Category Archives: General News

Avoiding Scams During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During this time of crisis, it’s important to be on the alert for those who would attempt to defraud you or your family. Here are some consumer warnings and safety tips from the Federal Trade Commission:  

  • Ignore offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are selling products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work.
  • Be wary of ads for test kits. Most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate.
  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
  • Beware of emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card or by wiring money.
scams

Reliable Sources of COVID-19 Information

Only rely on trusted sources for information about COVID-19. Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. Here are some good online sources:

Reporting Fraud

If you are a victim of fraud, the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection may be able to help. You can call their Consumer Helpline at 1-800-697-1220 or visit their website.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, is the federal agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting fraud schemes related to natural and man-made disasters. Call 1-866-720-5721.

You can report allegations of fraud involving New York State taxpayer money to the Office of the New York State Comptroller. Call 1-888-672-4555 or report government fraud online.

Protecting Your Identity Online: Tips for Secure Passwords

Secure Passwords

The rules for password creation have changed in recent years, so you may have to unlearn some of the things you’ve been taught in the past about secure passwords.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the federal agency that created the original password guidelines, recently revised those guidelines. Its current recommendations are based on research on both the habits of users and the techniques of hackers. Here are some of their findings:

  • Length is a major factor in a password’s strength, so the longer the password, the better.
  • Complex passwords, with a mix of character types, are hard for people to remember, and do little to deter hackers.
  • Strong passwords can be created from short phrases that are easy for you to remember, but would be meaningless to anyone else.
  • Passwords may be used indefinitely as long as they’re strong and have not been compromised. Obviously, if you have an account with a company that just had a data breach, you’ll want to change that password.

Other Ideas on Secure Passwords

Changing passwords every 30, 60 or 90 days was recommended for thwarting hackers, but some security experts now question that tactic. Changing passwords on a regular schedule may have little security value and can lead to bad habits. Research has shown that people tend to make only minor changes when updating their passwords or create weak passwords that are easier for them to memorize. You’re better off creating a strong password, memorizing it and holding on to it.

While NIST has changed some of its guidelines, some of the old ones still apply. Don’t share your secure passwords with anyone, or leave them on sticky notes by your computer. Create unique passwords for important accounts, such as your bank account and your email, and avoid bad passwords such as “password,” “12345678,” “qwerty” and “iloveyou.”

NYSLRS Loans Using Retirement Online

Most members can get a NYSLRS loan using Retirement Online. Loan eligibility requirements are based on your tier, but generally, you’ll need to be on the payroll of a participating employer, have at least a year of service and have a certain amount of contributions in your account. Retirement Online will provide the eligibility information you need as you step through the application process.

woman using computer at home

Getting Started

Retirement Online is the fastest way to get a NYSLRS loan. It’s also an easy way to find out your current loan balance, the amount you are eligible to borrow and more. To get started, Sign In to your account or Register if you don’t already have an account. (If you have any trouble signing in or registering, check the Tools & Tips section of the Retirement Online page for help.)

The Application Process

Once you’ve signed in, scroll down to “My Account Summary.” Under “I want to…” click the green “Apply for a Loan” button and follow the prompts.

As you work your way through the online application, you’ll see how much you can borrow, the minimum repayment amount, the expected payoff date and how much you can borrow without tax implications.

NYSLRS loans are exempt from New York State and local income taxes. However, the Internal Revenue Service may consider all or part of a NYSLRS loan taxable in some cases – for instance, if you borrow above certain limits. The Retirement Online loan application will show you the maximum amount you can borrow without tax implications. 

If you already have a loan and you want to take another loan, you can take multiple loans or refinance an existing loan. Taking a new loan (the multiple loan option), minimizes your potential tax consequences. Your minimum payment will be higher, but you will pay off your loans faster than you would by refinancing. Refinancing adds the new loan amount to your existing balance and spreads the entire balance over a new five-year term. Your payment will be lower but your tax consequences may be significantly higher.

Repaying Your Loan

Loan payments will be deducted from your paycheck. You can choose the minimum payroll deduction, which would pay off your loan in five years, or you can choose to pay more than the minimum to pay off your loan sooner. The payment calculator in Retirement Online will provide your expected payoff date if you enter an amount higher than the minimum.

If you already have loan from NYSLRS, during this time of economic uncertainty you may be considering whether you can defer your NYSLRS loan payment.

If you are furloughed or on an authorized leave of absence with your employer, the IRS allows for the suspension of loan payments for up to one year from the date your leave began or until you return to the payroll (whichever occurs first). To receive this deferment, have your employer send us a fax (518-486-9877) on their letterhead that indicates the date your leave began and when they expect it will end.

It’s important to note that if you defer your loan payments during an authorized leave of absence, your payments will need to be recalculated and increased upon your return. This will ensure your loan will be paid off within the five-year period.

For more information, please read our blog post, Managing Your NYSLRS Loan Payment.

More Information

For more information, including how retiring with an outstanding loan would affect your pension, visit our Loans page. If you need help with the self-service loan application, click ‘Help’ at the top of the page. Then click next to ‘Requesting a Loan’ and select the guide that best fits your situation. Retirement Online is generally available from 7:00 am to 9:30 pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm on Tuesday; and from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm, on Saturday and Sunday.

Estimate Your Pension in Retirement Online

Most NYSLRS members can now create their own pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online.

A Retirement Online estimate is based on the most up-to-date account information we have on file for you. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.

man at computer

How to Create Your Pension Estimate

Before you can use the new pension calculator, you will need a Retirement Online account. Once you sign in, go to the My Account Summary section of your account homepage and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button.

You can enter an estimated retirement date (or retirement age), your current salary and expected annual salary increases. You can also include any service credit you plan to purchase and anticipated lump sum payment for unused vacation. If you add the birthdate for a beneficiary, you’ll also see the estimated monthly payment you would receive if you were to choose a payment option that provides a benefit for a survivor.

Any pension estimate you generate with the online calculator would be an approximation of your potential benefit; it is not a guarantee that you’ll receive a certain amount when you retire.

Alternative Ways to Get an Estimate

While more than 90 percent of NYSLRS members (most Tier 3 through 6 members) can use the new benefit calculator, some members should have NYSLRS generate their benefit estimate.

For example, if you recently transferred your membership to NYSLRS or are covered under certain special plans, it would be better if NYSLRS created an estimate for you. The system will notify you if your estimate cannot be completed using Retirement Online’s estimate tool. Please contact us to request a pension estimate if you receive this notification. Also, if you are in Tiers 1 through 4, you can still use the Quick Calculator on the NYSLRS website. The Quick Calculator generates estimates based on information you provide.

Stay-At-Home Tips During the COVID-19 Emergency

As the COVID-19 emergency continues, many of us are staying home and practicing social/physical distancing to reduce the spread of the virus. Staying home is especially important if you are an older adult, have a chronic health condition, or are immunocompromised.

Here are some tips on getting the help and services you need while limiting your time out of the house. And if you must leave your house, follow these steps to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus.

COVID-19 emergency

Online Banking and Direct Deposit

Many banks have closed or limited the open hours of their branch locations, and are encouraging their customers to use online banking. Online banking allows you to monitor your account balances and pay bills from home. Certain mobile banking features can also allow you to deposit checks using a smartphone. Visit your bank’s website or call your bank’s customer service line to see what services are available.

This is also a good time to arrange for the direct deposit of incoming funds (such as your NYSLRS pension or your paycheck) to your bank account.

If your bank offers a drive-thru or walk-up ATM, the CDC recommends that you clean the ATM keyboard or screen with an antiseptic wipe before using it, and to wash your hands thoroughly after making transactions.

Online Grocery Shopping and Special Shopping Hours

Depending on where you live, your local grocery chain may offer online shopping. Visit your grocery store’s website to see what services are available. They may offer home delivery, where a delivery driver can leave your groceries at your door, or curbside pick-up, where you can pick up your order without needing to leave your car.

Your grocery store may also offer special shopping hours for older or other at-risk customers. If you are unable to place an online order, visit the store’s website or call ahead to see if there are special hours.

Virtual Doctor Appointments

Appointments with your doctor are important to keep, but in some instances, you or your doctor may want to postpone upcoming appointments for you or members of your family. Fortunately, some offices are now offering telemedicine visits as an alternative to in person appointments. Telemedicine visits can take the form of phone calls or video chats with your doctor or another healthcare professional. Visit your doctor’s office website or call ahead to see if this option is available to you.

Your health insurance company may also offer some information about telemedicine. Here are several New York health insurance providers who offer telemedicine resources:

If your doctor wants you to come to the office, be sure to ask about and follow any safety measures they’ve put into place. These safety measures are meant to protect you and your family, medical staff, and other patients.

And Your Pets Too!

Your pets may have medical appointments of their own to keep. Call your veterinarian to see if and how they are accepting pets or prescribing medicine during this time. In some instances, they may ask you to stay in the car while they take your pet inside for treatment.

The CDC offers additional information about keeping your pets safe during the COVID-19 emergency.

Getting Help from the Local Community

Stay in touch with what your local community is doing during the COVID-19 emergency. You can check community websites, social media groups, and local news outlets to see what services are being offered to seniors or at-risk adults. Other community resources, like reputable volunteer organizations, may also be available to assist you.

For more information about running errands during the COVID-19 emergency, visit the CDC’s website. If you live in New York, stay up to date on statewide initiatives by visiting the NY Department of Health’s website.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 emergency continues, police and healthcare professionals are reporting an increase in domestic violence. With many of our one million NYSLRS members and retirees now being asked to stay home, we want to help keep you safe. If you are in an abusive relationship, or fear your situation may turn violent, there is help.

domestic violence

You don’t have to stay in a dangerous environment. Safe shelter is available. 

Here are some resources:

Because abuse victims are often closely watched by their abuser, New York State has launched a new texting program and confidential service to help New Yorkers experiencing domestic violence.

Text 844-997-2121 or visit www.opdv.ny.gov to confidentially chat with a professional at any time of day or night.

New York State Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-942-6906
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “Got5” to 741-741.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-799-7233
  • TTY 1-800-787-3224 (for the deaf or hard of hearing)
  • If it is not safe for you to call, you can live chat online at thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat.
  • Or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.

If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Your Pension Fund is Strong
Your Pension is Secure

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic uncertainty as well as a public health emergency. Businesses are struggling, more people are unemployed, and markets are volatile. Yet among all the uncertain news we seem to hear daily, there is something NYSLRS members and retirees can have confidence in: your Retirement System and pension fund are strong and secure.

Since it was established in January 1921, NYSLRS has proven its strength and durability. Over the past century, the Retirement System has weathered the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Dotcom bubble burst of 2001, the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and more than a dozen other economic downturns. Each time, NYSLRS recovered and emerged stronger than before.

pension fund

Investing for the Long Term

The New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds and invests the Retirement System’s assets, has been impacted by this largely unprecedented crisis, but the Fund remains strong. While weighing the risk and benefit of every investment, the Fund employs a diversified investment strategy that is designed for the long-term, allowing it to take advantage of growth opportunities in good times, which helps it to better navigate through hard times.

NYSLRS entered the current crisis in a position of strength. Independent analysts, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, have long recognized NYSLRS as one of the best-managed and best-funded public retirement systems in the nation. The strength of the Fund provides stability and enhances its ability to recover from market swings.

In recent months, before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Fund’s professional managers recognized increased volatility in the stock market. The managers made adjustments in the Fund’s investment portfolio in preparation for an expected economic downturn and are actively managing the Fund through these difficult times. The Fund has more than enough assets to pay retiree benefits.

What This Means for You

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has a fiduciary responsibility to manage the Fund’s assets on behalf of NYSLRS members and retirees. Protecting the Fund is the Comptroller’s number one priority. As a NYSLRS member or retiree, your lifetime retirement benefits are guaranteed by the State constitution, and those benefits cannot be diminished.

NYSLRS continues to be well-positioned to meet both its short-term and long-term obligations. If you are already retired, you will continue to receive your pension payments on schedule. If you are a member, your pension will be there for you when you retire and throughout your retirement years.

We’ve faced similar challenges in the past. We will get through this one.

How Tier 6 Contribution Rates Can Change

Most members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) contribute a percentage of their earnings toward their pensions. For Tier 6 members, that percentage, or contribution rate, can vary from year to year. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

Tier 6 contribution rate

When Tier 6 Contribution Rates are Determined

Tier 6 contribution rates are calculated annually. New rates become effective each year on April 1, the beginning of the State’s fiscal year. Once your contribution rate is set for a fiscal year, it will not change for the rest of that fiscal year. However, depending on your earnings, it may change the following year.

How Your Tier 6 Contribution Rate is Calculated

As a Tier 6 member, your contribution rate is based on how much you earn. Changes in your earnings may result in changes to your contribution rate.

For the first three years as a NYSLRS member, your contribution rate is based on an estimated annual wage we receive from your employer. After three years, the rate is based on what you actually earned two years prior. The minimum contribution rate is 3 percent of your earnings, and the maximum is 6 percent.

See our Member Contributions page for additional information.

Learn More

The percentage you contribute toward your pension while you work does not affect the pension amount you may receive in retirement. Your NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit based on your retirement plan, years of service credit and final average salary. You can learn more about your pension by reading your plan booklet on our Publications page. For help finding the right plan book, read our blog post, Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning. For more information about ERS Tier 6 memberships, read our blog post, What to Know About ERS Tier 6.

Power of Attorney

We continue to receive reports of NYSLRS members who have become ill, or seriously ill, as a result of COVID-19. It is vitally important that these members, and their loved ones, be aware of the provisions contained in a NYSLRS Power of Attorney.

NYSLRS provides a Special Durable Power of Attorney form that is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements. It can be filed with NYSLRS at any time so the designated agent can act immediately in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness. There’s no need to wait until something happens to file a NYSLRS POA form.

father and son discuss power of attorney

A power of attorney (POA) allows a person to designate someone else to act on their behalf. The designated person, referred to as an “agent,” could be a spouse, another family member or a trusted friend.

A person can designate more than one person as an agent, and can decide if those agents act together or separately. In addition to an agent or agents, a person may designate “successor agents” to act on an individual’s behalf if the person designated as the “primary” agent is unable or unwilling to serve. Successor agents can be named using the “Modifications” section (g) of the POA.

Why is a NYSLRS POA Important?

Normally, NYSLRS won’t release benefit information to anyone without your permission — even to a spouse. With a POA on file, we would be able to discuss your benefits and conduct business with the agent you appointed. This could be especially important now as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic. If you suddenly become ill and are unable to contact us personally, your agent would be able to take care of your retirement needs for you.

What Can Agents Do?

Agents can file applications and forms, such as service or disability retirement applications. They can get account-specific benefit information, request copies of retirement documents, update addresses or phone numbers or take out loans. For retirees, agents can change the amount withheld from pensions for taxes.

It’s important to note that the NYSLRS POA form only covers Retirement System transactions. It does not authorize an agent to make health care decisions or changes to a Deferred Compensation plan.

Special Authority

If you use the NYSLRS POA form, and your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they have “self-gifting authority.” That means they can direct deposit money into a joint bank account you have with them, designate themselves as a beneficiary to your pension benefits, and/or choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death.

If your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they do not automatically have “self-gifting” authority, which means they cannot name themselves as a beneficiary or direct deposit money into a joint bank account with their name on it. If you wish to give an agent(s) or successor agent(s) ”self-gifting” authority, you should specifically indicate so in section (g) “Modifications” of the POA. In that section you should identify your agent(s) or successor agent(s) by name and state the specific authority granted to them.

Please note only biological or legally adopted children are considered your “child” for NYSLRS POA purposes. All other children must be granted specific authority in section (g) “Modifications.”

How to Submit a NYSLRS POA Form

If your decision to submit a NYSLRS POA is related to the COVID-19 emergency, please note that on the form in section (g) “Modifications.” If you file a retirement application, consider submitting a NYSLRS POA with your application.

You can scan and email a copy of your POA to NYSLRS using the secure email form on our website.

You can also mail your POA (original or photocopy). You may wish to mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested, so that you know when NYSLRS receives it. The address is:

NYSLRS
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001.

Find Out More

A power of attorney is a powerful document. Once you appoint someone, that person may act on your behalf with or without your consent. We strongly urge you to consult an attorney before you execute this document.

Please read the Power of Attorney page on our website for additional information.

15-Day Notice for Retirement Waived During COVID-19 Emergency

The 15-day waiting period for a NYSLRS member’s retirement to take effect has been temporarily waived by a governor’s executive order. The waiver, which was requested by Comptroller DiNapoli, is designed to protect families who may lose a loved one to COVID-19 before a member’s retirement is official.

Under the waiver, if you file for retirement between April 16, 2020 and August 6, 2020, you can choose a date of retirement less than 15 days away.

15-day notice waived

Members seeking to service retire should also choose a pension payment option. This is especially important if you wish to name a beneficiary to receive a pension benefit in the event of your death.

Eligible members can file for retirement, choose a date of retirement as early as the next day, and upload retirement-related documents using Retirement Online.

If you choose to file a paper retirement application, you can choose a specific retirement date, or enter “ASAP” and your date of retirement will be the day after your filing date. Find more information about filing for retirement (online or by mail) in our recent blog post, Retirement Online Makes Applying for Retirement Fast, Easy.

A member may withdraw their service retirement application up until the day before they retire.

The waiver will also be effective for members who filed after March 7, 2020 and died due to COVID-19. If these members selected a pension payment option that provides a continuing pension benefit for a beneficiary after their death, and they died of COVID-19, their beneficiary will receive the monthly benefit under the pension payment option that the member chose.

“Many government workers are battling the coronavirus in their communities every day,” New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. “God forbid something should happen to them before their retirement becomes effective. Waiving the waiting period after filing for service retirement benefits ensures their families will get the benefits that were intended for them. My thanks to Governor Cuomo for acting on our request and taking steps to protect our heroic state and local workers and their families in these tough times.”

The executive order waives the legal requirement that a NYSLRS member’s retirement application be received by the Office of the State Comptroller at least 15 days before their retirement date.

To be eligible for a service retirement benefit, a vested NYSLRS member must be at least 55 years old, unless they are in a special plan that allows retirement after 20 or 25 years regardless of age. For details about NYSLRS service retirement benefits and death benefits, please check your retirement plan booklet, which you can find on our Publications page.

Members who are not yet eligible for a service retirement benefit may want to read our recent blog about applying for a disability retirement benefit.