Category Archives: General News

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.

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.”

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.

Estimate Your Pension in Retirement Online

Most NYSLRS members can now create their own pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online.

A Retirement Online estimate is based on the most up-to-date account information we have on file for you. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.

man at computer

How to Create Your Pension Estimate

Before you can use the new pension calculator, you will need a Retirement Online account. Once you sign in, go to the My Account Summary section of your account homepage and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button.

You can enter an estimated retirement date (or retirement age), your current salary and expected annual salary increases. You can also include any service credit you plan to purchase and anticipated lump sum payment for unused vacation. If you add the birthdate for a beneficiary, you’ll also see the estimated monthly payment you would receive if you were to choose a payment option that provides a benefit for a survivor.

Any pension estimate you generate with the online calculator would be an approximation of your potential benefit; it is not a guarantee that you’ll receive a certain amount when you retire.

Alternative Ways to Get an Estimate

While more than 90 percent of NYSLRS members (most Tier 3 through 6 members) can use the new benefit calculator, some members should have NYSLRS generate their benefit estimate.

For example, if you recently transferred your membership to NYSLRS or are covered under certain special plans, it would be better if NYSLRS created an estimate for you. The system will notify you if your estimate cannot be completed using Retirement Online’s estimate tool. Please contact us to request a pension estimate if you receive this notification. Also, if you are in Tiers 1 through 4, you can still use the Quick Calculator on the NYSLRS website. The Quick Calculator generates estimates based on information you provide.

Stay-At-Home Tips During the COVID-19 Emergency

As the COVID-19 emergency continues, many of us are staying home and practicing social/physical distancing to reduce the spread of the virus. Staying home is especially important if you are an older adult, have a chronic health condition, or are immunocompromised.

Here are some tips on getting the help and services you need while limiting your time out of the house. And if you must leave your house, follow these steps to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus.

COVID-19 emergency

Online Banking and Direct Deposit

Many banks have closed or limited the open hours of their branch locations, and are encouraging their customers to use online banking. Online banking allows you to monitor your account balances and pay bills from home. Certain mobile banking features can also allow you to deposit checks using a smartphone. Visit your bank’s website or call your bank’s customer service line to see what services are available.

This is also a good time to arrange for the direct deposit of incoming funds (such as your NYSLRS pension or your paycheck) to your bank account.

If your bank offers a drive-thru or walk-up ATM, the CDC recommends that you clean the ATM keyboard or screen with an antiseptic wipe before using it, and to wash your hands thoroughly after making transactions.

Online Grocery Shopping and Special Shopping Hours

Depending on where you live, your local grocery chain may offer online shopping. Visit your grocery store’s website to see what services are available. They may offer home delivery, where a delivery driver can leave your groceries at your door, or curbside pick-up, where you can pick up your order without needing to leave your car.

Your grocery store may also offer special shopping hours for older or other at-risk customers. If you are unable to place an online order, visit the store’s website or call ahead to see if there are special hours.

Virtual Doctor Appointments

Appointments with your doctor are important to keep, but in some instances, you or your doctor may want to postpone upcoming appointments for you or members of your family. Fortunately, some offices are now offering telemedicine visits as an alternative to in person appointments. Telemedicine visits can take the form of phone calls or video chats with your doctor or another healthcare professional. Visit your doctor’s office website or call ahead to see if this option is available to you.

Your health insurance company may also offer some information about telemedicine. Here are several New York health insurance providers who offer telemedicine resources:

If your doctor wants you to come to the office, be sure to ask about and follow any safety measures they’ve put into place. These safety measures are meant to protect you and your family, medical staff, and other patients.

And Your Pets Too!

Your pets may have medical appointments of their own to keep. Call your veterinarian to see if and how they are accepting pets or prescribing medicine during this time. In some instances, they may ask you to stay in the car while they take your pet inside for treatment.

The CDC offers additional information about keeping your pets safe during the COVID-19 emergency.

Getting Help from the Local Community

Stay in touch with what your local community is doing during the COVID-19 emergency. You can check community websites, social media groups, and local news outlets to see what services are being offered to seniors or at-risk adults. Other community resources, like reputable volunteer organizations, may also be available to assist you.

For more information about running errands during the COVID-19 emergency, visit the CDC’s website. If you live in New York, stay up to date on statewide initiatives by visiting the NY Department of Health’s website.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 emergency continues, police and healthcare professionals are reporting an increase in domestic violence. With many of our one million NYSLRS members and retirees now being asked to stay home, we want to help keep you safe. If you are in an abusive relationship, or fear your situation may turn violent, there is help.

domestic violence

You don’t have to stay in a dangerous environment. Safe shelter is available. 

Here are some resources:

Because abuse victims are often closely watched by their abuser, New York State has launched a new texting program and confidential service to help New Yorkers experiencing domestic violence.

Text 844-997-2121 or visit www.opdv.ny.gov to confidentially chat with a professional at any time of day or night.

New York State Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-942-6906
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “Got5” to 741-741.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-799-7233
  • TTY 1-800-787-3224 (for the deaf or hard of hearing)
  • If it is not safe for you to call, you can live chat online at thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat.
  • Or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.

If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.