Deciding When to Retire

Retirement with SERS is a matter of eligibility. You must meet one of the age and service credit combinations to be eligible for a monthly, lifetime pension. Eligibility for retirement through SERS is not the same as eligibility for Social Security.

 

SERS offers two types of service retirement: unreduced service retirement and early service retirement with reduced benefits.

For unreduced service retirement, you will earn the maximum pension amount based on your service credit, which is how long you’ve worked in an Ohio public service job, and final average salary, which is the average of the three highest years of salary.

Early service retirement benefits will be reduced to cover the cost of providing a pension over a longer period of time.

Service Retirement Eligibility


The earliest your effective date of retirement can be is the first day of the month following the later of:

  • Your last day of paid school employment, or
  • The date you reach an age and service credit combination.

Age + Service Credit + Salary = Pension

Your pension is based on age, service credit, and salary.

The age used in a pension calculation is your actual age at the time you retire. If you plan to retire July 1, but your birthday is July 15, it may be to your advantage to postpone your retirement date until August 1.

However, one month’s delay will mean one pension check lost. Will that be worth it? Only a comparison of the “before” and “after” estimates will supply the answer.

All of your service credit is used in calculating your pension. All service credit must be purchased before your retirement date. Our Member Services staff can show you the pension amount before and after purchase of credit. In some cases, you can recover the cost of a purchase in two or three years by receiving a higher pension amount.

When you apply for retirement with SERS, you have to choose a payment plan. Depending on your circumstances, one payment plan may be a better choice than another. The decision is based on personal factors, such as health, finances, marital status, and other sources of income.

The SERS staff will supply the necessary estimate(s) to help in your decision. We will be available to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each plan, but the final decision will be up to you.

It is important that you understand each plan. The payment plan you choose is largely determined by whether or not you wish to provide for someone after your death. If so, your pension is reduced. The amount of the reduction depends upon the payment plan you choose and the ages of those involved.

If you change your mind within 30 days of your first pension deposit, please contact SERS immediately. After 30 days, you can only change your payment plan under these limited circumstances:

  • marriage
  • remarriage
  • divorce
  • dissolution
  • annulment
  • death of your designated beneficiary

No matter which plan you choose, your pension is for your lifetime. You are always assured the return of your contributions, regardless of the plan you choose. Any employee contributions remaining in the account must be paid to your estate if both you and your beneficiary die before your total contributions have been collected in benefits.

There are positives and negatives to every plan selection. The highest pension possible, a Plan B “Single Life” plan, provides only for you, the retiree. By choosing a “Joint Life” plan, you can make sure that a benefit will continue to your beneficiary after your death.

Payment Plans Available

   Plan A:  Joint Life – One-Half to Spouse

Half of your gross monthly pension is paid to your spouse upon your death. Once your spouse becomes the recipient, payment to your spouse is for his or her lifetime.

   Plan B:  Single Life Allowance – No Monthly Payment to Beneficiary

This plan pays the highest amount to you, but ceases with your death. If all of your member contributions have not been recovered in the form of monthly benefits, the remainder is paid in a lump sum to your designated beneficiary. If you designate multiple beneficiaries, any amount will be distributed equally among them.

   Plan C: Joint Life – Designated Amount to Beneficiary

You can designate a set percentage or amount for your beneficiary for your beneficiary’s life. This cannot exceed whatever you received; but, if an amount is designated, the minimum must be $100 a month. Federal tax law may require a different minimum amount; in this case, the benefit estimate will show the correct minimum amount allowable.

   Plan D: Joint Life – Same Amount to Beneficiary

Plan D provides the same gross monthly amount to your beneficiary that you were drawing at the time of death. Due to federal tax law, if there is too great a difference in the ages between you and your beneficiary other than your spouse, this plan may not be available.

   Plan E: Guaranteed Allowance

You may guarantee beneficiary protection for a limited period of time under Plan E. Several options are available: 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, and other periods are available upon request. The gross monthly amount to your beneficiary is the same amount you were receiving at the time of death. Beneficiary protection is guaranteed for the period of time chosen, and begins with your effective date of retirement. If you designate multiple beneficiaries, the amount payable is the remaining annuity discounted to its present value and will be paid in a one-time lump sum equally among them. If you select this plan, you will be sent a separate form for designation of beneficiaries. This form must be received by SERS before benefits are paid. This plan cannot be changed under any circumstances.

   Plan F: Joint Life – Multiple Beneficiaries

You may name up to four people to receive monthly benefits upon your death. Each additional beneficiary named reduces your own pension. You must designate a percentage of your monthly pension OR a flat dollar amount for each beneficiary. The amount designated cannot be less than 10% unless required by a court order, and the amount for all beneficiaries cannot exceed 100%. If you are required by a court order to provide a benefit for an ex-spouse, include a copy of the court order. If you select this plan, you will be sent a separate form for designation of beneficiaries. This form must be received by SERS before benefits are paid.

Aside from providing income for a beneficiary, another advantage of choosing a Joint Life Plan is the current ability to continue a beneficiary’s health care coverage. To provide health care coverage for your beneficiaries after your death, you must select Joint Life Plan A, C, D, or F.

Your spouse and your children are the only beneficiaries who can be eligible for SERS’ health care coverage. Any other named beneficiary may receive pension payments, but not health care coverage.

Health care premiums are deducted from your monthly pension payment. Upon your death, your beneficiaries receive monthly pension payments. Their health care coverage premiums are deducted from their pension payments.

Eligible beneficiaries can continue to receive SERS’ health care coverage as long as they pay the premiums.

SERS reserves the right to change or discontinue any health plan or program. For more information, please see the Dependent Coverage section in the Member Health Care Guide.

Partial Lump Sum Option Payment (PLOP)

In addition to selecting a payment plan, you may take part of your pension in a one-time Partial Lump Sum Option Payment (PLOP), which will permanently reduce your lifetime monthly pension.

The PLOP amount:

  • May be from 6 to 36 months of your unreduced pension, but it cannot reduce your original pension more than 50%.
  • Must be taken at retirement.

SERS can provide you with estimates of your pension with and without a PLOP amount. You should consider this option carefully to decide whether a partial lump sum amount is worth a permanent reduction in the regular monthly pension.

If you select a PLOP, it will not be paid until SERS receives all required information from your employer. Please be patient, as there may be a delay of 60 to 90 days after your effective date of retirement.

The PLOP is subject to 20% federal income taxes which are withheld automatically. Taxes may be avoided if the PLOP is rolled over to a qualified plan. If you select a PLOP, you will receive detailed information about federal taxes and the rollover option. If you wish to have Ohio state taxes withheld, please contact SERS for the necessary form.

Retirees under the age of 59½ also may be subject to an additional 10% federal tax penalty unless the PLOP is rolled over.

If you are subject to the Social Security Government Pension Offset or Windfall Elimination Provision, the Social Security Administration will calculate your reduction based on the unreduced pension amount, which is the amount of your SERS pension if you did not choose a PLOP option.

If you are married and choose a plan of payment other than Plan A, or select a PLOP, written consent from your spouse is required. This must be done on the Service Retirement Application, and must be signed in the presence of a notary public or a SERS employee.

If your spouse will not consent to the plan choice, SERS will pay you according to the Plan A monthly amount. You must advise us in writing if your spouse will not sign the consent.

The spousal consent requirement may be waived if your spouse’s whereabouts are unknown, if he or she is medically unable to give consent, or if a guardianship has been established for your spouse. Please contact SERS for documentation requirements.

Your retirement cannot be processed until SERS receives the signed spousal consent, you have notified us that your spouse will not give consent, or until the appropriate document in support of waiver has been filed.

In order to retire and begin receiving a monthly pension, you must complete and return a Service Retirement Application. It must be completely filled out and signed by you, and if necessary, by your spouse. The application must be returned with all the necessary documents.

You also have the option of completing the Service Retirement Application online using the Account Login feature. Once you create your online account, the application wizard walks you through each step of the application and provides a allows you to upload all of the required documents.

Once SERS receives your application, you are sent a handout explaining the retirement process. SERS notifies your employer that you have applied for retirement and of your expected date of retirement. However, you must notify your employer in writing of your retirement date.

If you indicated on the application that you wish to obtain additional service credit for which you may be eligible, SERS will notify you by mail of your cost to purchase any service credit. You must purchase all service credit prior to your effective retirement date.

No retirement is official until all forms have been completed, returned, and approved by SERS.

You should return your completed retirement application to SERS at least 90 days before your intended date of retirement.

Don’t forget to notify your employer that you are planning to retire. Each school district has a separate policy regarding severance packages for retiring employees.

Your employer must certify your final contributions and last date of service.

After SERS Receives Your Retirement Application

Pension Verification

Once your monthly pension has been processed, you will receive:

  • A verification letter that includes information which can be used for income verification, Social Security verification, if applicable, and income tax information to use in determining your tax withholding amounts
  • General income tax information

Changing Your Plan of Payment

If you choose to change your plan of payment, PLOP selection, or retirement date prior to receiving your first payment, you must submit a notice in writing that you want to cancel your initial application and then submit a revised Service Retirement Application. If you choose to change your plan of payment, PLOP selection, or retirement date after receiving your first payment, you must return the payment and submit a signed notice in writing that you want to cancel your initial application within 30 days of the initial payment date. You also must submit a revised Service Retirement Application with your new selections.


Death

If you die before the effective date of your retirement, your retirement will not take effect and your account will be processed as if you died while still working. This would be considered a survivor benefit.