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Serving New York Educators Since 1921

Retired Members' Handbook

About the System | Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)
Employment Earnings in Retirement | Taxes on Your Benefit
Updating Beneficiary Info
| Death Benefit Under Tiers 2–6  
Power of Attorney | Reporting a Retiree's Death | Direct Deposit
Change of AddressBenefit Payment Dates | For More Information 

About the System

The New York State Teachers' Retirement System (NYSTRS or the System) was established in 1921 by an act of the State Legislature. Its purpose is to administer the fund from which public school teachers and administrators (excluding those in New York City) receive retirement benefits. Benefits are paid in accordance with state laws. Accordingly, any benefit changes must be enacted by the Legislature.

Membership as of June 30, 2014 totaled more than 270,000 active members and nearly 156,000 retirees and beneficiaries. With net assets of $108.2 billion on that date, NYSTRS ranked as one of the nation's largest public pension funds.

Funds to provide benefits are derived from investments, as well as employer and member contributions. The System invests in a highly diversified portfolio of equities, bonds, real estate and mortgages. A strong asset allocation policy ensures the System achieves the best possible long-term returns within the appropriate levels of risk.

NYSTRS administers a defined benefit plan, which provides you with a specific benefit that is constitutionally guaranteed and can never be diminished. Your benefit is calculated at retirement and takes into account factors such as age, years of service and final average salary.

For these reasons, the stock market fluctuations and economic downturns over the last few years have not affected — and will not affect — the payment of your NYSTRS retirement benefit.

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Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)

All eligible retired members receive a 1% to 3% COLA annually based on 50% of the increase in the Consumer Price Index between the current and previous March. The resulting percentage is multiplied by the first $18,000 of the annual benefit to determine that year's adjustment. COLA increases begin with the September benefit payment each year.

The COLA for September 2015 through August 2016 benefit payments will be 1.0%. As a result, an eligible retired member with an annual benefit of $18,000 or more will receive a maximum increase of $15 per month beginning with the September 2015 payment. (Eligible members receiving an annual benefit under $18,000 will receive a lesser monthly increase.)

To be eligible for a COLA, you must either be:

  • At least age 62 and retired at least five years; or,
  • At least age 55 and retired at least 10 years; or,
  • A retiree receiving a NYSTRS disability benefit for at least five years (regardless of age); or,
  • A surviving spouse of an eligible retiree receiving a lifetime benefit. (By law, the spouse receives an increase equal to one-half the COLA the retiree would have received.)

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Employment Earnings in Retirement

Different guidelines apply to service and disability retirements. Make sure you are familiar with the requirements that apply to your situation before you begin working in retirement. If you have specific questions about your employment, call us at (800) 356-3128, Ext. 6150. If you work for a NYSTRS participating employer, provide the employer with your EmplID, regardless of your anticipated earnings.

The pamphlet Working in Retirement also explains earnings limits and their effect on your NYSTRS retirement benefit.

Service Retirement Earnings

You can have unlimited earnings in the following types of employment:

  • Private;
  • Out-of-state;
  • Federal government;
  • Holding elected public office in New York State;
  • Working as a consultant for a public employer if your date of membership is prior to May 31, 1973. All contracts must be reviewed by NYSTRS before employment begins; or,
  • All employment (including NYS public employment) beginning in the calendar year you turn age 65.

Other NYS Public Employment
If you do not meet any of the unlimited earnings criteria listed above, you can still work in New York State public employment, including teacher training centers, and collect your NYSTRS pension. Your choices are to work under either Section 212 or Section 211 of the Retirement and Social Security Law, or as a consultant (if approved by NYSTRS). In some instances, you may choose to suspend your NYSTRS retirement benefit.

Following is an overview of these different employment options:

Section 212

Most of our under-65 retirees who work in public employment in retirement meet the provisions of this section of law. Under Section 212, you may return to New York State public employment and earn a designated amount per calendar year, as established by the State Legislature. The earnings limit is currently $30,000.

If you do not exceed the earnings limit, you do not need prior approval from NYSTRS for Section 212 employment. Likewise, your NYSTRS retirement benefit will not be reduced as long as your employment earnings are within the established limits.

If you work under Section 212 and expect to earn more than $30,000 in calendar year 2013, you must notify NYSTRS in writing no later than the end of the month in which you earn (or expect to earn) more than the limit. The notice should include your EmplID, gross earnings during the calendar year, and the name of the public employer.

Please note that if you exceed the earnings limit, you may be required to repay NYSTRS one day of your retirement benefit for each day you work beyond the limit.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has its own rules for earnings while collecting a Social Security payment. Contact the SSA for information about the limitations.

Section 211

If you opt for public employment that will exceed the Section 212 earnings limit, you can work under Section 211 with approval from whichever entity has jurisdiction over your employment. Waivers are granted by the: New York State Department of Education; Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education; Trustees of the City University of New York; a SUNY or community college president; and the New York State or New York City Civil Service Commission. Please note:  The approval must be initiated by your employer.

Under Section 211, a retired public employee is prevented from working in the same or similar position for one year from the retiree's date of retirement from a New York State public retirement system. This restriction does not exist under Section 212. Approvals are generally limited to one year.

Your earnings under Section 211 are limited if you work for an employer you received pay from in the two years prior to retirement and those salaries were used in your final average salary. In this instance, assuming approval is granted, the amount of your earnings during a calendar year is limited to the difference between your final average salary (or, if greater, the salary you would now be receiving had you continued in service) and your maximum retirement benefit. Also, you cannot renounce earnings reported to the System in order to achieve unlimited earnings in retirement.

Employment as a Consultant

The term "consultant" is often misused and misunderstood. Before accepting a position in this capacity, please review and understand how the Retirement System defines it. Employment that does not meet the NYSTRS requirements of working as a consultant could significantly impact your retirement benefit.

Consulting Defined
NYSTRS defines a consultant as someone who is an independent contractor, not an employee of the district. Also, the consultant cannot perform a function that normally would be performed by a teacher or administrator in that district.

Consultant agreements must be reviewed and approved by NYSTRS prior to beginning this employment. If you are currently working as a consultant and the System has not yet reviewed your agreement, you must submit the contract immediately for approval. Failure to do so may eventually result in a substantial loss of your pension benefits.

It is also important to understand that, depending on the date you last joined NYSTRS, the earnings limit for a NYSTRS-approved consultant differs.

  • If you joined NYSTRS before May 31, 1973, and your consultant agreement is approved by NYSTRS, you may have unlimited earnings.
  • If you joined NYSTRS on or after May 31, 1973, you are subject to the Section 212 or 211 earnings limit even if your employer considers you a consultant.

If the System does not approve your consultant agreement, you may be able to work for the employer under either Section 212 or 211. However, if your earnings exceed the allowable limits under these sections of law, you will need to repay part of your NYSTRS retirement benefit.

Third-Party Employment

If you are hired and paid by a private agency to fill a position on an interim basis with a New York State public school or other New York State public employer, you will be subject to the earnings provisions of Section 212 and 211 of the Retirement and Social Security law.

Suspending Your Retirement Benefit

If you choose to work in full-time, contractual New York State public employment and you want to have unlimited earnings, you will need to suspend your NYSTRS retirement benefit. If you work for a NYSTRS-participating employer, you can rejoin the System as an active member under your original membership tier. In this scenario, your date of membership will be the last day of that tier, not your original date of membership.

In general, you can receive an additional benefit after two extra years of service credit.  (If you retired under Tier 3, you would become eligible after five extra years of service credit.)  If you receive an additional benefit, you will lose any state retirement incentive service previously credited.

To be eligible for a recalculated benefit based on your service credit both before and after restoring your active status, you would need to  a) complete five years of service credit after restoration, and  b) repay the System the benefits you received before restoration, plus interest.

Repayment can be made in a lump sum or as a reduction in your retirement benefit based on the actuarial equivalent of the lump sum. If you choose the latter, the reduction continues throughout your retirement. 

If you resume retirement without meeting the service credit requirements necessary for an additional benefit or a full recalculation, your benefit will remain unchanged.

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Reporting Your Earnings

If you work for a NYSTRS participating employer (including New York State public school districts, qualifying charter schools, the state Education Department, SUNY or state community colleges) you must provide your NYSTRS EmplID to your employer. Your annual earnings will be automatically reported to us. 

If you work as a consultant (either independently or through a third-party employer) and you joined NYSTRS on or after May 31, 1973 or if you work for any other New York State or New York City public employer, you must report your earnings to us on an annual basis. Use the form Reporting Your New York State Public Employment Earnings (RMS-64.1), available on the Retiree Forms page at NYSTRS.org or by calling (800) 782-0289, to report your earnings for the previous calendar year.

Disability Retirement Earnings

Tier 1 and 2 Members
Once each year the System will request a report of your gross earnings from all employment.

While on disability retirement, you may engage in gainful employment. However, the amount of earnings during a calendar year is limited to the difference between your final average salary (or if greater, the salary you would now be receiving had you continued in service) and your retirement benefit. This calculation considers income from all forms of employment, but does not include returns on investments (stocks, bonds, etc.) or other disability benefits you are receiving. If you earn more than the limit, your disability benefit will be reduced to reflect the excess earnings.

A disability retiree may be required at any time to undergo a medical examination by a physician designated by the System. If the NYSTRS Medical Board determines that you are no longer disabled, or if you return to teaching at a salary greater than your final average salary, your disability benefit will be discontinued and you will be restored to active membership.

Tier 3–6 Members
You must be totally and permanently disabled from all employment to qualify for, and continue to receive, a benefit. Employment of any type may jeopardize your disability retirement.

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Taxes on Your Benefit

Your retirement benefit is subject to federal income tax (except for previously taxed contributions). The federal tax tables can help you determine how much NYSTRS would withhold from your benefit payment under various scenarios.

You can have your taxes withheld from your monthly payments or you can make quarterly estimated tax payments. If you do not file a W-4P Withholding Election and Certificate form, federal taxes will be withheld automatically at the rate for "married with three exemptions." To elect a new withholding amount, you must submit a W-4P form with the System. You can change your tax withholding at any time and, generally, a change received by the 12th of a month will be reflected in that month's payment. MyNYSTRS account holders have the convenience of updating their W-4P withholding election online.

Each January you will receive a 1099-R form listing the gross amount of your benefit, the taxable amount, and any federal income tax withheld for the previous calendar year.

Remember: If you become a resident of another state, your benefit will be subject to that state's tax rules. You can find information about other states' tax laws at www.rpea.org.  

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Updating Beneficiary Information

Whether you can change your beneficiary designation in retirement depends on what option you selected. You can change your beneficiary only if (1) you are a Tier 2-6 member with a Paragraph 2 in-service death benefit that was in effect at retirement, or (2) you selected a lump sum or guaranteed period option, providing the coverage is still in effect.

To change your beneficiary, you must file a properly completed and notarized Designation of Beneficiary Form (NET-11.4) with the System. You can also obtain the form by calling the NYSTRS Hotline at (800) 782-0289.

If you selected the Maximum at retirement, there is no payment to a beneficiary. If you selected a survivor or pop-up option, which provides a lifetime payment to one beneficiary only, you cannot change your beneficiary. (Remember: Notify NYSTRS if you selected a pop-up option and your beneficiary predeceases you so we can adjust your monthly benefit to the Maximum.)

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Death Benefit Under Tiers 2–6

Tier 2-6 members who meet eligibility requirements may have a death benefit in retirement. If the death benefit was in effect when you retired, the payment at death is as follows:

1st year: 50% of the death benefit in effect at retirement
2nd year: 25% of the death benefit in effect at retirement
3rd year and  beyond: 10% of the death benefit at age 60 or at retirement (if earlier)

You may designate a beneficiary(ies) or name your estate as beneficiary for this death benefit. Changes may be made at any time.

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Power of Attorney

With a power of attorney, you name an agent to act on your behalf in a broad range of personal, legal, financial and other affairs, including NYSTRS matters. Under a durable power of attorney, the agent can act for you even if you become legally incapacitated. 

Although a durable power of attorney is revocable before someone becomes incapacitated, banks or other third parties that are not notified when a power of attorney is revoked are generally entitled to rely on their good-faith belief as to the power's continued validity. In any event, a durable power of attorney ends upon death unless revoked earlier.

A durable power of attorney may make it possible to avoid the expense and formality of a court-ordered guardianship should you subsequently become incompetent. A guardianship, however, affords a stricter accountability and more stringent controls on conflicts of interest.

The use of a durable power of attorney is a personal decision that should be based upon your particular needs and objectives. Due to the high degree of control vested in the person named to act on your behalf by the durable power of attorney, only a trusted person should be named. In any case, because it is a powerful document, the System strongly recommends that you consult with an attorney before executing a durable power of attorney.

The Special Durable Power of Attorney Form is available on the Legal Publications page of our Library, or by calling our Hotline at (800) 782-0289.

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Reporting a Retiree's Death

The death of a retired member or beneficiary should be reported to the System by calling (800) 356-3128, Ext. 6140.

The following information is needed:

  • Member/beneficiary name.
  • Member/beneficiary EmplID or Social Security number.
  • Date of death.
  • Name, address and relationship of the survivor to contact.
  • Name, address and telephone number of the person handling the estate.
  • Once this information is received, we will contact the appropriate person(s) as necessary.

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Direct Deposit

If you are like most NYSTRS retirees, your monthly benefit payment is deposited directly into your bank account. If you switch banks or accounts in retirement, if possible, try to establish the new account with NYSTRS before closing out the existing account. This will help avoid the bank's possible rejection of your benefit payment. There are three options for changing your direct deposit:

Option 1
Submit the change online with a MyNYSTRS account. Visit the My Tools > Direct Deposit Authorization Agreement page to update your information.

Option 2
Complete and submit to NYSTRS a new Direct Deposit Authorization Agreement (GRE-54), available on the Retiree Forms page of our website or by calling (800) 356-3128, Ext. 6230.

Option 3
Mail or fax us a signed letter at (518) 447-4749 requesting the change. This letter must include either a voided check from your new banking institution or the following information: your name; your NYSTRS EmplID; your bank name and routing (ABA) number; and, your account number and type (checking or savings).

If you use a brokerage firm that clears payments through a bank, please call that firm to get the proper direct deposit ACH (Automated Clearing House) instructions, and provide us with the institution's name, your account number and the routing (ABA) number to which direct deposit payments should be sent.

Be sure to sign all correspondence sent to the System on this matter. Unless there is a power of attorney or court-appointed guardian on file with NYSTRS, no one else may sign for you.

Changes must be received at the System by our payroll processing deadline (on or about the 10th of the month) to ensure the change takes effect for that month's payment. For more information about direct deposit and the authorization process, please call us at (800) 356-3128, Ext. 6230.

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Change of Address

So that we can provide you with the annual Retired Member Profile, your year-end tax information, and the retiree newsletter Resource, it is important that we have your current address on file. You must report any address change in writing with your signature. You can use the Member Name/Address Change form (GRE-50). Return the form to NYSTRS by mail or fax to (518) 447-4749. MyNYSTRS account holders have the convenience of changing their address online.

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Benefit Payment Dates 

Retirement benefit check and direct deposit dates are the last business day of each month. Refer to and print the 2015 calendar.


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For More Information

Call (800) 782-0289 to request System forms and publications and to hear recorded messages about benefit news, such as when the 1099-R forms will be mailed. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Our website at www.nystrs.org is an excellent resource for NYSTRS and retirement-related information. If you want a quick answer to a general benefit or retirement question, you'll likely find it here. You can also access the latest news, read NYSTRS publications, learn about System services,  print forms, and discover other online resources for retirees.

In addition, you can access your specific NYSTRS benefit information at any time by registering for a MyNYSTRS account. To register, you will need to enter your Social Security number, date of birth and NYSTRS EmplID.

Retired Member Profile
The Retired Member Profile is intended to help our retired members keep track of their NYSTRS benefits. It includes:

  • Your date of retirement;
  • The benefit choice you selected at retirement (either the Maximum or an option);
  • Your designated beneficiaries, if applicable;
  • Death benefit information, if applicable;
  • A snapshot of your gross monthly income, including any cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) or deductions; and,
  • A net monthly payment amount.

The Retired Member Profile is provided as a service to you and should not be used for income tax reporting. For tax purposes, you will continue to receive a 1099-R form each January.

Resource Newsletter
The retiree newsletter Resource, published three times annually, keeps you informed of the latest benefit information and other retirement-related topics. To request an audio version of Resource, please contact us at (800) 356-3128, Ext. 4785 or convdel@nystrs.org.

Toll-Free Calling
(800) 356-3128
Albany Area Calls: (518) 447-2900

Lost Checks: Ext. 6160
Direct Deposit Information: Ext. 6230
Income Tax Information and Withholding: Ext. 6120
Legislation: Ext. 6200
To Report A Retiree's Death: Ext. 6140
Earnings After Retirement: Ext. 6150
General Retiree Information: Ext. 6150

New York State Teachers' Retirement System
10 Corporate Woods Drive
Albany, New York  12211-2395

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