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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.

Payroll Deductions and Your NYSLRS Loan

If you take a loan against your NYSLRS contributions, you must repay the loan in five years. This timeframe is required by the Internal Revenue Service. If the loan is not repaid within five years, it defaults.

loan payroll deductions

NYSLRS loans are paid back through payroll deductions, which are taken out of your paycheck by your employer. During the five-year period, we’ll periodically review your remaining loan balance. If your current payroll deduction amount won’t be enough to pay off your loan within the required timeframe, we’ll notify your employer to increase your payroll deduction. We do this to make sure you can repay your loan on time.

Generally, the increase of your payroll deduction will be small. Your increase could be more significant if, for example, you go on leave without pay and need to make up any missed payments.

Once you pay your loan in full, we’ll notify your employer to stop taking payroll deductions.

How You Can Adjust Payroll Deductions

You can sign in to your Retirement Online account or call our automated phone line to check your outstanding loan balance. Knowing your outstanding loan balance can help you determine how to adjust your payroll deductions if you want to pay off your loan sooner. Please visit our website for more information about repaying your NYSLRS loan.

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.

Taxes and Your NYSLRS Pension

Tax season is coming.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will begin accepting tax returns later this month. In late January, NYSLRS will mail tax information to retirees (and some members and beneficiaries) so they can file their taxes.

1099-Rs

NYSLRS pensions are not subject to New York State income taxes, but they are subject to federal taxes. By January 31, we’ll mail 1099-R tax forms to nearly half a million retirees and beneficiaries. We also mail 1099-Rs to beneficiaries who received taxable income from NYSLRS in 2018, members who have taken taxable NYSLRS loans or have defaulted on their loans, and those who ended their membership and withdrew their contributions in 2018.

A 1099-R shows:

  • The total benefit paid to you in a calendar year.
  • The taxable amount of your benefit.
  • The amount of taxes withheld from your benefit.

If you don’t get your 1099-R by the second week of February, you can request a reprint. This year, reprints will be available for calendar years 2016, 2017 and 2018.

1099-R Interactive Tutorial

1099-r tax form tutorial screenshot

Understanding your 1099-R Tutorial

If you have questions about the information on the form, we feature an interactive 1099-R tutorial on our website. It walks you through a sample 1099-R and offers a short explanation of specific boxes on the form.

Changing Your Federal Tax Withholdings

Because federal tax law was revised for 2018, you may discover that you had too little or too much withheld. You can change your federal tax withholding at any time by sending us a W-4P form. (A handy tutorial about the W-4P  walks you through the steps on filling it out.)

W4-P Tax form tutorial screenshot

Understanding your W-4P Form Tutorial

We offer a federal tax withholding calculator. Enter a marital status and a number of exemptions into the calculator to see how much we would withhold based on current tax tables.

For more information, please visit the Taxes and Your Pension page on our website.

Have You Tried Retirement Online?

Doing business with NYSLRS has never been easier. Retirement Online provides a safe and convenient way to review your retirement account details and conduct transactions in real time. In many cases, you can use Retirement Online instead of sending forms through the mail or calling NYSLRS.

Registration is easy and secure. Retirement Online uses the same security safeguards used for online banking. You’ll be asked a series of security questions while registering. The questions are used to verify your identity.

Once you register and sign in, members, retirees and beneficiaries can access a variety of time-saving features.

Everyone can

  • View benefit information. Instead of relying on your annual statement or calling our Contact Center, with Retirement Online, you can review up-to-date information about your account when it’s convenient for you.
  • Update contact information. Moving? No problem. Change your address, phone number or email address online instead of calling or emailing us.

Members can

  • View or update beneficiaries. It’s a good idea to keep your beneficiary designations up to date. View your selections and submit changes instantly.
  • Apply for a loan. You may be eligible to take out a loan against your NYSLRS contributions. Do it safely and conveniently with Retirement Online.

Retirees can

  • View or update beneficiaries.
  • Generate a verification of income letter. Sometimes a business or government agency requires you to verify your pension income. Generate and print an official income verification letter any time you need one.

Beneficiaries can

  • Generate a verification of income letter.

More features will be rolled out in the future. In time, members will be able to estimate their projected pension benefit and purchase service credit, while retirees will get to manage their direct deposit information and more.

Retirement Online is available weekdays, 6:30 am to 8:00 pm, and weekends, 6:30 am to 5:00 pm.

About web browsers

The recommended web browser to use for Retirement Online is Internet Explorer, but you can also use Google Chrome.

Learn more about Retirement Online

If you need help with your retirement online account, please call our Contact Center at 1-866-805-0990 (or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). You can also email us using our secure contact form.

Top Five Pre-Retirement Goals for NYSLRS Members in 2018

January is a great time to set goals for the coming year. And setting pre-retirement goals is crucial in planning for a successful retirement. Here are five goals to consider for 2018:

Plan ahead for retirement

1. Choose a sensible savings plan that works for you.There are several ways to save for retirement, including starting a deferred compensation plan like the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. An important part of developing a savings plan is to start early. The sooner you start saving, the more time your money has to grow. Check out our Weekly Investment Plan chart to see how a weekly investment can grow by age 65.

2. Track your expenses and income. Tracking your current expenses for a month or two will give you a better idea of how much you’re likely to spend in retirement and how much you’ll need to supplement your pension. Use the expense and income worksheets on our website to create a retirement budget. Be sure to include periodic expenses, such as car insurance and property taxes.

3. Request a pension estimate. If you’re within 18 months of your anticipated retirement date, it’s a good idea to request an estimate of what your retirement benefit will be. You can do this by sending us an email using our secure contact form or by calling 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, NY area). If you are not certain that you’ve received credit for all your public service in New York State, you can submit a Request for Estimate form (RS6030) and be sure to provide detailed information about your public employment in section eight of the form. If your planned retirement date is farther away, you may want to use our online Benefit Calculator. This estimates your pension based on information you provide, so have your Member Annual Statement handy before you start, or sign in to your Retirement Online account to check your current service credit.

4. Pay off any NYSLRS loans. An outstanding loan balance at retirement will permanently reduce your NYSLRS retirement benefit. You cannot make loan payments after you retire, and the pension reduction does not go away after we recover the balance of the loan. Visit the Loans page on our website for information about making additional payments or increasing your loan payment amount.

5. Consider seeking the advice of a financial planner. Financial planners don’t manage your money, but can help you assess your present financial condition and develop a practical plan to meet your specific goals and needs. Also consider doing your own research by seeking Do-It-Yourself financial planning guides on the web.

If you ever have any retirement-related questions, please contact us.

Retirement on the Horizon? Here Are a Few Things to Think About

Things to think aboutYou’re probably looking forward to the day when you file your application for a NYSLRS pension. But before you retire, there are a few questions you should ask yourself. After all, by filing for retirement, you’re making critical decisions about your financial future. And once you’ve retired, some of those decisions will be irrevocable. Whether your planned retirement date is just around the corner or a few years off, this checklist could help you avoid costly mistakes.

Do I have all the service credit I think I have?
Under some retirement plans, service milestones (20 years, 30 years, full retirement age) can have a big impact on the amount of your benefit. If you’re aiming for one of these milestones, but retire just short of reaching it, your pension will take a big hit. To make sure you have enough service credit on your planned retirement date, sign in to Retirement Online to see how much service credit you currently have. You can also file a Request for Estimate form or talk with an information representative at our Contact Center (1-866-805-0990 or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area).

Do I have previous service credit I want to purchase?
You may be able to buy credit for previous public employment or military service, which in most cases would increase your pension. But you can’t purchase service credit after you retire. You can use the “Information about Your Public Employment” section of the Request for Estimate form to request credit for previous public and military service. Read our booklet, Service Credit for Tiers 2 through 6, for more information.

Do you have a balance on a NYSLRS loan?
You cannot pay off your NYSLRS loan after you retire. If you retire with an outstanding balance, your pension will be permanently reduced. You can check your loan balance with Retirement Online or through our automated phone system. Call the toll-free number (above), then press 3 for members, 1 or 2 for the Employees’ Retirement System or the Police and Fire Retirement System, and 1 for loan services. If your retirement is still a few years away, you can increase your payroll deductions or send in extra payments to pay off your loan.

Am I ready to retire?
Are you really ready? The fact that you can retire doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Am I financially prepared? Am I psychologically ready for retirement? These are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself, but there are resources available:

Know Your Benefits: Leaving Public Employment

It may never come up, but, you should know what would happen with your NYSLRS membership and benefits if you ever leave public employment. Even if you no longer work for a New York public employer, you’d still be a NYSLRS member. Depending on your circumstances, that membership may come with certain benefits and responsibilities.

What Happens to My Contributions If I Leave Public Employment?

If you have less than ten years of service credit, you can end your membership and request a refund of your contributions by filing a Withdrawal Application (RS5014).

If you have not earned enough service credit to be vested (eligible for a retirement benefit) and don’t withdraw your contributions, they will continue to earn 5 percent interest for seven years. At that point, if you are still off the public payroll, by law, your membership ends automatically, and your contributions will be deposited into a non-interest-bearing account. (Your contributions are not automatically refunded.)

If you are vested, your contributions will remain on deposit with NYSLRS, and when you reach retirement age, you’ll be eligible to apply for a retirement benefit.

Leaving Public Employment

How Will Leaving Public Employment Affect My Death Benefits?

If you have at least ten years of service credit before you leave, 50 percent of your death benefit may still be payable when you die. With less than ten years of service credit, the 50 percent death benefit is only payable if you die within one year of leaving public service.

How Can I Pay Back My Outstanding Loans?

If you have an outstanding NYSLRS loan, you must still make payments directly to NYSLRS at least once every three months. You must repay your loan within five years of the date it was issued, or you will default on the loan. Defaulting on a loan may carry considerable tax consequences: You’ll need to pay ordinary income tax and possibly an additional 10 percent penalty on the taxable portion of the loan. Once you’ve left public employment, you aren’t eligible to take a NYSLRS loan.

How Can I Stay Informed About My Membership If I Leave Public Employment?

If you leave public employment, but haven’t ended your NYSLRS membership, you’ll still:

Beyond staying informed, you’ll need to keep your membership information up to date:

  • Keep your beneficiary information current, and
  • Let us know about any name or address changes (for either you or your beneficiaries).

Finally, it’s your responsibility to file an Application for Service Retirement (RS6037) when you are eligible to retire — we will not pay out a retirement benefit unless you apply for it.

For more information, read our Life Changes: What if I Leave Public Employment? (VO1800) publication.

Debt and Retirement

If you’re planning to retire in the near future, it’s a good idea to take inventory of the debts you owe. Why start your next life chapter burdened with debt and interest payments?

A high priority should be any loans you have taken from NYSLRS. You cannot pay off your loan after you retire. If you have an outstanding balance when you retire, it will permanently reduce your pension. For example, if a 60-year-old Tier 3 or 4 member of the Employees’ Retirement System retires this year owing $10,000, the annual reduction would be $560.50. And that reduction would continue even if the total reduction exceeds the amount owed. What’s more, at least part of the balance would be subject to federal taxes. Learn more about paying of a NYSLRS loan.
Debt and Retirement — How a NYSLRS Loan could affect your retirement
Another priority is paying off credit cards. The average American household with credit card debt owes more than $16,000 and pays about $1,300 a year in interest, according to a recent analysis of federal data.

Fortunately, getting a handle on your credit card debt has gotten easier. A recent federal law requires credit card statements to carry a “Minimum Payment Warning.” This tells you how long it will take, and how much it will cost, to pay off your balance if you only make minimum payments. It also tells you how much you need to pay each month to pay off the balance in three years.

If you have more than one credit card balance, most financial advisers recommend you pay as much as you can on the card with the highest interest. Pay at least the minimum, preferably more, on lower-interest cards until the high-interest card is paid off. But some advisers say it might be better to pay off the card with the smallest balance first. That will give you a sense of accomplishment, which could make the process seem less daunting.

Mortgage balances make up two-thirds of the $12.6 trillion in U.S. household debt. But should you strive to pay off your mortgage before you retire? Financial advisers differ on that question, so do your research to consider all the factors.

Read more about debt and retirement in our publication Straight Talk About Financial Planning For Your Retirement.