This COLA is a permanent annual increase to your retirement benefit. It is based on the cost-of-living index and is designed to address inflation.
How Cost-of-Living Adjustment is Determined
COLA payments are based on the rate of inflation, as reflected in the consumer price index published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The law requires that COLA payments be calculated based on 50 percent of the annual rate of inflation, measured at the end of the fiscal year (on March 31st). In addition, the COLA cannot be less than 1 percent or greater than 3 percent of your benefit.
The COLA adjustment is applied to the first $18,000 of your benefit calculated as a Single Life Allowance, even if you selected a different pension payment option. Once your COLA payments begin, you will automatically receive an increase to your monthly benefit each September.
The September 2021 COLA equals 1.4 percent, for a maximum annual increase of $252.00, or $21.00 per month before taxes.
When Will You See the Increase?
Eligible retirees will see the first 2021 COLA payment in their September pension payment. It will be available to those with direct deposit on September 30, 2021. If you receive a paper check, the COLA will be included in the check mailed on September 29, 2021.
You can sign in to your Retirement Online account to view a current breakdown of your pension payment. If you have direct deposit and are eligible for a COLA increase, you will receive notification of the net change in your monthly payment amount in September.
If you are not eligible for a COLA yet, you will receive your first increase in the month after you become eligible. This payment will include a prorated amount to cover the month you became eligible. After that, you will receive a COLA increase each September.
Under normal circumstances, NYSLRS won’t release your benefit information – even to close family members – without your permission. However, if we have an approved copy of your power of attorney (POA) form on record, we can discuss your information with the person you named as your agent in your POA.
For example, your agent could ask for details about your pension payments, get help completing a loan application or call us for clarification if you don’t understand a letter you received.
Your agent could be your spouse, another family member or a trusted friend. You may designate more than one person as your agent, and you may authorize those agents to act together or separately. You may also designate “successor agents” to act on your behalf if the primary agent is unable or unwilling to serve.
A POA form may be filed with NYSLRS at any time, so there’s no need to wait until a “life event” happens to file. With a POA already on record, the designated agent can act immediately in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness.
What Can Agents Do?
The agent named in your POA is authorized to act on your behalf and conduct business with NYSLRS for you.
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 and phone numbers, and take out loans. For retirees, agents can change the amount withheld from your pension for taxes.
If you use the NYSLRS POA form, and your agent or successor agent is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they have “self-gifting authority.” That means they can designate themselves as a beneficiary of your pension benefits or, if you are not yet retired, choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death and designate themselves as a beneficiary for that benefit.
If your agent or successor agent is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they do not automatically have self-gifting authority. If you want them to be able to designate themselves as beneficiaries, you should indicate that in the Modifications section of the POA. You should identify your agent by name and specify the authority you want granted to them.
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.
Changes to the POA Law
The law governing POA requirements was changed effective June 13, 2021. Any POA executed since that date must comply with the new requirements (the NYSLRS form complies with the new requirements):
All POAs must be signed by two disinterested witnesses (witnesses who are not listed as an agent in the POA or named in the POA as a person who can receive gifts).
The use of a Statutory Gift Rider to grant gifting authority has been eliminated. If you do not use the NYSLRS POA form and instead submit a separately prepared Statutory POA form, gifting authority, even for a close family member, must be granted in the Modifications section of the POA. (See our Power of Attorney page for details.)
If you have an approved POA on file with NYSLRS, you do not need to send a new one. POAs executed before June 13, 2021, will be reviewed in accordance with the laws in effect at the time. POAs executed on or after June 13, 2021, that use an old POA form or do not comply with other requirements of the new law will not be valid.
You can also mail your POA (original or photocopy). You may wish to mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested, so you know when NYSLRS receives it. Mail it to:
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.
You may revoke your POA at any time by sending us a signed, notarized statement.
Since taking office in 2007, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has been committed to fighting public corruption and protecting the New York State and Local Retirement System from pension fraud.
Comptroller DiNapoli, through his Division of Investigations, partners with federal, state, and local law enforcement at every level of government. The Division’s pension fraud investigations have resulted in dozens of arrests and convictions and the recovery of nearly $3 million dollars.
The Retirement System’s Pension Integrity Bureau (PIB) is responsible for recovering erroneously paid pension benefits. In many cases, this is due to the survivors’ failure to report the death of a retiree in a timely manner, but some cases involve schemes to conceal the retiree’s death to continue pocketing pension payments. When PIB comes across apparent criminal activity, it refers the case to the Division of Investigations.
In June 2021, an Ontario County woman pleaded guilty to grand larceny for stealing $2,076 that was intended for a deceased friend. The woman and her friend, who was retired from the Tonawanda Public Works Department, had a joint bank account. After his death, the woman unlawfully withdrew his pension payment and $3,216 in Veterans Affairs benefits and closed the account.
That same month, an Orange County woman was arrested and charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing her late mother’s pension payments. She attempted to hide her mother’s death from NYSLRS and more than $50,000 in pension payments were deposited into a joint account after her mother’s death. The woman allegedly used the money to pay bills and make personal purchases, including fast food, liquor, clothing, gas and entertainment.
Other Notable Cases
Some people have taken elaborate measures to keep the pension payments coming in. For example, there was the Queens man who left his father’s body in a morgue for more than a year while he siphoned off $7,542 in pension payments and $17,790 in Social Security from his father’s bank account.
In many instances, the pension fraud involves substantial amounts of money which can lead to serious penalties for those who get caught. A few years ago, a Florida woman was sentenced to 2-to-6 years in State prison after she was convicted of stealing more than $120,000 in pension payments after her uncle’s death. She sent false information to his bank indicating he was still alive, then used her power of attorney to withdraw pension payments for several years.
Then there was the man who impersonated his dead brother in order to collect more than $180,000 in pension benefits. The Retirement System learned of the brother’s death and stopped payments to a trust account the man controlled. The man phoned the NYSLRS Call Center pretending to be his deceased brother demanding his money and insisted he was alive. The ploy failed and he was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation. He also signed a $180,140 judgment and had to repay NYSLRS.
Your Pension Fund is Secure
The Pension Fund, which provides the money for pension payments and was valued at an estimated $254.8 billion as of March 31, 2021, has long been recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public pension funds in the nation. The State Comptroller’s ongoing effort to combat pension fraud and abuse is just one more reason that the Fund remains safe and secure.
New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555.
For certain business transactions, such as getting a mortgage, you may need to verify certain NYSLRS account or benefit information. Fortunately, Retirement Online allows members and retirees to access and print a mortgage or pension verification letter in a few quick steps.
Members Can Generate Mortgage Letters Online
Members still on the public payroll can generate a mortgage verification letter using Retirement Online. On your account homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the “Generate Mortgage Verification Letter” link.
The printable letter will show your account summary, including the current balance of your contributions, and if you have a loan, the date of your last loan and current loan balance.
You can also request an account verification letter using our secure contact form. Tell us what information you need and be sure to include your personal identification and contact information when you submit the form. In most cases, we’ll mail you a letter within five to seven business days.
How Retirees Can Get a Pension Verification Letter
As a retiree, you may need a letter verifying your pension income — maybe for housing or as part of an application for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP). There are four ways to get a pension verification letter.
Retirement Online is the fastest way to get a pension verification letter. On your account homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the “Generate Income Verification Letter” link.
A pop-up box with a confirmation message will appear. Once you click OK, your pension income verification letter will open in a new browser tab, ready for you to print or save.
You can send us your request using our secure contact form. Tell us what information you need, and be sure to include your daytime phone number, in case our customer service representatives have a question. In most cases, we’ll mail your letter in five to seven business days.
You can call us with your request at 866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). Our Call Center is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 am – 5:00 pm. We usually mail letters in five to seven business days.
You can also fax your request to 518-473-5590. Include your retirement or registration number, current address, signature and phone number in case we have questions. Tell us whether you want the letter mailed or faxed to you (provide a fax number).
Sending a Retiree Pension Verification Letter to a Third Party
At your request, we can send a letter verifying your pension income directly to a lending institution, housing authority, nursing home or other third party. However, because this information is confidential, we need your signed written permission.
If you decide you want us to send a letter to a third party, they must fax us a request and include a signed release from you giving us permission to release your information.
We all look forward to a long, happy and financially secure retirement. But as you plan ahead for retirement, “how long?” is an important question to ask.
Longer Life Span, Longer Retirement
People are living longer. A 55-year-old man can expect to live for another 27 years, to about 82. A 55-year-old woman can expect to live for another 30 ½ years. These figures, derived from the Social Security life expectancy calculator, are only averages. They don’t take into account such factors as your health, lifestyle or family medical history.
Here are some other statistics that are worth pondering as you plan for retirement: more than 37,000 current NYSLRS retirees are over 85, and more than 3,400 have passed the 95 mark. In fact, in the State fiscal year that ended in March 2020, 375 NYSLRS’ retirees were 101 or older. Considering that many public employees retire at 55, it’s possible that a fair percentage of them could have retirements that last 45 years or more.
Making Your Savings Last
As you plan for a long retirement, you need to ask yourself, will I have enough money to maintain a comfortable lifestyle for decades to come?
Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who retired in fiscal year 2020 are receiving an average monthly pension of $2,656. The average Social Security benefit for a retired worker was $1,544, as of December 2020.
Your retirement savings are also crucial assets that can supplement your pension and Social Security. Savings are a hedge against inflation, can help in an emergency and provide flexibility over a long retirement.
If you have no retirement savings, it is never too late to start. An easy way to get started is through the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan, a retirement savings program created for New York State employees and employees of participating public agencies. If you’re a municipal employee, ask your employer if you’re eligible for the Deferred Compensation Plan or another retirement savings plan. (The New York State Deferred Compensation Plan is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)
After you retire, you’ll need to manage your retirement savings wisely to ensure your money lasts. You may find this savings withdrawal calculator helpful.
NYSLRS is Here for You
Your NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit that will provide monthly payments throughout your retirement. Get a head start on your retirement planning by getting a pension estimate. Most members can get an estimate by using our online benefit calculator.
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.
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.
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. If a retiree exceeds the earnings limit and continues to work, their pension benefits are suspended for the remainder of the year.
The limit had been temporarily suspended by the Governor by executive order during the COVID-19 emergency. The executive order suspending the limit has been rescinded effective June 25, 2021.
Pay from a public employer earned from March 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020 will not count toward a retiree’s annual earnings limit.
Pay from a public employer earned January 1, 2021 through June 24, 2021 will not count toward a retiree’s annual earnings limit.
Pay from a public employer earned June 25, 2021 through December 31, 2021 will count toward the limit.
A century after its creation, the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) is widely recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public pension systems in the nation. Comptroller DiNapoli recently announced that the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund), which holds and invests the assets of NYSLRS, had an estimated value of $254.8 billion as of March 31, 2021 – a record high for the Fund. The security and stability of NYSLRS and the Fund are due, in large part, to the stewardship of Comptroller DiNapoli, as well as a long line of State Comptrollers that came before him. The System has also been bolstered by some key events along the way.
In the Beginning
NYSLRS’ security and stability were built in at the start. In 1918, the State Legislature created the Commission on Pensions and charged it with recommending a pension system for State workers.
After surveying pension plans in New York and other states, the Pension Commission recognized the need to calculate the cost of the pension plan through actuarial calculations, which take into account such things as employees’ salaries and how long they are expected to be retired. They also saw the need to make provisions to cover those costs through contributions and other income. They recommended a plan supported by the contributions of employers (New York State and, eventually, local governments) and employees. The improved actuarial calculations the System uses today helps to ensure that member contributions and employer annual contributions are sufficient to keep the System adequately funded.
The Pension Commission also recommended a service retirement benefit be made available to workers who reached a certain age, based on average earnings and years of service. Though they didn’t use the term, their pension plan was very similar to the defined-benefit plan NYSLRS members have now.
Unlike the 401k-style defined-contribution plans common in the private sector today, a defined-benefit plan provides a guaranteed, lifetime benefit. With a defined-benefit plan, you don’t have to worry about your money running out during retirement, and your employer has an excellent tool for recruiting and retaining workers.
In 1938, New York voters approved several amendments to the State Constitution, including Article 5, Section 7, which guarantees that a public pension benefit cannot be “diminished or impaired.” This constitutional language protects the interests of the Fund and its members and beneficiaries, ensuring that the money the Fund holds will be there to pay the pensions for all current and future retirees. The courts have upheld this constitutional provision to protect the Fund several times over the years.
For NYSLRS members and retirees, that means the retirement benefits you were promised when you started your public service career cannot be reduced or taken away.
Sound investments are crucial to the health of the Fund, but in some cases changes in the law were needed to give Fund managers the flexibility to make the best investments. In 1961, the Fund was allowed to invest in the stock market, opening up the door for growth opportunities. Roughly half of the Fund’s assets are currently invested in stocks.
In 2005, the Legislature expanded the types of investments the Fund could make, allowing the Fund to increase investments in real estate, international stocks and other sectors that had been providing high returns.
Today, under Comptroller DiNapoli’s leadership, the Fund’s investment returns cover the majority of the cost of retirement benefits. After suffering a drop in value at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the Fund had its best year in history, with estimated investment returns of 33.55 percent for fiscal year 2021.
NYSLRS is well-positioned to face the challenges of the future and provide retirement security for more than 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries.
Retroactive payments are lump sum payments you receive from your employer. These payments can be from new union contracts, arbitration awards or legal settlements that took place while you were on your employer’s payroll.
If you receive a retroactive payment from your employer, it could affect your pension benefit calculation.
How Retroactive Payments Can Affect Your Benefit
Your final average earnings (FAE) are a major factor in your pension benefit calculation. It’s the average of your three (five for Tier 6 members) highest consecutive years of earnings. For most people, their highest years of earnings come at the end of their careers.
Retroactive payments are applied to the pay periods when they were earned, not when they were paid. So, retroactive payments can increase your FAE, and therefore your pension benefit, as long as the time period in which you earned that money is part of the time period your FAE is based on.
Your employer should let us know if you receive a retroactive payment before or after you retire. If you are a State employee who receives a retroactive payment after you retire, we will recalculate your pension automatically; you do not need to notify us. You will receive correspondence from us explaining any change in your pension benefit.
If you receive a retroactive payment from a non-State employer after your pension calculation is finalized, send a letter to our Recalculation Unit in the Benefit Calculations & Disbursement Services Bureau. Please include a copy of your check stub and any correspondence you received from your employer related to the payment. Mail it to:
Attn: BCDS – Recalculation Unit
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001.
You can also email and upload this information to the Retirement System through our secure contact form.
Planning on taking out a NYSLRS loan? Applying online offers speed and convenience.
NYSLRS loan eligibility is based on your tier, but generally, you’ll need to be on the payroll of a participating employer, have at least one 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. (Note: retirees are not eligible for NYSLRS loans.)
Retirement Online is the fastest way to apply for a NYSLRS loan. It’s also an easy way to check your current loan balance, the amount you are eligible to borrow and more.
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.
A service charge of $45 will be deducted from your loan check when it is issued. The current interest rate is 5.8 percent. The interest rate will remain fixed for the term of your loan.
NYSLRS loans are exempt from New York State and local income taxes. But the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 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 either take multiple loans or refinance your 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 NYSLRS 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 pay more 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 are having trouble making payments because of a furlough or authorized leave of absence, you can find important information in our blog post, Managing Your NYSLRS Loan Payment.
Retiring With an Outstanding NYSLRS Loan
If you retire with an outstanding loan, your pension will be reduced. You will also need to report at least a portion of the loan balance as ordinary income (subject to federal income tax) to the IRS. If you retire before age 59½, the IRS may charge an additional 10 percent penalty. If you are nearing retirement, be sure to check your loan balance. If you are not on track to repay your loan before you retire, you can increase your loan payments, make additional lump sum payments or both.
Note: Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members may repay their loan after retiring, but they must pay the full amount (that is, the amount that was due on their retirement date) in a single lump-sum payment.
For more information about NYSLRS loans, visit our Loans page. If you need help with the Retirement Online loan application, click “Help” at the top of your account page. Then click next to ‘Requesting a Loan’ and select the step-by-step 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.