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.
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.
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.
Tier 3 and 4 members in the Article 15 retirement plan qualify for retirement benefits after they’ve earned five years of credited service. Once you’re vested, you have a right to a NYSLRS retirement benefit — even if you leave public employment. Though your pension is guaranteed, the amount of your pension depends on several factors, including when you retire. Here is some information that can help you determine the right time to retire.
Three Reasons to Keep Working
Tier 3 and 4 members can claim their benefits as early as age 55, but they’ll face a significant penalty for early retirement – up to a 27 percent reduction in their pension. Early retirement reductions are prorated by month, so the penalty is reduced as you get closer to full retirement age. At 62, you can retire with full benefits. (Tier 3 and 4 Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members who are in the Article 15 retirement plan and can retire between the ages of 55 and 62 without penalty once they have 30 years of service credit.)
Your final average earnings (FAE) are a significant factor in the calculation of your pension benefit. Since working longer usually means a higher FAE, continued public employment can increase your pension.
The other part of your retirement calculation is your service credit. More service credit can earn you a larger pension benefit, and, after 20 years, it also gets you a better pension formula. For Tier 3 and 4 members, if you retire with less than 20 years of service, the formula is FAE × 1.66% × years of service. Between 20 and 30 years, the formula becomes FAE × 2.00% × years of service. After 30 years of service, your pension benefit continues to increase at a rate of 1.5 percent of FAE for each year of service.
If You’re Not Working, Here’s Something to Consider
Everyone’s situation is unique. For example, if you’re vested and no longer work for a public employer, and you don’t think you will again, taking your pension at 55 might make sense. When you do the math, full benefits at age 62 will take 19 years to match the money you’d have received retiring at age 55 — even with the reduction.
An Online Tool to Help You Make Your Decision
Most members can use Retirement Online to estimate their pensions.
A Retirement Online estimate is based on the most up-to-date information we have on file for you. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit, which could help you determine the right time to retire. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.
If you are unable to use our online pension calculator, please contact us to request a pension estimate.
This post has focused on Tier 3 and 4 members. To see how retirement age affects members in other tiers, visit our About Benefit Reductions page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fortunately, it is now easier than ever to find out. Most NYSLRS members can create their own pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online.
A Retirement Online estimate is based on the most up-to-date account information we have on file for you. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.
How to Create Your Pension Estimate
Before you can use the new pension calculator, you will need a Retirement Online account. Once you sign in, go to the My Account Summary section of your account homepage and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button.
You can enter an estimated retirement date (or retirement age), your current salary and expected annual salary increases. You can also include any service credit you plan to purchase and anticipated lump sum payment for unused vacation. If you add the birthdate for a beneficiary, you’ll also see the estimated monthly payment you would receive if you were to choose a payment option that provides a benefit for a survivor.
Any pension estimate you generate with the online calculator would be an approximation of your potential benefit; it is not a guarantee that you’ll receive a certain amount when you retire.
Alternative Ways to Get an Estimate
While more than 90 percent of NYSLRS members (most Tier 3 through 6 members) can use the new benefit calculator, some members should have NYSLRS generate their benefit estimate.
For example, if you recently transferred your membership to NYSLRS or are covered under certain special plans, it would be better if NYSLRS created an estimate for you. The system will notify you if your estimate cannot be completed using Retirement Online’s estimate tool. Please contact us to request a pension estimate if you receive this notification. Also, if you are in Tiers 1 through 4, you can still use the Quick Calculator on the NYSLRS website. The Quick Calculator generates estimates based on information you provide.
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: those pertaining to age and those 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.