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The State of Your Retirement Intro & Chapter 1: The FRS Pension Plan - The Guaranteed Check a Month Club

It is surprising to me how often state employees are not given all the information necessary to make an informed decision about their retirement. This series will feature seven chapters covering, among other topics, the Pension Plan, DROP, the Investment Plan, the litany of changes since 2008 and some successful retirement income strategies that reduce your taxes and provide flexibility in retirement.

If you are a member of the Florida Retirement System (FRS), you have seen a lot of changes to your retirement options over the past few years. The state of your retirement has changed dramatically and what made sense in the past often does not make sense today. We regularly meet with state employees to help them figure out these ever changing options. These meetings generally focus on reviewing the pros and cons of your retirement choices to help you make an informed decision and are done as a free service to you.

While you are working, we keep you informed on a continuous basis by mailing FRS Update letters every few months or so. We do not charge for this ongoing service. Simply put, keeping you informed about the latest legislative changes and market performance while you are still working is somewhat straightforward. It also gives you an opportunity to try us out before you’ll really need us in retirement.

As a current employee, your options have changed a lot since 2008. These changes fundamentally shift your retirement options.

Once you retire, things get a lot more complicated. Our focus shifts to providing personalized retirement income strategies to meet your unique retirement expenses and tax liabilities. These income needs are ever changing and the tax implications in retirement are very important. There are a variety of accounts available as a state employee and each has different tax implications depending on your age and job. Your investment focus also shifts to a more growth and income oriented mix which is very different from the approach used while working. Simply put things get a lot more complicated in retirement and that’s when our customized advice applies.

The FRS Pension Plan -- The Guaranteed Check a Month Club
The oldest retirement option within the FRS is the Pension Plan. The Pension Plan is a defined benefit plan where your benefit of a monthly retirement check is defined by law. The amount of this check is determined by your years of service, your creditable service percentage and your average final compensation. In addition, you select from among four different options for your retirement income. The two most popular options are Options 1 and 3. Option 1 generates the most amount of income but ends when you die and Option 3 generates income for you and then your spouse when you die but with a reduction in income over Option 1 of typically 15-20% depending upon the age of your spouse.

This retirement income amount is annually supplemented in retirement by the application of a cost of living adjustment (COLA). However, the COLA has been suspended effective July 1, 2011 which results in a reduction of the prior COLA benefit of 3% per year. Despite better finances in Tallahassee, there has been no suggestion about reinstating this COLA in the future. Consequently, the COLA continues at 0% for all years of services after 2011.

Effective for new employees after July 1, 2011, retirement eligibility has increased to age 65 or 33 years for regular class and age 60 or 30 years for special risk class. Previously, normal retirement was age 62 or 30 years for regular class and age 55 or 25 years of service for special risk class. The vesting period for the Pension Plan has also increased from six to eight years for new employees hired after July 1, 2011. In addition, a 3% employee contribution is required that goes into the general Florida Retirement System.

For a more complete description of the FRS Pension Plan, please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions about the Pension Plan and the Pension Plan Summary prepared by the State of Florida Division of Retirement. Both of these documents can be found within www.myfrs.com.

In summary, the FRS Pension Plan is a traditional check a month retirement plan. This check is guaranteed by the state to last for your lifetime or, with a reduction in income, for a set period of time or the life of another like your spouse. There is never any ability to utilize lump sum amounts from the Pension Plan nor leave a legacy to your beneficiaries. For some, this is the appeal of the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP).

Where indicated, market data and performance represents past performance which is no guarantee of future results. Individual results may vary and values do fluctuate in any investment. This booklet contains our most current understanding of the Florida Retirement System and U.S. tax laws as of October, 2016. This booklet is intended to detail complicated retirement topics but is not a complete discussion as each individual’s situation is different and various exceptions exist. Nelson Financial Planning offers securities through Nelson Ivest Brokerage Services, Inc., a member of FINRA/SIPC. Please note that the information provided in this document has not been approved or endorsed by the State of Florida or the Florida Retirement System.

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