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Retroactive payments

Retroactive Payments and Your NYSLRS Pension

Retroactive Payments

Retroactive payments are lump sum payments you receive from your employer. These payments can be from new union contracts, arbitration awards or legal settlements that took place while you were on your employer’s payroll.

Your final average salary (FAS) is a major factor in your pension benefit calculation. Your FAS is the average of your three (five for Tier 6 members) highest consecutive years of earnings. For most people, their highest years of earnings come at the end of their careers.

If you receive a retroactive payment from your employer, it could affect your final average salary. Let’s look at how.

How Retroactive Payments Can Affect Your Benefit

When we calculate your FAS at retirement, retroactive payments are applied to the pay periods when they were earned, not when they were paid. In general, retroactive payments can increase your FAS as long as the time period in which you earned that money is part of the time period your FAS is based on.

Your employer should let us know if you receive a retroactive payment before or after you retire. If you are a State employee who receives a retroactive payment after you retire, we will recalculate your pension automatically; you do not need to notify us. If you receive a retroactive payment from a non-State employer after your pension calculation is finalized, send a letter to our Recalculation Unit in the Benefit Calculations & Disbursement Services Bureau. Please include a copy of your check stub and/or any correspondence you received from your employer. You may also email and upload this information to the Retirement System through our secure contact form.

For more information about FAS, read our Final Average Salary blog post. You can also find out specific information about your FAS by reading your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page.

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.

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.

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.

Now is a Good Time to Review Your Retirement Savings

Saving for retirement? Under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules, you’ll be allowed to contribute more to your retirement savings account during 2019.

If you’re having part of your pay deposited directly into an employer-sponsored retirement savings account, such as New York State Deferred Compensation, you’ll be able to contribute up to $19,000 next year. That’s up from $18,500 for 2018. If you’re over 50, catch-up provisions allow you to save up to $25,000. The old limit was $24,500.

Even if you’re nowhere near the contribution limit, this is good time to review your retirement savings strategy. Are you saving enough to meet your retirement goals? Can you save more in 2019? And if you aren’t saving for retirement, now’s the best time to start.

Review Your Retirement Savings

Why Save for Retirement?

Financial experts say you’ll need 70 to 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your lifestyle during retirement. Retirement savings can supplement your NYSLRS pension and Social Security, helping you reach that 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.

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 are a NYSLRS member but do not work for New York State, check with your employer to see if you are eligible. (Deferred Comp is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)

Once you sign up for Deferred Comp, 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.

With a tax-deferred savings plan, the impact on your paycheck will be less than the amount going into your account. (Deferred Comp even has a calculator to help you estimate the impact.)

You may also eligible for a Roth account, which lets you make contributions in after-tax dollars. In exchange for paying taxes upfront, your savings grow tax-free and you pay no taxes when you withdraw the funds in retirement. This approach may be advantageous for younger workers in lower tax brackets.

Retirees: Know Your Post-Retirement Earnings Limit

Retirees: Know Your Post-Retirement Earnings LimitAs a NYSLRS retiree, you can work for a public employer after retirement and still receive your pension, but there may be limits on how much you can earn.

Public employers include New York State, municipalities in the State (cities, counties, etc.), school districts and public authorities. If you’re self-employed or work for a private employer, another state, or the federal government, you can collect your full NYSLRS pension no matter how much you earn. (However, earnings for most disability retirees are limited whether they work for a public or private employer. To find out your earnings limit, please contact us.)

Two sections of New York State Retirement and Social Security Law (RSSL) apply to NYSLRS service retirees who return to work in the public sector.

Section 212: Earnings Limit

Section 212 of the RSSL allows retirees to earn up to $30,000 per calendar year from public employment. There is generally no earnings restriction beginning in the calendar year you turn 65. (Special rules apply to elected officials.) If you are under 65 and earn more than the Section 212 limit, you must:

  • Pay back, to NYSLRS, an amount equal to the retirement benefit you received after you reached the limit. And, if you continue to work, your retirement benefit will be suspended for the remainder of the calendar year.

OR

  • Rejoin NYSLRS, in which case your retirement benefit will be suspended.

Section 211: Employer Approval

Under Section 211, the earnings limit can be waived if your prospective employer gets prior approval. (In most cases, the New York State Department of Civil Service would be the approving agency.)

Section 211 approvals apply to a fixed period, normally up to two years. Approval is not automatic; it is based on the employer’s needs and your qualifications.

Before you decide to return to work, please, please read our publication, What If I Work After Retirement? If you still have questions or concerns, please contact us.

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. As of State fiscal year end 2018, 1,574 members had memberships in both ERS and PFRS.

How Does Dual Membership Work?

dual membership in NYSLRSLet’s say you work as a fire fighter, 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 fire fighter, 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 salary (FAS) you earned as a bus driver and your PFRS pension using the FAS from your time as a fire fighter.

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 any questions about dual membership, or to discuss your particular situation when you decide to retire, please contact us.

Overtime Limits for Tier 5 and 6 Members

The formula used to calculate your NYSLRS pension varies by tier and plan, but your credited service and final average salary (FAS) are the main factors. You earn service credit for paid service with participating employers, and you also may claim it for some previous public service. Your FAS is the average wage you earned during the time period when your earnings were highest (36 consecutive months for Tier 5 and 60 consecutive months for Tier 6).

Your FAS can include overtime pay that you earned during that period. However, for Tier 5 and 6 members, there are limits to how much overtime can be used to calculate your pension.

While you can earn overtime beyond the limit, anything over it will not count toward your FAS or your retirement benefit. Members and employers aren’t required to make contributions on overtime pay that is above the limit, and your employer shouldn’t report it to us.

Tier 5 Overtime Limits

The overtime limit for Tier 5 Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members increases each calendar year by 3 percent. This year, the limit for Tier 5 ERS members is $19,001.55. For 2019, it will be $19,571.60.

For Tier 5 Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members, the overtime limit is 15 percent of your regular earnings each calendar year.

Tier 5 & 6 Overtime Limits

Tier 6 Overtime Limits

The overtime limit for Tier 6 ERS members increases each calendar year based on the annual increase of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). For 2018, the limit is $16,406.

For Tier 6 PFRS members, the overtime limit is 15 percent of your regular earnings each calendar year.

Find more information about the overtime limit, FAS and retirement calculations in your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page.

Learn More

Find more information on our overtime limits pages for Tier 5 and Tier 6. And, find your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page for details about overtime, FAS and retirement calculations.

Retirement Planning vs. Reality

As we sit down to plan our retirement, we ask ourselves some tough questions: Am I saving enough? Am I ready for the lifestyle change? Do I need to tighten my budget now or will I need to in retirement?

These questions are all aimed at helping us answer one central question: When is the right time to retire?

According to recent Gallup research, there is often a significant gap between the age we plan to retire and how old we are when we actually do.

Retirement Survey

Gallup’s April 2016 survey asked workers, “At what age do you expect to retire?” And, it asked retirees, “At what age did you retire?”

On average, there is a significant gap between the percent of workers who plan to retire within a certain age range and the percent of retirees who actually did. For example, 31 percent of workers intend to retire at age 68 or older. However, only 12 percent of retirees actually do. And, only 23 percent of workers think they’ll retire before age 62. Nevertheless, 36 percent of retirees ended up doing so. On average, Americans expect to retire at age 66, but actually retire at age 61.  That means a significant number of us may be underestimating how many years our retirement savings need to last.

Age and Your NYSLRS Pension

Regular readers may recall that most NYSLRS retirement plans have a minimum age requirement to retire with a full benefit. However, once you are vested, you are generally able to retire as early as age 55.

An early retirement may come with a significant — and permanent — benefit reduction, though. So, if you plan to retire with a full benefit at age 62 (or 63 for Tier 6 members), but end up retiring early instead, your pension will be less than you planned.

Retirement Planning

NYSLRS has several resources to help you make your retirement plans and stay on target. We distribute your Member Annual Statement (MAS) between May and July. It contains valuable information to help you understand your benefits and plan for the future, including: your earnings, your service credit total and up to three pension projections based on your specific details. You can also check out our Preparing for Retirement — A Checklist and 5 Step Plan for Retirement pages on our website. Our Life Changes: How Do I Prepare to Retire? publication offers a step–by–step guide to the retirement process, a list of available resources and some key factors to consider as you plan.

If you have any questions about your retirement plan, we’re glad to help. Email us using our secure email form, which allows us to safely contact you about your personal account information.