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Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning

Information is the key to being fully prepared for your retirement years. The single most important thing you can do to achieve this goal is to know what NYSLRS retirement plan you’re in. Once you know that, the next thing you must do is understand the benefits your plan provides.

Your retirement plan booklet covers things like how long you’ll need to work in order to receive a pension, how your pension amount is determined, and what kind of death and disability benefits may be available to you. You can find a copy of your plan booklet on our Publications page.

But here’s the challenge: NYSLRS manages 335 retirement plan combinations, which are described in 51 plan booklets. How do you figure out which is yours?  The information below should help.

Two Key Questions

To get started, you need to answer two questions.

Question One: Which retirement system are you in? NYSLRS is made up of two different systems:

  • The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), which is for public employees in non-teaching positions. It also includes some law enforcement personnel, such as correction officers, sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies.
  • The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), which is for paid firefighters and police officers, including SUNY police, State Park police, Encon officers and State Forest Rangers

Question Two: Which tier are you in? There are six tiers in ERS and five tiers in PFRS. Your tier, based on when you joined NYSLRS, determines such things as when you become eligible for benefits and how much you contribute. You can find your Tier on page 2 of your Member Annual Statement (MAS) or you can check the NYSLRS website.

For many members, knowing your retirement system and tier are enough. But for other members, especially those in law enforcement, it may help to have your retirement plan number as well. The plan number indicates the section of Retirement and Social Security Law the plan is based on. For example, Plan A15 indicates that you are covered by Article 15. You can find your plan number on page 4 of your MAS, in the Salary Information section.
Member Annual Statement example

Roughly three-quarters of all ERS members are covered by Article 15; they just need to know their tier to find the correct booklet.

State police , SUNY police , State Encon Officers , State Park Police and Forest Rangers each have their own plan booklet, which can be found in the PFRS section of the Publications page. That’s also where you’ll find the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans , which cover officers in most municipal police departments. (Members in these special plans should see 384, 384-d or 384-e listed in the plan information in their MAS.)

If you are still unsure which retirement plan booklet covers your benefits, you can send us an email using our secure contact form , or you can ask your employer.

Retirement Plan Booklet

Take the Time to Understand Your Retirement Plan

It cannot be stated enough how important it is to read your plan publication to learn all you can about your benefits. It is the key to solid retirement planning. Remember, no one has a more vested stake in your retirement than you do.

Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement

After months of planning and preparation, you’re ready to apply for retirement. To get your NYSLRS  pension benefit, you need to send in an application. Let’s look at what you should include with the form to help make the retirement process go more smoothly.

Filling Out the Retirement Application

Unless you’re filing for a disability retirement, you’ll need to fill out the Application for Service Retirement (RS6037). As you fill out the form, make sure you:

  • Know your registration number. You can find it on your most recent Member Annual Statement or retirement estimate.
  • Know your past employment. To help ensure you receive the proper credit for your public service, please list your public employment history. Include any military service and memberships in other New York public retirement systems.
  • Include your beneficiary’s information. You won’t make an official beneficiary designation with this form, but including these details will help us give you specific amounts for the pension payment options  that offer a lifetime benefit for a beneficiary.
  • See a notary. The form must be filled out completely and signed by a notary public.

Proof of Birth

Make sure we have proof of your birth date. You can send it with your retirement application or before or after, but we cannot pay pension benefits without it. We accept photocopies of the following as proof:

Other Forms

Option Election

You’ll need to choose your pension payment option, or how you want your pension paid. Option election forms are available on our website, but we will also send you a form after we process your application. If you choose an option that provides your beneficiary a lifetime pension benefit when you die, you must provide proof of your beneficiary’s birth date.

Federal Income Tax Withholding

Your NYSLRS pension isn’t subject to New York State income tax, but it is subject to federal tax. You can fill out a W-4P form  any time to tell us how much to withhold from your monthly benefit. We don’t withhold income tax for other states. Visit the Retired Public Employees Association’s website to see whether your benefit will be taxed in another state.

Direct Deposit

Direct deposit is the fastest and most secure way to receive your pension benefits. You can enroll in our direct deposit program when you file for retirement. Just fill out a Direct Deposit Enrollment Application (RS6370), and return it to us.

Domestic Relations Order

If an ex-spouse is entitled to part of your pension, you should send us a copy of your domestic relations order (DRO) as soon as possible. The DRO gives us specific instructions on how to divide your benefits. We cannot finalize your pension until we review it and calculate the court-mandated distribution of your benefit. For more detailed information, please read our Guide to Domestic Relations Orders.

Questions

If you have other questions about applying for retirement, read our publication, Life Changes: How Do I Prepare to Retire? or contact us.

Getting Credit for Your Military Service

If you served in the U.S. Armed Forces, you may be eligible to buy back up to three years of active service credit. Because service credit is a factor in calculating a NYSLRS pension, in most cases buying military service credit will increase your pension.

Military Service Credit

To be eligible, veterans must:

  • Have been honorably discharged;
  • Have at least five years of credited service in the Retirement System;
  • Have not received credit for this service in any other public retirement system in New York State; and
  • Apply for and purchase military service credit before they retire.

How to Apply for Military Service Credit

To apply and request a cost for military service credit:

1. Fax your name, contact information and a copy of your DD-214 to 518-486-6405 or 518-402-7799;

or

2. Mail a letter with your name and contact information, and a photocopy of your DD-214, to:
    Military Service Unit
    110 State Street
    Albany, NY 12244-0001

If after reviewing your application we determine you are eligible, we will send you a letter that will tell you how much credit you are eligible to purchase and the cost. Most members in Tier 1, 2, 3 or 4 can use our online benefit projection calculator to see how the credit would impact your pension. Tier 5 and 6 members can get that information by calling 1-866-805-0990, or using our secure email form (www.emailNYSLRS.com).

For more information, visit the Military Service Credit page on our website.

Taxes and Your NYSLRS Loan

You may be eligible to borrow money against your retirement contributions, but the loan may have tax implications. A NYSLRS loan is exempt from New York State and local income taxes, but it would be subject to federal taxes if the loan amount exceeds certain limits. That means you would need to include it on your federal income tax return for the year the loan is issued.(We’ll send you a 1099-R to file with your taxes.)

If you already have one or more outstanding NYSLRS loans, all or part of your new loan could be taxable. Also, if you already have a loan from a deferred compensation (457) or a tax-sheltered annuity (403-b) plan from your current employer, the total of all of your loan balances will be used in calculating your tax threshold.

The tax impact can be significant, and may even push you into a higher tax bracket. And, if you’re younger than 59½, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may charge a 10 percent penalty on top of your federal income taxes. Even if a substantial portion of your loan goes to the IRS, you’ll still have to repay the entire amount, plus interest, to NYSLRS. Moreover, if you do not pay off your loan before you retire, your pension will be permanently reduced.

You can have NYSLRS withhold 10 percent of the taxable amount from your loan check, but in most cases that will not cover the total amount you will owe the IRS.

Multiple Loans vs. Refinanced Loans

You may be able to avoid taxes, or at least lower them, by the way you structure your loan. If you have one or more NYSLRS loans and are considering another loan, you’ll have two options. You can take it as a separate loan (known as a multiple loan) or you can refinance your existing loan(s) to include the new loan amount.

The multiple loan option minimizes the potential tax impact. The minimum payment amount is higher for a multiple loan, but the minimum payment amount goes down as your loans are paid off. (The separate loan payments will be combined into a single payroll deduction.) The refinanced loan balance is spread over an additional five-year period. This reduces the minimum payment, but the taxable amount of a refinanced loan will always be greater than the taxable amount of a multiple loan.

Use Retirement Online to apply for a NYSLRS loan

 

Retirement Online

Retirement Online, our self-service tool that gives you secure access to your account information, is the most convenient way to apply for a loan. Retirement Online will also let you know how much you can borrow, your repayment options and whether your loan is taxable. If you don’t already have an account, visit our website to learn more.

We recommend that you speak to a tax advisor or a NYSLRS customer service representative before taking a taxable loan. For more information about taking a loan from NYSLRS, visit our Loans page.

Just Started A New Public Sector Job? Remember This Step…

Are you a current New York State & Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) member working at a new job in the public sector? Even though you’re already a member, make sure your new employer sends us a membership application for you.

The Importance of the Filling a New Membership Application

woman on job interview

By sending a new membership application, your employer provides us with updated information about your membership, like the start date of your new position and your job title. But, it’s important for other reasons as well. Up-to-date member information:

  • Ensures that your employment history and benefit projection are accurately reported in your Member Annual Statement;
  • Helps guarantee that benefit determinations are based on the most current information;
  • Highlights any delays between when you began working and when your employer started reporting you;
  • Ensures that we will receive the correct contribution amount for your membership; and
  • Allows us to update your retirement plan in our records, should you change plans as a result of your new employment.

Starting a new public sector job is also a good opportunity to update your beneficiary information . You should check your beneficiaries regularly to make sure any benefits will be paid according to your wishes. Payments are made to the last named beneficiary.

Retirement Online is the convenient and secure way to review and update your beneficiary information. Register or Sign In , and then click “Update My Beneficiaries.”

Being a Friend

While you have applications on your mind, think about any friends or coworkers you may have. Perhaps, like you, they have recently changed jobs. Remind them to make sure their employers submit new applications.

Or, maybe you know a coworker who isn’t a mandatory member of NYSLRS, but who has that option. Suggest they consider joining NYSLRS.

It’s a good idea to join even if you aren’t sure you’ll ever apply for a benefit. By becoming a NYSLRS member, you lock in your tier and protect your benefits. And, if you do decide to leave public employment and withdraw your membership, you’ll receive 5 percent on your contributions, which can be a competitive return.

For more information about the benefits of NYSLRS membership, check out our Membership in a Nutshell publication.

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 in the Retirement System. All your paid public employment is creditable. You would not, however, earn credit for any period when you are not receiving a salary, such as an unpaid leave of absence. 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

When you work on a full-time, continuous basis throughout your career, we’ll calculate your total service credit from your date of employment up until the date you leave paid employment. Most full-time workers earn a year of service credit for working 260 work days in a year. For a full-time 12-month employee, 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 covered that in an earlier blog post.)

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)

You can think of it like this: let’s say you work 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, 2017 – March 31, 2018). It will also show your total service credit as of March 31, 2018. 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.

Dig into the NYSLRS Summer Reading List

Looking for some perfect summer beach reading? Why not check out these page-turners from NYSLRS? They’re light on colorful characters and exotic settings. But, what they lack in plot intrigue, they make up for in important retirement information.

summer reading

1.  Service Credit for Tiers 2 through 6

Service credit is one of the main components that determine your NYSLRS pension. Whether you’re a new member or well into your career, it’s important to understand what it is, its role in your pension calculation and the various types of service for which Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 members can receive credit. ( Read it now. )

2.  Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 3 and 4 Members (Articles 14 and 15)

Nearly 300,000 Tier 3 and 4 members of the Employee’s Retirement System (ERS) are covered by this plan. The publication explains some of the benefits and the services available to you, including a service retirement, a vested retirement, a disability retirement, death benefits and more. ( Read it now. )

3.  Membership in a Nutshell

NYSLRS membership can be overwhelming when you first join. There’s new terminology: What’s a tier or service credit or a final average salary? There are services like loans and benefit projections as well as new responsibilities like keeping your account information up to date. This guide will help you navigate NYSLRS and your new retirement plan. ( Read it now. )

4.  Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 6 Members (Article 15)

More than 130,000 Tier 6 ERS members are covered by this Plan. The publication explains some of the benefits and the services available to you, including a service retirement, a vested retirement, a disability retirement, death benefits and more. ( Read it now. )

5.  Life Changes: A Guide for Retirees

Already retired? As a NYSLRS retiree, you know that you will receive a monthly retirement benefit for life. However there may be other benefits available to you, as well as services that we provide retirees. This guide will answer many of the questions you may have and explain your responsibilities as a retiree. ( Read it now. )

Not covered by the retirement plans above? Maybe you’re a police officer, a firefighter, a sheriff or a correctional officer. Find your plan as well as publications covering other general topics of interest on our Publications page. They’re great reading any time of year.

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.

Know Your Benefits: Your NYSLRS Pension

Generally, three main components determine your NYSLRS pension: your retirement plan, your final average salary (FAS) and your total service credit.

Your Retirement Plan

NYSLRS retirement plans are established by law. Your plan lays out the formula we’ll use to calculate your pension as well as eligibility requirements. It’s important to read your plan booklet, which you can find on our Publications page.  If you aren’t certain what retirement plan you’re in, check your Member Annual Statement or ask your employer.

NYSLRS Pension Chart

Final Average Salary

Your FAS is the average of your earnings during the set period of time when they were the highest. For ERS and PFRS members in Tiers 1 through 5, that period is three consecutive years; for Tier 6 members, it’s five consecutive years. Some PFRS members may be eligible for a one-year period, if their employer offers it. We will use your FAS, age at retirement, total service credit and the formula from your retirement plan to calculate your NYSLRS pension.

Generally, the earnings we can use for your FAS include regular salary, overtime and recurring longevity payments earned within the period. Some payments you receive won’t count toward your FAS, even when you receive them in the FAS period. The specifics vary by tier, and are listed in your retirement plan booklet.

In most cases, the law also limits how much your pensionable earnings can increase from year to year in the FAS period. Earnings above this cap will not count toward your pension.

Our Your Retirement Benefits publications, (ERS and PFRS), provide the limits for each tier and examples of how we’ll determine your FAS.

Service Credit

Service credit is credit for time spent working for a participating public employer. For most members who work full-time, 260 workdays equals one year of service credit. Members who work part-time or in educational settings can refer to their retirement plan publication for their service credit calculation.

Service credit is a factor in the calculation of your NYSLRS pension. Generally, the more credit you have, the higher your pension will be. Some special plans (usually for police officers, firefighters or correction officers) let you retire at any age once you’ve earned 20 or 25 years of service credit. In other plans, if you retire without enough service credit and don’t meet the age requirements of your retirement plan, your pension will be reduced.

Planning Ahead for Your NYSLRS Pension

As you get closer to retirement age, keep an eye on your service credit and FAS. Make sure we have an accurate record of your public employment history. You can sign in to Retirement Online or check your latest Member Annual Statement to see the total amount of service credit you’ve earned. You may also want to take a look at our budgeting worksheet or try our Benefit Projector Calculator as you plan for your retirement.

If you have questions, or want to find out more information about what makes up your NYSLRS pension, please contact us.

Will Your Retirement Age Affect Your Benefit?

Only you can decide when it’s time to retire, but you should know that your age at retirement can affect your pension benefit. Some New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) members are in special plans that allow for retirement after a certain number of years, regardless of age (for example, police officers, firefighters, correction officers or sheriffs). But for most members, you can retire with full benefits at the age specified by your plan. Most members can choose to retire as early as age 55, but if you do, you may receive a permanently reduced pension benefit.

Full Retirement Ages

Most retirement plans have an age requirement to retire with full benefits. For Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members in Tiers 2, 3, 4 and 5 and Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members in Tiers 2, 3, 5 and 6, the full retirement age is 62. For ERS Tier 6 members, it’s 63. PFRS Tier 6 members who have left their PFRS employer are eligible for their benefits at age 63.

Service Credit Exceptions

In some retirement plans, members with a certain amount of service credit can retire at age 55 without being subject to benefit reductions. Benefit reductions don’t apply to ERS Tier 2, 3 or 4 members who have 30 or more years of service credit and Tier 2, 3, 4 and 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System who have 30 or more years of service.

Benefit Reductions

Retirement benefits for all other ERS Tier 5 and Tier 6 members, and PFRS Tier 2, 3, 5 and 6 members not in a special 20- or 25-year plan, will be reduced for early retirement — even if they have 30 years of service credit.

These benefit reductions are prorated by month, so the closer you are to your full retirement age, the less the reduction will be. Once you retire with a reduced benefit, that reduction is permanent.

Here’s a look at how reductions break down by membership tier:

Contact us if you have any questions about benefit reductions or any other retirement-related topics. Please review your retirement plan booklet for a full description of the benefits you’re entitled to as well as any reductions and restrictions.