Saving for Retirement. Is Now the Right Time?

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that dramatic change can happen quickly.

It’s clear that just about everyone’s life has been turned upside down during this pandemic. Many have been forced to rethink their plans, including plans for retirement.

In the midst of this upheaval, a clear trend has emerged: many people are spending less money, which may create an opportunity to start saving for retirement or increase your current savings.

Why Save for Retirement?

While retirees tend to spend less than they did while they were working, financial experts say you’ll still need 70 to 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your lifestyle during retirement.

NYSLRS members have the rare advantage of a well-funded, defined-benefit pension. As a NYSLRS member, once you’re vested, you’re entitled to a pension that, once you retire, will provide you with monthly payments for the rest of your life. Retirement savings can supplement your NYSLRS pension and Social Security, helping you reach that income-replacement goal.

Retirement savings can also be a hedge against inflation and a source of cash in an emergency. A healthy retirement account will give you more flexibility during retirement, helping ensure that you’ll be able to do the things you want to do. It can also provide peace of mind.

Saving for Retirement

Getting Started

For New York State employees and many other NYSLRS members, there’s an easy way to get started. If you work for a participating employer, you can join the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you don’t work for New York State, check with your employer to see if you are eligible. If you are not eligible, your employer may be able to direct you to an alternative retirement savings program.

Once you sign up for Deferred Compensation, your contributions will automatically be deducted from your paycheck and deposited into your account. You can choose from a variety of investment packages or choose your own investment strategy. (The Deferred Compensation Plan is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)

Dig into the NYSLRS Summer Reading List

Looking for some summer reading? Why not check out these publications from NYSLRS? They’re light on colorful characters and exotic settings, but what they lack in plot intrigue, they make up for in important retirement information.

summer reading

1. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 3 and 4 Members (Articles 14 and 15)

More than 250,000 Tier 3 and 4 members of the Employee’s Retirement System (ERS) are covered by this plan. The publication explains some of the benefits and the services available to you, including a service retirement, a vested retirement, a disability retirement, death benefits and more. Read it now.

2. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 5 Members (Article 15)

If you joined ERS from January 1, 2010 through March 30, 2012, you are in Tier 5. This booklet describes benefits for Tier 5 members in regular retirement plans. Read it now.

3. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 6 Members (Article 15)

More than 178,000 Tier 6 ERS members are covered by this Plan. The publication explains some of the benefits and the services available to you, including a service retirement, a vested retirement, a disability retirement, death benefits and more. Read it now.

4. Life Changes: A Guide for Retirees

Already retired? As a NYSLRS retiree, you know that you will receive a monthly retirement benefit for life. However there may be other benefits available to you, as well as services that we provide retirees. This guide will answer many of the questions you may have and explain your responsibilities as a retiree. Read it now.

5. What If I Work After Retirement?

In most cases, NYSLRS retirees under 65 can earn up to $35,000 per calendar year in a public-sector job, but there are no restrictions if you work for a private-sector employer. If you plan to work while collecting your pension, you should read this booklet. Read it now.

Other Plan Booklets

Not covered by the retirement plans above? Maybe you’re a police officer, a firefighter, a sheriff or a correctional officer. You can still find you plan booklet on our Publications page. They’re great reading any time of year. If you’re not sure which plan covers your benefits, you can ask your employer or Contact Us.

What If I Leave Public Employment?

Most of us will change jobs over our lifetimes, and some of us will leave public employment before retirement. But if you leave the public workforce, what will become of your NYSLRS retirement benefits?

leave public employment

NYSLRS has published a booklet to provide guidance in that situation. What If I Leave Public Employment? outlines what happens with your benefits and details your rights and responsibilities. If you recently left public employment or plan to leave in the future, here are some key points the publication can help you understand.

If You Leave Public Employment, Will You Still Get a Pension?

If you’re vested, you can still collect a NYSLRS pension when you reach retirement age. Members in Tiers 1 – 4 become vested after five years of service; members in Tiers 5 and 6 become vested after ten years. Most members can apply for a pension as early as age 55, but their pension may be reduced if they take it before full retirement age (62 or 63).

What if You End Your Membership?

If you’re not vested, you can end your membership and get a refund of your contribution balance, which includes accumulated interest. After you have been off the public payroll for 15 days, you can request a refund by filing a withdrawal application.

If you don’t withdraw your contributions, they will continue to earn 5 percent interest for seven years. If you’re still off the public payroll after seven years, your membership will automatically end. Your contributions will be deposited into a non-interest account but will not be refunded to you automatically. You must file a withdrawal application to receive them.

If you end your membership, you will no longer be eligible for any NYSLRS benefits. There may also be tax consequences to withdrawing your contributions.

What are Your Responsibilities?

If you leave public employment, but remain a member, it’s your responsibility to notify us of any address changes. You will also need to keep your beneficiary information current.

More Information

Please read What If I Leave Public Employment? to get the full story on leaving public employment.

Dual Membership in NYSLRS

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

How Does Dual Membership Work?

dual membership in NYSLRSLet’s say you work as a firefighter, so you’re a member of PFRS. You decide to take on a part-time job as a bus driver for your local school district. Your school district participates in ERS, so you’re eligible for ERS membership. You fill out the membership application, and now you’re a member of both ERS and PFRS. The date you join each system determines your tier in each membership.

Implications of Dual Membership

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

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

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

Questions?

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

Mortgage and Pension Verification Letters

For certain business transactions, such as getting a mortgage, you may need to verify your NYSLRS account information. Fortunately, Retirement Online allows members and retirees to access and print out account information in a few quick steps.

Members Can Now Generate Mortgage Letters Online

Members still on the public payroll can generate a mortgage verification letter using Retirement Online. In your account homepage, in the ‘I want to…’  section, click the Generate Mortgage Verification Letter link.

The printable letter will show your account summary, including the current balance of your contributions, and if you have a loan, the date of your last loan and current loan balance.

You can also email an account verification letter request using our secure contact form. Tell us what information you need and be sure to include your personal identification and contact information when you submit your email. In most cases, we’ll mail you a letter within five to seven business days.

pension verification letter infographic

 

How Retirees Can Get a Pension Verification Letter

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

  1. Retirement Online

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

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

  1. Email

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

  1. Phone

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

  1. Fax

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

Sending a Retiree Pension Verification Letter to a Third Party

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

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

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.