Tag Archives: retirement planning

Retirement Planning: Know Your Membership Milestones

Even if your retirement is years in the future, you should be aware of certain membership milestones that may help you narrow down when to retire.

There are two types of membership milestones: ones pertaining to age and ones pertaining to service credit. Since most NYSLRS members reach service credit milestones first, we’ll start with them.

Service Credit Milestones

Vesting is a key retirement milestone. Once you become vested, you will be eligible for a NYSLRS pension even if you leave public employment before retirement. Members in Tiers 1-4 with at least five years of credited service are vested. (Most members in these tiers have already reached this milestone.) Tier 5 and 6 members must have ten years of credited service to be vested.

membership milestones - service credit

After reaching 20 years of service, most members will be eligible to have a higher percentage of their final average earnings included in their pension benefit. How that benefit is calculated depends on your retirement plan and tier. You can find more information in your retirement plan booklet.

Members in some special plans can retire with 20 years of service, regardless of their age. Other special plans allow for retirement after 25 years, regardless of age.

At 30 years of service, Tier 2-4 members who are at least 55 years old can retire without a pension reduction.

Age Milestones

Once you reach your full retirement age, you can retire without a pension reduction. For Tiers 2-5, the full retirement age is 62. The full retirement age for Tier 6 members is 63.

membership milestones - age

Members in regular retirement plans can retire as early as age 55, but they may face a pension reduction if they retire before their full retirement age. The closer you are to your full retirement age at retirement, the less the reduction will be.

If you would like to see what your pension would be at different ages, use Retirement Online’s pension benefit estimator.

More About NYSLRS Membership Milestones

For more information about NYSLRS milestones, please see:

The 3-Legged Stool: An Approach to Retirement Confidence

Most American workers believe they will have enough money to live comfortably after they retire, but do you share their retirement confidence?

As a NYSLRS member with a defined benefit pension plan, you have reason to be optimistic about retirement. But there is more to a financially secure retirement than having a pension. Think of retirement security as a three-legged stool, with three parts working together to provide financial stability when your working days are over. Understanding each of these sources of income will help you better plan for your future and boost your retirement confidence.

retirement confidence

Leg 1: Your NYSLRS Pension

At retirement, vested NYSLRS members are eligible for a pension based on their final average earnings and the number of years they’ve worked in public service. Your pension is a lifetime benefit, which means you’ll receive a monthly payment for the rest of your life, no matter how long you live. Unlike workers who rely on a 401(k)-style retirement plan, you won’t have to worry about your money running out.

Most members can use Retirement Online to estimate how much their pension will be. But if you’re a long way from retirement, it may be better to think in terms of earnings replacement. Financial advisers estimate you’ll need to replace 70 to 80 percent of your income to retire with financial confidence. Your pension can help get you there. For example, if you retire with 30 years of service, your NYSLRS pension could replace more than half of your earnings. (Replacement percentages vary among retirement plans. You can find out more in your retirement plan booklet.)

Leg 2: Social Security

Less than half of Americans believe Social Security will be there for them when they retire, according to a recent poll, and younger workers are even more pessimistic about Social Security’s future. While there’s no denying that Social Security faces challenges, things aren’t as bleak as some people think.

Social Security trustees estimate that Social Security reserves will be depleted by 2035 and they will only be able to pay about 76 percent of scheduled retirement benefits. But consider this: Social Security now replaces about 36 percent of the wages of a typical worker who retires at full retirement age. In the future, even if it only replaces 25 to 30 percent of pre-retirement earnings, it would still be a significant source of retirement income.

But these are worse case scenarios. The truth is that lawmakers have many policy options that could reduce or eliminate the long-term financing shortfalls in Social Security. It seems likely those options will be explored.

Leg 3: Retirement Savings

Having a secure, lifetime pension will be a substantial financial asset, but it’s still important to save money for retirement. A retirement nest egg can help in case of an emergency, act as a hedge against inflation and boost your retirement confidence.

Saving is the retirement factor you have the most control over. You decide when to start, how much to save and how your money will be invested. The key is to start saving early, so your money has time to grow, even if you can only afford to save a small amount in the beginning.

With the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan, you can start out by saving as little as $10 per pay period. That money would be automatically deducted from your paycheck, so you won’t even have to think about it. The money is tax-deferred, which means you don’t pay income taxes on your Plan account contributions or earnings until you begin to take payments from your account. This may lower your taxable income now and in retirement. The Deferred Compensation plan is not affiliated with NYSLRS, but New York State employees and some municipal employees can participate. If you’re a municipal employee, ask your employer if you’re eligible for the Deferred Compensation Plan or another retirement savings plan.

Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning

Information is the key to being fully prepared for your retirement years. The single most important thing you can do to achieve this goal is to know what NYSLRS retirement plan you’re in. Once you know that, the next thing you must do is understand the benefits your plan provides.

Your retirement plan booklet covers things like how long you’ll need to work in order to receive a pension, how your pension amount is determined, and what kind of death and disability benefits may be available to you. You can find a copy of your plan booklet on our website’s Publications page.

But here’s the challenge: NYSLRS manages 335 retirement plan combinations, which are described in 51 plan booklets. How do you figure out which is yours? The information below should help.

Retirement plan booklet infographic

Two Key Questions

To get started, you need to answer two questions.

Question One: Which retirement system are you in? NYSLRS is made up of two different systems:

  • The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), which is for public employees in non-teaching positions. It also includes some law enforcement personnel, such as correction officers, sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies.
  • The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS), which is for paid firefighters and police officers, including SUNY police, State Park police, Encon officers and State Forest Rangers.

Question Two: Which tier are you in? There are six tiers in ERS and five tiers in PFRS. Your tier, based on when you joined NYSLRS, determines such things as when you become eligible for benefits and how much you contribute. You can find your tier by checking your Account Information in Retirement Online or by checking the NYSLRS website.

For many members, knowing your retirement system and tier are enough. But for other members, especially those in law enforcement, it may help to have your retirement plan number as well. The plan number indicates the section of Retirement and Social Security Law the plan is based on. For example, Plan A15 indicates that you are covered by Article 15. You can find your plan number in the Account Information section of Retirement Online.

Roughly three-quarters of all ERS members are covered by Article 15; they just need to know their tier to find the correct booklet.

State policeSUNY policeState Encon OfficersState Park Police and Forest Rangers each have their own plan booklet, which can be found in the PFRS section of the Publications page. That’s also where you’ll find the Special 20- and 25-Year Plans, which cover officers in most municipal police departments. (Members in these special plans should see 384, 384-d or 384-e listed in Retirement Online.)

If you are still unsure which retirement plan booklet covers your benefits, you can send us an email using our secure contact form, or you can ask your employer.

Take the Time to Understand Your Retirement Plan

It cannot be stated enough how important it is to read your plan publication to learn all you can about your benefits. It is the key to solid retirement planning. Remember, no one has a more vested stake in your retirement than you do.

What Happens After You File for Retirement

The day has finally come — you filed for retirement. You submitted your retirement application through Retirement Online (or mailed a paper retirement application) and now you’re looking forward to your first pension payment. Here’s what to expect next.

Submit Any Additional Paperwork

After you file for retirement, we will send you and your employer an acknowledgement letter, which will list your retirement date. We may reach out to you for additional information to complete the retirement process — what option you selected, what federal tax to withhold, and your banking information for electronic payments.

file for retirement

Fortunately, if you used Retirement Online, you were able to select your payment option, provide tax withholding information, and enroll in our Direct Deposit Program when you completed the online application.

If you mailed a paper application and did not include this information, we’ll send you the necessary forms to fill out and send back to us. The forms are also available on our website if you want to print your own:

  • W-4P form: If you don’t submit a W-4P, we’ll withhold federal taxes based on the status “married with three dependents.” You can change your withholding at any time.
  • Direct Deposit Enrollment form: We encourage you to sign up for direct deposit, so you’ll have safe and reliable access to your pension payments on the last business day of each month. Paper checks are mailed on the second to last business day of each month and may take longer to receive.
  • Option Election form: If you haven’t received a pension estimate from our office in the past 18 months, you don’t need to include your pension payment option election when you file a paper application — you can wait until after you review an estimate to choose an option. We’ll send you an estimate, along with an option election form, after we receive your retirement application.

Receive Your First Payment

Once NYSLRS receives your retirement application, we will determine your initial pension benefit amount based on the earnings and service information we have on file at the time of your retirement.

Most NYSLRS retirees get their first pension payment at the end of the month following the month they retire. Please note: we cannot send your first payment until we have proof of your date of birth. A copy of your New York driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers are acceptable proofs. If you didn’t have proof of date of birth available when you submitted your retirement application, you can email us a copy by attaching it to our secure contact form or upload it using Retirement Online.

Possible Adjustments to Your Pension

If we receive additional payroll information from your employer, such as eligible lump sum payments, a retroactive pay increase or lagged regular earnings, we may need to adjust your pension payment.

Because of the many variables that are often involved in verifying service and salary details with your former employer, finalizing your retirement benefit amount can take some time. The time this takes depends on the complexity of your circumstances. For example, if you worked for multiple public employers, it may take longer to pull together all your earnings information. Also, if you are transferring service from another retirement system, filing a Domestic Relations Order or are seeking to purchase past service credit, you should expect a delay in receiving a finalized pension amount.

Once we have all the information we need, we’ll recalculate your pension amount. In most cases, your initial payments will be very close to the final benefit amount, but if your payment increases, you will receive a retroactive payment for the amount you are owed back to your date of retirement (the difference between your initial payments and your final retirement benefit amount).

What to Consider When Choosing Your Retirement Date

Before you pin down a retirement date, there are several factors you should consider.

Your Retirement Date

NYSLRS has made it a lot easier for you to determine the best time to retire. Most members can now use our online pension calculator to estimate what their benefit would be at different retirement dates and ages. Just sign in to your Retirement Online account and click the “Estimate my Pension” button to get started.

choosing your retirement date

Your Health

Your current health, and your long-term health prospects, should be a factor in selecting your retirement date. If your health is poor, you may want to consider retiring earlier to give yourself more time to enjoy retirement. On the other hand, if you anticipate significant out-of-pocket health costs, working longer might give you more time to save for those costs.

If your health is good, your retirement may last longer than average. In most cases, staying on the job a little longer will increase your NYSLRS pension and provide an opportunity to increase your savings.

Your Savings

NYSLRS has always encouraged its members to save for retirement as a supplement to their NYSLRS pension and Social Security. Retirement savings are a hedge against inflation, can help in an emergency and allow you to do the things you want to do during retirement.

Having retirement savings gives you more flexibility, and if you have enough saved, that may offset any penalty if you decide to retire early. On the other hand, if you have no savings or are short of what you’d like to have, working a little longer offers a chance to save more.

State employees and some municipal employees can take advantage of the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you don’t work for New York State, check with your employer to see if you are eligible. If you are not eligible, your employer may be able to direct you to an alternative retirement savings program. (The Deferred Compensation Plan is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)

In 2020, you can save up to $19,500 per year in a Deferred Compensation account, under Internal Revenue Service rules. Starting in the year you turn 50, you can save an additional catch-up amount. The age 50-plus catch-up amount for 2020 is $6,500, for a total limit of $26,000.

Your Current Job

The type of work you do is an important factor in determining when to retire. A physically demanding job can get even harder as you age, but if you’re working in an office, that’s generally not the case.

But there are other things to consider about your current job. Some members want to retire as soon as they’re eligible to go, but if your job gives you satisfaction and a sense of purpose, are you ready to walk away from it? Do you look forward to social interactions with your coworkers? Will you miss your job more than you enjoy being retired?

Your Plans for Retirement

Is retirement the end of something or the beginning of something new? Answering that question could go a long way to determining your ideal retirement date. If you have dreams of starting your own business or going mountain climbing in Spain, you may not want to delay retirement.

But if you don’t have a plan to fill the long hours of retirement, you risk becoming bored or depressed. For some, that risk is a reason to keep working. But whether you decide to retire earlier or later, having a plan for retirement can help make it a more satisfying experience.

Retirement Age and Your NYSLRS Pension

For some NYSLRS members, your retirement age matters when it comes to receiving your NYSLRS retirement benefits.

Your pension will be based largely on your years of service and final average earnings, but your age at retirement is also a factor. How age plays into the equation depends on your tier and retirement plan.

Members in regular retirement plans can retire as early as age 55, but they may face significant pension reductions if they retire before their full retirement age. The full retirement age for members in most tiers is 62, and it’s 63 for Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 6 members and for Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) Tier 6 members who leave public employment before retirement age, but have enough service to receive a pension. If you joined NYSLRS on or after April 1, 2012, you are in Tier 6.

pension reductions based on retirement age

Benefit reductions are prorated by month. The closer you are to your full retirement age when you retire, the less the reduction will be. Here are some examples of how that would work.

  • ERS Tiers 2, 3 and 4, PFRS Tiers 2, 3 (Article 11), 5 and 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 16.5 percent.
  • ERS Tier 5: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 20.83 percent.
  • ERS Tier 6: If you retire at age 58 1/2, your pension will be permanently reduced by 29.5 percent.

Once you retire with a reduced benefit, the reduction is permanent — it does not end when you reach retirement age.

Retirement Age Exceptions

Tier 1 members can retire at 55 without a benefit reduction. Benefit reductions don’t apply to ERS Tier 2, 3 or 4 members if they retire with 30 years of service. Tier 5 Uniformed Court Officers and Peace Officers employed by the Unified Court System can also retire between 55 and 62 without penalty if they have 30 years of service.

More Information

Understanding how age affects your NYSLRS benefits is crucial to retirement planning. To learn more, please review your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page.

You can check your service credit total and estimate your pension using Retirement Online. Most members can use our online pension calculator to create an estimate based on the salary and service information NYSLRS has on file for them. You can enter different retirement dates to see how your choices would affect your potential benefit.

Tier 6 Benefits – A Closer Look

Tier 6 members (those who joined NYSLRS since April 1, 2012) are eligible for a lifetime pension benefit once they’ve earned 10 years of credited service. And that pension can replace a portion of your salary throughout your retirement.

Your NYSLRS pension will be based on your Final Average Earnings (FAE) and the number of years you work in public service. FAE is the average of the five highest-paid consecutive years. For most members, those higher-paid years come at the end of their careers. Since retirement is still some years in the future for most of you, we won’t focus on the dollar amount of your FAE today. But we can look at what percentage of that salary would be replaced by your pension if you continue in the system until retirement age.

For Tier 6 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), the benefit is 1.66 percent of your FAE for each year you work, up to 20 years. (Benefit calculations for members of the Police and Fire Retirement System vary based on plan.) At 20 years, the benefit equals 1.75 percent per year (for a total of 35 percent). After 20 years, the benefit grows to 2 percent per year.

Financial advisers say you will need to replace between 70 to 80 percent of your salary to maintain your lifestyle during retirement. Let’s see how we can get there.
Tier 6 Salary Replacement
NYSLRS Pension: Say you begin your career at age 30 and work until your full retirement age of 63. That’s 33 years of Service Credit. You’ll get 35 percent of your FAE for the first 20 years, plus 26 percent for the last 13 years, for a total benefit that would replace 61 percent of your salary. If you started at age 25, and continue till 63, you’d get 71 percent of your FAE. If you didn’t start till age 35, you’d still get 51 percent at 63.

Social Security: You also should factor in Social Security. According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security now replaces about 36 percent of the wages of a typical worker who retires at full retirement age. In the future, it’s estimated that Social Security might still replace between 25 and 30 percent of a typical worker’s pay.

Savings: Retirement savings can also replace a portion of your income. How much, of course, depends on how much you save. The key is to start saving early so your money has time to grow. New York State employees and some municipal employees can participate in the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you haven’t already looked into Deferred Compensation, you might consider doing so now.

Saving for Retirement. Is Now the Right Time?

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that dramatic change can happen quickly.

It’s clear that just about everyone’s life has been turned upside down during this pandemic. Many have been forced to rethink their plans, including plans for retirement.

In the midst of this upheaval, a clear trend has emerged: many people are spending less money, which may create an opportunity to start saving for retirement or increase your current savings.

Why Save for Retirement?

While retirees tend to spend less than they did while they were working, financial experts say you’ll still need 70 to 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your lifestyle during retirement.

NYSLRS members have the rare advantage of a well-funded, defined-benefit pension. As a NYSLRS member, once you’re vested, you’re entitled to a pension that, once you retire, will provide you with monthly payments for the rest of your life. Retirement savings can supplement your NYSLRS pension and Social Security, helping you reach that income-replacement goal.

Retirement savings can also be a hedge against inflation and a source of cash in an emergency. A healthy retirement account will give you more flexibility during retirement, helping ensure that you’ll be able to do the things you want to do. It can also provide peace of mind.

Saving for Retirement

Getting Started

For New York State employees and many other NYSLRS members, there’s an easy way to get started. If you work for a participating employer, you can join the New York State Deferred Compensation Plan. If you don’t work for New York State, check with your employer to see if you are eligible. If you are not eligible, your employer may be able to direct you to an alternative retirement savings program.

Once you sign up for Deferred Compensation, your contributions will automatically be deducted from your paycheck and deposited into your account. You can choose from a variety of investment packages or choose your own investment strategy. (The Deferred Compensation Plan is not affiliated with NYSLRS.)

Dig into the NYSLRS Summer Reading List

Looking for some summer reading? Why not check out these publications from NYSLRS? They’re light on colorful characters and exotic settings, but what they lack in plot intrigue, they make up for in important retirement information.

summer reading

1. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 3 and 4 Members (Articles 14 and 15)

More than 250,000 Tier 3 and 4 members of the Employee’s Retirement System (ERS) are covered by this plan. The publication explains some of the benefits and the services available to you, including a service retirement, a vested retirement, a disability retirement, death benefits and more. Read it now.

2. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 5 Members (Article 15)

If you joined ERS from January 1, 2010 through March 30, 2012, you are in Tier 5. This booklet describes benefits for Tier 5 members in regular retirement plans. Read it now.

3. Retirement Plan for ERS Tier 6 Members (Article 15)

More than 178,000 Tier 6 ERS members are covered by this Plan. The publication explains some of the benefits and the services available to you, including a service retirement, a vested retirement, a disability retirement, death benefits and more. Read it now.

4. Life Changes: A Guide for Retirees

Already retired? As a NYSLRS retiree, you know that you will receive a monthly retirement benefit for life. However there may be other benefits available to you, as well as services that we provide retirees. This guide will answer many of the questions you may have and explain your responsibilities as a retiree. Read it now.

5. What If I Work After Retirement?

In most cases, NYSLRS retirees under 65 can earn up to $35,000 per calendar year in a public-sector job, but there are no restrictions if you work for a private-sector employer. If you plan to work while collecting your pension, you should read this booklet. Read it now.

Other Plan Booklets

Not covered by the retirement plans above? Maybe you’re a police officer, a firefighter, a sheriff or a correctional officer. You can still find you plan booklet on our Publications page. They’re great reading any time of year. If you’re not sure which plan covers your benefits, you can ask your employer or Contact Us.

Too Much Free Time?

Could retirement bring you too much free time? When people think about retirement planning, they usually think about money. Will you have enough to maintain a comfortable lifestyle for a retirement that could last decades? But regardless of your finances, there is one thing you’re likely to have a lot more of after you retire: time. Figuring out how you’ll spend that time should also be part of your retirement planning process.

Free time after retirement

Counting the Hours

According to the U.S. Labor Department, the average American worker spends about nine hours a day at work. Add another hour a day commuting time, and that’s ten hours a day or 50 hours each week.

All those hours you spent working, and traveling to and from work, will instantly become free time. While that may sound great to many people, all that extra time can have downsides.

If not put to good use, that extra time can lead to boredom and even depression. What’s more, if you’re married and you and your spouse are both retired, you may find yourselves wondering how to spend that time together.

Make a Plan for Free Time

For many couples, having extra time together is a dream come true. However, some couples find themselves getting in each other’s way, and that can sometimes lead to problems.

But there are ways to cope. For example, finding activities outside the home, both together and separately, can help. As with most things, you’ll be better off if you recognize there may be a problem, discuss it with your spouse, and come up with a plan.

There are more thoughts on the subject, and some good advice, in this article: 10 Tips to Help Your Marriage Survive Retirement.