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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).

Your Contributions to NYSLRS

Most NYSLRS members contribute a percentage of their earnings to the Retirement System. Unlike a 401k or IRA, these contributions don’t determine the amount of your pension. So how do NYSLRS contributions work?

NYSLRS retirement plans differ from defined contribution plans, such as 401k plans. In those plans, a worker, their employer or both contribute to an individual retirement account. The money is invested and hopefully accumulates investment returns over time. This type of plan does not provide a lifetime benefit, and there is the risk that the money will run out during the worker’s retirement years.

Your NYSLRS contributions, however, don’t go into a personal retirement account. That’s because NYSLRS is a defined benefit plan. Your contributions go into the New York Common Retirement Fund along with employer contributions and investment income. This pool of money pays out retirement benefits for you and other NYSLRS members.

Once you’re vested, you’re entitled to a pension that will provide monthly payments for the rest of your life. The amount of those payments will be based on your years of service and final average salary, not on how much you contributed to the Retirement System.

How Much Do I Contribute?

If you joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6. Tier 6 contributions range from 3 to 6 percent of earnings.

To put that into perspective, financial experts advise workers in defined contribution plans to save 10 to 15 percent of their earnings in their retirement accounts.

Visit our Member Contributions page for other tier contribution rates.

Tier 6 contributions

Can I Withdraw My Contributions?

If you leave public employment with less than ten years of service, you can withdraw your contributions, plus interest. If you withdraw, you will not be eligible for a NYSLRS retirement benefit. If you have more than ten years of service, you cannot withdraw, but you will be entitled to a pension when you reach retirement age. But remember, you will not receive this pension automatically; you must file a retirement application before you can receive any benefits.

How School Employees Earn NYSLRS Service Credit

There are non-teachers earning NYSLRS service credit.While most New York teachers and administrators are in the New York State Teachers’ 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 School Employees 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 School Employees 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 worked ÷ 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 Service Credit

You can check your Retirement Online account to find your current service credit total.

You can also check your Member Annual Statement, which 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, 2018 – March 31, 2019). It will also show your total service credit as of March 31, 2019. Make sure to look it over to see how much service credit you’ve earned over your career.

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

A Guide for Retirees

Our publication A Guide for Retirees is a valuable resource to read if you’re retired or planning to retire soon. This guide details the continuing benefits and services NYSLRS provides for its retirees.

What’s Inside A Guide for Retirees?

The first section of A Guide for Retirees outlines your benefits in clear, straightforward language. It provides an estimate of when to expect your first pension check, along with a couple reminders to help avert any delay in your payment. There’s also a brief description of how we calculate your benefit and information about what to do if you believe your benefit was calculated incorrectly.

Your NYSLRS retirement benefit will provide you with monthly payments for the rest of your life. But that doesn’t mean the amount of your pension won’t change. For example, your benefit will increase once you are eligible for a cost-of-living adjustment. Signing up for Medicare or getting a divorce can also change your benefit amount.

The booklet also describes benefits that your survivors may be eligible for, such as the post-retirement death benefit.

A Guide for Retirees

Services We Offer

A Guide for Retirees describes services NYSLRS provides for retirees, including:

  • Retirement Online. A fast and secure way to do business with NYSLRS.
  • Automated Information Line. You can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to request a form, check your COLA eligibility, get general tax information and more.
  • Direct Deposit. Have your pension deposited directly into your bank account.
  • Pension Verification Letters. You can create your own in Retirement Online or we can send one at your request.
  • Individual Consultations. You can discuss your benefits with one of our information representatives in person or over the phone.

Your Obligations

Your benefits come with certain responsibilities. Most importantly, you need to let us know if your address changes. Even if you’re getting your pension through direct deposit, we need to have your correct address so we can send you tax documents and other important information.

This section also reminds you to keep your beneficiary information current, contact us if your check is lost or stolen, and review your withholding regularly.

Other Publications

Read our recent blog posts about other NYSLRS publications:

See You at the New York State Fair

The Great New York State Fair opens today in Syracuse and NYSLRS is there.

The 13-day celebration of everything New York runs through Monday, September 2 (Labor Day). Our information representatives will be at the fairgrounds, as they have been for more than 20 years, to help members and retirees with their retirement planning and benefit questions. In the past, many NYSLRS members have stopped by the booth to get a benefit projection. You’ll also be able to pick up retirement plan brochures and forms or have a brief consultation with one of our information representatives.

The NYSLRS booth will be in the Center of Progress Building, building 6 on the State Fair map, near the Main Gate.

Find Unclaimed Funds at the State Fair

OSC’s Office of Unclaimed Funds booth will be in the same building. An unclaimed fund is lost or forgotten money, perhaps in old bank account or insurance policy, that has been turned over to the State. See if any of that money is yours. So far this year, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and the Office of Unclaimed Funds has returned more than $243 million.

New York State Fair

 

Special State Fair Days

Friday, August 23

  • Pride Day – Performances and LGBTQ participation in daily parade

Monday, August 26

  • Law Enforcement Day — Free admission for active and retired law enforcement personnel and corrections officers
  • Senior Citizens’ Day — Free admission for senior citizens (60+)

Tuesday, August 27

  • Comptroller DiNapoli Visits the Fair — He manages the New York State Common Retirement Fund and is the administrator of NYSLRS. He’ll be stopping by the NYSLRS booth during the day.
  • Fire & Rescue Day — Free admission for active and retired members of fire departments and emergency services organizations
  • Senior Citizens’ Day — Free admission for senior citizens (60+)

Wednesday, August 28

  • Women’s Day — $1 admission for women ages 13-59 (Children 12 and under are always free.)
  • Senior Citizens’ Day — Free admission for senior citizens (60+)

Thursday, August 29

  • Armed Forces Day — Free admission for active duty or veterans

Monday, September 2

  • Labor Day – Show your support of working women and men at the Fair’s Labor Day rally. Meet near Gate 4 at 10:00 am and join the march to Chevy Court at 10:30 am.
  • Summer Send Off “Dollar Day” – $1 adult admission all day

Note: ID required for free admissions listed above. For details, check out the complete schedule of Special Fair Days.

Payroll Deductions and Your NYSLRS Loan

If you take a loan against your NYSLRS contributions, you must repay the loan in five years. This timeframe is required by the Internal Revenue Service. If the loan is not repaid within five years, it defaults.

loan payroll deductions

NYSLRS loans are paid back through payroll deductions, which are taken out of your paycheck by your employer. During the five-year period, we’ll periodically review your remaining loan balance. If your current payroll deduction amount won’t be enough to pay off your loan within the required timeframe, we’ll notify your employer to increase your payroll deduction. We do this to make sure you can repay your loan on time.

Generally, the increase of your payroll deduction will be small. Your increase could be more significant if, for example, you go on leave without pay and need to make up any missed payments.

Once you pay your loan in full, we’ll notify your employer to stop taking payroll deductions.

How You Can Adjust Payroll Deductions

You can sign in to your Retirement Online account or call our automated phone line to check your outstanding loan balance. Knowing your outstanding loan balance can help you determine how to adjust your payroll deductions if you want to pay off your loan sooner. Please visit our website for more information about repaying your NYSLRS loan.

What Happens After You File
Your Retirement Application

The big day has finally come. You’ve submitted your retirement application, and you’re ready to start collecting your pension. Here’s what will happen next.

There are four documents we’ll need in addition to your retirement application. You can send them with your retirement application or after you apply:

retirement application

After we receive your application, we will send you a confirmation letter, which lists your retirement date and the forms we’ve received from you. If you don’t submit a W-4P, we’ll withhold federal taxes based on the status “married with three dependents.” (You can change your withholding at any time.)

If you haven’t received an estimate in the past 18 months, you don’t need to send an option election form with your retirement application. We’ll send you an estimate, along with an option election form, after we receive your retirement application.

Your First Payment

Your monthly payments will be based on the salary and service information we have on file.

We cannot send your first payment until we have proof of your date of birth. If you can, you should submit this document with your retirement application. (A copy of your New York driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers are acceptable proofs.) If you don’t have proof of date of birth available when you submit your retirement application, you can email us a photocopy by attaching it to our secure contact form.

We encourage you to sign up for direct deposit, so you’ll have safe and reliable access to your pension payments on the last business day of each month. Paper checks are mailed on the second to last business day of each month and may take longer to receive.

Possible Adjustments

If we receive additional payroll information from your employer, such as eligible lump sum payments, a retroactive pay increase or lagged regular earnings, we may need to adjust your pension payment. Because of the many variables that are often involved in verifying service and salary details with your former employer, finalizing your retirement benefit amount can take some time. The time this takes depends on the complexity of the circumstances. For example, if you worked for multiple public employers, it may take longer to pull together all your income information.

Once we have all the information we need, we’ll recalculate your pension amount. If your payment increases, you will receive a retroactive payment for the amount you are owed back to your date of retirement (the difference between your initial payments and your final retirement benefit amount).

For more information, please read our publication How Do I Prepare to Retire? and these recent blog posts:

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: PFRS Tier 2

Today’s post looks at Tier 2 in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). A majority of PFRS members are in Tier 2, which began on July 31, 1973 and ended on June 30, 2009. Most Police and Fire Retirement System members are in “special” retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years, regardless of age, without penalty.

The special plans that cover municipal police officers and firefighters fall under Sections 384, 384(f), 384-d, and 384-e of Retirement and Social Security Law. As of March 31, 2018, there were 17,380 Tier 2 members in these plans; most of whom are covered by either Section 384-d (36.5 percent) or 384-e (62.8 percent).

Check out the graphic below for the basic retirement information for PFRS Tier 2 members.

*This graphic was updated on 6/28/19.

For more detailed information about your benefits, please review your retirement plan publication: Special 20- and 25-Year Plans for PFRS Tier 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 Members (Sections 384, 384-d and 384-e) (VO1517).

Stay tuned for more NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time posts. Next time, we’ll take a look at another one of our ERS tiers.

Five and Ten Year Pension Payment Options

NYSLRS pension payment options are designed to fit your needs after you retire. Understanding these options will make it easier for you to choose the one that’s right for you.

While the basic option, the Single Life Allowance, would provide you with a monthly payment for the rest of your life, all payments would end at your death. Other options, in exchange for a reduced benefit, allow you to provide for a spouse or other loved one after you’re gone.

Five and Ten Year Certain options don’t provide a lifetime benefit for a beneficiary, but they have advantages you may want to consider.

pension payment options

How These Pension Payment Options Work

The Five Year Certain or Ten Year Certain options provide you with a reduced monthly benefit for your lifetime. If you die within the five- or ten-year period after your retirement, your beneficiary would receive pension payments for the remainder of the five or ten years. If you live beyond the five- or ten-year period, your beneficiary would not receive a pension benefit upon your death.

Let’s say you choose the Five Year option. If you die two years after retiring, your beneficiary will receive a benefit for three years. If you choose the Ten Year option, and die after two years, your beneficiary will get a benefit for eight years. In either case, your beneficiary would receive the same amount you were receiving, though they would not be eligible for any COLA increases.

Another feature of these plans is that you can change the beneficiary at any time within the five- or ten-year period.

Whatever your situation, you should review the payment options and choose carefully. Visit our Payment Option Descriptions page for details about all available pension payment options. For a better idea of how these payment options would work out for you and your beneficiary, try our online Benefit Calculator.