Category Archives: Pension System

News and information about the Pension System

A Look Inside NYSLRS

Want an inside view of NYSLRS and the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund)? Curious about how the Fund is managed and how well its investments are performing? Then check out the latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

The 2017 CAFR, which covers the state fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2017, is chock full of facts and figures that offer a detailed look at the Retirement System and the Fund. The biggest story is the financial health of the Fund. The Fund’s assets were valued at $192.4 billion at the end of the fiscal year and continued to grow, reaching an estimated value of $201.3 billion as of September 30, 2017. The average return on Fund investments in fiscal year 2017 was 11.48 percent, well above the long-term expected rate of return of 7 percent.

The soundness of NYSLRS was confirmed by several recent independent studies, which concluded that the New York State’s pension system is one of the best-funded public pension systems in the nation. And that means NYSLRS’ 652,324 members and 452,455 retirees and beneficiaries can rest assured their pensions will be there for them in retirement.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

The average pension for an Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) retiree was $23,026; the average for a Police and Fire Retirement System was $49,123. In all, NYSLRS paid out $11.3 billion in benefits during the fiscal year. (Fund investment earnings covered 75 percent of the cost of these benefits.) But NYSLRS pension payments don’t just benefit the system’s retirees and beneficiaries. Because 78 percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries live in New York, $9.1 billion worth of benefits stayed in the State. And that money supported local businesses, paid local taxes and generated economic development statewide.

An Award-Winning Publication

NYSLRS received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2016 CAFR. The Certificate of Achievement is a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports. NYSLRS has won this award for the last 13 years.

Retirement Fund Enjoys Strong Investment Returns

The New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) earned an estimated 11.42 percent on investments during the State fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, exceeding the long-term expected rate of return of 7 percent. The Fund ended the year with an estimated value of $192 billion.

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, Trustee of the Fund, credited the growth to a diversified investment strategy and strong returns on investments, particularly in the fourth quarter. Domestic and non-U.S. equities (stocks) performed particularly well, with an overall return of 17 percent. The return on real estate investments was nearly 11 percent. All returns are estimates, pending audited data that will be available later this year.

NYS Common Retirement Fund return on investments Fiscal Year 2017

The financial soundness of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) has been confirmed by two independent studies. A report by S&P Global Ratings ranked NYSLRS as the third best funded state pension system in the country for 2015. Only South Dakota and Wisconsin ranked higher. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts also showed NYSLRS in the top three nationwide.

The Fund is the third-largest public pension fund in the country. NYSLRS provides retirement security to more than one million active state and local government employees, retirees and their beneficiaries. During the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2016, NYSLRS paid out $10.9 billion in retirement and death benefits. More than $8.6 billion was paid to residents of New York State, which generated local spending and provided economic support New York businesses and communities.

Stopping Pension Fraud

Stopping Pension Fraud is a top priority of Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoliSince taking office, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has battled public corruption. One of his top priorities is to protect the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) from pension scammers.

Under the direction of Comptroller DiNapoli, NYSLRS has put in place a system of safeguards designed to prevent and identify potential incidents of pension fraud. One such safeguard uses data analytics to uncover and stop improper payments.

Post-Retirement Employment Violations

Our investigative efforts include a focus on post-retirement employment. New York State law restricts the amount of money public sector retirees can earn if they return to public service employment after retirement. The law permits public sector retirees under the age of 65 to earn up to $30,000 per year from public employment before their pension benefits are suspended.

As of this March, our review of post-retirement employment cases have uncovered more than $700,000 in benefit payments subject to recovery. For example, a former Newburgh City Fire Chief, who double-dipped by collecting $95,000 in pension payments while still working as fire chief, was federally convicted.

The “Muscle” in the Pension Fraud Fight

In some cases, the pension fraud NYSLRS uncovers gets referred to Comptroller DiNapoli’s wider umbrella program to root out public corruption and fraud involving public funds. The Comptroller’s aggressive initiative included partnering with federal, state and local prosecutors and law enforcement statewide, including DiNapoli’s groundbreaking “Operation Integrity” task force with Attorney General Schneiderman. To date, Comptroller DiNapoli’s various partnerships have garnered more than 130 arrests and $30 million in ordered recoveries.

NYSLRS’ partnership with DiNapoli’s “Operation Integrity” has resulted in the investigation, prosecution and recovery of stolen pension payments, exposing $2.75 million in pension fraud in recent years.

Here are some recent cases where pension scammers have been thwarted:

Comptroller DiNapoli and NYSLRS will not tolerate pension fraud. These arrests and convictions serve as warnings to those who might steal pension benefits: if you think you can steal the hard-earned benefits of NYSLRS members and retirees, you are gravely mistaken. When fraud is identified, Comptroller DiNapoli will work with law enforcement to hold the pension scammers accountable. The clear message to anyone who tries to defraud our pension system is that you will be found, and you will pay.

If you suspect someone of pension fraud, call the Comptroller’s toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, file a complaint online at investigations@osc.state.ny.us, or mail a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 14th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.

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.

NYSLRS Basics: Member Contributions

As a NYSLRS member, you may be making or have made contributions as part of your membership. When you make contributions, a percentage of your salary joins a pool of money called the Common Retirement Fund (the Fund). The Fund is also made up of employer contributions and investment income. By investing contributions, the Fund helps to meet its obligation of paying out benefits to past, present and future retirees.

What this means for you is that you, and other members like you, are all doing your part to fund your future retirement.

Types of Member Contributions

If you belong to a contributory retirement plan, you make required contributions. This means you must make contributions for the length of time listed in your retirement plan. Some members may contribute for only part or all their public service careers. If you belong to a non-contributory plan, this means you aren’t required to make contributions. Instead, you could make voluntary contributions over the course of your career, if your plan allows it. This would provide you with an annuity in addition to your pension when you retire.

(Check out the “Contributing Toward Your Retirement” section in your specific retirement plan publication to see what contributions you make.)

contributions-ers-pfrs-tiers-3-6

Withdrawing Your Member Contributions

What happens to your contributions if you leave public employment? One option is to take your contributions with you. If you have less than ten years of service credit or aren’t vested, you can withdraw your contributions plus the interest they’ve earned. However, withdrawing your contributions also terminates your membership with NYSLRS. Once your membership ends, you won’t be eligible for a retirement benefit.

Another option is to leave your contributions where they are. After all, if you leave public employment, there’s a chance you may return as well. If you do, then your contributions will be waiting for you when you rejoin NYSLRS. If you don’t return to public service, aren’t vested, and have been off the public payroll for seven years, by law we must terminate your membership. Any contributions left will stop accruing interest.

If you have ten or more years of service credit, you can’t withdraw your contributions from NYSLRS. In that situation, if you’re vested before you leave public employment, you can apply for a retirement benefit at a later date (age 55 for most members).

(Read our publication “What If I Leave Public Employment?” for more information, particularly the taxability of withdrawing your contributions.)

If you have questions, visit our website to learn more about member contributions. Want to read more NYSLRS Basics? Check out our earlier posts on:

NYSLRS Basics: Final Average Salary

As a NYSLRS member, you have a defined-benefit retirement plan that provides a lifetime pension when you retire. Laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor have established the formulas used to calculate these benefits. Your specific benefit will be based on two main factors: service credit and final average salary. You’re probably familiar with service credit — it’s generally the years of service you’ve spent working for a participating employer. But, what is a final average salary (FAS)?

When we calculate your pension, we find the set of years (one, three or five, depending on your tier and retirement plan) when your earnings were highest. The average of these earnings is your FAS. Usually your FAS is based on the years right before retirement, but they can come anytime in your career. In fact, the years used to calculate your FAS may not match up to a calendar year or even a fiscal year. For FAS purposes, a “year” is any period during which you earned one full-time year of service credit.

Types of Final Average SalaryNYSLRS Basics: Understanding your Final Average Salary

Your tier and plan determine how your FAS is calculated:

  • Three-year FAS: Members in Tier 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
  • Five-year FAS: Members in Tier 6.
  • One-year FAS: Members in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Your employer must choose to offer this benefit. It’s not available to PFRS members covered by Article 14 and generally not available to PFRS Tier 6 members.

Exclusions and Limits

The law limits the FAS of all members who joined on or after June 17, 1971. For example, for most members, if your earnings increase significantly through the years used in your FAS, some of those earnings may not be used toward your pension. The specific limits vary by tier; check out your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page for details.

Since 2010, with the creation of Tiers 5 and 6, the Legislature and the Governor have introduced additional limits to the earnings that can be used toward the FAS:

Tier 5

  • Overtime pay is capped — $18,448.11 in calendar year 2017 and $19,001.55 in 2018.

Tier 6

  • Overtime pay is capped — $15,721 in fiscal year 2017 and $16,048 in 2018.
  • Lump sum vacation pay and wages from more than two employers are no longer included in your FAS.
  • Any earnings beyond the Governor’s salary — currently $179,000 — are left out of your FAS.

Find out more about how FAS are calculated on our website.

Want to read more NYSLRS Basics? Check out our posts on when you can retire and choosing your pension payment option.

A Snapshot of NYSLRS

Each year, we publish our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to explain how the Common Retirement Fund is managed and provide statistics about NYSLRS’ financial activities. This allows the public to see what we do behind the scenes to make sure the Fund stays well-funded and secure for the years to come.

NYSLRS by the Numbers

Retirees-in-US_Top-States The CAFR features many figures about NYSLRS and the Fund. At the end of the 2014–15 fiscal year, the Fund was valued at $184.5 billion. Prior to the recession, in fiscal year 2006–07, the value of the Fund was at $154.6 billion. Overall membership in NYSLRS is currently at 1,073,486, with membership being comprised of 643,178 members and 430,308 retirees and beneficiaries.

Of those 430,308 NYSLRS retirees, 78 percent of them — 337,406 — have chosen to live in New York. This is important because the pension money paid to retired state and local public employees flows directly back into our communities, stimulating and growing our local economies. During 2014, NYSLRS retirees were responsible for $12 billion in economic activity in New York State.

Here are some other facts you may not be aware of:

  • The state with the fewest number of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries is North Dakota, which only has 18 retirees and beneficiaries.
  • Florida has 35,014 retirees and beneficiaries, coming in second place to New York;
  • The county with the most retirees and beneficiaries is Suffolk County, with a total of 32,555. Erie County comes in second with 28,342 retirees and beneficiaries, and Nassau County comes in third with 21,947. The county with the fewest retirement and beneficiaries? Hamilton County with 411.
  • There are 717 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries who live outside the United States.

An Award-Winning Publication

NYSLRS received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 2014 CAFR. The Certificate of Achievement is a national award recognizing excellence in the preparation of state and local government financial reports. NYSLRS has won this award for the last 11 years.

You can check out CAFRs from past years by visiting our website at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/retire/about_us/financial_statements_index.php#cafr.

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: ERS 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.

One of our smallest tiers is ERS Tier 1, which represents 0.7 percent of NYSLRS’ total membership. Overall, there are 4,520 ERS Tier 1 members. Today’s post looks at the major Tier 1 retirement plan in ERS – the New Career Plan (Section 75-h or 75-i).
ERS-Tier-1-Benefits_001
If you’re an ERS Tier 1 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. Want to learn more about the different NYSLRS retirement tiers? Check out some earlier posts in the series:

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: