Employee Benefits: Retirement

The following is a chapter from Employee Benefits: How to Make the Most of Your Stock, Insurance, Retirement, and Executive Benefits by Josh Mungavin CFP®, CRC® and Edited by Chris Boren & Tristan Whittingham.

Employee Benefits - cover

 

Retirement

 

401(k), 403(b), & 457 Plans

A workplace retirement plan is one of the most common profitable employee benefits employers offer. They normally come in the form of 401(k), 403(b), 457, pension, or cash balance plans. Often, an employer will match employee contributions up to a certain dollar amount or income percentage.

Optimal Use: Strategies and Analysis

a. Mega Backdoor Roth 401(k) contributions

By using the right strategies, you may be able to contribute more than you thought possible and, in turn, save more money on taxes over time. In general, employees can only contribute up to $18,500 per year to a retirement plan with an additional catch-up of up to $6,000 per year if the employee is 50 years old or older (“employee contribution limit”).1 Many employees don’t realize that the maximum contribution to one of these accounts is $55,000 per year plus the catch-up (“maximum contribution limit”)—and that they may be able to contribute up to that amount despite the employee contribution limit and employer matching amounts adding up to less than the full maximum contribution limit.

The strategy is as follows:

1. Backdoor Roth 401(k) Strategy

The math works like this:

2. Backdoor Roth 401(k) Math

Normally, this would mean you could not fund your 401(k) up to the maximum contribution limit of $55,000, leaving a full $24,000 on the table ($55,000 – $31,000 = $24,000). If you have a nondeductible 401(k) and work for a company with retirement plan documents that allow it, however, you can make a $24,000 contribution to the nondeductible part of the 401(k) and then convert the contribution to the Roth portion of your 401(k). This effectively allows you to maximize the yearly contribution to your retirement account.

A very highly compensated employee can still take advantage of this strategy because employers can only base 401(k) matching off $275,000 of an employee’s compensation per year no matter how highly compensated the individual is.2 A 401(k) can provide a versatile savings account by allowing penalty-free (but not tax-free) distributions of certain amounts for a down payment on a home purchase or medical expenses. Keep in mind that any additional profit-sharing plan contributions by the employer must be considered when calculating the overall yearly contribution. It is very important to check the plan documents and speak with your HR department or plan administrator to make sure you are getting the most from your retirement plan.

b. Company Stock in a 401(k): Net Unrealized Appreciation

Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA) is the name of a little-known tax break that can help save you money on taxes from employer stock held in a 401(k) plan if you qualify. NUA rules allow you to take employer stock out of your 401(k) upon certain triggering events, only pay ordinary income taxes on the cost basis of the stock (the price you originally paid for the stock) for the withdrawal, and then have the gains taxed at capital gains tax rates. This can be particularly valuable if:

  • You have highly appreciated employer stock (stock with very low-cost basis);
  • You have an immediate need to withdraw money from your 401(k);
  • You are retiring after age 70.5 and you have to take your first required minimum distribution (RMD); or
  • You have a short RMD period, including stretch RMDs.

The rules for an NUA distribution are very strict, and you should work with your CPA to make sure you follow all the rules precisely. The rules are as follows:

  • You have to distribute the entire balance of your 401(k) and any other qualified plans you have with the employer in a single tax year (some can be withdrawn directly to a taxable account and some can be rolled into an IRA, but there can be no money left in your 401(k) account at the end of the tax year).
  • You must take the distribution of company stock from your 401(k) in actual shares—you cannot sell the shares in the 401(k) and then distribute cash.
  • You must have experienced one of the following triggering events:
  • Separation from service from the company whose plan holds the stock (this may include certain cash buyouts of the company you work for);
  • Reached age 59.5;
  • Become disabled; or
  • Death

Potential Downsides

All tax strategies can be useful, but it is generally not recommendable to let the “tax tail wag the dog.” Trying to pursue this NUA strategy too aggressively can lead to you owning too much company stock and not having your portfolio appropriately diversified. You only have a few different triggering events, which means you only have a few opportunities to distribute the stock, possibly leading to overzealous distributions in the year in which they can be made. This can lead to paying taxes at a higher-than-normal tax bracket and not leaving as much money as you would normally leave in your retirement account, ultimately leading to higher taxes in the long run because all the investments held outside your retirement account are taxed every year. Your heirs do not receive a “step up in basis” on NUA shares upon your passing. You may be charged a penalty for an early retirement account withdrawal if you retire earlier than 59.5 years old, (although in some cases you can take penalty-free distributions as early as age 55). You cannot strategically convert these assets into Roth IRA assets over the years at a potentially low tax rate if they are taken as NUA; however, any amounts rolled into an IRA and not taken as an NUA distribution can still be converted to a Roth IRA. You will have to pay any applicable state taxes on the NUA withdrawal, which may apply equally to ordinary income and capital gains.

Keep in Mind

  • You will have to pay gains (for any price changes in the stock subsequent to the distribution) on any shares distributed from the retirement account and not sold immediately as either short- or long-term gains.
  • It is generally wise to keep the NUA stock in an account separate from other company stock to simplify your recordkeeping.
  • In addition, note that the NUA is not subject to the 3.8% Medicare surtax on net investment income.

Strategic Use

  • You are allowed to “cherry pick” which shares of stock to distribute in kind to the brokerage account and roll the remainder into an IRA.
  • Your heirs are allowed to take an NUA distribution when you pass away if the shares are still held in the company plan.
  • If you separate from service before the age of 59.5, have a very highly appreciated employer stock position, and you need to make a distribution from your retirement account, you would have to pay the normal 10% early withdrawal penalty. However, the penalty will be calculated off of your cost basis. This means if you purchased shares for $1,000 that are now worth $50,000, you can withdraw the $50,000 in employer stock and only pay the ordinary taxes and 10% penalty on the $1,000 cost basis. Then you would only have to pay taxes on the remaining $49,000 at your current capital gains tax rate.
  • You may be able to take an NUA distribution and then strategically sell the shares off in small amounts over the years to keep your income limited to a level that allows for 0% capital gains rates.
  • You can use the NUA distribution to satisfy your first required minimum distribution if you are over the age of 70.5 when you retire so you only have to pay ordinary income taxes on a potentially low-cost basis amount rather than the full amount of your first distribution when you would have had to distribute money from your retirement account anyway. This can significantly reduce the taxes due on your first required minimum distribution.

c. Optimizing Taxes: Backdoor Roth IRA Contributions

This unique strategy becomes available if your 401(k) plan allows you to roll over an IRA account into the 401(k) plan. Normally, single people making over $120,000 a year and married people filing taxes jointly making over $189,000 a year are limited in their ability to contribute to a Roth IRA (the income numbers are based on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income). By using the backdoor Roth IRA strategy, a highly compensated individual can contribute to a non-deductible IRA and convert it to a Roth IRA. The problem is that any Roth conversions must be done pro-rata across all IRA accounts. This means that, if you have a deductible IRA in addition to a non-deductible IRA being funded, any conversion of IRA money would be taken from both pre- and post-tax IRA accounts pro-rata. This creates a tax on the distributions from the deductible IRA where otherwise there would be none.

3. Backdoor Roth IRA Contributions

To avoid this additional taxation, you could potentially transfer the deductible IRA money into your 401(k) and then convert the new non-deductible IRA contributions to a Roth IRA without creating a taxable distribution.

d. 15-Year 403(b) Catch-Up Deferrals

There may be a special provision in a 403(b) plan that allows an additional catch-up separate from the over-50 catch-up. The additional catch-up, which amounts to $3,000 per year, is available to employees who have provided the same employer with 15 years of service. The amount of the allowable 15-year catch-up deferral is calculated as the lesser of:

  • $3,000; or
  • $15,000 reduced by all prior 15-year catch-up deferrals; or
  • $5,000 x years of service, reduced by all prior elective deferrals (including all past 15-year catch-up deferrals) to your 401(k)s, 403(b)s, SARSEPs, or SIMPLE IRAs sustained by your employer.

For employees who are eligible for the 15-year catch-up deferral and the over-50 catch-up, the 15-year catch-up deferral should generally be used first; the over-50 catch-up falls second in priority.

4. 15-Year 403(B) Catch-up Deferrals

e. 457 Special Catch-Up Deferrals

Another catch-up tool available to 457 plan participants is the 457 special catch-up deferral. This allows plan participants who are three years away from attaining normal retirement age in their 457 plan to defer:

  • Twice the yearly limit on deferrals ($37,000 in 2018, which is two times the yearly maximum contribution of $18,500 in 2018) for the three years leading up to normal retirement age; or
  • The yearly limit on deferrals plus any amount allowed in prior years that you chose not to or could not contribute. Plans will keep an ongoing list of amounts you were allowed to defer in prior years, the amount you actually deferred, and any shortfall from those years. If you choose this option, they add up all your shortfall and allow you to contribute an amount equal to the shortfall over the next three years.4

For governmental 457 plans, this additional contribution cannot be paired with the over-50 catch-up, which makes it important to use the one that will provide you with the greatest benefit or largest contribution.

5. 457 Special Catch Up Deferrals

Special Considerations

It is important to know whether your employer matches contributions on a per-year or per-paycheck basis. Obviously, it is in the best interest of the employee to put in the full $18,500 at the beginning of the year to maximize the amount of time the money is invested. However, if the employer matches on a per-paycheck basis, the employee may find themselves getting a 5% match on their first paycheck and no further employer contributions for the year. As a result, the employee’s checks have no 401(k) contributions to match for the remainder of the year. This can lead to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost matching through the years if not caught by the employee.

Mingling Contributions Among 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and 457 Plans

If you have a 401(k) and a 403(b), the maximum amount you can contribute to both accounts combined is $18,500 (2018).5 If you have a combination of a 401(k) and/or a 403(b) paired with a 457 plan, the maximum you can contribute combined is $37,000: $18,500 to the 401(k) and/or 403(b) and $18,500 to the 457. Plus, you can make any catch-up contributions allowed. The money you save into each account should be in order of employer matching with the employer plan that matches you at the highest rate first, until the match is completely maximized; then the money should flow to the account with the second-best matching and so on until you have contributed your overall maximum contribution to all plans.

6. Mingling Contributions 401(k), 403(B) & 457

Over-50 Catch-Up Contributions

For those who will reach age 50 before the year’s end, the limit on the amount you may contribute to a 403(b), 401(k), or 457 account increases by $6,000. This boosts the individual contribution limit from $18,500 to $24,500.

7. Over-50 Catch-Up Contributions

General Breakdown of 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and 457 Plans

When it comes to comparing 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and 457 plans, there are many similarities and few differences. The similarities include:

  • $18,500 contribution limit (2018);
  • $6,000 over-50 catch-up contribution;
  • Risk of investing falls on employee;
  • Withdrawals taxed as ordinary income; and
  • Amounts deferred on a pre-tax basis.

The major differences include:

  • 403(b)s and 457s have additional catch-up deferrals, as discussed above;
  • 401(k)s are open to most employers, 403(b)s are open to tax-exempt and non-profit organizations, and 457s are open to state/local governments and some non-profit organizations; and
  • 457 plans may not be subject to early withdrawal penalties like 403(b)s and 401(k)s.

Pensions: Buying Years of Service

Your pension may give you the option to buy additional years of service credit, which can increase your yearly pension benefit.

Optimal Use: Strategies and Analysis

Purchasing additional years of service should be looked at as an investment decision. You should estimate the rate of return on the “investment” of buying years of service. Doing so would allow you to compare it to a portfolio you’re currently invested in or one you plan on being invested in during retirement. You should also look at what you can buy as a single premium immediate annuity compared to what you would spend out of pocket to buy the years of service. You can then compare the additional increase in your pension to the annuity payment (keeping in mind whether your pension has any cost-of-living adjustments) to know whether you’re being offered something that competes with what is available on the open market.

To calculate an estimated return on this investment, you will need to figure out the rate of return over a given period. In other words, you’ll need to determine the amount of time you expect to collect on the pension plus any cost-of-living adjustments the pension may have. A cost-of-living adjustment would only make buying years of service more profitable.

8. Buying Additional Years of Service for Pensions

Some employers may allow you to avoid early retirement penalties by purchasing service credits. Doing this allows you to become eligible for normal retirement at an earlier date. This might make sense if you: (1) face the potential of having to go on unpaid medical leave that will be factored into your last three years of income, (thus lowering your yearly benefit); (2) have enough money to retire and no longer wish to work; or (3) are presented with another money-making opportunity that requires leaving your employer to pursue. Purchasing additional service credit is generally done to increase your retirement benefit, but doing so can also increase the benefit to your beneficiaries if you pass away during active service. This can be particularly valuable if you have a younger spouse or a critical illness. It can be thought of as a life insurance policy that pays out over time to support your family, even if you no longer qualify for a new life insurance policy due to your terminal illness.

General Considerations

Pension calculations generally rely on the following variables: years of service, retirement age, and highest salary over a specified number of years or average salary over a specified number of years. Purchasing additional service credit adds the number of years purchased to the number of years you worked for the employer for purposes of computing your monthly benefit.

9. Example of a Pension Benefit Calculation

Special Considerations

One thing you need to consider is that you will be buying additional income in retirement. This may affect your taxes and Medicare premiums. You must also consider the stability of the pension plan you’re buying into and the possibility that the pension will change during your retirement along with the years in which you’ll be collecting the pension.

You will want to consider whether you are already vested in the pension. Buying into a pension before vesting and being laid off before you vest can have serious repercussions depending on how the pension years of service purchase works with your employer. There is the possibility of buying years of service before vesting, being laid off or leaving, and not getting any benefit from the money you spent to buy years of service in a pension you will never receive benefits from. Pensions will usually not allow beneficiaries to buy additional years of service credit once the original pension owner passes away. It’s imperative that you don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Relying solely on the pension money can be risky because the pension could be renegotiated and the city, state, federal agency, or employer could go into bankruptcy.

An important factor to consider is whether you can purchase the service credit with pre-tax or after-tax money. If all the money from the pension benefit is to be taxed, then it would be ideal to pay for the years of service credit with something that is pre-tax, like a 403(b) or other retirement plan. As a result, the money is only taxed once rather than twice, and you can reduce your required minimum distributions from the retirement plan for future years in hopes of staying in lower tax and Medicare brackets.

General IRS Rules and Eligibility

  • Pensions typically don’t allow you to buy years of service to bring yourself up to a vesting level (although some do).
  • Some pensions only allow you to buy service at retirement or after a certain number of years of employment.
  • Certain pensions allow credit to be purchased at a discount or acquired for free for periods spent in military service, on maternity leave, under a worker’s compensation claim due to disability, or for out-of-state service from a similar state, federal, or private school employer.

It’s worth talking to any past and current employers to figure out the best way to combine your years of service or use previous job years of service to get a discount when buying years in your pension.

You may also find value in using your paid time off (PTO) strategically during your last working years (the years your pension calculation is based on). You may be limited in the number of hours of PTO factored into your pension calculation in your last years of employment. As a result, you may be able to get more value from your pension by strategically selling your PTO days back to your employer if that is considered when your pension is calculated. You may also be able to use your PTO during times you would normally be off work, e.g., holidays or summer for teachers, in your last years of your employment to boost the average salary on which your pension is based.

DROP Accounts

Some employers’ pension plans have the option for a Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), which allows you to formally retire (as far as your pension is concerned) while you continue to work. Your monthly pension retirement benefits are put into a trust fund instead of being paid to you while you participate in the DROP program. The trust fund will be invested, potentially earning tax-deferred interest for you during the time you participate in the DROP program.

Optimal Use: Strategies and Analysis

It’s important to begin paying attention to any DROP program options far in advance of retirement since plans can have a five-year period for which you can participate. You will have to file the appropriate applications on time to take advantage of the longest period that you can be a participant if it makes sense for you and your financial plan.

Your DROP benefits may be calculated using a participation rate (accrual rate) on your current income or on your pension benefits. For example, let’s say someone earns credits in the DROP program based off a accrual rate on their years of service and their current income ($50,000 per year), the accrual rate is 2.5%, the period in the program is five years, and the person elects to participate for the full five-year period after having worked 25 years. You determine the DROP benefit by multiplying the $50,000 per-year income by the 2.5% accrual rate, which gives you a payout rate of $1,250 per years of service. In this case, we would multiply the $1,250 x 20 for the years of service to get an annual credit in the DROP pension payout of $25,000 per year x the five years of participation for a total drop credit of $125,000.

The math works like this:

10. Example of a Drop Pension

Free calculators are available online that will compute your break-even period if you invest the DROP money; going into that level of depth on this calculation, and some things that should be factored in, are beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say that, for most people who invest the funds at a reasonable rate of return, the time to break even when not having participated in DROP is a very long time. It may also make sense to compare the yearly benefit of an immediate fixed-annuity payment bought with the lump-sum DROP money to the yearly difference in a pension payment (keeping in mind that I’m not currently a fan of annuities), but doing so gives you a good comparison point for how much your DROP money would purchase in terms of an annual benefit.

You may also choose to participate in the DROP plan if you have already maximized your lifetime benefits payable by your pension plan. This allows you to continue adding to your retirement even though you have hit the edge of what your pension will pay you. The rate at which you accrue benefits in the DROP program may also be higher than what the defined benefit part of your pension plan offers. It’s worthwhile to look at the payout available to you if you were to take the DROP assets at the end of the period and put them in an immediate annuity purchased cheaply at a fixed rate. By doing so, you can see what the amount of money would buy you in a yearly retirement benefit guaranteed by the open market compared to what your employer offers for the same period of service credits. That is not to say you should buy an annuity with the money, but it is an easy, straightforward way to compare what your pension offers with what is available elsewhere with the same amount of money.

Further, it may make sense for you to use your DROP funds to purchase a term or other life insurance policy and couple that with a pension that has a payout over a single lifetime. This dual strategy may give you more money overall than if you just got a joint pension with a payout for both spouses—and given the insurance component, it also provides money on the back end for the surviving spouse. The value of this strategy varies widely from couple to couple, so it’s important to do a proper evaluation and comparison. That being said, when evaluating the life insurance, you should assume that the spouse for whom the single life pension payments are being made passes away in the first year, so the surviving spouse has sufficient buffer should the worst happen. Again, I am not a huge fan of life insurance due to the way it is commonly sold, but it makes sense to at least check the math on the cost and potential value of a fixed-term life insurance policy with an insurance agent before deciding whether to participate in the DROP program using the above strategy and what type of pension payout to take.

Your pension may have a cost-of-living increase to the pension plan for the years in which you are participating in DROP, or they may stop the cost-of-living adjustment increases for your pension benefits while you are participating in the program. It is important for you to account for this in any calculations involving whether it makes sense for you to participate in the DROP program.

The DROP program will generally allow you to name a designated beneficiary and contingent beneficiary. This means that if you pass away while participating in the DROP program, your beneficiary or contingent beneficiary will receive the DROP assets. This can be particularly valuable if you have elected for any options other than joint and 100% survivor pension benefits so the surviving spouse is left with a lump sum of money. It can also benefit the contingent beneficiary to the extent that if something were to happen to both you and your spouse, usually no one would be eligible to receive pension benefits. However, in this case your contingent beneficiary could still receive the DROP benefits that accrued during your participation in the DROP program rather than receiving nothing from your pension.

DROP programs can allow either a guaranteed rate of return or allow you to invest the funds like you would with an IRA account. It’s important to know what your investment options are and if they are guaranteed before opting for the DROP program. Make sure your participation in the DROP program is in line with your risk tolerance and return goals. If you retire with enough money to not take your pension payments immediately and before you reach age 70.5, you can use the assets you hold outside the DROP program and the pension to fund your current lifestyle. It may be wise to use the years before you turn 70.5 to convert, in piecemeal, the DROP program money into an IRA and then convert slowly, as dictated by pre-modeling your taxes, certain amounts of money every year from your IRA to your Roth IRA.

This conversion over time means the required minimum distributions from any DROP money will be lower in the future. You may be able to keep your lifetime taxes lower by taking small amounts out of your IRA and moving them to a Roth at a low tax bracket. Decreasing the required minimum distributions by converting money from IRA money to Roth IRA money over the course of time may also help keep your Medicare premiums at a lower rate during your retirement, which allows additional cost savings. In addition, if you retire early enough and you have converted some of your IRA money to a Roth, you can take it out tax and penalty free if you need any money from that Roth IRA (as long as the money is not attributable to growth but the money you put in the Roth IRA that has been in the Roth IRA for five years or longer). This means that you need to keep track of how much you convert from the IRA to the Roth IRA before growth. In other words, if you convert $10,000 from the IRA to the Roth IRA and it grows to $15,000 over the course five years, it is invested so you can take out $10,000 tax and penalty free; however, you will have to pay penalties on the additional $5,000 in gains that are made in the Roth (if you are not over age 59.5). This allows extra emergency cash flow in case you need it later in life but before you turn 59.5.

General Considerations

Generally, the DROP program is valid for a specified number of years; after that point, you will have to terminate your employment. The DROP assets will generally be paid out to you as an IRA rollover. Certain job benefits may also accrue based on your previous purchase of service credits in the pension. If this money is paid for with after-tax contributions, you may find different rules for receiving the money back. You may be able to roll the ordinarily earned DROP money over into an IRA, and you may have to take an immediate distribution to a taxable account for any DROP credit earned by purchasing service credits from your pension provider. These accumulations may or may not be a tax-free lump sum payout. The proportion of DROP assets you get that are attributable to any purchase of service credit with after-tax money may be treated differently upon rollout. You may find that you get paid out to a taxable account and the rest rolls over to an IRA.

Special Considerations

Typically, once you start the DROP program you are no longer eligible to purchase pension service credit.6 It’s important to purchase any credits you intend on purchasing before entering the DROP program or to know whether your employer allows the purchase of service credits after having entered the DROP program.

Make sure you file the appropriate forms if there are any changes to your employment or employer and make sure you know how DROP works before making any changes since any lapse in employment with a participating employer can cause your DROP participation to be terminated. Some benefits intended for actual retirement may not be available to you while you are in the DROP program because you are currently working, including health insurance subsidies and other programs intended to help retired employees.

It is important to know your options for reemployment after participating in DROP and formally retiring from service since some employers require you to be retired for a certain period, such as six months after your DROP termination date and your retirement date, to receive all your benefits. In some cases, if you go back to work too early, the employer will void your retirement application and benefits, including all the funds accumulated during your DROP participation, which you will ultimately have to pay back. This has very serious consequences, so if you intend on going back to work after retirement, it’s important to speak with your HR department and make sure you fully understand how the DROP and pension programs work in coordination with going back to work in the future.

If you do not terminate your employment at the end of the DROP program, you may find that your retirement benefits during that point of time, including DROP money that has been put aside and growing for you, are cancelled and you are put back into the regular pension program, which may or may not be beneficial. Understanding what happens if you work past the DROP election date is important because if the DROP program has not had a positive outcome for you, it may be worthwhile to run the math and consider working past the DROP program date intentionally to accrue the pension benefits if your pension works in that manner.

You can generally receive DROP account money in a direct rollover to an eligible retirement plan (e.g., an IRA and a lump-sum payment) or some combination of a direct payment to you and a rollover to an IRA. Keep in mind that if you decide to take a lump-sum payment, you will generally be taxed on the full amount given to you at an ordinary income tax rate. This can be punitive because you may have five years of pension payments taxable all in the same year that you have been working.

11. More Drop Pension Examples

It is important to note that any withdrawals from the DROP program prior to age 59.5 may be subject to a 10% penalty, similar to the 10% penalty assigned to an IRA early withdrawal. There may be a way around this if the DROP program has an associated investment plan qualified as an employer-sponsored plan. Keeping the money in the investment plan may make you eligible to take distributions prior to age 59.5 from the investment plan without facing a 10% IRA early withdrawal penalty if the payments are paid to you after you separate from service with your employer during or after the year you reach age 55. You may also be able to structure payments over the course of your lifetime from the DROP program and avoid the 10% penalty. Correctly structuring your retirement and the age at which you will need these assets is very important, so you should speak with your tax advisor and financial planner before doing anything.

Some special-risk members who are qualified public safety employees may receive distributions from the plan without the 10% excise tax if they separate from service after age 50 (people in this category are generally police, firefighters, or emergency medical service workers for a state or municipality). This means, it can be important to think carefully about your age and how long it will be before you need the DROP money before deciding whether to keep the money inside an investment plan offered by the pension provider or roll the money over into an IRA where you could be subject to additional excise taxes on any withdrawals before the age of 59.5. If you have already rolled the money over into an IRA, it may be wise to speak to your HR department about whether you can roll the money back into the investment plan and take withdrawals if you end up needing withdrawals prior to age 59.5, although this may not always be possible.

 General IRS Rules and Eligibility

  • You may have to wait until you are eligible to retire under the current pension plan to participate in the DROP program. Depending on the plan, you may have to choose to enroll within a certain period based on your first eligibility date, or you may be allowed to choose when you would like to enroll after your retirement date.
  • Once you enroll in the DROP, you may not be able to add years of service to your pension.
  • You are likely limited in terms of the amount of time you can participate in the DROP program, but if you select a shorter DROP period than the maximum allowed, you may be able to request an extension up to the maximum allowed by your employer.
  • Electing to participate in the DROP program is usually irrevocable. In other words, you typically cannot decide you don’t want to participate in the DROP program any longer once you have started participating. In addition, you will no longer receive service credit for years of work and the pension calculation for years worked while participating in the DROP program in most cases.
  • You may need to name a separate beneficiary for the DROP account money from your pension since that person may not automatically be the same as the pension beneficiary. Looking at who the beneficiary is and ensuring that it is who you want it to be is important.

 

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