Earning NYSLRS Service Credit as a School Employee

In an earlier post, we talked about how full-time and part-time service credit works for NYSLRS members. We mentioned how earning NYSLRS service credit for workers in an educational setting can be a little different, so we want to take this time to elaborate on that.

While most New York teachers are in a separate retirement system from NYSLRS, there are NYSLRS members working in New York schools in other roles. They 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 You 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, your full-time academic schedule could require a minimum of 200 or 170 days.

Earning NYSLRS Service Credit When You Work Part-Time

Part-time school employees earn service credit based on the number of days they worked. Depending on the length of your school year, you’d earn service credit the following ways:

For institutional teachers

Number of days worked ÷ 200 days

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 works ÷ 180 days

For college employees

Number of days worked ÷ 170 days

Check Your Member Annual Statement

From May to July, we’ll send out this year’s Member Annual Statements. (Members who work an academic schedule usually receive statements first.) For most members, your statement will show how much service credit you’ve earned for the past fiscal year (April 1, 2015 – March 31, 2016). It will also show your total service credit as of March 31, 2016. 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.

Planning Around Your Retirement Date

Retirement is a big decision, and one important factor to plan for is the day you choose to retire. When you’re eligible and ready to retire, you can select any day as your retirement date. You can even choose a weekend or a holiday. Generally, your retirement date is the first day you don’t work. It could also be the first day you don’t get paid by your employer (for example, if you use accruals before your retirement date).

Another thing to keep in mind when choosing your retirement date is when you’ll receive your first benefit payment. Once we receive your retirement application, we begin the process of gathering service and salary information from your employer to come up with your final benefit amount. Most retirees are eligible to receive partial monthly pension payments while we work on calculating their final benefits.

Planning for your Retirement Date

Partial Payments

We base your partial payments on your most recent NYSLRS retirement estimate. These monthly payments provide 90 to 95 percent of what your final pension benefit amount is estimated to be. You’ll continue to receive partial payments until we finalize your benefit. Partial payments are mailed to the address we have on file for you.

This is where your retirement date comes in. The month you retire determines when partial payments will start, not the day. If you retire in March and are eligible to receive partial payments, your first partial payment would be mailed on the first business day of May. It doesn’t matter if your retirement date is March 1 or March 31: your payment will go out on the first business day of May. You can enroll in our Direct Deposit Program at the same time you file for retirement. As soon as we are able to, your payments will be directly deposited into your account.

Keep this in mind before you settle on a date. You may need to set some money aside, as it could be five to eight weeks before your first partial payment arrives. Many retirees retire on the last day of a pay period (so final payment information is available from their employer sooner) toward the end of the month to minimize the number of weeks before they receive their first partial payment.

Filing for Retirement

Once you have a day in mind, when should you apply for retirement? You must file your retirement application with us 15 to 90 days before your retirement date. If you’re over age 70 at retirement, or if you are no longer actively employed by a public employer, you don’t have to wait the 15 days. The application is also available from your employer or can be found on our website by clicking the link above.

Would you like to read more about applying for retirement and what comes after? Read the Applying for Your Service Retirement Benefit and After You Retire sections in these publications:

You may also want to visit one of our consultation sites.

Reporting a Member’s or Retiree’s Death to NYSLRS

If a NYSLRS member dies, whether it’s before or after retirement, the member’s survivors will need to report the death to us as soon as possible. The sooner we receive this information, the sooner we can begin the process of paying out potential benefits to beneficiaries. Survivors can report a death to us by email, by mail or by phone. They will need to send us a certified copy of the member’s death certificate regardless of how they notify us.

How Survivors Can Report A Death

Survivors can use our secure email form to report a member’s death. When filling out the required fields in the form, they should:

  • Enter the deceased member’s NYSLRS information into the required fields of the form. (If they don’t know the retirement or registration number, we will accept a Social Security number.)
  • Enter their own address and daytime phone number in the Comment section in case we need to reach them for more information.

To report a death by mail, survivors should send us a completed Notification of Death (RS6082) form.

Reporting a Member or Retiree’s DeathTo report a death by phone, survivors can call us toll-free at 1-866-805-0990, or locally within the Albany, NY area at 518-474-7736. Once they reach the call menu of our automated call service, they’ll press “3” to report the death of a member or retiree, and then press “1.” Their call will be transferred to a customer service representative. Survivors will be asked for the following information when they call:

  • The deceased member’s retirement, registration, or Social Security number
  • The date of death

What Happens Next

Once we receive a death certificate, we will send beneficiaries or certified representatives (guardians, powers of attorney, executors) information about death benefits or continuing retirement benefits. We will also send them forms to complete. Beneficiaries should be aware that it could take 11 to 13 weeks for us to receive a certified copy of the death certificate and to process required forms.

We can accept reports of a member’s or retiree’s death from anyone, but we can only mail information about death benefits and continuing retirement benefits to named beneficiaries or their certified representatives.

If a member is retired when he or she dies, we will stop the payment of any outgoing pension benefits. Survivors should be aware that any uncashed pension checks in a deceased member’s name must be returned to us. We will automatically reclaim any direct deposit payments that went out after a member’s death.

If you’re a retiree, consider reading our publication, Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Your Survivors (VO1874). This publication includes valuable planning information for you, as well as guidance for your beneficiaries.

ERS Tiers 1 and 2: The New Career Plan

Did you become a member of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) before July 1, 1973? If you’re still working in public service, you’re one of the 3,508 active members in Tier 1. If you joined after July 1, 1973 but before July 27, 1976, then you’re one of 4,127 active members in Tier 2.

Most ERS Tier 1 and Tier 2 members are in the New Career Plan (Section 75-h or 75-i). Currently, 96 percent of active Tier 1 members and almost 95 percent of active Tier 2 members are covered by this plan. Here’s a quick look at the benefits in the New Career Plan:

Benefit Eligibility

Tier 1

  • Members must be at least age 55 to be eligible to collect a retirement benefit.
  • There are no minimum service requirements — they may collect full benefits at age 55.

New Career Plan — ERS Tier 1

Tier 2

  • Members must have five years of service and be at least age 55 to be eligible to collect a retirement benefit.
  • The full benefit age is 62.
  • Almost 95 percent of active Tier 2 members are covered by the New Career Plan (Section 75-h or 75-i).

New Career Plan — ERS Tier 2

Final Average Salary

Final average salary (FAS) is the average of the wages earned in the three highest consecutive years of employment. For Tier 1 members who joined NYSLRS June 17, 1971 or later, each year used in the FAS calculation is limited to no more than 20 percent above the previous year’s earnings. For Tier 2 members, each year of earnings is limited to no more than 20 percent above the average of the previous two years’ earnings.

Benefit Calculations

  • For Tier 1 and 2 members, the benefit is 1.66 percent of the FAS for each year of service if the member retires with less than 20 years. If the member retires with 20 or more years of service, the benefit is 2 percent of the FAS for each year of service.
  • Tier 1 members and Tier 2 members with 30 or more years of service can retire as early as age 55 with no reduction in benefits.
  • Both Tier 1 and Tier 2 members who worked continuously from April 1, 1999 through October 1, 2000 receive an extra month of service credit for each year of credited service they have at retirement, up to a maximum of 24 additional months.

If you have questions about the New Career Plan, please read the Tier 1 plan publication or the Tier 2 plan publication. You can find other plan publications on our website.

How Full-Time and Part-Time Service Credit Works

Service credit plays a vital part in your pension calculation and your eligibility for other NYSLRS benefits. As a NYSLRS member, you earn service credit by working for an employer who participates with the Retirement System. All your paid public employment is creditable. If you work full-time or part-time, you’re earning service credit, just at different rates.

Earning Service Credit When You Work Full-Time

Earning Service CreditWhen you work on a full-time, continuous basis, we’ll calculate your service credit from your date of employment up until the date you leave paid employment. For most full-time workers, you’d earn a year of service credit for working a total of 260 work days in a year. For a full-time 12-month employee, a total of 260 work days constitutes a full year. For our members who work for school districts, a full time 10-month academic year can be 180 work days. (If you work in an educational setting, we’ll cover more about that in a future blog post.) Also, you wouldn’t earn service credit during leaves of absence without pay or for any period of time you’re not receiving salary.

Earning Service Credit When You Work Part-Time

Your service credit is prorated if you work part-time. Part-time employment is credited as the lesser of:

the number of days worked ÷ 260 days

or

your reported annual salary ÷ (the State’s hourly minimum wage × 2,000)

Or you can think of it like this: let’s say you only worked 130 days in a year. If a year’s worth of service credit is earned for working 260 days full-time, you’d earn half a year (0.5) of service credit for your part-time work.

Check Your Member Annual Statement

From May to July, we’ll send out this year’s Member Annual Statements. For most members, your statement will show how much service credit you’ve earned over the past fiscal year (April 1, 2015 – March 31, 2016). It will also show your total service credit as of March 31, 2016. Make sure to look it over to see how much service credit you’ve earned over your career.

For more detailed information about service credit, please refer to your specific retirement plan publication.

Overtime and Limits for Tier 5 and 6 Members

We base your NYSLRS pension on your years of credited service and your final average salary (FAS). FAS is the average of the wages you earned during 36 consecutive months (60 consecutive months for Tier 6 members) when your earnings were highest. The calculation of your FAS can include overtime pay that you’ve earned during the FAS period.

Tier 5 and Tier 6 members have limits on how much overtime can be included in their FAS calculation. Overtime pay that exceeds these limits cannot be used in a Tier 5 or 6 member’s FAS calculation.  Therefore, members and employers are not required to make pension contributions on overtime pay that exceeds the annual limit.

Your employer should not report any overtime pay in excess of this cap to NYSLRS as it cannot be used in a member’s final average salary calculation. Each year, NYSLRS publishes the maximum overtime pay that should be reported and reminds employers not to report overtime earnings that exceed the limit.

Tier 5 Overtime Limits

The overtime limit for Tier 5 began in 2010 at $15,000 and increases each calendar year by three percent. This year, the overtime limit for ERS Tier 5 members is $17,910.78. In 2017, the overtime limit for ERS Tier 5 members will be $18,448.11. For PFRS Tier 5 members, overtime is limited to 15 percent of a member’s regular earnings.

Tier 5 & 6 overtime limits

Tier 6 Overtime Limits

For ERS Tier 6 members, the overtime limit is based on the State’s fiscal year (April 1 – March 31). From April 1, 2015 – March 31, 2016, the overtime limit for ERS Tier 6 members is $15,608. From April 1, 2016 – March 31, 2017, that limit will increase to $15,721. The fiscal year limit is adjusted for inflation based on the annual Consumer Price Index (CPI). The overtime limit for PFRS Tier 6 members is limited to 15 percent of a member’s regular earnings.

Please visit our website if you have questions about Tier 5 overtime limits or Tier 6 overtime limits.

Taxes and Your NYSLRS Retirement Benefit

Your NYSLRS retirement benefit isn’t subject to New York State or local taxes, but it is subject to federal income tax. Before you retire, take some time to think about how taxes could affect your retirement planning.

Will Your Pension Get Taxed in Another State?

While New York State won’t tax your NYSLRS retirement benefit, other states might. If you’re thinking of moving after retirement, you’ll need to consider the tax laws of the state you move to. The Retired Public Employees Association keeps a list of which states tax pension income on their website. And remember, if you do move, we’ll need your updated mailing address for our records.

Federal Tax Withholding Status for Your Pension

taxesAfter you’ve filed for retirement, we’ll reply back to you with a confirmation letter and some forms. One of these forms will be a W-4P form (Withholding Certificate for Pension or Annuity Payments). You’ll need to fill out this form to choose the amount you want withheld from your benefit each month for federal taxes. You can choose the withholding tax status that suits you, and you can change it any time afterward by completing a new W-4P form.

If you’re not sure how much you’ll need withheld for federal taxes, consider meeting with a tax professional to assist you before submitting the form. We also offer a federal tax withholding calculator on our website to help you plan.

Getting Your 1099-R

Once you start receiving your pension benefit, we’ll send you a 1099-R form for federal income tax filing purposes. A 1099-R form lists the distributions you’ll receive from your NYSLRS pension. We mail 1099-Rs out each year by January 31, so make sure we have your correct mailing address on file. This is especially important if you plan on moving in retirement.

We also feature an interactive 1099-R tutorial on our website. It can be a helpful tool to look at the first time you receive your 1099-R.

For more about taxes and your pension, please read our Tax Information About Your Pension FAQs.

NYSLRS’ Disability Benefit: What You Should Know

Meeting filing requirements and submitting medical documents are key

A disabling condition can happen to anyone at any time. As a member of the NYSLRS, you may be eligible for a disability retirement if you become disabled and unable to work.Applying for a NYSLRS Disability Benefit

Disability benefits are based on your tier and retirement plan. The eligibility and filing requirements can vary too. Most members with 10 or more years of service credit can apply for an ordinary (non-job-related) disability benefit, and in some circumstances, your employer can file for you. If you become disabled due to a job-related accident, there’s no minimum service required.

If you decide to file for a disability retirement, please remember to keep the following in mind:

Meet Our Filing Requirements

You can file your disability retirement application while:

  • You are still on your employer’s payroll, or
  • As soon as possible after you stop receiving your salary.

You can find a list of all the disability retirement applications on our website. You can also read about the filing requirements in your retirement plan publication.

Make Sure We Have Your Medical Documentation

If your application meets the filing requirements, we will request medical reports from the doctors and treatment facilities you listed on your application. We may also ask you to make an appointment, paid for by NYSLRS, with one or more independent medical examiners whose specialty relates to your disability.

A medical or administrative review board will then make a determination about your eligibility.

If you aren’t approved for a disability retirement, you may request an administrative hearing and redetermination within four months from the date of denial. This gives you an opportunity to provide more evidence to support your request for disability benefits.

Because of the multiple steps that can be involved in the process, these cases typically take longer than regular retirement cases. So, since it may take some time to process your application, we encourage you to file the application while you are still on the payroll. This can help minimize any financial hardship you may encounter during the time it takes to process your application.

For more information about the disability retirement process or how to file, read our publication, Life Changes: Applying for Disability Retirement (VO1802).

How an Unpaid NYSLRS Loan Can Affect Your Pension

As a NYSLRS member, if you have contributions on file with us, you may be able to take out a loan against them. However, you need to be cautious about this decision. If you retire with an outstanding loan balance, you cannot pay off your loan after you retire. In order to recover the funds that weren’t paid back before you retired, your pension benefit will be permanently reduced.

The amount of your pension reduction is based on three things:

  • Your age at retirement
  • Your loan balance at retirement
  • The type of your retirement (regular service or disability)

Outstanding Loan Balances & Permanent Pension Reductions for 2016

The permanent reduction you receive will be based on your retirement date. So, if you had retired in 2015 with an outstanding loan balance, the permanent reduction would be different than if you retire in 2016. Here are some loan reduction examples if you retire in 2016 with an outstanding loan:
2016 Unpaid Loan Reductions

How to Avoid a Permanent Pension Benefit Reduction

To avoid a permanent reduction, you can increase the amount of your loan payments so your loan is paid in full before you retire. Though loans are repaid through regular payroll deductions, you can make additional payments or pay your loan in full at any time. There are no prepayment penalties. You can also pay off your loan in a lump sum when you retire (before your effective date of retirement). If you wish to pay off your loan, we will tell you what the payoff will be at that time.

Make your check or money order payable to NYSLRS, write “loan payment” and your retirement registration number or the last four digits of your Social Security number on your check, and include your contact information in your cover letter to us. We will apply the payment to your loan and send you an acknowledgment letter. Payments should be mailed to:

NYSLRS
Attn: Accounts Receivable Unit
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244

If you have any questions about loans or reductions, please visit our Loans page.

NYSLRS’ Special Retirement Plans

NYSLRSCertain PFRS and ERS members are under Special Retirement Plans manages more than 300 retirement plans for its members. You can group them into two main types: regular plans and special plans. Under a regular plan, you need to reach certain age and service requirements to receive a pension. For instance, if you’re a Tier 4 member in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), you’re eligible for a benefit when you’re 55 with five or more years of service credit. Most of our ERS members are in regular plans.

Special plans are a little different. Under a special plan, you can retire at any age if you have the full amount of service credit required. In NYSLRS, special plan members can receive a pension after completing 20 or 25 years of service. Special plans exist in both ERS and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).

Special Plans for Special Services to the State

As of March 31, 2015, there are 38,687 active ERS members and 30,754 active PFRS members in special plans. These members are part of the uniformed services. They fill titles such as:

  • Police officers
  • Firefighters
  • Correction officers
  • Sheriffs, undersheriffs, and deputy sheriffs
  • Security hospital treatment assistants

Public employees like ones listed above and in other similar titles face dangers and difficulties throughout their careers. They serve unique roles in the State, from fighting fires to patrolling our neighborhoods to assisting ill patients and more. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank this 13 percent of our active membership for the challenging, sometimes life-threatening work they do each day. You render special service to New York and its people, and we are grateful.

If you’d like to learn more about your retirement plan, please review your plan publication on our website.