Category Archives: General News

NYSLRS Membership by Tier

NYSLRS, which administers the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), had 685,450 members as of March 31, 2022. Our members are State government, local government, school district and other public-sector employees from across New York — 650,251 in ERS and 35,199 in PFRS. About 74 percent of our members were active, which means they were on a public payroll as of March 31.

NYSLRS Membership Over Time

A decade ago, more than 80 percent of NYSLRS members were in Tiers 3 and 4. Now, those tiers represent less than 40 percent of our membership. Tier 6, which includes members who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012, now has 367,013 members, or 53.5 percent of total membership.

NYSLRS Membership by Tier

Here’s a look at our NYSLRS membership by tier, as of March 31:

Tier 1: NYSLRS’ oldest tier, whose members first joined the system before July 1, 1973 (July 31, 1973, for PFRS members), is dwindling. Tier 1 represented only 0.2 percent of our membership. There were only 1,043 Tier 1 ERS members and 17 Tier 1 PFRS members.

Tier 2: With 18,074 members, Tier 2 represented 2.6 percent of membership. Ninety-four percent of Tier 2 members were in PFRS.

Tiers 3 & 4: Tiers 3 and 4, which have similar retirement plans, had 263,734 members, 38.5 percent of the total membership. Tiers 3 and 4 are primarily ERS tiers. There is no Tier 4 in PFRS, and only 173 PFRS members were in Tier 3.

Tier 5: Tier 5 covers members who joined from January 1, 2010, through March 31, 2012. With 35,569 members, Tier 5 represented 5.2 percent of membership.

Tier 6: This tier covers members who joined since April 1, 2012. Its ranks grew by about 13 percent during the last fiscal year.

Why Your Tier Matters

Your tier is an essential component of your NYSLRS membership because it is one of the factors that determines your benefits. You can find out more by reading your retirement plan booklet. Our recent blog posts explain how to find your plan booklet and how to get the most out of it.

Public Pensions Give Economic Boost to Small Towns, Rural Areas

Small towns and rural areas in New York and across the United States get an important economic boost from public pensions, a recent study concludes.

Public Pensions Give Economic Boost to Small Towns and Rural Areas Across New York

Why Public Pensions Give an Economic Boost

Because of their smaller economies, less-populated counties benefit more from pension dollars than larger, urban counties, according to Fortifying Main Street: The Economic Benefit Of Public Pension Dollars In Rural America.

In many small towns and rural communities, the report notes, school districts and local governments are the largest employers. Those public employees typically remain in their communities after retirement, and the authors attribute the economic boosts they found to pension dollars spent locally on goods and services.

Across New York State, public pensions were responsible for 1.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. (GDP, the total value of goods and services produced during a specific period, is a common gauge of economic activity.) However, during the same period:

  • Wyoming County in western New York, where a handful of villages dot a rural landscape, saw public pensions generate 4.6 percent of GDP.
  • Hamilton County, with fewer than 5,000 people, received an economic boost from public pensions that accounted for 6.3 percent of GDP.

The study’s findings are in line with data showing the impact NYSLRS retirees have on local economies and other studies about the economic benefits of pensions.

Notes on the Data

Fortifying Main Street, which was released in July by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), examines pension data from 2,922 counties in 43 states. Based on criteria used by the federal Office of Budget Management, it divides counties into three main categories: metropolitan, small-town (or micropolitan) and rural. The study also analyzes data from counties that are home to the state capital, because these places tend to have higher numbers of public retirees. In Albany County, public pensions generated 2.7 percent of GDP.

Hamilton County is the only county in New York defined as rural in the study, but 16 counties, including Wyoming County, fit the “small town” criteria. You can read the full report on the NIRS website.

The study uses pensions paid by NYSLRS, the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System of New York City and the New York City Employees’ Retirement System in its data for New York State.

Estimate Your Pension in Retirement Online

How much will your pension be?

Fortunately, it is now easier than ever to find out. Most NYSLRS members can create their own pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online.

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.

estimate your pension in Retirement Online

How to Create Your Pension Estimate

Before you can use the 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 pension 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.

As of April 9, 2022, Tier 5 and 6 members only need five years of service credit to be vested. If you are a Tier 5 or 6 member with between five and ten years of service credit, you can contact us to request a benefit estimate.

Alternative Ways to Get an Estimate

While more than 90 percent of NYSLRS members (most Tier 3 through 6 members) can use the 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.

A Look Inside NYSLRS

NYSLRS provided pension benefits to more than 500,000 retirees and beneficiaries during the State fiscal year that ended on March 31. These benefits are provided by the New York State Common Retirement Fund (the Fund).

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is administrative head of NYSLRS and trustee of the Fund. It is widely recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public retirement funds in the nation.

NYSLRS information

NYSLRS Membership                                                          

But NYSLRS is more than just the pension fund. The system serves more than 685,000 members as of March 31. Here are some facts about our membership:

  • 506,084 active members (that is, members still on the public payroll) work for 2,972 public employers statewide.
  • About one-third of those active members work for New York State. The rest work for counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts and public authorities.
  • Nearly 94 percent of total active members are in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS). The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) accounts for 6 percent of total active membership.
  • More than 50 percent of all Retirement System members are in Tier 6.
  • In ERS, 54 percent of members are in Tier 6, while 40.5 percent are in Tiers 3 and 4.
  • In PFRS, 45 percent of members are in Tier 6, while 48 percent are in Tier 2.

NYSLRS Retirees and Beneficiaries

The average pension for an ERS retiree was $26,467 as of March 31, 2022; the average for a PFRS retiree was $58,522. But these pension payments don’t just benefit the System’s retirees and beneficiaries. Seventy-nine percent of retirees and beneficiaries stay in New York and generate billions of dollars in economic activity across the state. Their spending supports local businesses, contributes to local taxes and creates jobs in our communities.

Learn More About NYSLRS

Extensive information about our members and retirees, the Fund and Fund investments can be found in the 2022 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. This report includes detailed information about the Fund’s investments, strategies and financial position. It also provides details about NYSLRS’ 1.19 million members, retirees and beneficiaries.

Update Regarding Retiree Earnings Limit

Normally, most NYSLRS retirees who return to work for a public employer face an earnings limit. Under Section 212 of the Retirement and Social Security Law, most NYSLRS retirees under age 65 who return to work for a public employer can earn up to $35,000 per calendar year without penalty. The limit includes all earnings for the calendar year, including money or retroactive payments earned in the calendar year but paid in a different calendar year. If a retiree exceeds the earnings limit and continues to work, their pension benefits are suspended for the remainder of the year.

However, executive orders and new legislation have temporarily suspended the earnings limit for retirees who returned to work.

retiree earnings limit

Earnings Limit Suspended through June 30, 2023 for School Districts and BOCES

The state budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 included legislation that temporarily suspends the earnings limit for retirees employed by school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). Under this legislation, post-retirement earnings with a school district or BOCES will not count toward a retiree’s annual earnings limit through June 30, 2023.

The new law means that for retirees working for school districts or BOCES, the limit is eliminated through the end of the school year 2022-23. This extension does not apply to universities, colleges or charter schools.

Earnings Limit Suspended through November 26, 2022 for Other Public Employers

The Governor has issued an executive order temporarily suspending the retiree earnings limit. Under the executive order, post-retirement earnings with a public employer will not count toward a retiree’s annual earnings limit during the following time periods:

  • January 1, 2022 through November 26, 2022.
  • January 1, 2021 through June 24, 2021, and September 27, 2021 through December 31, 2021.
  • March 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

If the order is extended beyond November 26, 2022 we will update this blog post. For general information about post-retirement employment, please read What If I Work After Retirement.

How School Employees Earn NYSLRS Service Credit

There are non-teachers earning NYSLRS service credit.While most New York teachers and administrators are in the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, other school employees are members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). In fact, 1 out of 5 NYSLRS members works for a school district. Most work according to the school year, which could be only 10 or 11 months long. So how do we determine service credit for them?

Earning NYSLRS Service Credit When School Employees Work Full-Time

If you’re a school employee who works full-time, you receive one year of service per school year. Generally, a full-time 10-month school year requires at least 180 days worked in any school year. Depending on your employer, a full academic year can range from 170 to 200 days.

Earning NYSLRS Service Credit When School Employees Work Part-Time

The number of hours in a full-time day is set by your employer (between six and eight hours). If you work part-time, your employer divides the number of hours you worked by the hours in a full-time day. This tells them how many equivalent full-time days you worked. Then, your employer reports that number to us, and those days worked are plugged into the formulas below.

Whether you work full- or part-time, depending on the length of your school year, your service is credited in the following ways:

For all BOCES and school district employees, as well as
teachers working at New York State schools for the deaf and blind:

Number of days worked ÷ 180 days

For college employees:
Number of days worked ÷ 170 days

For institutional teachers:
Number of days worked ÷ 200 days

how to calculate part-time service credit for school employees

Check Your Service Credit

You can check your Retirement Online account to find your current estimated service credit total.

You can also check your Member Annual Statement, which is provided every summer. For most members, your statement will show how much service credit you’ve earned for the past fiscal year (April 1, 2021 – March 31, 2022). It will also show your total service credit as of March 31, 2022.

For more information about service credit, read our booklet Service Credit for Tiers 2 through 6 (VO1854) or your own retirement plan publication.

Deferred Compensation:
Another Source of Retirement Income

Many financial experts say that you will need 70 to 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your standard of living once you retire. For NYSLRS members, a financial plan in retirement is likely to include your NYSLRS pension and Social Security benefits. For greater financial stability, it may make sense to supplement your retirement with personal savings such as a deferred compensation plan.

deferred compensation

What is Deferred Compensation?

Deferred compensation plans are voluntary retirement savings plans like 401(k) or 403(b) plans – but designed and managed with public employees in mind. The New York State Deferred Compensation Plan (NYSDCP) is the 457(b) plan created for New York State employees and employees of other participating public employers in New York.

Once you sign up for the NYSDCP, you can build your own investment portfolio or invest in established investment funds. Your contributions will be automatically deducted from your paycheck, and you can contribute as little as 1 percent of your earnings.

One option for a deferred compensation plan is a tax-deferred account, where you make contributions with pre-tax money. This way, you won’t have to pay State or federal taxes on your contributions and earnings until you start making withdrawals. Your employer also may offer the option for a Roth account, where you make contributions with after-tax money. With a Roth account, you won’t pay taxes on withdrawals in retirement. Find out more about both options.

If your employer is not listed as an NYSDCP participating employer, check with your human resources or personnel office about other retirement savings options.

What Does Deferred Compensation Mean For Me?

Deferring income from your take-home pay may mean less money to spend in the short-term, but you’re planning ahead for your financial future.

You can enroll in a deferred compensation plan anytime — whether you’re approaching retirement or you just started working. Usually, the sooner you start saving, the better prepared you’ll be for retirement.

Can I change my beneficiary?

Can You Change Your Beneficiary After You Retire?

Can you change your beneficiary after you retire? That depends. If it’s the beneficiary for your pension, in most cases the answer is no. If you choose a pension payment option that provides a lifetime benefit for a surviving beneficiary, you cannot change that beneficiary, even if they die before you do. If your retirement plan provides a one-time, lump sum death benefit after you retire, you can change your beneficiary (or beneficiaries) for that benefit.

Can you change your beneficiary?

Available Pension Payment Options

At retirement, you will choose from a variety of pension payment options. After your pension becomes payable, you have up to 30 days to change your option. After that, you cannot change your pension payment option for any reason.

  • If you don’t want to leave a lifetime benefit to someone else, the Single Life Allowance option may be right for you, but you won’t be able to change your option and add a beneficiary later. For example, if you’re single when you retire and marry during retirement, you cannot change your option to one that provides a continuing benefit for your spouse.
  • If you want to leave a lifetime benefit to someone, there are several Joint Allowance options you can choose. After your death, if your beneficiary survives you, they will continue to receive all or part of your pension (depending on the specific option you choose) for the rest of their life. For these options, you can only name one beneficiary, and you cannot change that beneficiary after the 30-day window.
  • There are payment options that allow you to change your beneficiary. For example, with the Five Year Certain or Ten Year Certain options, you can change your beneficiary at any time, but these options only provide a short-term benefit for a survivor.

The Post-Retirement Death Benefit

Your pension is not your only NYSLRS retirement benefit. Most NYSLRS retirees are eligible for a death benefit if they retired directly from payroll or within one year of leaving covered employment. This post-retirement death benefit is a one-time, lump-sum payment. You can change your beneficiary for this benefit at any time, and your beneficiaries for this benefit do not have to be the same as your pension payment option beneficiary.

Visit our Death Benefits page for retirees for information about how your post-retirement death benefit is calculated and how to update your beneficiaries if you are retired.

If you have questions about beneficiaries, death benefits or pension payment options, please contact us.

Reporting a Member’s or Retiree’s Death to NYSLRS

When a NYSLRS member or retiree dies, it is important that survivors report the death to NYSLRS as soon as possible.

How Survivors Can Report a Death

Survivors can find the report a death form on the NYSLRS website.

The form has two parts: The first section is for the person reporting the death to enter information about themselves. They should be sure to include a phone number in case we need to contact them. In the second part, they should enter information about the deceased member or retiree. If they know the deceased’s NYSLRS ID or the last four digits of their Social Security number, they should enter that too.

reporting a death

Survivors can upload a photocopy of the death certificate so NYSLRS can begin identifying any benefits that may be payable. (Note: we will still need an original death certificate before any benefits are paid – see below.) The form is transmitted over a secure network.

Survivors can also report a death by calling our toll-free number at 1-866-805-0990 (or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area), weekdays from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm. Once they reach the call menu, they should press 3, then 1. The call will be transferred to a customer service representative, who will ask for:

  • The deceased’s NYSLRS ID, retirement or registration number or Social Security number.
  • The date of death.

We may also ask for the addresses and phone numbers of immediate family members who may be beneficiaries. Please note: Our customer service representatives cannot release the identities of a member’s or retiree’s beneficiaries over the phone.

Mailing a Death Certificate

Before any death benefits can be processed or paid, NYSLRS will need an original, certified death certificate, even if a photocopy has already been submitted. The death certificate (and the sender’s contact information) should be mailed to:

NYSLRS
Attn: Survivor Services
110 State St
Albany, NY 12244

We recommend that death certificates be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.

What Happens Next

Once we receive the death certificate, we will send named beneficiaries or their certified representatives (guardians, powers of attorney, executors) information about death benefits and, if applicable, information about any continuing pension benefits and death benefits that may be payable based on the member or retiree’s tier and retirement plan. We will also send named beneficiaries the appropriate forms to complete.

It could take several months from the date we are notified of a death to the date that any death benefit is paid. This is the average time necessary to recover any pension payments made after the retiree’s death and calculate any death benefit that may be due, as well as receive a certified copy of the death certificate, tax withholding forms and notarized forms from the named beneficiaries. Our top priority is paying a continuing pension benefit as soon as possible.

If a member is retired when he or she dies, we will stop payment of any outgoing pension benefits. We will automatically reclaim any direct deposit payments that went out after a member’s death. Survivors should be aware that any uncashed pension checks in a deceased retiree’s name must be returned to us.

Talk to Your Loved Ones

If you’re a NYSLRS member or retiree, you should talk to your loved ones and provide them with the information they’ll need when the time comes. Let them know your wishes, where to find important papers and what steps they will need to take. And if your documents are organized and accessible, it will make things that much easier.

Our publication Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors provides step-by-step guidance about what should be done now and after a member’s or retiree’s death.

See You at the New York State Fair

If you’re visiting the Great New York State Fair, stop by and see us.

The celebration of everything New York begins Wednesday, August 24 and runs through Monday, September 5 (Labor Day). Our information representatives will be at the fairgrounds in Syracuse to help members and retirees with their retirement planning and benefit questions. You’ll also be able to pick up retirement plan brochures and forms, request an estimate that will be mailed to you and get help registering for a Retirement Online account.

The NYSLRS booth will be in the Center of Progress Building, building 6 on the State Fair map, near the Main Gate.

New York State Fair

Find Unclaimed Funds at the State Fair

OSC’s Office of Unclaimed Funds booth will also be in the Center of Progress building. An unclaimed fund is lost or forgotten money, perhaps in an old bank account or insurance policy, that has been turned over to the State. See if any of that money is yours. So far this year, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and the Office of Unclaimed Funds have returned more than $248 million.

Special Fair Days

Wednesday, August 24

  • Opening Day

Friday, August 26

  • Pride Day – The LGBTQIA+ event includes a morning flag-raising ceremony at the main gate

Monday, August 29

  • Law Enforcement Day — Free admission for active and retired law enforcement and corrections personnel

Tuesday, August 30

  • Fire & Rescue Day — Free admission for active and retired members of fire departments and emergency services organizations
  • Comptroller DiNapoli Visits the Fair — He is the trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund and is the administrator of NYSLRS. He’ll be stopping by the NYSLRS booth during the day.

Wednesday, August 31

  • Women’s Day

Thursday, September 1

  • Armed Forces Day — Free admission for active duty or veterans

Monday, September 5

  • Labor Day – Show your support for working women and men at the Fair’s Labor Day rally

Note: ID required for free admissions listed above. For details, check out the complete schedule of Special Fair Days.