Tag Archives: public 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.

Sunshine on the Retirement Savings Horizon

Headlines in recent years offer a stormy retirement forecast: “Americans Get a Grade C in Retirement Readiness,” “More Than Four in Ten Households Wrong About Retirement Readiness,” “The Shockingly Small Amount Americans Have in Retirement Savings.”

Unfortunately, research and statistics tend to back up these dire warnings. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, a significant portion of Americans — 42 percent — lack access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b) or 457(b). Among those whose employers do offer a plan, only 49 percent actually participate.

In fact, research from the Federal Reserve suggests that 28 percent of people who haven’t retired yet have no retirement savings whatsoever. So, it’s not surprising that a report from the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis predicts that the “number of 65-year-olds per year who are poor or near poor will increase by 146 percent between 2013 and 2022.”

The Good News

There is promising news about retirement, though, if you look for it. Americans — particularly Millennials (those born 1979 through 1996) — are starting to save for retirement much sooner than previous generations. According to the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies, Millennials begin to put away for retirement at a median age of 22. Generation X workers waited until 27, and Baby Boomers didn’t start until age 35.

Sunshine on the Retirement Savings Horizon

Perhaps this earlier focus on saving is responsible for other good news. For example, Fidelity Investments reports record 401(k) balances in 2016: $92,500 at the end of the fourth quarter, which is up $4,300 from 2015. And, earlier this year, the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 55.4 percent of investors — more than ever before — are maxing out their individual retirement account (IRA) contributions.

That said …

Americans do have a retirement problem. New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli speaks regularly about the need for policies at the state and federal levels of government to ensure retirement security for everyone, including workers in the private sector.

As individuals, the solution is simple: We need to save, and we need to start early. NYSLRS members have the rare advantage of a well-funded, defined-benefit pension. However, your pension and Social Security benefits are only part of a well-rounded financial plan. Consider contributing to a New York State Deferred Compensation Plan (NYSDCP) account. NYSDCP is a voluntary retirement savings plan — similar to private sector 401(k) or 403(b) plans — created for employees of New York State and other participating employers. If you work for a local government employer, please check with your human resources administrator to find out what savings plans are available to you.

Investing in a Cleaner Future

Saturday is Earth Day. Since 1970, April 22 has been set aside as a day to draw attention to environmental issues. Today, 47 years after the first Earth Day, we face perhaps the greatest threat to the planet: climate change as a result of carbon emissions.

As trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund (CRF), Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli seeks sound and sustainable investments in strategies and companies that are developing and using low-carbon technologies.Comptroller DiNapoli's Sustainable Investment Strategy

The CRF’s investments in New York-based companies such as Crystal IS in Green Island and the High Sheldon wind farm in Sheldon are examples of low-carbon investment opportunities that provide solid returns for the Fund, create jobs and generate local tax revenues, while helping promote a lower carbon economy.

As an investor, DiNapoli continually seeks improvements in environmental practices and lower carbon emissions from the companies in the CRF’s portfolio. For example, he has asked Exxon­Mobil and other portfolio companies to explain how they can adjust their business model to meet the worldwide effort to limit global warming, and has urged the Securities and Exchange Commission to ask fossil fuel companies to explain how they are addressing climate change. The CRF has created a $2 billion public equity index that excludes or reduces investments in the worst carbon emitting corporations, and increases CRF’s investments in companies that are lower emitters. In addition, DiNapoli has increased the CRF’s total commitment to sustainable investments to $5 billion to take advantage of the growing low carbon economy.

The Comptroller’s sustainable investment strategy is crucial to the long-term health of the CRF. Addressing investment risks presented by climate change is a major part of that strategy. Rising seas, severe storms, floods and droughts are likely to disrupt the global economy. Moving toward a low carbon future reduces risk to the CRF’s investments, spurs innovation and opens new investment opportunities.

Links:

http://osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/feb17/022317.htm

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39329304

http://time.com/4082328/climate-change-economic-impact/

 

10 Most Popular Posts of 2016

As we wrap up 2016, let’s take a look back at our most popular posts.

  1. NYSLRS Retirees at Home and Abroad

    Where did you go? Not far, it turns out. Seventy-eight percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries stay in New York State. However, the rest have made homes around the country and even around the world.

  2. How Full-Time and Part-Time Service Credit Works

    Work is work, and credit is credit. But, if you work part-time, there’s some math involved. We helped members crunch the numbers.

  3. NYSLRS Basics: Becoming Vested

    It’s all about becoming vested, earning enough service credit to qualify for a pension benefit — even if you leave public employment. We went through the ins and outs of becoming vested for members of both the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).

  4. What to Know When Leaving Public Employment

    Even if you leave public employment, you’re still a NYSLRS member. We gave members a rundown on their options and how their benefits may change after moving to private employment before retirement.

  5. Taxes and Your NYSLRS Retirement Benefit

    You won’t need to pay New York State or local taxes on your NYSLRS retirement benefit, but other states and federal income tax are another matter. We gave members and retirees some insight into federal tax withholding and the 1099-R form.

  6. Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement

    Once you’ve earned the service credit, it’s time to get ready for retirement. We gave members a six-item checklist to make sure they’ve laid the groundwork for a smooth application process.

  7. Death Benefits for ERS Members

    We looked at the death benefit that Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 ERS members in regular plans receive.

  8. Planning Around Your Retirement Date

    A solid lead up to retirement is essential, but picking the right retirement date is important too. We gave members some tips about when to submit their applications, how to pick a date and what their first benefit payments will look like.

  9. NYSLRS’ Top Five Retirement Myths from 2015

    NYSLRS members are spread out over two systems, six tiers and 346 retirement plan combinations. It can be easy for information to get jumbled between coworkers and between plans. So, we cleared up some common misconceptions we’ve heard from members and retirees over the years. This is an entry in our Retirement Myths series.

  10. Retirement Milestones for ERS Tier 3 and 4 Members

    The better you understand your road to retirement, the better you can plan for it. We took a look at the journey for Tier 3 and 4 ERS members and pointed out several retirement benefit milestones they’ll pass along the way. We also took a look at Tier 5 and Tier 6 member milestone, too.

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.

What is the CAFR?

Last week, we published the latest Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). This annual report gives a clear view about how both NYSLRS and the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) are managed. This year’s CAFR covers our last State fiscal year, from April 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016.

The CAFR and Transparency

Each year when the CAFR is prepared, we strive to make sure the data is accurate, complete, and clear. For example, the financial section was prepared in keeping with accounting principles established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, and reporting requirements outlined by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. These principles set standards for financial accounting and reporting. By following them, we can see how we compare with other government entities using the same standards, ensure our data is consistent between accounting periods, and provide reliable financial statements to the public.

Comptroller DiNapoli is responsible for the Fund’s management. He ensures that investment policies and practices follow the highest levels of ethical conduct and transparency. The CAFR aids in transparency by providing historical data and extensive detail about the Fund’s audited assets, liabilities, investments, and transactions.

The CAFR provides many facts and figures about both NYSLRS and the Fund. Here are some statistics from the past fiscal year:

  • As of April 1, 2016, there were a total of 647,399 NYSLRS members; 612,294 in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and 35,105 in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).
  • As of April 1, 2016, there were 440,943 NYSLRS retirees, 78 percent of whom live in New York.
  • As of April 1, 2016, there were a total of 3,040 participating NYSLRS employers.
  • The largest holdings in the Fund’s portfolio include:
    • Apple, Inc.
    • General Electric Company
    • AT&T, Inc.
    • Exxon Mobil Corp.
    • Microsoft Corp.
  • The Fund has invested approximately $9 billion with minority- and women-owned business enterprises since Comptroller DiNapoli took office in 2007.

This fact sheet (PDF) summarizes many other NYSLRS statistics you’ll find in the new CAFR. You can also find back issues of the CAFR on our website.

A Quick Look at the NYS Common Retirement Fund

Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the trustee of the Common Retirement Fund, which is the third largest public pension fund in the country. The Fund’s assets come from three main sources: member contributions, employer contributions, and investment returns. The Fund has two main goals:

  • Provide the means to pay benefits to NYSLRS’ participants; and
  • Minimize employer contributions through an investment program designed to protect and enhance the long-term value of the assets.

Over the last 20 years, 79 percent of benefits have been funded from investment returns. When you retire from NYSLRS, your monthly pension benefit—and the benefits of many others—will be drawn from this fund. Ethical management and a long-term, diversified investment strategy has made NYSLRS one of the best managed and funded plans in the nation.
Common Retirement Fund Assets

Strategic Long-Term Investments

The Fund’s investment program is designed to weather the ups and downs of an increasingly volatile global market. Our long-term target allocation for our investment portfolio is 22 percent in fixed income assets (bonds and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities [TIPS]) and 78 percent in equities, which includes:

  • Domestic and international public equities
  • Real estate
  • Real assets
  • Absolute return strategies
  • Mortgages
  • Private equity investments
  • Opportunistic funds

A diversified investment strategy helps us meet the funding needs for our current and future retirees while also helping to control risk.

The Fund is Well-Managed

An independent review of the Fund commended Comptroller DiNapoli and NYSLRS for strong policies and ethical management. By adhering to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, our members, retirees, and beneficiaries can be confident the Fund is being managed wisely.

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.

NYSLRS Retirees Help Power New York’s Economy

At the 2015 annual meeting of the Retired Public Employees Association of New York, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli told association members that “a public pension is not only good for you and your family, it’s good for New York State.” He added that “you are part of the economic engine in many of our communities.”

The administrator of the New York State & Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) and trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, State Comptroller DiNapoli also noted that, of NYSLRS’ 430,308 retirees, 78 percent of them — 337,406 — have chosen to live in New York.

NYSLRS-Retirees-Build-a-Stronger-NY

Click for full-sized version (PDF)

This is important, the State Comptroller explained, 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 calendar year 2014, NYSLRS retirees were responsible for $12 billion in economic activity in New York State.