September/October 2013
September 16, 2013

TRS: Switching pension systems? What you need to know

Source: NYSUT United

Paul Farfaglia, Tim Southerton, Karen Magee and David Keefe.Q: I have been an occupational therapist at a public school for eight years. I applied for membership in the state Teachers' Retirement System and have been a member of that system since I started working. This year, the district informed me that I can't belong to TRS and must transfer to the New York State and Local Employees' Retirement System (ERS). Does this have to happen? And, if so, what happens to my service credit and benefits?

A: Unfortunately, it sounds like your district reported you incorrectly and you have an erroneous membership in the NYSTRS. Article 11, section 503 of the education law defines, among other things, the requirements for membership in the NYSTRS. Section 501(4) further defines the term "teacher" and more specifically states, "In all cases of doubt, the retirement board shall determine whether any person is a teacher as defined in the article." You can find more information about membership at the retirement system website, www.nystrs.org.

Look under the "employers" tab for information on how to determine membership. The good news is that your position is reportable to the state ERS and your credit can be maintained and moved to that system. First, complete an ERS application for membership — usually done with the employer since they must verify the service rendered to activate the membership. For further guidance, contact the state TRS at 800-348-7298, ext. 6250; and the state ERS at 866-805-0990.

Q: I am a TRS member and was a K-6 physical education teacher for 12 years. I now work full-time for a municipality, a town I worked in part time for several years. I'm already an ERS member and it's doubtful I will return to public education. Should I transfer my TRS time to the ERS?

A: You have a few options and should do some research before you move forward. You're vested with the TRS and would qualify for a pension when retirement-eligible. Contact both systems to find out what your service credit is in each. If you decide to transfer your time to ERS, have them evaluate your years of TRS service. Since the systems run on different calendars, ERS must evaluate how your TRS service would be credited in their system when calendar years overlap.

Remember, you can't accrue more than one year of service credit in a given year in any New York state retirement system. Also, are there other benefits for transferring to ERS, such as a tier change or ending member contributions? Get the details before making your decision.

DID YOU KNOW?

The New York State Teachers' Retirement System has been recognized as one of the best-funded pension plans in the nation. In 2011, the National Institute on Retirement Security highlighted NYSTRS as one of a few plans that remained strong during the peak of the Great Recession.