Tag Archives: benefits

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: PFRS Tier 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five and Ten Year Pension Payment Options

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

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

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

pension payment options

How These Pension Payment Options Work

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

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

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

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

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.

Your Member Annual Statement is Coming

We’ve started distributing the 2019 Member Annual Statements (MAS) to more than 600,000 NYSLRS members. The process is done in stages over six to eight weeks. School employees receive their statements first; most others should see theirs by mid-July.

Your MAS contains important information about your NYSLRS membership, including your reported salary, service credit and beneficiaries. Depending upon your circumstances, you may also see projected annual benefits, loan balances or past service account balances.
member annual statement

When You Receive Your Statement

Be sure to review the information in your MAS carefully. If you need to update your beneficiaries or change your address, email or phone number, you can use Retirement Online — our convenient and secure self-service tool. You can contact us to correct most errors, but if you have a question about your reported salary, please ask your employer.

The information in your statement is valuable year-round; after you check it over, file your MAS away securely. It’s very likely you’ll reference it again in the future.

Member ID Cards

Your statement also includes a member identification card, with both your registration number and NYSLRS ID number. As we complete our series of computer upgrades, we will phase out the old registration numbers and keep just the NYSLRS IDs.

As identity theft becomes more and more prevalent, please help us protect you and your personal information. Reference either your registration or NYSLRS ID number — not your Social Security number — whenever you contact us.

When you receive your statement, be sure to clip out your ID card. Keep it in a secure but easily accessible place, so you’ll always have your numbers handy.

Questions about Your Statement?

Check out our interactive, online presentation that features answers to common MAS questions.

We can provide MAS reprints once we finish mailing statements — usually by mid-July. Contact us then, if you need to order a reprint.

Membership in a Nutshell

If you’re a new NYSLRS member, or have been part of the Retirement System for years, you’re sure to have at least some questions about your NYSLRS benefits. What is vesting? Final average salary? Maybe you’re wondering what tier you’re in or why that even matters. Whether you’re a firefighter on Long Island or a State worker in Buffalo, you can find answers to many of your questions in Membership in a Nutshell. This publication is about the basics. It defines terms and explains concepts that are common to all NYSLRS retirement plans. Consider it essential reading.
Membership in a Nutshell

What’s Inside Membership in a Nutshell?

Membership in a Nutshell provides a brief description of the Retirement System, which comprises the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). It also explains the Comptroller’s role as administrator of the System.

That’s followed by a list of some of the benefits provided to members, including:

  • Service Retirement Benefits (Pensions)
  • Disability Benefits
  • Death Benefits
  • Vesting of Benefits
  • Loans for Contributing Members

A larger section is dedicated to the details of membership, such as tier status, membership contributions, earning service credit and becoming vested.

Services We Offer

Perhaps the most helpful section describes Services We Offer Members. We want to provide you with the information you’ll need to plan for your retirement and make critical decisions about your future.

Retirement Online is a safe and convenient way to conduct business with NYSLRS, and to access benefit information such as your tier, retirement plan, service credit and beneficiaries. Register today if you don’t already have an account.

As you get closer to retirement, you can request an estimate of your pension from NYSLRS based on our records of your salary and years of service. We also offer one-on-one consultations with NYSLRS information representatives who can explain your benefits, answer your questions and help you feel confident about making your retirement decision.

Your Obligations

As a member, it’s important that you keep your information with NYSLRS up to date. This section discusses the different kinds of information, such as your mailing address and beneficiaries, that you should keep current. Much of this information can be updated using Retirement Online, or you can contact us.

More Information

There’s more information in this publication, but we’ll let you find it for yourself. We’ll also be featuring other publications in future blogs, including such favorites as:

What to Know About ERS Tier 6

Tier status is a major factor in determining your NYSLRS retirement benefits. Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, are in Tier 6. They have plenty of company. There were 205,020 ERS Tier 6 members as of March 31, 2018, making up one-third of ERS membership.

ERS Tier 6 members contribute to the Retirement System based on their earnings, but the amount of their pensions will be determined by years of service and final average salary, not by the amount of their contributions.

ERS Tier 6 Membership Milestones

ERS Tier 6 members need ten years of service credit to become vested. Once vested, they’re eligible for a lifetime pension benefit as early as age 55, but if they retire before the full retirement age of 63, their benefit will be reduced. Tier 6 correction officers, however, can retire with 25 years of service, regardless of age, without penalty.

ERS Tier 6 Benefits

The Final Average Salary (FAS) Calculation

An ERS Tier 6 member’s final average salary is the average of their earnings in the five highest-paid consecutive years of employment. Earnings in any year included in the period cannot exceed the average earnings of the previous four years by more than 10 percent.

Tier 6 Service Retirement Benefit

Generally, if an ERS Tier 6 member retires with less than 20 years, the benefit is 1.66 percent of their final average salary for each year of service. If a member retires with exactly 20 years of service, the benefit is 1.75 percent of their final average salary for each year of service (35 percent of the member’s final average salary).

If a member retires with more than 20 years of service, they receive 35 percent for the first 20 years, plus 2 percent for each additional year. For example, a member with 35 years of service can retire at 63 with a pension worth 65 percent of their final average salary.

If you’re an ERS Tier 6 member, you can find out more about your benefits in one of these plan booklets:

What is a Defined Benefit Plan?

As a NYSLRS member, you are part of a defined benefit plan, also known as a traditional pension plan.

Your pension is based on a preset formula that takes into account your salary and years of service. It will not be based on your individual contributions to the Retirement System.

If you retire with a NYSLRS pension, you will receive a monthly pension payment for the rest of your life.

Defined Contribution Plans

Defined benefit plans are often confused with 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, which are defined contribution plans.

With a defined contribution plan, the employer, employee or both make contributions to an individual retirement account, and the money in the account is invested. In most cases, it is the responsibility of the employee to make investment decisions, or the plan may offer pre-packaged investment options. At retirement, the employee will have an account that includes the accumulated value of contributions and investment returns, minus any fees.

The amount of money the employee has at retirement is dependent on the investment returns of the individual account, so market downturns, especially near retirement, can affect the value of the benefit. The employee also can run the risk of outliving their savings.

defined benefit plan

NYSLRS’s Defined Benefit Plans

NYSLRS actually administers more than 300 retirement plans, but all are defined benefit plans and share certain features. NYSLRS plans:

  • Provide a guaranteed lifetime retirement benefit;
  • Offer a pension that is based on final average salary and years of service;
  • Provide a right to pension benefits (vesting) with five years of service credit (ten for Tier 5 and 6 members);
  • Build a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) into pensions to help offset the effect of inflation; and
  • Include disability and death benefits.

To find out details about your own NYSLRS plan, check your retirement plan booklet. You can find a copy on the Publications page of our website.

Retiree Annual Statements Coming

If you are a NYSLRS retiree and received benefits in 2018, your Retiree Annual Statement (RAS) should be coming in the mail soon, if you haven’t received it already.

The Retiree Annual Statement provides important information about your retirement account. You should keep your copy in a safe place.

couple reviewing their Retiree Annual Statement

What’s Inside

Information in your annual statement includes:

  • Your retirement number. To protect your privacy, use this number instead of your Social Security number when conducting business with NYSLRS.
  • Your monthly benefit before taxes and deductions.
  • Your total net benefit for the year. (Your benefit after taxes, deductions and credits.)
  • The total amount of any cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
  • Your total Medicare credits.
  • Federal tax withholding and other deductions taken from your pension, such as union dues.
  • Health insurance premiums. (NYSLRS doesn’t administer health insurance benefits, but we deduct a retiree’s premiums at the request of a former employer.)

Not a Tax Document

While your Retiree Annual Statement includes information about your benefit payments and tax withholding, it is not a tax document and should not be used for filing your federal income tax return. NYSLRS mailed 1099-R tax forms to retirees and beneficiaries in January.

If you need a reprint of your 2018 1099-R to file your taxes, you can order one online. Reprints will be mailed to the address we have on file for you, so if you’ve moved recently, you should check to make sure your contact information is up-to-date before requesting a reprint. The easiest way to check and update your address is with Retirement Online, or you can contact us for help.

Staying Informed

News & Notes, our semiannual newsletter, will be included with your RAS. The newsletter will help you keep up with the latest news about NYSLRS and other topics of interest.

Your RAS provides a snapshot of your NYSLRS account as of December 31, 2018, but you can get up-to-date information by signing in to Retirement Online. Retirement Online is also a convenient and safe way to conduct business with NYSLRS. If you don’t already have an account, you can learn more or register today.

And when there is a change in your net benefit amount, NYSLRS will notify you by mail or email. Let us know how you would like to receive information from NYSLRS by choosing your correspondence preference via Retirement Online.

Becoming Vested

What does it mean to be a vested NYSLRS member?

You become vested after you earn sufficient service credit to be eligible for a pension, even if you leave public employment before retirement. Becoming vested is a crucial milestone in your NYSLRS membership.

When Will I Be Vested?

The amount of service credit you need to be vested depends on your tier. If you’re in Tier 5 or 6, you need ten years of service to be vested. If you’re in another tier (Tier 1, 2, 3 or 4), you’re vested once you earn five years of service credit.

vesting requirements

If you work part-time, it will take you longer to become vested. For example, if you work half-time, you earn six months of credit toward vesting for each year on the job. (For more information, read our recent blog about part-time service credit.)

If you purchase credit for previous public service or military service, that credit can help you become vested.

What You Need to Do

Vesting is automatic. You do not need to file any paperwork to become vested.

If you are vested, you will need to file a retirement application at least 15, but no more than 90, days before you can receive a pension. Most NYSLRS members are eligible to collect a pension as early as age 55, but benefits may be permanently reduced if you retire before you reach your plan’s full retirement age.

Visit our website to learn more about vesting.

Divorce Affects Other NYSLRS Benefits

signing divorce documents

We’ve written here before about how divorce affects your NYSLRS pension, what a DRO is and why it’s required. However, NYSLRS members have other benefits besides their pensions. Divorce and DROs may affect some of them as well.

Ordinary Death Benefit

As with your pension, a DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of your ordinary death benefit. You should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. We will prepare a custom beneficiary form that complies with the DRO. Also be sure to choose additional beneficiaries for any remainder of the benefit and submit your changes to NYSLRS.

Post-Retirement Ordinary Death Benefit

Most Tier 2, 3, 4 or 5 members of the Employees Retirement System (ERS) are covered by a post-retirement ordinary death benefit. A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of the benefit. You should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. Be sure to contact us to choose additional beneficiaries as allowed by the DRO.

Loans

NYSLRS members who meet eligibility requirements can borrow a certain percentage of their contribution balance. DROs may be written to prohibit members from taking future loans.

Outstanding loan balances at retirement reduce retirees’ pension benefits. Unless a DRO specifically provides that the ex-spouse’s share of the pension be calculated without reference to outstanding loans, the ex-spouse’s portion will also be reduced if a NYSLRS loan is not paid off before retirement.

Refunds

Occasionally, NYSLRS may refund a member’s contributions because of a tier reinstatement, membership withdrawal, membership transfer or excess contributions. If the member is divorced and NYSLRS has a DRO on file, the DRO will determine whether a portion of the refund must go to the ex-spouse. Generally, if the DRO doesn’t mention a contributions refund, the member receives the full amount.

Keeping Your Ex-Spouse as Beneficiary

A divorce, annulment or judicial separation removes a member’s former spouse as beneficiary of certain death benefits and retirement options, except as provided by the divorce judgment or decree, or a DRO. So, if you have gone through a divorce, annulment or judicial separation and you do NOT have a DRO, you must resubmit your beneficiary designation to NYSLRS to retain your former spouse as a beneficiary.

The easiest way to do this is by using Retirement Online, our secure, self-service web application. You can also submit a Designation of Beneficiary form.