January 2016 Issue
December 22, 2015

Is TRS membership optional?

Source: NYSUT United

Teacher-members on the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System Board of DirectorsQ: If I teach full time, do I have to join the New York State Teachers' Retirement System?

A: Generally, the answer is yes if you're a full-time teacher, teaching assistant, guidance counselor or educational administrator in a New York state public school, BOCES or a charter school that has opted to participate in NYSTRS. However, there are exceptions.

For instance, New York City public school teachers are members of the Teachers' Retirement System of New York City. New York state community college or SUNY employees can select coverage through NYSTRS; the New York State and Local Employees' Retirement System; or SUNY's Optional Retirement Program.

Q: I'm a new teacher and retirement is decades away. However, my colleagues keep urging me to start planning for it now. Isn't retirement something I shouldn't worry about for at least a few more years?

A: You've got great friends — and their advice is spot on. Attending a Pension & Retirement Education Program seminar is a great first step; contact NYSTRS at 800-348-7298, ext. 6180, for details. There are a number of reasons why learning about your retirement savings early is a smart move. Your NYSTRS benefit will be a big piece of your retirement income, but you'll still need to save on your own. Knowing what you can expect from your NYSTRS benefit will help you plan.

Additionally, your benefit provides premium-free disability and death benefit coverage once eligibility requirements are met. You might find that purchasing private insurance is unnecessary — meaning more money in your pocket. And, if you do decide to purchase additional coverage, it may be easier, and less expensive to buy when you're younger and healthier.

Prior service credit is also a consideration. If you worked in New York state's public sector, you may have claimable prior service credit, meaning a bigger benefit and earlier retirement. However, the longer you wait to purchase, the higher the cost due to added interest charges. You can purchase prior credit with two years of NYSTRS membership; purchase prior military service after five years in the system. And, if you were a member of another NYS public retirement system, you could be eligible for better benefits under an earlier retirement tier. Contact NYSTRS at 800-348-7298, ext. 6030, for more information.

Once you satisfy eligibility requirements, your NYSTRS membership also provides loan options. Although not always the best idea, since it can carry severe tax consequences, it's nice to have access to extra funds when facing an emergency. Call a system representative at 800-348- 7298, ext. 6080, for details.

Did you know

Since the New York State Teachers' Retirement System app was introduced in November 2014, more than 1,400 members have downloaded it. Available for Apple and Android devices, download the app from the Apple and Google Play stores.