Category Archives: Members

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

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).

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.


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: