Keeping the Pension Fund Funded

People are living longer, which means that recent retirees are spending more time in retirement than in previous generations. This also means that they are collecting a benefit for a longer period of time. That’s why Comptroller DiNapoli, administrator of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), ensures that the most accurate and current data available is used to project how long our members and retirees are expected to live. In doing so, NYSLRS lessens the risks of underfunding the benefits of its current and future retirees.

The pension fund’s assets come from member contributions, investment income, and employer contributions. Each year, NYSLRS calculates the funds it needs to pay current and future benefits. NYSLRS can’t know for certain how long a member will pay into the pension fund before retiring or how long a retiree will receive a pension. What NYSLRS can do, though, is make assumptions about each of these scenarios.
The fund takes into account statistics such as life expectancy relative to age and adjusts accordingly.

How the Pension Fund Plans Ahead

In this case, an assumption helps NYSLRS predict the expected future payments over the lifespan of its members and retirees based on their age and gender. By estimating how long NYSLRS can expect to pay its retirees, it can plan ahead and determine how much money the pension fund will need.

A New Direction on Assumptions

In August of 2014, NYSLRS’ actuary recommended a change in our mortality assumptions (pdf-icon PDF) based on the completion of a much anticipated study and report from the Society of Actuaries. This new approach to creating these assumptions considers the age and gender of members and retirees, and also their birth year. Birth years provide a more accurate way of looking at life expectancy as not all generational groups share the same life expectancy. A baby boomer who retires at age 62 may live until a certain age, but that doesn’t mean a millennial retiring at 62 will live until the same age. Using more realistic models of life expectancy gives NYSLRS a better understanding of what benefits to pay out over time.

NYSLRS can expect to pay out more benefits in the future as its retirees live longer, but it won’t come as a surprise. By planning ahead, NYSLRS is making sure the benefits you worked for will be there for you during retirement.

New Report Questions Retirement Readiness of U.S. Workforce

Fewer Americans are participating in employer-sponsored defined benefit and defined contribution plans. In fact, according to a recent report from the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, from 1999 through 2011, 53 percent of working Americans were not enrolled in a retirement plan at work — down from 61 percent. When you add in people who did not participate in a plan offered to them or who were not working, 68 percent of working-age people (25-64) did not participate in an employer-sponsored plan.

According to the report, because of these low retirement plan enrollment numbers, 55% of U.S. households nearing retirement may have to rely on Social Security income exclusively for financial survival in retirement.

The Dwindling Number of Defined Benefit Plan Participants Fare Best

The report, entitled Are U.S. Workers Ready for Retirement? Trends in Plan Sponsorship, Participation and Preparedness, was released in April and co-authored by Theresa Ghilarducci, a nationally recognized expert in retirement security. It found that of working-age Americans with an employer-sponsored retirement plan available to them, only 16 percent had a defined benefit plan, while 63 percent had a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k).

In a comparison of net worth, the households who are enrolled in a defined benefit pension plan fare the best, with a median net worth of $116,973, compared to $107,250 for those in a defined contribution plan, and $4,450 for those without an employer-sponsored plan of any kind.

Regrettably, as bleak and discouraging as this picture is, things could still be worse.

Too Many Future Retirees Face the Possibility of Poverty

According to the report, 33 percent of current workers aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement based on their current levels of retirement savings and total assets. While a sizable share of the retiree population will be at risk of living in poverty in all states, workers in Massachusetts and Virginia are more likely to enjoy a secure retirement than their counterparts nationally, with only 22 percent of workers 55 to 64 likely to be at-risk for a poor standard of living in retirement.

It’s a much more troubling story here in New York where 32 percent of near-retirement workers may experience poverty or near-poverty in retirement based on their current savings levels.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s Position On Retirement Security

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the administrator of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), has long addressed the topic of retirement security and said that policy makers and the community-at-large should be directing their energies to ensure retirement security for everyone, including workers in the private sector.

Comptroller DiNapoli discusses this issue in remarks he delivered last June during a Retirement Summit at the Schwartz Center.

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: ERS Tier 2

When you joined the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you were assigned to a tier based on the date of your membership. There are six tiers in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and five in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) – so there are many different ways to determine benefits for our members. Our series, NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time, walks through each tier and gives you a quick look at the benefits members are eligible for before and at retirement.

NYSLRS created Tier 2 on July 1, 1973, marking the first time NYSLRS created any new member group. Today’s post looks at one of the major Tier 2 retirement plans in ERS. ERS Tier 2 as a whole represents less than one percent of NYSLRS’ total membership.

ERS-Tier-2-Benefits_001aIf you’re an ERS Tier 2 member in an alternate plan, you can find your retirement plan publication below for more detailed information about your benefits:

Be on the lookout for more NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time posts. Next time, we’ll take a look at another ERS tier. Want to learn more about the different NYSLRS retirement tiers? Check out some earlier posts in the series:

Retirees: Know Your Post-Retirement Earnings Limit

forjuly1As a New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) retiree, it’s possible to work a public job after retirement and receive your pension, but there are limits to your post-retirement earnings. If you’re self-employed, work for a private employer, work for another state, or work for the federal government, you don’t have to worry about post-retirement earnings. You can earn as much as you want in your new job and still collect your full NYSLRS benefit.

But if you collect a NYSLRS pension and want to return to work in the public sector, there are two sections of the Retirement & Social Security Law (RSSL) you have to comply with that deal with post-retirement earnings.

Section 212

Under Section 212 of the RSSL, you may earn up to the annual amount set by law. The limit for 2015 is $30,000. Typically, your earnings are not limited in the year you reach age 65.

However, if you are under the age of 65 and earn more than the Section 212 limit during a calendar year, you may:

  • Pay back NYSLRS an amount equal to the retirement benefit you received after you reached the mandated limit. If you continue to work, your retirement benefit will be suspended.

OR

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

Section 211

If you return to work and earn more than the Section 212 limit, your pension will be suspended unless your public employer requests a Section 211 approval for you. This will allow you to continue receiving your retirement benefit without reduction.

Section 211 approvals are given for a fixed period of time, normally up to two years.

If you earn more than the Section 212 limit and do not get Section 211 approval, your benefit will be reduced or suspended.

If you have questions about working after retirement, please read our publication, What If I Work After Retirement? (VO1648).

Dual Membership in NYSLRS

As a New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) member, you’re either part of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) or the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). In some cases, however, it’s possible to have a dual membership, or be a member of both systems. As of last year, 3,392 members had memberships in both ERS and PFRS.

How Does Dual Membership Work?

You can be a member of more than one retirement system if you hold a different position in each system. Let’s say you work as a fire fighter—this would mean that you’re already a member of PFRS. One day, 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. After you fill out the membership application, you’re now an ERS member, while at the same time being a PFRS member.

As a member of both systems, you’d have separate membership accounts in those systems. Let’s look again at our fire-fighting bus driver example. While working as a fire fighter, you’d make any required contributions and earn service credit toward your PFRS pension. The PFRS contributions and service credit wouldn’t go toward your ERS pension. The same goes when you’d work as a bus driver—your required contributions and earned service credit would go toward your ERS pension and not PFRS.

There are other implications to dual membership as well. Assuming you met the service credit and age requirements, you could retire from both systems. You’d need to file a separate retirement application for ERS and PFRS, and we’d work on calculating each pension. We’d calculate your ERS pension using the final average salary (FAS) you earned while working as a bus driver. We’d then use the FAS you earned as a fire fighter to calculate your PFRS pension.

And, since you’d have an ERS pension and a PFRS pension, you would need to choose a beneficiary for each in the event of your death.

Dual membership in NYSLRS is nothing fancy—just make sure to follow your retirement plan in each system.

If you have any questions about dual membership, please contact us.

Income Inequality and Pension Reform

Is the shift away from defined benefit pension plans hurting more than helping?

Today’s pension reform means increasing employee contributions, cutting pension benefits, and switching from defined benefit (DB) plans to defined contribution (DC) plans. In fact, according to a new study from the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS), 15 million additional workers would have defined benefit plans if there had not been a trend over the past 30 years to convert pensions into defined contribution (DC) plans. However, there may be a hidden cost to this approach. As these reforms negatively affect plan participants and beneficiaries, income inequality appears to increase.

In the study, NCPERS looks at the growing debate between DB and DC plans. Those in favor of DC plans claim that DB public pension plans aren’t sustainable and taxpayers can’t afford to pay them. Others defend DB pensions, arguing the pension benefits are a type of deferred compensation and not the responsibility of taxpayers. Regardless of what side of the debate you’re on, here’s the hard reality:

  • In a DB plan, the employee receives a lifetime benefit based on years of service and salary.
  • In a DC plan, there’s no guarantee the employee will have enough or any retirement income upon retirement.

Income Inequality Worsening for Seniors

Despite the positive aspects of DB pensions, the trend against them continues, and the effects could be damaging. Several studies mentioned by NCPERS point out the reduction of retirement benefits and the shift away from DB pensions increase income inequality—even poverty—in the elderly. One study from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) found that poverty rates in senior citizen households without pensions were almost nine times higher than those with pensions.Income Inequality: The Elderly Poverty Rate is 9 times greater with no defined benefit income

The Economic Impact of NYSLRS Retirees

These are startling findings, considering the important role of pensions and retiree spending in the economy. In the US, retirees spend almost $838 billion each year, which employs millions of Americans and tens of millions indirectly. For every dollar paid in pension benefits, there’s $2.37 in economic output. In New York, retirees play an important role in the state economy. New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) retirees generate $11.3 billion in economic activity by spending $9.6 billion in the state. The pension benefits earned by NYSLRS retirees flows directly back into the local communities and economies.

As more negative changes affect DB pension plans and retiree benefits, the decrease in retiree spending will be felt throughout the economy.

“Personal income loss has a ripple effect, and everyone suffers when income inequality rises and economic growth weakens,” said NCPERS President Mel Aaronson. “Spending by retirees is vital to communities, yet local spending can easily be undermined by shortsighted changes to defined benefit pension plans.”

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, Administrator of NYSLRS and sole trustee of the Common Retirement Fund, has often said that DC plans would put more people at risk in their retirement years. During an editorial board meeting of The Syracuse Post Standard last October 20, he also maintained that switching to a defined contribution plan won’t change the state’s obligation to provide a pension to the 1 million people already in the system. “A 401(k) was never meant to be the substitute for a pension,” DiNapoli said.

Protecting the Pension System

Since taking office, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has fought against the abuse of public funds. One of his top priorities is to protect the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) from pension scammers. With the help of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, DiNapoli has restored $6 million to the pension system.

Earlier this year, they charged a Polk County, Florida woman with the theft of $120,000 from the pension system. The woman didn’t notify NYSLRS about her uncle’s death, and took out the pension benefits paid to his bank account for 12 years.

“Attorney General Schneiderman and I will continue our partnership to protect public money, including the retirement funds that so many New Yorkers depend upon,” DiNapoli said.

Here are some other pension scamming cases from May:

Defendant Accused of Stealing Deceased Mother’s Benefits

A New Jersey woman allegedly stole over $162,000 in pension benefits. According to the Comptroller and Attorney General’s Office, she failed to notify NYSLRS of her mother’s death. As a result, she continued to receive her mother’s benefits for six years even though her mother didn’t list her as a beneficiary.

If convicted, she could face up to five to 15 years in state prison.

Man Accused Of Stealing Deceased Godfather’s Retirement Benefits

A New Jersey man allegedly stole $78,000 in pension benefits payable to his godfather. When his godfather died in 2003, his godfather’s wife collected the benefits until her death in 2006. The man did not notify NYSLRS of their deaths, and used his power of attorney to access their bank account. He withdrew the pension benefits for six years.

If convicted, he could face up to five to 15 years in state prison.

Double-Dipping Retiree Owes Almost Half a Million Dollars

A retired police officer will repay $456,647 to NYSLRS. From 1996 to 2012, the retiree received a pension while earning a full-time salary at a public community college. Even though he knew of the retiree earnings limit, he exceeded it and didn’t report his public income to the state.

The retiree forfeited all future pension payments he would have earned, and will use them to pay back his debt.

If you want to learn more about how Comptroller DiNapoli safeguards public funds, visit the Comptroller’s Fighting Public Corruption page.

NYSLRS Retirees: 1% COLA Payment Coming September 30

If you’re a New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) retiree, you may be eligible for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this September. A COLA payment permanently increases* your NYSLRS retirement benefit. It’s based on the cost-of-living index, and is designed to address inflation as it occurs. The September 2015 COLA payment equals 1.0 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $180.00, or $15.00 per month before taxes.

How is the COLA Payment Calculated?

The COLA payment is calculated based on 50 percent of the annual rate of inflation, measured at the end of the fiscal year (on March 31). It cannot be less than 1 percent or greater than 3 percent of your retirement benefit. The COLA is calculated using the first $18,000 of the annual Single Life Allowance pension (even if you selected a different payment option), or the actual pension, if less than $18,000.

Who Is Eligible for a COLA Payment?

In order to receive your COLA, you must be:

  • Age 62 or older and retired for five or more years; or
  • Age 55 or older and retired for ten or more years (for uniformed employees such as police officers, firefighters and correction officers covered by a special plan that allows for retirement, regardless of age, after a specific number of years); or
  • A disability retiree for five years; or
  • The spouse of a deceased retiree receiving a lifetime benefit under an option elected by the retiree at retirement. (Eligible spouses are entitled to half the COLA amount that would have been paid to the retiree when the retiree was eligible); or
  • A beneficiary receiving the accidental death benefit for five or more years on behalf of a deceased Retirement System member.

SSA COLA

The COLA a NYSLRS retiree receives is different than the COLA the United States Office of Social Security provides retirees. More than 58 million Social Security recipients began receiving a 1.7 percent COLA in January 2015.

If you want to learn more about COLA, read our publication, Permanent COLA.


*Please note: There are other deductions, such as health insurance, which may offset the COLA increase.


NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: PFRS Tier 1

When you joined the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you were assigned to a tier based on the date of your membership. There are six tiers in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and five in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) – so there are many different ways to determine benefits for our members. Our series, NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time, walks through each tier and gives you a quick look at the benefits members are eligible for before and at retirement.

Today’s post looks at Tier 1 in the Police and Fire Retirement System, which has only 123 members. PFRS Tier 1 represents the smallest percentage – 0.4 percent – of NYSLRS’ total membership.

PFRS-Tier-1-Benefits_002

If you’re a PFRS Tier 1 member, you can find your retirement plan publication below for more detailed information about your benefits:

Be on the lookout for more NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time posts. Next time, we’ll take a look at another one of our ERS tiers. Want to learn more about the different NYSLRS retirement tiers? Check out some earlier posts in the series:

Retirement Savings and Confidence Continue to Decline

A new National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) report reveals that the median retirement account balance has dipped to $2,500 for working age American households, down from $3,000.

NIRS researchers discovered that some 62 percent of working households age 55–64 have retirement savings less than one times their annual income, which is far below what Americans need to be self-sufficient in retirement. NIRS reported that the typical near-retirement working household only has about $14,500 in retirement savings.

Retirement-CrisisEven after counting households’ entire net worth, the report revealed that two-thirds (66 percent) of working families still fell short of conservative retirement savings targets for their age and income, based on working until age 67.

Retirement Crisis Feared By Many

Another NIRS report found that an overwhelming majority of Americans – 86 percent – believe that the nation faces a retirement crisis. Nearly 75 percent of Americans are concerned about their ability to achieve a secure retirement. Some 82 percent say a pension is worth having because it provides steady income that won’t run out, while 67 percent indicate that they would be willing to take less in salary increases in exchange for guaranteed income in retirement.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s Position On Retirement Security

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the administrator of NYSLRS and trustee of the Common Retirement Fund, has long addressed the topic of retirement security and called it “an issue that we have to confront.” In remarks he delivered last June during a Retirement Summit at The New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy, the Comptroller called attention to the “staggering” national retirement savings shortfall that’s between $7 trillion and $14 trillion.

Comptroller DiNapoli is encouraging “not just a discussion of the race to the bottom, but a broader discussion about retirement security.”