April 2012 Issue
March 21, 2012

TRS: A cautionary tale about the pop-up benefit

Source: NYSUT United

Q: I retired in 2004 after more than 30 years of teaching service. My retirement year coincided with my getting married to the woman I thought would be with me for the rest of my life. When it came time to file for retirement, I chose, without hesitation, the 100 percent pop-up option, because I wanted to insure my wife's future in the event I died before her. Unfortunately, the marriage lasted less than eight years and ended in divorce.

I am now faced with losing approximately $6,000 per year from my retirement for the rest of my life to support the pop-up plan. Had I been better informed at the time of my retirement, I would never have agreed to this option. I have spoken to representatives of the retirement system, only to be told there is nothing they can do. I also offered what I thought would be a fair solution to both parties as well as to what I can only assume to be hundreds, if not thousands, of other members in the same situation.

My suggestion was that TRS keep the almost $50,000 I've already lost, cancel my beneficiary and not allow me any others, and pop me back up to my full benefit. Again, I was told they could not do that.

I'm sorry, but this to me is highway robbery and not the way a loyal TRS member should be treated. I cannot express enough how upsetting it is for me to know that, for the remainder of my life, I will continue to lose a necessary asset for my future to support a person who was only a part of my life for such a short time. I would appreciate any support possible in dealing with this incredibly unfair situation.

A: When you retire, there are many things to consider when selecting how your monthly benefit will be paid. That's why it's good for members to attend pre-retirement workshops through your local union or TRS. We strongly recommend a personal consultation with TRS, either one-on-one or via videoconferencing. You can download a TRS brochure (www.nystrs.org) called "Choosing a Benefit Payment Right for You" which explains features of each choice.

At retirement, you will choose either the maximum benefit or an option. The maximum benefit provides the largest monthly payments to you for life, but provides no payment to a beneficiary. (Keep in mind, beneficiaries of eligible Tier 2-5 members may receive a benefit under provisions of the Paragraph 2 death benefit, regardless of whether the maximum or an option is selected at retirement.)

Selecting an option means a lower monthly benefit for you, but it can provide a payment to a beneficiary upon your death. If your beneficiary dies first, you will receive the maximum benefit from that point on for life. No matter which selection you make, you must indicate your payment choice on your retirement application. You have 30 days from your date of retirement to change your mind. After that, you cannot change your selection, even if your circumstances change, such as a divorce.

At a time when divorce has become more common, NYSUT's Representative Assembly last year urged the union to seek to amend TRS regulations and state law to allow a one-time only elimination of a beneficiary in the 100 percent pop-up option in the case of divorce and allow the member to begin receiving his or her maximum pension. Stories like yours will help us keep making that case.