Tag Archives: retirement planning

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.

How Do I Prepare to Retire?

If you plan to retire in the near future, consider How Do I Prepare to Retire? a must-read.

This NYSLRS publication is a road map for the retirement process — a guide to the steps you’ll need to take before and after you file your retirement application. It highlights resources you can tap to get a better understanding of your benefits, including the NYSLRS website and Retirement Online.

prepare to retire

Retirement Planning Tips

Before you retire, you may need to tie up some loose ends regarding your membership. How Do I Prepare to Retire? discusses how to get credit for all of your service, paying off any outstanding NYSLRS loans, and other matters you should attend to before you file for retirement.

The biggest decision you’ll make as you plan your retirement is setting a date. This booklet includes a discussion about the impact early retirement may have on your pension amount. You’ll also find information about how your final average salary is calculated and how to get an estimate of your future benefits.

Retirement Countdown

Once you seriously begin to consider retirement, the booklet details a few steps you can take to make your path to the big day as smooth as possible.

  • File Proof of Your Date of Birth. Before we can pay any benefits, we must have proof of your date of birth.
  • File Your Domestic Relations Order. If you have a court order showing how your benefits are to be divided with an ex-spouse, we’ll need a certified copy.
  • Review Your Health Insurance. Check what coverage you’ll have or investigate health insurance options. (NYSLRS does not administer health insurance for our retirees, but you may be able to pay for yours through pension deductions.)

Filing for Retirement

Filing an Application for Service Retirement sets the ball in motion. In most cases, your application must be on file with the Office of the State Comptroller 15 to 90 days before you retire. You need to send it directly to NYSLRS; don’t give it to your employer. You can mail it, preferably by certified mail, or drop it off at one of our consultation sites.

This booklet tells you what to do and what to expect as we finalize your pension. There are important documents you’ll need to file, such as a W-4P form, so we know how much we should withhold from your pension. But don’t fret too much about these things: just keep How Do I Prepare to Retire? handy and consult it whenever you have a question.

Other Publications

Read our recent blog posts about other NYSLRS publications.

Retirement Age and Your NYSLRS Pension

For some NYSLRS members, your retirement age matters when it comes to receiving your NYSLRS retirement benefits.

Your pension will be based largely on your years of service and final average salary, but your age at retirement is also a factor. How age plays into the equation depends on your tier and retirement plan.

Members in regular retirement plans can retire as early as age 55, but they may face significant pension reductions if they retire before their full retirement age. The full retirement age for members in most tiers is 62, and it’s 63 for Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6 members and for Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) Tier 6 members who leave public employment before retirement age, but have enough service to receive a pension. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

retirement age

Benefit reductions are prorated by month. The closer you are to your full retirement age when you retire, the less the reduction will be. Here are some examples of how that would work.

  • ERS Tiers 2, 3 and 4, PFRS Tiers 2, 3 (Article 11), 5 and 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 16.5 percent.
  • ERS Tier 5: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 20.83 percent.
  • ERS Tier 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 29.5 percent.

Once you retire with a reduced benefit, the reduction is permanent — it does not end when you reach retirement age.

Retirement Age Exceptions

Tier 1 members can retire at 55 without a benefit reduction. Benefit reductions don’t apply to ERS Tier 2, 3 or 4 members if they retire with 30 years of service. Tier 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System can also retire between 55 and 62 without penalty if they have 30 years of service.

More Information

Understanding how age affects your NYSLRS benefits is crucial to retirement planning. To learn more, please review your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page.


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:

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:

Retroactive payments

Retroactive Payments and Your NYSLRS Pension

Retroactive Payments

Retroactive payments are lump sum payments you receive from your employer. These payments can be from new union contracts, arbitration awards or legal settlements that took place while you were on your employer’s payroll.

Your final average salary (FAS) is a major factor in your pension benefit calculation. Your FAS is the average of your three (five for Tier 6 members) highest consecutive years of earnings. For most people, their highest years of earnings come at the end of their careers.

If you receive a retroactive payment from your employer, it could affect your final average salary. Let’s look at how.

How Retroactive Payments Can Affect Your Benefit

When we calculate your FAS at retirement, retroactive payments are applied to the pay periods when they were earned, not when they were paid. In general, retroactive payments can increase your FAS as long as the time period in which you earned that money is part of the time period your FAS is based on.

Your employer should let us know if you receive a retroactive payment before or after you retire. If you are a State employee who receives a retroactive payment after you retire, we will recalculate your pension automatically; you do not need to notify us. If you receive a retroactive payment from a non-State employer after your pension calculation is finalized, send a letter to our Recalculation Unit in the Benefit Calculations & Disbursement Services Bureau. Please include a copy of your check stub and/or any correspondence you received from your employer. You may also email and upload this information to the Retirement System through our secure contact form.

For more information about FAS, read our Final Average Salary blog post. You can also find out specific information about your FAS by reading your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page.

Planning for an Unplanned Retirement

Retirement comes too soon for some people. Poor health, an injury, family situations, layoffs and other unforeseen circumstances could force you into an unplanned retirement.

unplanned retirement

You may already have a plan based on the date you would like to retire, but do you have a backup plan if that date comes a few years earlier than expected?

Know Your Benefits

As a NYSLRS member, you’re entitled to benefits that may help. Most vested members can begin collecting a lifetime pension as early as age 55, though your benefit may be permanently reduced if you retire before full retirement age. (Full retirement age for NYSLRS members is either 62 or 63, depending on your tier. Full retirement age for Social Security benefits depends on your year of birth.)

If you can no longer do your job because of a physical and mental condition, you may be eligible for a Social Security Disability, or a NYSLRS disability benefit if your disability is permanent.

You may also want to look into Workers’ Compensation if you are injured on the job or Unemployment Insurance if you have been laid off from a position.

Other Ways to Plan for the Unexpected

Doing your homework is important. The more you understand the potential benefits available to you, the better you can estimate your income if you are forced to retire early. Unfortunately, the numbers you come up with may not be enough when dealing with an unplanned retirement.

But one potential source of income can make a big difference: retirement savings. Your savings could help you get by until you are eligible to collect your NYSLRS pension or another retirement benefit. If you are not saving for retirement, consider starting now. And if you are saving, consider increasing your savings. It could become a lifeline if the unexpected happens.

New York State employees and some municipal employees can also save for retirement through the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. Ask your employer if you are eligible.

For more information about the benefits offered by your NYSLRS retirement plan, visit our website to read your plan publication.

Power of Attorney

Power of AttorneyThe NYSLRS Special Durable Power of Attorney form allows you to designate someone else to act on your behalf regarding retirement benefit transactions. The person you designate, referred to as an “agent,” could be your spouse, another family member or a trusted friend.

Why is this important? Under normal circumstances, NYSLRS won’t release your benefit information to anyone else without your permission — even to your spouse. With a power of attorney (POA) on file, we would be able to discuss your benefits with the agent you appointed.

The NYSLRS POA form is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements. You may want to designate a power of attorney in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness, but you don’t have to wait until something happens before you file a NYSLRS POA form.

What Can Your Agent Do?

The NYSLRS form is for a “durable” POA, which means the person you designate can act for you if you become incapacitated. But the NYSLRS POA form only covers Retirement System transactions. It does not authorize your agent to make health care decisions for you or make changes to your Deferred Compensation plan.

Your agent can get account-specific information about your benefits by phone, email or mail. Your agent can request copies of documents in your retirement file or update your address or phone number. If you are still an active member, your agent can also take out a NYSLRS loan or file a retirement application for you. If you are retired, the agent can change the amount of taxes withheld from your pension.

Special Authority

If you use NYSLRS POA form, and your agent is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they will have “gifting authority.” That means they can direct deposit money into a joint bank account, designate or change your death benefit beneficiaries, or choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death.

If you wish to assign gifting authority to an agent who is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, you must indicate that you want your agent to have the ability to designate him or herself as a beneficiary. This can be done in the “Modifications” section of the NYSLRS POA form.

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.

You can also find information on the Power of Attorney page on our website.

Deferred Compensation:
Another Source of Retirement Income

deferred compensation
Many financial experts believe that you will need 70 to 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your standard of living once you retire. For NYSLRS members, a financial plan in retirement is likely to include your NYSLRS pension and Social Security benefits. To supplement your plan, it makes sense to add personal savings to the mix. Contributing to a deferred compensation plan to provide another source of retirement income is an option you should consider.

What is Deferred Compensation?

Deferred compensation plans are voluntary retirement savings plans like 401(k) or 403(b) plans, but designed and managed with public employees in mind. If you choose the traditional pre-tax option, the income you invest over the course of your career grows tax-deferred. That means you don’t pay State or federal tax on it until you begin collecting it in retirement.

The New York State Deferred Compensation Plan

The New York State Deferred Compensation Plan (NYSDCP) is the 457(b) plan created for New York State employees and employees of other participating public employers in New York.

When you participate in NYSDCP, your contributions are automatically deducted from each paycheck. NYSDCP offers both traditional pre-tax and Roth accounts, and you can create your own mix of these three investment options:

  1. Retirement-date fund. Mutual funds that automatically change investment strategies over time based on when you will turn 65.
  2. Do-it-yourself portfolio. Choose index mutual funds based on your investment strategy and tolerance for risk.
  3. Self-directed investment account. Transfer some of your plan balance to a brokerage account managed by an approved manager and pick and choose individual investments.

If you work for a local government employer, please check with your human resources office or benefit administrator to learn what plans are available.

What Does Deferred Compensation Mean For Me?

Deferring income from your take home pay may mean less money to spend in the short-term, but you’re planning ahead for your financial future.

You can enroll in a deferred compensation plan anytime — whether you’re approaching retirement or you just started working. Usually, the sooner you start saving, the better prepared you’ll be for retirement.

There are many ways to save for retirement. You may want to consult a financial planner, accountant or attorney for help developing a plan that best meets your needs.