number as well. The plan number indicates the section of Retirement and Social Security Law the plan is based on. For example, Plan A15 indicates that you are covered by Article 15. You can find your plan number in the Account Information section of Retirement Online.

Roughly three-quarters of all ERS members are covered by Article 15; they just need to know their tier to find the correct booklet.

State policeSUNY policeState Encon OfficersState Park Police and Forest Rangers each have their own plan booklet, which can be found in the PFRS section of the Publications page. That’s also where you’ll find the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans, which cover officers in most municipal police departments. (Members in these special plans should see 384, 384-d or 384-e listed in Retirement Online.)

If you are still unsure which retirement plan booklet covers your benefits, you can send us an email using our secure contact form, or you can ask your employer.

Take the Time to Understand Your Retirement Plan

It cannot be stated enough how important it is to read your plan publication to learn all you can about your benefits. It is the key to solid retirement planning. Remember, no one has a more vested stake in your retirement than you do.

Too Much Free Time?

Could retirement bring you too much free time? When people think about retirement planning, they usually think about money. Will you have enough to maintain a comfortable lifestyle for a retirement that could last decades? But regardless of your finances, there is one thing you’re likely to have a lot more of after you retire: time. Figuring out how you’ll spend that time should also be part of your retirement planning process.

Free time after retirement

Counting the Hours

According to the U.S. Labor Department, the average American worker spends about nine hours a day at work. Add another hour a day commuting time, and that’s ten hours a day or 50 hours each week.

All those hours you spent working, and traveling to and from work, will instantly become free time. While that may sound great to many people, all that extra time can have downsides.

If not put to good use, that extra time can lead to boredom and even depression. What’s more, if you’re married and you and your spouse are both retired, you may find yourselves wondering how to spend that time together.

Make a Plan for Free Time

For many couples, having extra time together is a dream come true. However, some couples find themselves getting in each other’s way, and that can sometimes lead to problems.

But there are ways to cope. For example, finding activities outside the home, both together and separately, can help. As with most things, you’ll be better off if you recognize there may be a problem, discuss it with your spouse, and come up with a plan.

There are more thoughts on the subject, and some good advice, in this article: 10 Tips to Help Your Marriage Survive Retirement.

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: PFRS Tier 6

When you join the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you’re assigned a tier based on the date of your membership. There are six tiers in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and five in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Each tier has a different benefit structure established by New York State legislation. Our series, NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time, walks through each tier to give you a quick look at the benefits in both ERS and PFRS. Today’s post looks at PFRS Tier 6. Anyone who joined PFRS on or after April 1, 2012 is in Tier 6. Tier 6 members currently make up about 32 percent of PFRS membership, totaling 10,942 members, making it the second largest tier in PFRS.

Check out the graphic below for the basic retirement information for PFRS Tier 6 members.

PFRS Tier 6

Where to Find PFRS Tier 6 Information

If you’re a PFRS Tier 6 member, please find your retirement plan publication from the list below for more details about your benefits:

Please visit our Publications page for special plans under miscellaneous titles.

Stay tuned for more NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time posts. Check out some earlier posts in the series:

Why Designate a Beneficiary?

When you designate a beneficiary, you choose a person to receive a benefit after your death. By choosing a beneficiary, you’re ensuring that money goes to the person you want to receive it.

Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary? is a short, but informative booklet that explains beneficiary designations and how you can change them.

It is important to designate a beneficiary because that person may be eligible to receive a death benefit. If you are a State employee, they may also be eligible for New York State survivor’s benefit. Most retirees are eligible for a post-retirement death benefit depending on their retirement plan and tier. You can designate a beneficiary to receive this one-time, lump sum benefit after your death.

A beneficiary is often a spouse, a child or another relative, but it does not have to be a family member or even a person. You can designate a trust or organization to receive your ordinary death benefit.

designate a beneficiary

Types of Beneficiaries

The booklet describes the two types of beneficiaries.

A primary beneficiary is the person who receives your death benefit. You can name more than one primary beneficiary. Each will share the benefit equally, unless you indicate specific percentages to be paid to each beneficiary.

A contingent beneficiary will receive your death benefit if all the primary beneficiaries die before you.

The booklet also has a section describing special beneficiary designations, which is helpful if you wish to name a minor child, a trust or an estate as a beneficiary

When to Designate a Beneficiary

You should review your beneficiary information periodically to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date and reflect your current desires. Retirement Online provides convenient access to this information, which you can also find in your most recent Member Annual Statement.

If you get married, get a divorce or have a child, you may wish to change your beneficiary designation. Retirement Online is the convenient and secure way to update your beneficiaries. Sign in to your account, then click “Manage My Beneficiaries.” You can also complete a Designation of Beneficiary form and mail it to NYSLRS.

You can change the beneficiary designation for your death benefit at any time. But remember, a beneficiary designation is a legal document, so you’ll want to avoid some common errors that could make your choices void. Fortunately, this booklet includes a list of guidelines that will help you avoid these pitfalls, and it is available online whenever you need to consult it.

Other Publications

Read our recent blog posts about other NYSLRS publications.

NYSLRS Membership by Tier

NYSLRS, which comprises the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), had 658,176 members as of March 31, 2019. Our members are State government, local government and school district employees from across New York, including 623,090 in ERS and 35,086 in PFRS. Eighty-one percent of our members are active, which means they were on a public payroll as of March 31.

NYSLRS Membership Over Time

A decade ago, nearly 90 percent of NYSLRS members were in Tiers 3 and 4. Now, those tiers represent roughly half of our membership, while Tier 6 members are close to surpassing them in numbers. Tier 6, which includes members who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012, has 253,633 members, or 38.5 percent of total membership. As new public employees come on board and more Tier 3 and 4 members retire, Tier 6 is expected to represent the bulk of NYSLRS membership soon.

Here’s a look at our NYSLRS membership by tier, as of March 31:

NYSLRS Membership
Tier 1: NYSLRS’ oldest tier, whose members first joined the system before July 1, 1973 (July 31, 1973 for PFRS members). Tier 1 now represents only 0.3 percent of our membership. There are only 27 Tier 1 PFRS members.

Tier 2: With 24,216 members, Tier 2 represents 3.7 percent of membership. More than 90 percent of Tier 2 members are in PFRS.

Tier 3 & 4: Tiers 3 and 4, which have similar retirement plans, have 334,836 members, 50.9 percent of the total. (There is no Tier 4 in PFRS.)

Tier 5: Tier 5 covers members who joined from January 1, 2010 through March 31, 2012. With 43,527 members, Tier 5 now represents 6.6 percent of membership.

Tier 6: This tier covers both ERS and PFRS members who joined since April 1, 2012. Its ranks have grown by 18 percent over the past year.

Should You Join NYSLRS?

Most State and municipal employees are required to join the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) when they are hired. But for some employees, such as part-time and seasonal workers, membership is optional. If you’re a member and you know someone who could join NYSLRS, consider sharing this piece with them.

join NYSLRS for membership benefits

What is NYSLRS?

NYSLRS is the third largest retirement system in the nation, with more than 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries. State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli administers the Retirement System and is trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds and invests NYSLRS assets. The Fund had a value of $210.5 billion as of March 31, 2019.

Why Join NYSLRS?

Joining NYSLRS will improve your chances of a secure financial future. You’ll earn credit toward a pension that will provide monthly payments throughout your retirement. But NYSLRS also provides other important benefits.

What Does NYSLRS Offer?

As a NYSLRS member, you’ll be eligible for a pension after you earn ten years of service credit. (This is called being vested.) If you work part-time, service credit is pro-rated. For example, if you work half of the hours that a full-time employee works, you’ll receive six months credit for every year you work.

Also, as a NYSLRS member you’ll be able take loans from your contributions if you’ve earned a year of service credit and meet other requirements. You’ll be eligible for a death benefit once you have one year of service credit, and disability benefits after you have ten years of service credit. (If your disability results from an on-the-job accident, not due to your own willful negligence, there is no minimum service requirement.)  

Over 3,000 employers participate in NYSLRS, allowing you to continue to build on your benefits if you go to work for another government employer. Your benefits also may be transferable to six other public retirement plans in New York.

Making Contributions

As a Tier 6 member, you’ll contribute between 3 and 6 percent of your earnings to the Retirement System. Tier 6 contribution rates vary based on each member’s annual compensation. If you don’t join NYSLRS when you first start working and later decide to purchase your previous service credit, you will need to contribute 6 percent of those earnings plus interest, even if your salary level for the prior time period would have resulted in a lower contribution rate.   

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on your service credit and salary, not on the amount you contribute. A NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit. Unlike a 401-k, there is no risk that your pension benefits will be reduced during your retirement.

But what if you join NYSLRS and decide to leave public service before you are vested? You won’t lose your contributions. In fact, you can withdraw your accumulated contributions, plus interest, and roll that money into a retirement savings plan at your new job.

More Information

If you would like to join NYSLRS or just want more information, please contact your employer’s human resources (personnel) office. You may also be interested in our booklet, Membership in a Nutshell.

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 payment 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.

Pop-Up Payment Options

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 bets. 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 (press 2 for members, follow the prompts, then press 5 to request a benefit projection), or you can submit a Request for Estimate form (RS6030).