Maintaining Your Retirement Benefits

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Protecting your retirement benefits if you are laid off

When you are dealing with the stress of a layoff, it may seem like low priority to be thinking about your retirement benefits. But because your retirement benefits are linked to your employment status, it is important to have clear, specific guidance on how unemployment, re-employment or a change in careers could affect your benefits at retirement.

You will want to know if you are vested in a pension plan, if your pension or retirement investment accounts are portable or accessible and, if so, what are the penalties or consequences for any change you might make. Your status in a particular pension tier and your ability to re-enter a pension system after a prolonged absence are among the variables that could be affected by unemployment or a change in careers. Your local union representative can help you connect with experts in each retirement system.

NYSUT members belong to a variety of retirement systems.

New York State Teachers' Retirement System: Full-time public school teachers, teaching assistants, guidance counselors and administrators. Also part-time teachers who opt to join the retirement system and teachers at participating charter schools.

New York State and Local Employees' Retirement System: School-Related Professionals, non-teaching public school employees.

Teachers' Retirement System of the City of New York or the New York City Board of Education Retirement System: Educators employed by the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York, or participating city charter schools.

Optional Retirement Plan: Teachers employed by a New York state community college, the City University of New York or the State University of New York may elect membership in TRS, ERS or an ORP.


If you participate in the New York State Teachers' Retirement System

How can I retain my membership in the New York State Teachers' Retirement System during the time I am laid off?

If you have five or more years of service in NYSTRS, you are vested in the system. New employees hired after Jan. 1, 2010, however, must have 10 years of service before they are vested, according to a new Tier 5 pension provision signed into law in 2009.

The membership of any person credited with fewer than five years of service will automatically terminate when they do not receive the equivalent of 20 or more full-time days of credit in a school year for seven consecutive school years.

How can I accrue vested rights if I am laid off?

If you have less than five years of service, you can continue to work toward vested rights if you work as a part-time employee (e.g., substitute teacher or part-time teaching assistant). The equivalent of 20 full-time days equals one month of credit, and nine months of credit equals a full year for NYSTRS.

What happens if I have worked for different school districts?

All service would be counted, but only in the respective retirement systems that cover the position. For example, a business teacher could substitute-teach, which would be reported to NYSTRS, but if he or she filled in as a principal's secretary or a custodian, that service could only be reported to the Employees' Retirement System. The end result would mean it would take longer for the person to accrue service credit toward vesting. All of your service in New York state public schools counts, regardless of how many different employers you have had, provided the appropriate transfer guidelines are followed. If an employer mishandles your records or does not submit them to the retirement system, you will not receive credit. If you have concerns, contact your retirement system immediately. You may have to contact the employer as well.

What happens if I withdraw my benefits from the system?

NYSUT strongly recommends that you NOT withdraw. If you do, you forfeit all benefits. If you are re-employed after such a withdrawal, you may rejoin the system. Current guidelines allow you to apply for reinstatement in your plan and to pay for prior service credit. You will be enrolled in the plan in effect at the time of such new employment and would need to apply and pay for a re-instatement of your former membership to effect a change in your date of membership. Tier 1 and 2 members may withdraw from membership at any time. You would need to submit a signed statement indicating you understand the consequences of withdrawing your membership and terminating your rights to any future benefit. Tier 3 and Tier 4 members may withdraw only if they have less than 10 years of service credit.

Final Note: Keep Your Paperwork

Be sure to keep all pertinent records, including pay stubs, W-2 forms, income tax filings and NYSTRS or NYSLERS annual statements and correspondence. For more information, contact:

New York State Teachers' Retirement System (NYSTRS)
10 Corporate Woods Drive
Albany, NY 12211-2395
518-447-2900
800-348-7298
www.nystrs.org

 


If you participate in the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), also known as Employees Retirement System (ERS)

If you have five or more years of service credit in this system, including a minimum of five years as a retirement system member, you are vested in the system. New employees hired after Jan. 1, 2010, however, must have 10 years of service before they are vested, according to a new Tier 5 pension provision signed into law in 2009. The membership of any person credited with less than five years of service credit will terminate if they do not return to covered employment within a seven-year period.

How can I accrue vested rights if I am laid off?

If you have less than five years of service, you can accrue vested rights if you work as a part-time employee (e.g., teacher aides and bus drivers). For NYSLERS a full year is based on 180 days. More information on credits for part-time service and other topics can be obtained from each retirement system's Web site: www.nystrs.org or www.osc.state.ny.us/retire/

What happens if I have worked for different school districts?

It's true that all service would be counted, but only in the respective retirement systems that cover the individual positions. For example, a business teacher could substitute-teach, which would be reported to NYSTRS, but if he or she filled in as a principal's secretary or a custodian, that service could only be reported to ERS. The end result would mean it would take longer for the person to accrue service credit toward vesting. All of your service in New York state public schools counts, regardless of how many different employers you have had, provided the appropriate transfer guidelines are followed. If an employer mishandles your records or does not submit them to the retirement system, you will not receive credit. Contact your retirement system immediately. You may have to contact the employer as well.

What happens if I withdraw my benefits from the system?

NYSUT strongly recommends that you NOT withdraw your benefits. If you do, you forfeit all benefits.

If you are re-employed subsequent to withdrawal, you may rejoin the system. You will be enrolled in the plan in effect at the time of such new employment and would need to apply and pay for a re-instatement of your former membership to effect a change in your date of membership. Tier I and II members may withdraw from membership at any time. You would need to submit a signed statement indicating you understand the consequences of withdrawing your membership and terminating your rights to any future benefit. Tier 3 and Tier 4 members may withdraw only if they have less than 10 years of service credit.

School-Related Professionals and other members of the New York State and Local Employees' Retirement System (ERS) with questions about their retirement plans can visit one of 16 field offices located throughout the state.

Hours in Albany are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. All other locations are open from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. on the days indicated. These services are offered by appointment only. You need to schedule an appointment by calling toll-free 866-805-0990. Bring any recent correspondence from the retirement system with you to the consultation.

ERS field representatives are not able to accept phone calls or letters. If you would like to speak to a representative, please call the ERS Albany office at 518-474-7736 or toll-free at 866-805-0990.

Final Note: Keep Your Paperwork

Be sure to keep all pertinent records, including pay stubs, W-2 forms, income tax filings, and NYSTRS or NYSLERS annual statements and correspondence.

New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS)
110 State St.
Albany, NY 12244-0001
518-474-7736
866-805-0990 (toll-free)
www.osc.state.ny.us/retire/


If you participate in the New York City Teachers' Retirement System or Board of Education Retirement System

As a member of the United Federation of Teachers, the UFT is your best source of information on understanding and protecting your retirement benefits. Contact the UFT at 212-777-7500. You may also contact:

Teachers' Retirement System of the City of New York
55 Water St.
New York, NY 10041
888-8-NYC-TRS
http://www.trs.nyc.ny.us/

New York City Board of Education Retirement System
65 Court St., 16th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11201-4965
www.nycbers.org


If you participate in the Optional Retirement Program (ORP)

If you are employed by the State University or City University systems (SUNY and CUNY), you may join one of several retirement system plans, including the Optional Retirement Program. The ORP is a defined-contribution retirement program.

How can I accrue vested rights if I am laid off?

An ORP is similar to an Individual Retirement Account. The plans, at both SUNY and CUNY, have a 366-day vesting period. If you are laid off, contributions by you and your former employer will cease. If you return to service and rejoin the ORP, your membership will continue.

What happens if I withdraw my benefits from the ORP?

NYSUT recommends that you not withdraw your benefits. If you do, you forfeit all benefits. If you are re-employed subsequent to withdrawal, you may rejoin the system. If you cash out your plan, you may also be subject to an early withdrawal tax penalty.

Contact your ORP plan administrator for more information or questions specific to your situation.

Optional Enrollment Programs