Tag Archives: retirement benefits

Cost-of-Living Adjustment Coming in September

Eligible NYSLRS retirees will see a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in their monthly pension payments beginning in late September 2021. For payment dates, check our pension payment calendar.

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.

cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) coming soon

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.

eligibility for cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)

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.

Power of Attorney

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.

father and son discuss power of attorney

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.

The NYSLRS POA Form

NYSLRS provides a Special Durable Power of Attorney form that is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements.

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.

How to Submit a POA Form

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

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.

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

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 $268.3 billion as of June 30, 2021. 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.

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.

NYSLRS retirees

Where in New York are NYSLRS Retirees?

NYSLRS retirees tend to stay in New York, where their pensions are exempt from State and local income taxes. In fact, 79 percent of NYSLRS 487,407 retirees and beneficiaries lived in the State as of March 31, 2020. And half of them lived in just ten of New York’s 62 counties.

So where in New York do these retirees call home? Well, there are a lot of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries on Long Island. Suffolk and Nassau counties are home to more than 61,000 recipients of NYSLRS retirement benefits, with annual pension payments exceeding $2 billion. But that shouldn’t be surprising. Suffolk and Nassau counties are the largest and third largest counties in the State outside of New York City by population. (The City, which has its own retirement systems for municipal employees, police and firefighters, had 23,700 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries.)

NYSLRS retirees

Erie County, which includes Buffalo, ranks number two among counties in the number of NYSLRS retirees, with more than 32,000. Albany County, home to the State capital, ranked fourth with close to 20,000. Monroe, Westchester, Onondaga, Saratoga, Oneida and Dutchess counties round out the top ten.

All told, NYSLRS retirees received $5.9 billion in retirement benefits in the top ten counties, and $10.8 billion statewide.

Hamilton County had the fewest NYSLRS benefit recipients. But in this sparsely populated county in the heart of the Adirondacks, those 499 retirees represent nearly 11 percent of the county population. During fiscal year 2019-2020, $10.8 million in NYSLRS retirement benefits was paid to Hamilton County residents.

Outside of New York, Florida remained the top choice for NYSLRS retirees, with more than 38,000 benefit recipients. North Carolina (9,413), New Jersey (7,893) and South Carolina (6,457) were also popular. There were 639 NYSLRS recipients living outside the United States as of March 31, 2020.

Retirement Online Makes Applying for Retirement Fast, Easy

You can file for a service retirement benefit using Retirement Online. This new feature makes applying for retirement faster and easier than ever before. If you don’t already have an account, sign up today.

applying for retirement

File for a Service Retirement Online

After signing in to your Retirement Online account, scroll down to the ‘My Account Summary.’ On the right, under the heading ‘I want to…,’ click the green “Apply for Retirement” button.

From there, you’ll go through a series of screens where you’ll be able to:

  • Choose a retirement date;
  • Get an estimate of your pension and the payment options available to you;
  • Select a payment option (many provide a continuing benefit for a beneficiary after you die);
  • Sign up for direct deposit; and
  • Attach required documents, such as proof of date of birth.

A big advantage of filing for Retirement Online is that you do not have to get anything notarized.

After you click the “Submit” button, it is important that you do not close your browser until you receive a confirmation message that states your retirement application has been successfully submitted.

This help guide offers step-by-step instructions.

Filing for Service Retirement by Mail

You can still print an Application for Service Retirement and pension payment option election form and mail them to NYSLRS. If you mail the application, we recommend “certified mail, return receipt requested.” When we receive the form, the postmark date will serve as the filing date.

If you use regular mail, the filing date is the date we receive it. However, if you were to die after your application is mailed, but before we receive it, a legible postmark will serve as a filing date. (If you mail it from a post office, you can ask for a hand cancellation, which may help ensure the postmark is legible.)

If you plan to mail your application, you may want to read our blog post, Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement.

For More Details, Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

Your service and disability retirement benefits and death benefits are based on your tier, plan, service credit, and other factors. For details about your available benefits, please read your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page, or you can call our Contact Center at 866-805-0990 if you have questions.

Your Contributions to NYSLRS

Most NYSLRS members contribute a percentage of their earnings to the Retirement System. Over time, those contributions, with interest, can add up to a tidy sum. But what happens to that money? Will you get your contributions back when you retire? The answer to that question is “no.” Let’s look at what happens to your NYSLRS contributions.

How NYSLRS Retirement Plans Work

NYSLRS plans are defined benefit pension plans. Once you’re vested, you’re entitled to a lifetime benefit that will be based on your years of service and final average earnings. The amount of your contributions does not determine the amount of your pension. (Use Retirement Online to estimate your pension.)

Your NYSLRS plan differs from defined contribution plans, such as a 401-k plan, which are essentially retirement savings plans. In those plans, a worker, their employer, or both contribute to an individual retirement account. The money is invested and hopefully accumulates investment returns over time. This type of plan does not provide a guaranteed lifetime benefit and there is the risk that the money will run out during the worker’s retirement years. Experts recommend that workers who have defined contribution plans contribute anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of their income to their plan. NYSLRS members, in contrast, contribute between 3 and 6 percent of their income, depending on their tier and retirement plan.

Where Your Contributions Go

When you retire, your contributions go into the New York State Common Retirement Fund. The Fund is the pool of money that is invested and used to pay retirement benefits for you and other NYSLRS members.

contributions

Your Contribution Balance

You can find your current contribution balance in Retirement Online. But if your contributions don’t determine your pension, what difference does it make what the balance is? For one thing, your contribution balance helps determine the amount you can borrow if you decide to take a loan from NYSLRS. Also, you may be able to withdraw your contributions, with interest, if you leave the public workforce before retirement age.

Withdrawing Your Contributions

You cannot withdraw your contributions while you are still working for a public employer in New York State. If you leave public employment with less than ten years of service, you can withdraw your contributions, plus interest. If you withdraw, you will not be eligible for a NYSLRS retirement benefit.

If you have more than ten years of service, you cannot withdraw, but you will be entitled to a pension when you reach retirement age. But remember, you will not receive this pension automatically; you must file a retirement application before you can receive any benefit.

The Police and Fire Retirement System

NYSLRS is actually two retirement systems: The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).

PFRS, which provides retirement benefits for police officers and paid firefighters, is the smaller of the two systems, with about 35,000 members. Roughly a third of PFRS members work for cities, while 20 percent work for New York State. The remainder work for towns, counties and villages.

There are five tiers in PFRS, reflecting when the members joined the system: Tiers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 (there is no Tier 4). Tier 2, which includes PFRS members who joined the Retirement System from July 31, 1973 through June 30, 2009, is the largest tier, accounting for almost 60 percent of membership. If you joined PFRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

The vast majority of PFRS members (98 percent) are in special retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years of creditable service. If you are in one of these plans, once you have the full amount of required service, you can retire at any age.

Some PFRS members are in regular retirement plans, which require a member to reach a certain age before they are eligible for a pension.

PFRS infographic

As a PFRS member, you’ll pass a series of important milestones throughout your career. Knowing and understanding these milestones will help you better plan for your financial future.

Service Credit

Service credit is a key in determining your eligibility for a pension and other benefits, including the amount of those benefits.

Under most 20- and 25-year plans, not all public employment is creditable. Usually, police and firefighting service can be counted as special-plan service. You may also be able to use military service to help you reach 20 or 25 years. If you have questions about the service that can be used to calculate your pension, please check your retirement plan booklet or contact us.

PFRS Plan Booklets

You can find details about your NYSLRS benefits in your retirement plan booklet.

For the majority of PFRS members, that’s the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans booklet. This booklet is for PFRS Tier 2, 3, 5 and 6 members covered by Sections 384, 384-d and 384-e of the State Retirement and Social Security Law.

If you are a PFRS member who works for New York State, your booklet is based on your specific job. There are separate booklets for state police, forest rangersregional state park policestate university police and EnCon police.

If you are not covered by one of the plan booklets listed above, you can find your booklet on our Publications page. If you’re not sure what retirement plan you’re in, you can find that information in the My Account Summary section of your Retirement Online account. You can also check your Member Annual Statement, ask your employer or email us using our secure contact form.

Filing for Retirement Benefits During the COVID-19 Emergency

The unfortunate reality of the COVID-19 emergency is that some NYSLRS members may become seriously ill and some may die from the disease. That is why it is vitally important that members understand how to apply for retirement benefits, if they need to take that step.

NYSLRS members who become seriously ill from COVID-19 may wish to file for a disability retirement benefit so their beneficiary may be eligible for a continuing pension, rather than a one-time in-service death benefit, if the member dies. 

These members, or their employer on their behalf, need to file the disability retirement application that is appropriate for them according to their retirement plan.

filing for disability retirement benefits during the COVID-19 emergency

Please visit our Disability Benefits page and select “Find Your Application” to help you find the right application. Additionally, the member,  or the member’s spouse, should file a pension payment option election form to identify a beneficiary to receive the continuing benefit. An option election form cannot be filed by the employer. A continuing benefit cannot be paid to a beneficiary unless we receive an option election form.

Applications and option election forms can be emailed directly to NYSLRS’ Disability Processing Unit. If the member dies after applying, the disability retirement application would be effective upon death. If the member recovers, he or she would be allowed to withdraw the disability retirement application. 

Eligible members may also file for a service retirement.  However, a service retirement cannot be canceled if your retirement date has passed. You can file a disability and a service retirement application at the same time. Service retirements can be filed electronically using Retirement Online.

Please call our Contact Center at 866-805-0990 if you have questions.

Your NYSLRS Pension is Secure

You probably have a lot on your mind right now, but one thing you don’t need to worry about is your NYSLRS pension. Despite the turmoil in the financial markets, your retirement benefits are secure.

“I want to assure the more than one million men and women who rely on the State pension fund for retirement security that we are well-positioned to weather the ongoing volatility,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “To our retirees, your pensions are safe and we will continue to pay your benefits as promised.”

The New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds and invests NYSLRS assets, has long been recognized as one of best managed and best funded public pension plans in the nation. The strength of the Fund puts NYSLRS in a good position as we navigate through the current economic turmoil.

The Fund’s professional managers take a conservative approach to investing and focus on sustained, long-term results. This approach allows the Fund to capitalize on investment opportunities in good times and cushions it against market ups and downs. In recent months, as they recognized increased volatility in the market, Fund managers began making adjustments to the Fund’s investment portfolio to prepare for an expected downturn in the economy. They are actively managing the Fund through these difficult times and are confident the markets will ultimately recover.