Tag Archives: New York State and Local Retirement System

Comptroller DiNapoli’s Fight Against Pension Fraud

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.

fighting pension fraud

Teamwork

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.

Recent Cases

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.

Covid-19

Update Regarding Retiree Earnings Limit During COVID-19 Crisis

retirees 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. 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.

For more information about post-retirement employment, please read What If I Work After Retirement.

A Century of Security and Stability

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.

NYSLRS History - key events contributing to the security and stability of the Retirement System and the Fund

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.

Constitutional Protection

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

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.

NYSLRS Loans Using Retirement Online

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.)

Use Retirement Online to apply for a NYSLRS loan

Getting Started

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.

­­If you don’t already have an account, go to the Sign In page and click “Sign Up” under the “Customer Sign In” button. (Need help with Retirement OnlineSee this post for handy tips.)

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.

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.

More Information

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.

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 (it’s between six and eight hours). If you don’t work full-time, your employer converts the number of hours you worked into the equivalent number of full-time days. Your employer reports that number to us, and your days worked are plugged into the formulas below.

Regardless of 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

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some NYSLRS members have been furloughed from their jobs, while others have had their hours cut. Unfortunately, these work reductions affect the amount of service credit earned because you only receive service credit when you are employed and receiving a paycheck.

If you’ve been furloughed or had your hours reduced, you can use the information above to help you estimate the impact on your total service credit.

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 to you every summer. For most members, your statement will show how much service credit you’ve earned for the past fiscal year (April 1, 2020 – March 31, 2021). It will also show your total service credit as of March 31, 2021. Make sure to look it over to see how much service credit you’ve earned over your career. For more information about service credit, read our booklet Service Credit for Tiers 2 through 6 (VO1854) or your own retirement plan publication.

NYSLRS and Public Employers: A Partnership That Works

When the Retirement System was created in 1921, it served a single employer: New York State. But that would quickly change as a series of new laws allowed local governments and other public employers to join the system.

In May 1922, Steuben County was the first county to join, and Newburgh became the first city the following month. In 1923, Onondaga was the first town and Avon was the first village to sign on. The Roosevelt Public Library on Long Island became the first library to join in 1924. In 1935, the system was opened to school districts and other public employers.

NYSLRS and Public Employers partnership

The NYSLRS Partnership

Today, close to 3,000 public employers participate in NYSLRS, and they employ about two-thirds of the system’s roughly half million active members. These employers’ active involvement has helped make NYSLRS one of the largest public retirement systems in America, serving 1.1 million members, retirees and beneficiaries.

This partnership includes a shared commitment to providing secure pension benefits to New York’s public employees. Participating employers make annual contributions to help fund the future benefits of their employees. Each year NYSLRS’ actuary calculates the contribution rates required to ensure that adequate assets are being accumulated to pay benefits. These contributions along with member contributions and our investments are what fund promised benefits. As a result, NYSLRS is one of the best-funded public retirement system in the country, with an estimated Fund value of $254.8 billion as of March 31, 2021.

How NYSLRS Benefits Public Employers

Being part of NYSLRS allows municipal employers, regardless of their size, to offer prospective workers an attractive benefits package, including a defined benefit pension. With a defined benefit pension, those employees can be assured of a lifetime benefit during their retirement years.

In a recent survey, a majority of public employees said pensions are an important recruiting and retention tool. Eighty-six percent cited retirement benefits as a major reason they stay in their jobs. Another survey indicated that the general public agrees that pensions, particularly for public safety employees, are a good way to recruit and retain public workers.

How NYSLRS Benefits Communities

The benefits provided by NYSLRS help ensure that local governments can attract qualified and committed people to perform essential public services. Our members are police officers, firefighters, forest rangers and nurses. They plow roads, monitor water supplies, drive school buses, inspect restaurants, process unemployment claims and provide other vital services.

What’s more, after they retire and begin collecting their pensions, most NYSLRS members remain in New York, where they continue to contribute to their communities. In 2019, spending by NYSLRS retirees generated more than $15 billion in economic activity statewide and helped create an estimated 77,900 jobs.

Financial Literacy and Retirement

April is Financial Literacy Month. But what is financial literacy? Basically, it’s the ability to understand and use financial skills to make wise decisions about your finances.

Financial literacy encompasses a variety of skills, but we’d like to focus on some basic skills that are relevant to planning for a successful retirement. Whether you’re just starting your career, planning on retiring soon or already retired, mastering these skills will help you and your future financial security.

financial literacy

Taking Stock of Your Finances

A good place to start building your financial literacy is by getting a handle on your current financial situation. Ask yourself some basic questions:

  • How much do you earn and spend each month?  
  • How much debt do you have?
  • Do you have any major expenses on the horizon?

If you know where you stand, you’ll be in a better position to plan for the future.

If you’re planning for retirement, you can estimate your pension by using the benefit calculator in Retirement Online. (You can also check your future Social Security benefit online.)

Creating a Budget

This financial planning tool helps you track your income and expenses. Having a budget can help you make better financial decisions, avoid debt, prepare for emergencies and save money.

If you don’t know how to get started, here are some tips on creating a budget. If you plan to retire soon, you can use our worksheet to create a post-retirement budget.  

Understanding Interest Rates

Interest is great if you’re on the receiving end, but not so great if you are paying it. Unfortunately, consumers can pay very high interest rates on credit. The average interest rate on a new credit card account is nearly 18 percent, and many consumers pay 20 percent or more on their credit cards.

If you have credit card debt, and only pay the minimum each month, you’ll make little progress on reducing the balance while the interest you pay every month adds up. For example, if you owed $1,000 on a credit card with an 18 percent interest rate, and made payments of $40 a month, it would take you 71 months to pay off and your total interest cost would be nearly $500. On the other hand, if you paid $100 a month, it would be paid off in half the time and your total interest would be about $160.

Managing Debt

Debt is not necessarily bad, but it can easily derail your financial plans if you’re not careful. Credit cards pose a particular risk because they are so easy to use, but you can learn strategies to avoid credit card debt.

Saving

As a NYSLRS member, you’ll receive a lifetime pension that will be based on your years of service and earnings. But your personal retirement savings can be an important supplement to your pension and Social Security. It’s never too early or too late to start saving for retirement. To learn more building your savings, read our recent blog post Saving for Retirement. Is Now the Right Time?

Follow our blog for future posts on retirement savings and related topics.

How Your Tier 6 Contribution Rate Can Change

Most NYSLRS members contribute a percentage of their earnings to help fund pension benefits. For Tier 6 members (those who joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012), that percentage, or contribution rate, can vary from year to year.

Tier 6 contribution rate

When Tier 6 Contribution Rates are Determined

A Tier 6 member’s contribution rate is calculated annually. New rates become effective each year on April 1, the beginning of the State’s fiscal year. Once your 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 rate. The minimum rate is 3 percent of your earnings, and the maximum is 6 percent.

During your 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 earlier. If you are a Tier 6 member with three or more years of membership in NYSLRS, this video will help explain how your contribution rate is determined:

See our Member Contributions page for more information.

Learn More

The amount you contribute to the Retirement System will not affect the amount of your pension. Your NYSLRS pension is a lifetime benefit based on your retirement plan, years of service and final average earnings. 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.

The Common Retirement Fund: 100 Years of Strength and Security

In 1921, NYSLRS’ pension fund held several million dollars and provided benefits to just a few dozen State employees. Today, the Common Retirement Fund (Fund) provides more than a billion dollars per month to hundreds of thousands of retirees and beneficiaries.

The System’s founders showed foresight in establishing the framework for a sustainable retirement system capable of providing long-term pension security for its members and retirees. Today, one hundred years later, we are considered one of the strongest public pension funds in the country, thanks in large part to the stewardship of Comptroller DiNapoli, trustee of the Common Retirement Fund and administrator of NYSLRS for the past 14 years.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s diligent efforts to maintain the financial well-being of the Fund, the fact that NYSLRS’ participating employers contribute their share into the Fund, and New York’s constitutional requirement that lifetime pension benefits be guaranteed to all NYSLRS retirees — all these elements combine to ensure that NYSLRS retirees will enjoy secure benefits for generations to come.

Common Retirement Fund - A Snapshot of Growth

Investments

The Common Retirement Fund has been widely recognized as one the best-funded and best-managed public pension fund’s in the nation. (In June 2020, the Pew Charitable Trusts ranked NYSLRS as the second-best-funded public retirement system in the nation, based on 2018 data.) The cornerstone of the Fund’s reputation is its sound investment policies. At the direction of Comptroller DiNapoli, Fund managers use a long-term investment strategy designed to take advantage of growth opportunities during good economic times, while helping the Fund weather economic downturns.

The Comptroller seeks the input of a wide range of internal and external advisors, consultants and legal counsel who help to determine the best investment choices and allocation of assets for the Fund. These advisors provide independent advice and oversight of all investment decisions, serve as part of the chain of approval on all investment decisions before they reach the Comptroller for final approval and participate on advisory committees that meet periodically throughout the year.

Fund assets are invested in a diversified portfolio. About 55 percent of the assets are invested in publicly traded stocks. Other investments include bonds, mortgages, real estate and private equity.

The Fund is also strengthened by a forward-looking approach to addressing climate change-related investment risks and capitalizing on the opportunities created by the transition to a low-carbon economy. Comptroller DiNapoli recognizes that climate change poses an enormous threat to the global economy and to the Fund’s investment portfolio. Recently, he announced plans to transition the Fund’s portfolio to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This process will include a review of investments in energy companies and, where consistent with his fiduciary responsibility to maintain the long-term financial health of the Fund for NYSLRS members, divestment of companies that don’t meet minimum standards. This policy will help ensure that the Fund adapts to a changing global economy and maintains its growth in coming decades.

The Common Retirement Fund’s Impact on New York Businesses

The Common Retirement Fund’s In-State Private Equity Program invests in new and expanding New York companies and makes capital available to qualifying small businesses. As of March 31, 2020, the Fund’s private equity portfolio included investments in over 330 New York businesses with a total value of $1.9 billion. These investments boost the State’s economy while at the same time generating significant returns for the Fund.

Looking Forward

As the Common Retirement Fund’s assets have grown over the years, so have its obligations. As of March 31, 2020, there were 487,407 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries, who were paid $13.4 billion in benefits over the previous year. That’s up from 67,689 retirees and beneficiaries, who were paid $194 million in benefits in 1971. Roughly a third of NYSLRS members are expected to retire over the coming decade.

Comptroller DiNapoli’s focus on continuing the Fund’s record of strong growth ensures that the Retirement System will be ready to meet the challenges of the future. The New York State Common Retirement Fund’s estimated overall investment return was 33.55 percent for the State fiscal year that ended March 31, 2021, reflecting the financial markets’ dramatic rebound from lows reached during the COVID-19 pandemic. The return on investments increased the Fund’s value to an estimated $254.8 billion. More than 1.1 million NYSLRS members, retirees and beneficiaries can continue to rely on the Retirement System for their retirement security.