Retirement is a big step, and this checklist will help prepare you to take that step with confidence. The timeline guides you through the retirement process and highlights important topics and information you’ll need to consider.
Step One: Sign up for Retirement Online, our self-service tool that offers an easy and secure way to review your benefits and conduct transactions in real time. Sign Up or Sign In to update your contact information, check your current retirement service credit totals, view or update your beneficiaries, estimate your pension amount and apply for service retirement.
At Least 18 Months Before You Retire
Review your Member Annual Statement
We provide a statement to our members every summer. It lists your retirement account totals as of March 31 for each year. Beginning in 2020, your statement will be available to you within your Retirement Online account. You can now elect to receive an email notification when your statement is available for viewing rather than waiting to receive a hardcopy in the mail.
Sign in to your Retirement Online account and make sure both your mailing address and email address are current. Then, in the ‘My Profile Information’ area of your account homepage, click the update link next to ‘Member Annual Statement By’ and choose to receive your statement by email.
Take some time to read through your statement to see if there are any inconsistencies with your records (read our Updating Personal Information Frequently Asked Questions to find out how to update your records). Your statement will show your:
- Retirement plan
- Date of membership
- Total credited service
- Contribution and loan balances
- Employment and salary data
- Projection of pension benefits (provided for most members)
Read your plan booklet
You can find your plan booklet on our Publications page. If you aren’t certain what retirement plan you are in, you can check your Retirement Online account, check your Member Annual Statement or you can ask your employer. Your plan booklet will give you information on:
- Service and disability retirement benefits;
- The formula for calculating your retirement benefit, with examples; and
- Death benefit coverage.
Make an appointment if you would like to meet with an information representative at one of our consultation sites. You can ask questions specific to your NYSLRS account.
Pay off your NYSLRS loan
If you retire with an outstanding loan balance, there will be a reduction to your retirement benefit. If you have a loan, you can check the balance owed, make a lump-sum payment or choose to increase your payments through your Retirement Online account.
ERS members may repay your loan after retiring, but you must pay back the full amount of the outstanding balance that was due when you retired in one lump sum payment. Learn more on our Loans page.
Purchase Service Credit
If you think you have public employment that has not been credited to you, you can apply to receive the additional credit through your Retirement Online account, or by submitting a Request to Purchase Service Credit form (RS5042). You may also be able to get credit for service in the military. Visit our service credit page for more information. If you have questions about whether purchasing additional service credit will benefit you, contact us.
18 – 12 Months Before You Retire
Estimate What Your Pension Will Be
Finding out how much you can expect to receive is an important step in retirement planning. There are several ways for you to estimate your pension:
Use Retirement Online
Most members can estimate their pension using the benefit calculator in Retirement Online. Sign in to your Retirement Online account, go to the ‘My Account Summary’ area of your Account Homepage and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button. It’s the easiest and fastest way to estimate your benefit based on your actual NYSLRS records.
You can fine-tune your estimate by entering different retirement dates, beneficiaries, earnings, and service credit amounts to see how they affect your potential benefit, and then save or print it. Members in certain circumstances (for example, members who have recently transferred a membership to NYSLRS) may not be able to use the Retirement Online calculator, and should contact us to request an estimate.
Use our quick calculator
The quick calculator will estimate your pension based on information you enter, and is available to most ERS members who joined NYSLRS before April 1, 2012, and most PFRS members who joined before July 1, 2009.
Request an estimate by phone
Most ERS members who are age 50 or older can request a benefit projection by phone by using our automated system, as long as they have enough years of service to be eligible for a pension. The automated system will use salary reported to date, and project additional service credit based on a date of retirement up to five years in the future. Call 1-866-805-0990, or 518-474-7736 in the Albany, NY area, to request a projection. In most cases, these projections are mailed on the next business day to your home address.
Request an estimate by email or mail
Both ERS and PFRS members can request a benefit projection by emailing or writing to us. Be sure to include your estimated retirement date, the name and birth date of your intended beneficiary, any military service you may have, your current address, and your retirement registration number or NYSLRS ID. For our mailing address, or to email us, visit our Contact Us page.
Submit a Request for Estimate form
If you are within five years of your first eligible date of retirement (18 months for PFRS) and you are not certain that you’ve received credit for all your public service in New York State, you can submit a Request for Estimate form (RS6030). Be sure to provide the dates and locations of your public employment history. In addition to preparing a pension estimate, NYSLRS will review your account to determine if you are eligible for any additional service.
Learn how divorce can affect your pension
Read our Divorce and Your Benefits page for information about Domestic Relations Orders (DRO), and to learn how divorce can affect your retirement benefits.
Retirement benefits are considered marital property and can be divided between you and your ex-spouse when the marriage ends. Any division of your benefits must be stated in the form of a DRO — a legal document that gives us specific instructions on how your benefits should be divided.
We offer an easy-to-complete online DRO template. The template is not required but recommended. Because the review process is simplified for submissions using our DRO template, we can complete our review faster if you use it. We will also need a certified copy of your divorce decree.
12 Months Before You Retire
Review your health insurance coverage
NYSLRS does not administer health insurance benefits. Check with your health benefits administrator to determine your eligibility for post-retirement coverage. You may have to investigate private health insurance plans if you’re not eligible for post-retirement coverage or need to supplement it.
Review other income sources
Experts say you will need at least 80 percent of your pre-retirement income to maintain your current standard of living.
Prepare a retirement budget
Having a budget allows you to decide how you want to spend your money and aids you in keeping your long-term goals in focus.
6 Months Before You Retire
Locate proof of your birth date
We will need proof of your birth date before any benefits can be paid. If you do not have proof readily available, now is the time to hunt it down or arrange to get a replacement. This is especially important if you have to write to an out-of-state registry or a foreign country for an acceptable document. If you intend to leave a lifetime pension benefit to a beneficiary after your death, we will need proof of their birth date as well.
In most cases, a photocopy of your proof of date of birth will be acceptable. You can submit it when you submit your online or paper retirement application. (see 3 Months – 15 Days Before You Retire, below, for instructions on how to file for retirement). If you send us the original, we will return it to you. Acceptable documents include your:
- Birth certificate
- New York State driver’s license
- Passport or passport card
- Marriage Certificate, if it shows your age on a given date or the date of birth
- Baptismal certificate
- Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD-214)
- Naturalization papers
The National Center for Health Statistics’ website contains information for each state on where to write for your vital records.
3 Months – 15 Days Before You Retire
File for Retirement
Most members are eligible to file a retirement application between 15 to 90 days before their retirement date. The fastest way to file is through your Retirement Online account. With Retirement Online, you can upload all your retirement-related documents as you step through the application process. When filling out your application, be sure to list all public employment, and note if you’ve been a member of another public retirement system in New York State.
Your application is a legal document, so, if you submit a paper retirement application, you must sign it and have your signature notarized. Information representatives at our consultation sites serve as notary publics and can assist you in completing the form.
When we receive your retirement application, we will send you and your employer acknowledgment letters. If you have chosen to receive correspondence by email through Retirement Online, you’ll receive an email letting you know you can sign in and view your letter.
Choose how you want your pension paid (Option election)
You have to make a decision on how you want your retirement benefit paid. For instance, you can select the maximum benefit with no payments to a beneficiary after your death, or select a reduced monthly benefit for possible payment to a beneficiary. Your most recent estimate will show you the amounts you may receive under each option election. You can choose an option when you file using Retirement Online, or you can submit a paper option form (available on our Forms page). Visit our Payment Option Descriptions page to see descriptions of your options. You have up to 30 days after your pension benefit becomes payable to submit or change your option selection.
If your election is not timely, by law, your retirement will be processed as if you had selected:
- Tier 1 or 2 members, the Cash Refund — Contributions option; or
- Tier 3, 4, 5 or 6 members, the Single Life Allowance option.
There are other documents we will eventually need that you can submit along with your retirement application. You can upload these documents when you apply to retire using Retirement Online:
- Direct Deposit Form (RS6370)
- W-4P Form. Use our tax calculator to determine approximately how much you should have withheld from your retirement benefit. Review more tax services information.
- Proof of birth date
- Proof of beneficiary birth date, if you designate one
If you don’t have the above documents available when you apply to retire using Retirement Online, you can submit them later in the retirement process. We will ask for them when we send your retirement acknowledgement letter, and you can upload or mail them at that time. However, we must have proof of your date of birth on file before we can pay out any benefits.
After You Retire
We will let you know if there are any additional documents we need from you. Initially, your pension payment will be based on the salary and service information we have on file for you. However, your payment may be adjusted after we receive and process final payroll information, such as eligible lump sum payments or lagged regular earnings, from your employer. Once we have all the information we need and we finalize your benefit amount, if your payment increases, you will receive a retroactive payment for the amount you are owed back to your date of retirement (the difference between your initial payments and your finalized retirement benefit amount).
Finalizing your retirement benefit amount can take some time. The time it will take can vary depending on the complexity of your circumstances. In the meantime, enjoy your retirement. You’ve earned it.