What Types of Georgia State Pensions are offered?
Georgia’s largest pension plan is its Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), which is offered to all state employees. As of 2013, this plan caters to nearly 63,000 state employees. The second major pension plan, offered to all public educators, is the Public School Employees Retirement System. This plan employees nearly 39,000 teachers, university professors, and administrators. Georgia also administers several pension plans for legislators and judges, which can be researched through the Employees’ Retirement System. These plans are more specialized and smaller in size.
Georgia’s state pensions are currently funded at a level of 82.5%, as of 2013. Though this level is still slightly above the federal recommended level of 80%, it has decreased from 85% in 2012.
ERS General Membership Benefits
Membership in the Georgia ERS is extended to all full-time state employees. Full-time employees must work at least 35 hours per week and 9 months out of the year.
Members who started employment prior to July 1, 1982 are administered under the Old Plan, while members hired between July 1, 1982 and January 1, 2009 are administered under the New Plan. Any employee hired after January 1, 2009 is administered under the current pension program, the Georgia State Employees’ Pension and Savings Plan (GSEPS.)
Members of the Old and New Plans contribute 1.5% of their monthly salary to their retirement plans. Under the Old Plan, the state of Georgia contributes an additional 5% to an employee’s pension plan. Members of the GSEPS contribute 1.25% of their monthly salary each payroll period.
Employer contributions for employees under the New Plan and GSEPS vary, depending on the employer.
All employees are considered vested after accumulating 10 years of creditable service.
State employees may be eligible to receive a Cost of Living Adjustment, but this is determined annually by the Pension Board, based on the financial soundness of the pension plan.
Survivor benefits are available to all ERS employees. These benefits are calculated based on the age of the employee and years of service attained at the time of death. If an employee was under active employment at the time of death, their beneficiary is entitled to a lifetime monthly benefit. If an employee was not under active employment at the time of death, their beneficiary will receive the survivor benefit that was previously selected by the employee at the time of retirement. These benefits range from 50% – 100% of lifetime monthly benefit payments or a reduced lump sum payment.
Spouses and dependent children have priority as beneficiaries, but employees may also name estates, trusts, or other relatives as designated beneficiaries.
Service Credit Qualifications
Generally, creditable service years are calculated in terms of hours worked under state employment. These hours are accumulated from the first day of hire. However, there are also several situations under which previous service may be converted or purchased into creditable service time that contributes to an employee’s pension plan.
- Prior service under a state agency while not under the ERS may be converted to creditable service, if approved by the State Pension Board. This includes part-time hours worked for a state agency. It also includes Georgia National Guard employment.
- Accumulated sick days may be converted into creditable service. Forfeited annual leave and sick days may also be converted.
- Leave without pay that is due to a job-related injury or accident may be converted into creditable service. Employees under these situations may also be eligible to collect monthly disability during their disability rehabilitation time.
- Military duty, including out-of-state duty, may be converted into creditable service.
- Employees who have previously paid out their retirement contributions at termination of employment may buy back their years of creditable service if they choose to reenter state employment. All service credit is forfeited when an employee chooses to pay out their retirement account early.
- Service hours may be transferred from another state pension program, such as the TRS. The state of Georgia must approve these transfers.
ERS Retirement Qualifications
There are several retirement options available to ERS employees, depending on age and creditable service accumulated.
The normal retirement age is the same for all pension plan options. Employees may retire at age 60, provided they have reached at least 10 years of creditable service (the vesting requirement.) Certain law enforcement situations may allow for retirement at age 55. Employees are also eligible to retire at any age, provided they have reached at least 30 years of creditable service.
Early retirement is available, under all pension plan options, for employees with at least 25 years of creditable service. Under this option, employees will receive a 7% reduction in their monthly retirement benefit for every year under the age of 60 that they retire. If employees are opting for “any age” retirement, the will receive a 7% reduction in their monthly benefit for every year of creditable service under 30 that they have accumulated.
Employees who leave employment but have attained vesting status are still entitled to their normal retirement benefit when they reach age 60.
Other Georgia Pension Plans
Besides the ERS plan, there are several other pension plans administered by the state of Georgia.
The Public Schools Employee Retirement System is extended to all full-time public school employees. This includes not only teachers, but also school bus drivers, lunchroom employees, and administrators. Employees under the PSERS contribute at a fixed amount, which ranges from $4 – $10 each month. These contributions earn 4% compounded interest via the employee’s pension plan account. Employees under the PSERS are eligible for retirement at age 65 with at least 10 years of creditable service accumulated.
The Legislative Retirement System is extended to all members of the Georgia General Assembly, including relevant staff members. These employees contribute 8.5% of their monthly salary to the pension plan. LRS members are eligible for retirement at age 62 with 8 years of membership service accumulated.
More info on specialized pension plans is available through the Georgia Employees Retirement System.