PERS Plan 1

Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) Plan 1

PERS Plan 1 is a lifetime retirement pension plan available to public employees in Washington. You and your employer contribute a percentage of income to fund the plan.

Your contributions

PERS Plan 1 employee contribution rate: 6.00%

This is the percentage of your pretax salary that goes toward your pension retirement income.

View Essentials of PERS Plan 1 video.

How much will your pension be?

Estimate your retirement benefit in minutes using the personalized Benefit Estimator in your online account. Your total pension amount is based on your years of service and your income.  See more about how we calculate your benefit.

Years of service

Your service credit is the number of years you work in public service. You receive one service credit each calendar month in which you are compensated for 70 or more hours of work. No more than one month of service credit can be earned each calendar month, even if more than one employer is reporting hours you work Review your service credit detail through your online account.

Your income

The Average Final Compensation, or AFC is the average of your 24 consecutive highest earning months in your career. This could be at the beginning, middle or end of your career. DRS uses your AFC income information to calculate your pension amount. Your benefit can be no higher than 60% of your AFC. For high income public employees, federal law limits the amount you can contribute toward retirement and limits the benefit calculation. See IRS limits.

PERS Plan 1 formula

2% x service credit years x Average Final Compensation = monthly benefit

Example

Let’s say you work 23 years and the average of your highest 24 months of income (AFC) is $5,400 per month.

2% x 23 years x $5,400 = $2,484

When you retire, you’d receive $2,484 per month.

Refund after 30 years of service

Do you have at least 30 service credit years? If so, you can make a one-time, permanent choice to participate in a program in which post-30-year contributions are refunded at retirement. To do so, you must sign up within six months of earning 30 service credit years.

More about the 30-year service refund

Members who earn 30 years of service credit in PERS Plan 1 can have their post-30-year contributions put in a separate, refundable account. Such accounts earn 7.5% interest annually (compounded quarterly) and don’t reduce your retirement benefit amount. If you participate:

  • Your post-30-year contributions and interest will be refunded to you when you retire
  • Your future monthly benefit will be based on your highest 24 consecutive months of compensation before you joined the program
  • Leave cashed out at retirement will still be included in your Average Final Compensation (AFC)

To participate, do I need to take action by a certain time?

Yes. You have six months from the time you earn 30 service credit years to choose whether to opt in to the program. You might reach 30 years of service before the end of the school year. You reach 30 years after completing 144 days in the fiscal year of your 30th service credit year.

The Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) will notify you a few months before you reach 30 years of service credit in PERS Plan 1. If you don’t join the program within six months of reaching 30 service credit years, you lose the option to do so.

Your AFC is based on your two consecutive, highest paid fiscal years of service. That means when you enter the program is vital.

Example

When to join

Mateo is interested in joining the Post-30-Year Program. His salary is the highest he’s made so far in public service. But he’s been earning it for only 21 months. So he wants to earn that salary for at least three more months to secure it as his AFC.

Mateo has been notified that he has six months from the time he reaches 30 service credit years to join the program. Mateo waits three months to opt in to the program and secures his highest AFC for his monthly benefit as well as a future refund of his post-30-year contributions.

How does working more than 30 years affect my benefit?

If you work more than 30 service credit years as a PERS Plan 1 member, two factors will affect your monthly benefit:

  • Your salary
  • Whether you opt in to the Post-30-Year Program

Your AFC factors into your benefit payment. AFC is based on your salary for your two consecutive, highest paid fiscal years of service.

If you join the program, your salary after joining won’t impact your future monthly benefit. That means if you work at a higher pay rate for two more years, that higher rate won’t apply to your monthly benefit. A lower pay rate wouldn’t apply either.

If I opt in, when will my contributions start going into a new account?

If you opt in, your post-30-year contributions — still set at 6% of your salary or wages — will be sent to a refundable account beginning the first of the month after we process your Notice of Election for Post-30-Year Program form.

For example, if we process your form in May, beginning June 1 your contributions will be sent to your new account.

If you send in your participation form before reaching 30 years of service credit, your contributions will begin going into your new account the first of the month after you reach 30 years.

How much difference can this choice make?

That depends on your circumstances, including your wages and how long you intend to work past 30 service credit years. Consider Athena’s example.

Example

Athena begins her 30th year of service credit in September 2018. She is age 54. Athena decides to retire in June 2021 with 32 years of service credit. Here’s her salary spanning the four final years:

  • 29th Year = $53,000
  • 30th Year = $54,000
  • 31st Year = $55,000 (projected)
  • 32nd Year = $56,000 (projected)

Choosing not to join:

Athena doesn’t join the program. Here’s how her monthly benefit will be calculated:

Highest consecutive two years of salary: $55,000 and $56,000

AFC: ($55,000 + $56,000) ÷ 24 months = $4,625

Monthly benefit: 2% x 30 years x $4,625

= 0.02 x 30 x 4,625

= $2,775

Choosing to join:

Athena joins the program. Here’s how her monthly benefit will be calculated:

Highest consecutive two years of salary before joining the program: $53,000 and $54,000

AFC: ($53,000 + $54,000) ÷ 24 = $4,458

Monthly benefit: 2% x 30 years x $4,458

= 0.02 x 30 x 4,458

= $2,675

Refund of contributions (6% of salary) and interest (7.5%): $6,420 in contributions and $482 in interest

= $6,902

= $2,675

Should I opt in to the program?

That depends on your circumstances. If your salary won’t increase after reaching 30 years of service, it might be to your advantage to opt in to the program. If you aren’t sure how much your future earnings will be, you might want to discuss the program with a financial advisor before making a choice.

We can provide estimates to help inform your decision. Contact DRS to request benefit estimates based on your current account information, estimated salary and leave cash out from now until your planned retirement date.

We can also give you estimates with and without the Post-30-Year Program as well as estimates based on different dates for joining the program.

If I join, when will I receive my post-30-year funds?

If you opt in to the program, you will receive your post-30-year contributions and interest when you retire from Plan 1. You can’t defer receiving the funds. However, you can roll over the funds into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or qualified retirement plan that accepts 401(a) plan rollovers.

If you are younger than 59½ when you retire from Plan 1 and you don’t roll over your post-30-year funds, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) might apply an additional 10% tax on your refund.

For more tax information, read IRS publication 575, Pension and Annuity Income. DRS team members aren’t able to give tax advice.

Plan 1 optional COLA

Plan 1 members of PERS and TRS can choose to reduce your initial benefit and receive an annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment, called an optional COLA. This adjustment is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and offers a maximum increase or decrease of 3% each year.

More about the Plan 1 optional COLA

If you’re interested in comparing your benefit with and without the optional COLA, try this Excel COLA calculator. If you don’t have Excel, contact us for assistant with the calculation.

Optional COLA FAQ

How does the Optional COLA work?

If you choose the Plan 1 optional COLA, your benefit is initially reduced, but you’ll receive an annual adjustment to your monthly benefit based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which can be positive or negative. This annual adjustment cannot increase or decrease your benefit by more than 3% of your previous year’s benefit, and it can never reduce your benefit to less than your initial benefit amount. The optional COLA is a choice available to PERS and TRS Plan 1 members only at the time you apply for retirement and is permanent.

Why was the optional COLA created?

Created in 1987, the optional COLA was designed to help keep retirement benefits in step with the changing economy. If inflation raises consumer prices, the COLA will assist in maintaining the purchasing power of your benefits. If inflation lowers, the COLA will normally decrease the benefit.

What information do I need to use the optional COLA Calculator?

If you’ve received a Retirement Benefit Estimate, use the numbers and information it provided. It includes everything you’ll need. If you don’t have one, you’ll need your:

  • System and plan
  • Birth date
  • Expected retirement date
  • Monthly retirement benefit without optional COLA (if you don’t know this, visit your online account to create an estimate based on DRS’ records)

In addition, you will also need:

COLA inflation assumption (although inflation fluctuates from year to year, you’ll need to assume an average ranging from zero to 3%. Find out more about inflation.

How is the optional COLA increase calculated?

The optional COLA increase is calculated by multiplying your gross monthly benefit by the COLA rates based on the year you retired for a maximum of 3%.

Example:

$1,500 (Benefit) X .44% (July 1, 2010 COLA2) = $6.60 (Increase to benefit) For a new monthly benefit of $1,506.60

How does the optional COLA impact my initial benefit?

If you choose the optional COLA your initial benefit amount is reduced. The size of the reduction is based on the estimated cost to pay the COLA over your expected lifetime. In this way, your benefit reduction is paying for the COLA.

The cost of the COLA is determined by a Plan 1 optional COLA factor provided by The Office of the State Actuary (OSA). The factors are based on assumptions regarding life expectancies, inflation and interest rates. If you have additional questions about these assumptions, contact the Office of the State Actuary. The Plan 1 factors are provided in the optional COLA calculator.

When do I receive the Optional COLA?

You will receive the Optional COLA every July after you’ve been retired one full year.

Is this my only chance at having COLA increases during retirement?

If you receive a benefit that falls below a minimum level, you may be eligible for an annual adjustment.

If I choose the optional COLA, how many years will it take before I recover the cost of this benefit?

There isn’t a simple answer that applies to everyone. We hope you’ll try the optional COLA calculator to get an estimate of your situation.

What is the Consumer Price Index (CPI)?

The CPI is a measure of the changes in prices of all goods and services. The CPI we use, identified by the Washington State Legislature, is the Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton CPI-W. This CPI is maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Learn more about CPI at the Office of the State Actuary.

If the CPI rate is negative, will my benefit be reduced?

When the CPI rate is negative, your benefit will decrease equally, unless you have COLA Banking or you hit your initial monthly benefit amount. Your benefits can’t fall below your initial monthly benefit amount. For example, let’s say your initial benefit is $1,500. Your first COLA is positive 1% and your benefit amount increases to $1,515. Then in the second year, the CPI rate is negative 2%, but your COLA is only negative 1%, because your benefit cannot fall below the initial benefit amount of $1,500.

How do I know if choosing the optional COLA is the best choice for me? Only you are able to decide. The optional COLA Calculator is a good place to start. Consulting a financial planner is also something you might want to consider. Once you’ve looked at the data provided by the calculator, think about these questions:

  • Can you comfortably live on the reduced benefit at the time of retirement?
  • How long do you think you will live?
  • What will the future rate of inflation be?
  • What interest could you earn, if you didn’t choose the optional COLA, and invested the difference instead?

Why is my first optional COLA delayed by two calendar years?

You must be retired for a full year when the optional COLA is applied in July. An August 2019 retiree had only 11 months in retirement by July 2020. So the first optional COLA was applied in July 2021.

I read that this calculator doesn’t include COLA banking. What is COLA banking?

The maximum optional COLA increase is 3%. In years where the CPI increase is more than 3%, the difference is banked for future years. The banked percentage is used in years when the COLA is less than the maximum. For example, let’s say in year one the CPI was 6.48%, and you received a 3% increase and banked the remaining 3.48%. In year two the CPI was negative 0.27%. So in July of year two you used that banked amount and ended with a positive 3% COLA, and still had 0.21% in the bank for future years.

There is another time when COLA banking is useful. As explained in the last question, there is a period when members wait for the COLA to begin. The delay is dependent on your retirement date. Using the example from above, let’s say you retired in August of year one. You’re not eligible to receive the optional COLA in July of year two, so the entire 6.48% was banked. In July of year three, when the CPI was negative 0.27%, you would receive a full 3% COLA, leaving 3.21% in the bank for future years.

The calculator may underestimate the long-term optional COLA benefit by up to one year’s inflation rate, because it does not include COLA banking.

I have a retroactive retirement date; can I use the calculator?

You can use the calculator for a retroactive retirement, but the optional COLA factors change periodically so the results may not be accurate. To ensure you receive the most accurate estimate, please contact us.

Will the Optional COLA continue to my survivor when I die?

Yes. If you choose a survivor option at retirement, your survivor will continue to receive annual optional COLA adjustments every July.

When can you retire?

Now that we’ve discussed how much money you can get in retirement, let’s talk about when you can retire. You need 5 or more years of service to qualify for a retirement with PERS Plan 1. Full retirement age is 65. You can also choose to retire as early as age 55, but your benefit could be reduced depending on your total years of service.

You need 5 years of service

With PERS Plan 1, you need five years of service to qualify for a retirement. Once you have five years, you are a “vested” member. Five is the minimum, but you can earn an unlimited number of years to increase your pension amount.

Retirement

Full retirement is the earliest age you can retire without any reduction to your retirement benefit For active members, you can retire at:

  • Any age with at least 30 years of service credit
  • Age 55 with at least 25 years of service credit
  • Age 60 with at least 5 years of service credit

For inactive members, you can retire at:

  • Age 65 with at least 5 years of service credit
  • Age 60 with at least 20 years of service credit
  • Age 60 with at least 5 years of service credit (benefit may be reduced)

How do you retire?

Retiring can take anywhere from a few months to a few years. Find out here which actions you need to take before retiring and what your application options are. 

Separation vs retirement

You are retired from DRS when you separate from employment and begin collecting your pension. If you leave public employment, but you are not yet collecting a pension, we consider you separated, but not retired. These instructions assume you are separating and will be collecting your pension (retiring).

Make a plan

Give yourself time to retire. It’s best to make a two-year plan. This will give you the opportunity to explore healthcare options, find out about Social Security, make retirement savings decisions and set your affairs in order for a successful retirement. The DRS retirement checklist walks you through the steps you’ll take.

You must request an estimate

But how do you actually retire? First you request an official benefit estimate from DRS. The estimate takes about 6 to 8 weeks and is necessary to determine your pension amount. Request an estimate through your online account or call us at 800-547-6657.

  • Official benefit estimate: Request the official benefit estimate if you are within one year of retiring.
  • Benefit Estimator tool: If you are still more than one year away from retirement, you can use the Benefit Estimator in your online account to calculate your projected pension amount.

Submit an application

Once your estimate is complete, you’ll receive a statement in the mail and you’ll have two options to retire: Online or paper application.

Retiring online

Retiring online with DRS is fast and easy. That’s why two out of three members choose to retire online! When you request your formal benefit estimate, you’ll enter an expected retirement date. With online retirement, you can retire anywhere from three months before to three months after the date you request.

Retiring on paper

There are some situations where customers cannot retire online (for example, if you are a member of more than one retirement system). For this reason, we also offer a paper application for retirement. With the paper application, you can retire anytime within one year of the official benefit estimate.

When do you get paid?

Your pension money will be direct deposited into your bank account on the last business day of the month, every month, for the rest of your life. The retirement application has a section for your bank information so your funds will be deposited. Once you’ve retired, you can make any updates to your direct deposit through your online account.

See live or recorded retirement planning webinars.

How can you increase your pension amount?

You can increase your pension benefit by increasing your years of service or your income. But when it comes to total retirement income, you have more options. 

DCP savings program

The Deferred Compensation Program or DCP is a voluntary savings program you can use to increase your retirement savings. DCP uses many of the same investment options available to Plan 3 members, including investments that are managed for you. With DCP, you control your contribution amount so your savings can grow with you. Saving an additional $100 a month now could mean an extra $100,000 in retirement! (Example based on 6% annual rate of return over 30 years of contributions.) Find out more.

See a live or recorded DCP webinar.

Annuity options

What is an annuity?

Annuities are lifetime income plans you purchase.

When it’s time to retire, you have some additional options—options that can change your finite savings into a monthly, lifetime income called an annuity. An annuity is a guaranteed income plan you purchase. The monthly payments you receive are based on the dollar amount you choose to purchase. The annuity will provide monthly payments for your lifetime. The annuities DRS offers are administered by Washington state with investments provided by the Washington State Investment Board.

Is an annuity right for me?

Annuities can provide guaranteed income for your life. And they offer security through a set monthly income which can increase annually if you are eligible for a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). However, flexibility is not a feature of annuities. Once you set it up, an annuity doesn’t allow you to change the income amount. Once you begin receiving monthly payments, you cannot cancel the annuity.

With annuities, you take money out of market risk and use it to give yourself a monthly lifetime income. Annuities are the only investment withdrawal option that guarantee you will not outlive your account balance.

How do annuities affect my taxes?

Each year you’ll receive a statement that shows the taxable amount of your annuity. Complete a Form W-4P to choose the amount you’d like withheld from your payments for taxes. Without a Form W-4P, the tax withholding will follow IRS guidelines using a status of married with three allowances.
For more information about taxes, review IRS Publication 575. You might want to consult a tax advisor. DRS and the record keeper are not authorized to give tax advice.

PERS Plan annuity

This annuity is available to all PERS, SERS and PSERS retirement plan members. With this annuity, your survivor will be the same as the one you selected for your pension payment. You can use your DCP savings to purchase this annuity in addition to other approved funding sources. If you return to work, this annuity continues. See annuity video.

More about the PERS Plan annuity

When can I purchase? When you are retiring.

Are there limits to the annuity amount I can purchase? Yes, the minimum purchase amount is $5,000. There are no maximum limits.

How much does it cost? Log in to your account and choose “Purchasing Annuity.” Here you can find the monthly increase to your pension for any purchase amount.

What funds can I use to purchase an annuity? Your payment must come from an eligible governmental plan, like your DCP savings. Members cannot use PERS/SERS/TRS Plan 3 contributions to pay for this annuity.

When does my annuity benefit begin? Your retirement date or the day after your bill for the annuity is paid in full, whichever comes later.

How often do I receive my annuity benefit? Monthly.

Can I designate a survivor? Yes. Your survivor must be the same survivor and survivor option you chose for your retirement benefit.

Will I receive a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)? Yes. You will receive a COLA up to 3% annually. If you’re a Plan 1 member, a COLA is optional at retirement and your choice will also apply to this annuity purchase.

How do I purchase this annuity? Request this annuity when you retire online. You can also purchase it when completing a paper retirement application.

Can I cancel the annuity if I change my mind? In most cases, no. Annuities are fixed income sources. Once you purchase the annuity, you will not have access to the funds you used to make the purchase.

There are two exceptions:

If you have not completed the annuity purchase, you can still change or cancel the annuity.

Once you make the purchase, you’ll have 15 days to cancel the transaction. You’ll receive a mailed contract that includes your rescission, or cancel by date.

Will my annuity purchase be refunded if I die? If you (and your survivor if you selected a survivor option) die before the amount of your annuity purchase has been paid back to you, the difference will be refunded to your beneficiary.

What if I return to work? Your annuity continues.

Purchase service credit

Purchasing additional service credit increases your monthly retirement benefit for the rest of your life. You can purchase between one and 60 months of service credit in whole months. The increase to your benefit is calculated using the same formula as your retirement benefit. This additional service credit is available at the time of your retirement only. Also, you cannot use the additional credit to qualify for retirement (it won’t increase your years of service).

More about the service credit annuity

When can I purchase? When you are retiring.

Are there limits to the amount of service credit I can purchase? Minimum: One month; Maximum: 60 months.

How much does it cost? Log in to your account and choose “Purchasing Service.” Here you can find the estimated cost and income increase per month you purchase.

What funds can I use to purchase service credit? You can use any funds except for Plan 3 contributions.

When does my annuity benefit begin? After you have made payment in full.

How often do I receive the benefit? Monthly.

Can I designate a survivor? Yes. Your survivor will be the same option you chose for your retirement benefit.

Will I receive a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)? Yes. You will receive a COLA up to 3% annually. If you’re a TRS Plan 1 or PERS Plan 1 member, a COLA is an optional choice at retirement.

Can I cancel the annuity if I change my mind? No. Annuities are fixed income sources. Once you purchase the annuity, you will not have access to the funds you used to make the purchase. If you have not completed the annuity purchase, you can still change or cancel the annuity.

How do I purchase service credit? Request this annuity when you retire online. You can also purchase it when completing a paper retirement application.

Will my annuity purchase be refunded when I die? Yes. If you (and your survivor if you selected a survivor option) die before the amount of your purchase has been paid back to you, the difference will be refunded to your beneficiary. For TRS Plan 1, this refund does not apply if you selected the Maximum Option.

What if I return to work? The return to work rules for service credit are the same as your retirement benefit. If you return to work for a DRS-covered employer, your annuity will stop if you return to retirement system membership or if you exceed allowable hours as a retiree (867 per year). If you do not return to a DRS-covered employer, your annuity will continue.

When will my benefit increase be effective? The increase in your benefit will be effective the day after the department receives your full payment.

See a live or recorded annuity option webinar.

Life events that can affect your pension

Death

Death of a retired member

Please contact DRS as soon as possible. If the retiree chose a survivor benefit, we must update the account for payments to continue. If the retiree did not select a survivor option, we need to stop monthly benefits to avoid an overpayment. When you contact us, please be ready to provide the deceased retiree’s full name, Social Security number and date of death.

Death of an active or not yet retired member

If the deceased worked in a public service position in Washington, payment may be due to survivor(s). When you contact us, please be ready to provide the deceased member’s full name, Social Security number and date of death. Also tell us if the death may be work-related.

Death of a beneficiary

If you are an active member, you can update your beneficiary designation at any time by logging into your online account.

If you are retired and your beneficiary or survivor dies before you do, please contact DRS.


Report a death to DRS

Phone: 800.547.6657 – Menu option 3 or extension 47081

Email: drs.dnd@drs.wa.gov – Please provide only the last 4 digits of the deceased’s SSN

Disability

If you become totally incapacitated and leave your job as a result, you might be eligible for a disability retirement benefit. The disability retirement was originally created for customers who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible to start receiving a retirement benefit. Even if you have not yet reached the minimum age for retirement, or you are not yet vested in your plan, you can still apply for a disability retirement.

Do you already qualify for retirement?

If you are vested in your plan and qualify to retire, there is no financial benefit to taking disability vs retirement, even for early retirement. The income you receive for either retirement uses the same calculations. Early or full retirement is also a much faster process than disability retirement.

How to apply for a disability retirement

Call DRS and request an official estimate for a disability retirement. It takes about 3-4 weeks for DRS to calculate your benefit. Then we will mail you a packet with the estimate and a three-part form. You, your employer and your doctor will need to complete all three forms in the packet.

Once DRS receives the completed application and all supporting documentation, it usually takes about four to six weeks to determine your eligibility for a disability retirement.

The full application process averages 4-5 months from the time you request the estimate, but the timing can vary. Providing all requested documentation along with a complete application can help reduce the wait time.

If the disability retirement is approved, your retirement date would be the first of the month after your separation date. DRS would issue your monthly benefit payments on the last business day of the following month and every month after.

Separation and Withdrawals

Separating

If you separate from PERS employment, you can choose to either leave your contributions in the plan until you’re eligible to retire or withdraw them. The IRS requires that you begin taking payment of your monthly benefit by the time you are 72, unless you are still employed.

Separating from PERS-covered employment is the only circumstance where you can withdraw your contributions. Doing so cancels any rights and benefit you have accrued in PERS. You can restore your contributions and re-establish your benefit only in certain circumstances.

There are tax implications to withdrawing your contributions, so you might want to contact the IRS or a tax advisor before making a decision. 

Be sure to keep us up to date on any changes to your name, address or beneficiary. It’s important that you keep your beneficiary designation current, because a divorce, marriage or other circumstance might invalidate it.

Withdrawals

For information about withdrawing your retirement contributions before retirement, see Withdrawal of Retirement Contributions.

Loans and borrowing

Due to Internal Revenue Service regulations regarding government pension plans, none of the state retirement pension plans allow for loans or borrowing from your contributions. Retirement plan members, you can only access the funds you’ve contributed if you have separated employment from a DRS-covered employer.

The Deferred Compensation Program (DCP) does not allow loans. If you have a DCP account, an Unforeseeable Emergency Withdrawal may be possible under certain criteria. To discuss the requirements and obtain an Unforeseeable Emergency Withdrawal Packet, contact a DCP representative at 888-327-5596.

If you need to show proof of your account balance or monthly pension payment to secure a home loan, mortgage or other borrowing, log in to your DRS online account to view, print or download an account balance or pension verification letter.

Returning to public service

Returning

If you leave your position, withdraw your contributions and later return to work covered by PERS, you might be able to restore your previous service credit. To do so, you must repay the total amount of the contributions you withdrew plus interest within five years of returning to work or before you retire, whichever comes first. Contact us to find out that amount.

A dual member, or someone who belongs to more than one retirement system, might be able to restore service credit earned in a retirement system other than PERS. Each time you become a dual member, you’ll have 24 months to restore service credit earned in a previous retirement system.

It might still be possible to purchase service credit after the deadline has passed. However, the cost in that case is considerably higher.

Missing or withdrawn service credit

Service credit is the time used to calculate your pension retirement income. Sometimes customers notice their service credit doesn’t match their seniority date—these times do not always match. Often, the difference is because of missing or withdrawn service credit. You may be eligible to purchase some or all of the missing credit. Here is what you need to know about the process.

How do I check my service credit?

View your complete service credit history through your online account. It is a good practice to check your service credit every few years to be sure it matches your expectations.

Contact DRS for a cost estimate

You will need to contact DRS to request a cost for restoring your credit. We are not able to provide an estimate when you call. Similar to a retirement benefit estimate, this cost must be calculated by DRS and may require information from your employer.

You’ll need this information

The following preparation can expedite your request:

Provide the dates for the missing service. Find your service credit history in your online account.

Let us know if there is a gap in your service credit or if you withdrew from your account.

  • If there is a gap in your service credit, do you know why? Were there any special circumstances around your employment at the time? Some common events for missing credit include: authorized leave of absence, childbirth, substitute teaching, temporary duty disability, or injury.
  • If you withdrew from your account, when did you pull out the contributions?

How do I pay?

Make direct payment with either a personal or cashier’s check. Or in many cases it’s also possible to transfer funds from another eligible retirement account to purchase service credit. However, DRS cannot accept funds in excess of the cost to make your purchase. Check with your account administrator to see if you can transfer those dollars to a 401(a) account type.

There is a deadline

You must request and purchase the missing service within the timeframe allowed for your plan. The amount of time varies by plan. Ask DRS about your options for purchase. If the deadline has passed, you may still have the option to purchase additional service credit as an annuity option when you retire. This purchase will not restore missing time, but it would be used in your retirement payment calculation.

Working after retirement

If you return to public service in Washington state after you retire, your benefit could be affected, depending on the position and number of hours you work.

In certain circumstances, you might be required to become a member of, and pay contributions to, another retirement system. You might be able to work limited hours with no impact to your benefit.

If you think you might be returning to work after retirement, call us to see if your benefit will be affected.

See a live or recorded working after retirement webinar.

Members of more than one retirement plan

If you are a member of more than one Washington state retirement system, you are a dual member. You can combine service credit earned in all dual member systems to become eligible for retirement.

In most cases, your monthly benefit will be based on the highest base salary you earned, regardless of which system you earned it in. Base salary includes your wages and overtime and can include other cash payments if those payments are included as base salary in all the retirement systems you are retiring from.

Maximum benefit

If you retire as a dual member, your total benefit cannot exceed the amount you would have received if all your service had been in a single system. The maximum benefit limitation applies only if you have:

  • 15 or more service credit years in a plan with a benefit cap
  • More than 30 years total combined service

Example

If you retire at age 65 with three years of service credit from PERS Plan 1 and four from the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) Plan 1, you are a dual member. Without dual membership, your service would not be eligible for a monthly benefit from either system. With dual membership, your service credit is combined, giving you enough to retire. Your benefit from each is calculated with service from that system. This is how your benefit is calculated:

2% x 3 (PERS service credit years) x Average Final Compensation (AFC) = PERS benefit

2% x 4 (TRS service credit years) x AFC = TRS benefit

PERS benefit + TRS benefit = total monthly benefit

See a live or recorded membership in multiple plans webinar.

Military service

Do you have U.S. military service? If you leave or reduce your DRS retirement plan-covered employment to serve in the military, you may be eligible for restoration of missing retirement service credit. The amount of service credit you have directly affects your retirement income calculation.

There is a deadline

You must complete payment for the military service credit within five years of returning to DRS-covered employment, or before you retire, whichever comes first. After this time has passed, you will no longer be eligible to replace the service using the military credit program, but you are still welcome to purchase up to five years of standard service credit to fill in any gaps.

How much will it cost?

You can recover between five and 10 years of service, depending on your circumstance. If your service was during a period of war or an armed conflict during which you earned a campaign badge or medal, you can recover up to five years of interruptive military service credit at no cost to you. For other military service, you will receive an optional bill for the member retirement contributions you would have paid on your normal salary during that time (plus any interest).

How do I apply?

Contact DRS to ask about recovering military service credit. You will then submit information, such as a copy of your DD214, to help us determine your eligibility. DRS will review your account as well as the information you provide and notify you of our findings, including an optional bill if applicable. This usually takes 2-3 weeks..

Marriage or divorce

Your retirement account can be affected by changes in your marital status. If you marry or divorce before you retire, you need to update your beneficiary, even if your beneficiary remains the same.

Marriage

If you are married when you retire, you choose from a few benefit options that can include retirement income coverage for your spouse if you die before them. See options for changing your benefit after retirement.

If you marry after retirement, you could be eligible to change your benefit option to add your spouse. You need to be married at least a year and request DRS add your spouse during your second year of marriage. See options for changing your benefit after retirement.

If you become widowed after retiring, you can have your benefit option changed to the single-life option with no survivor reduction. You will need to report the death to DRS.

Contact DRS for more information.

Divorce or separation

Upon divorce or separation, your monthly benefit is not subject to sharing or division unless it is court-ordered. DRS could be required to pay a portion of your retirement account to satisfy a divorce agreement. This order is called a property division. The order could award an interest in your account to your ex-spouse, or split your account into two separate accounts.

For questions about a property division, or to start the process, contact DRS.

For further research on property orders, see WAC 415-02-500.

IRS federal taxes or limits on your benefit

Federal taxes on your benefit

exception will be any portion that was taxed before it was contributed. When you retire, we will let you know if any portion of your contributions has already been taxed.

Since most public employers deduct contributions before taxes, it’s likely your entire retirement benefit will be taxable.

At retirement, you must complete and submit a federal W-4P form to let us know how much of your benefit should be withheld for taxes. If you don’t, IRS rules require withholding as if you are married and claiming three exemptions. You can adjust your withholding amount at any time during retirement by completing a new W-4P form.

For each tax year you receive a retirement benefit, we will provide you with a 1099-R form to use in preparing your tax return (see 1099-R). These forms are usually mailed at the end of January for the previous year. The information is also available through your online account.

It is your responsibility to declare the proper amount of taxable income on your income tax return.

Federal benefit limits for high income members

If you are a highly paid member or retiree, you may encounter a federal limit on your retirement benefit. There are two federal regulations that could limit benefits for highly paid members and retirees. The salary limit (which restricts the salary used to determine your benefit) and the benefit limit (which limits the annual benefit amount you can receive). In other words, federal law limits the amount of compensation you can pay retirement system contributions on, and that can be used in your benefit calculations. The IRS can adjust the amount each year.

2021 salary limit

The 2021 limit is $290,000. This means any salary you earn over this amount in 2021 will not be part of your retirement contributions or your pension calculation. See the following section for more information on how this limit applies to you.

Internal Revenue Salary Limit for Active Members

If you began public service before 1/1/96

  • You don’t have a salary limit
  • You pay contributions on all salary earned
  • DRS does not adjust your Average Final Compensation for limit testing purposes
  • Your pension calculation is not affected by salary limits
  • IRC section 415(b) requires that your annual benefit must not exceed the limit. If you don’t exceed the benefit limit at the time you retire, it is still possible that your benefit may be affected at a later date.

If you began public service on or after 1/1/96

  • The current year salary limit applies (see above)
  • The salary limit is the same for all members and is adjusted annually by the IRS
  • If you reach the salary limit in a calendar year, you stop paying contributions
  • DRS notifies your employer when you approach the salary limit
  • Your Annual Final Compensation is capped for limit testing purposes if it includes the years you exceeded the salary limit
  • Your pension calculation is affected by salary limits

How do survivors or beneficiaries impact the limit?

Does my benefit amount change for my survivor beneficiary after I die?

No. If you chose to provide for a survivor beneficiary, and you die before your survivor does, your benefit transitions to your survivor at the rate you chose (100%, 50% or 67%). After the transition, your survivor’s benefit will also be tested.

Example

If a retirement member chooses to provide 50% of their benefit to a spouse or domestic partner, the full benefit is $230,000, but it’s over the dollar limit and is capped at $185,000 annually. If the member dies first, the spouse or domestic partner will receive $115,000 annually ($230,000 x .50 = $115,000).

What happens if my survivor beneficiary dies before I do?

If your survivor beneficiary dies before you do, your benefit increases as if you hadn’t chosen a survivor option. If your survivor beneficiary was your spouse or domestic partner, we will continue to use your original benefit amount in your annual testing. If your survivor beneficiary was not your spouse or domestic partner, we will use your new, higher limit amount in your annual testing.

More information about federal limits

The IRS characterizes the retirement systems as 401(a) defined benefit plans. To retain status as qualified plans, the systems must comply with federal regulations. For more information about salary limit regulations, see Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 401(a)(17). For more about benefit limit regulations, see IRC 415(b).

For more information see these IRS resources:

IRS Plan Benefit Limits

Employee Plans Technical Guidelines

More about PERS Plan 1

Selecting a beneficiary

The beneficiary information you give DRS tells us the person(s) you want to receive your remaining benefit, if any, after your death. Submit or update your beneficiary information at any time before retirement using your online account. Or you can submit a paper beneficiary form.

If you don’t submit this information, any benefits due will be paid to your surviving spouse or minor child. If you don’t have a surviving spouse or minor child, we will pay your estate.

Be sure to review your beneficiary designation periodically and update it in your online retirement account if you need to make a change. If you marry, divorce or have another significant change in your life, be sure to update your beneficiary designation because these life events might invalidate your previous choices.

State-registered domestic partners, according to RCW 26.60.010, have the same survivor and death benefits as married spouses. Contact the Secretary of State’s Office if you have questions about domestic partnerships.

Your retirement benefit options

When you apply for retirement, you will choose one of the four benefit options shown below. Once you retire, you can change your option only under limited circumstances.

Option 1: Single Life

This option pays the highest monthly amount of the four choices, but it is for your lifetime only. No one will receive an ongoing benefit after you die. If you die before the benefit you have received equals your contributions plus interest (as of the date of your retirement), the difference will be paid in a lump sum to your designated beneficiary.

Option 2: Joint and 100% survivor

Your monthly benefit under this option is less than the Single Life Option. But after your death, your survivor will receive the same benefit you were receiving for their lifetime.

Option 3: Joint and 50% survivor

This option applies a smaller reduction to your monthly benefit than Option 2. After your death, your survivor will receive half the benefit you were receiving for their lifetime.

Option 4: Joint and 66.67% survivor

This option applies a smaller reduction to your benefit than Option 2 and a larger reduction than Option 3. After your death, your survivor will receive 66.67% (or roughly two-thirds) of the benefit you were receiving for their lifetime.

Your spouse must agree to the option you pick

If you are married and choose a Survivor Option other than Option 3, the law requires that your spouse consent to your choice by cosigning your retirement application. If your spouse’s consent is not provided, an Option 3 benefit will be paid to you and your spouse will be designated to receive the survivor benefit.

See a live or recorded benefit options webinar.

Health insurance options

Ask your employer if you will be eligible for health insurance coverage through the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) once you retire. You can also call the Health Care Authority at 800-200-1004 or visit hca.wa.gov.

If you qualify for continuing coverage after retirement, you must meet strict timelines to apply or request a deferral. If you are not entitled to PEBB coverage, you might be eligible for health insurance your employer provides. For more information, consult your employer.

Plan eligibility

You are eligible for PERS Plan 1 membership if the position you were hired into (before Oct. 1, 1977) is eligible. An eligible position is normally compensated for at least 70 hours of work per month for at least five months of each year and the employer is one of the following:

  • State government (for example, agency, department, board or commission)
  • Local government, including a city, town or county
  • Public utility district
  • Public institution of higher learning
  • School district
  • Housing authority
  • Diking, fire, health, irrigation, park, library, port, reclamation, sewer or water district
  • Airport

Some employees might satisfy the basic membership criteria but be ineligible for other reasons. If one of the following applies to you, please contact us to determine whether you’re eligible for PERS:

  • You are a member of, or have retired from, another public retirement system in Washington state.
  • You work for a college or university and belong to that entity’s retirement plan.
  • You signed a student waiver while employed by a college or university.
  • You are participating in a retirement system that the city of Seattle, Spokane or Tacoma administers.
  • You provide professional services on a fee, retainer or contract basis and the income you receive from those services is less than 50% of your gross income for work performed in that profession.
  • You are enrolled in a state-approved apprenticeship program, employed to earn hours for completing the program, and making contributions to a unionsponsored or Taft-Hartley retirement plan.

Elected or appointed official

Your contributions and retirement benefit

  • State elected officials contribute 7.5% of your salary each month to your retirement plan. This percentage is higher from other PERS Plan 1 members because your retirement benefit is calculated using a 3% multiplier rather than the standard 2%.
  • Governor-appointed and local elected officials contribute 6% of your salary each month to your retirement plan. Your benefits are calculated based on the standard 2% multiplier of the plan.

How service is calculated

  • State and local elected officials earn one full credit for each month worked, regardless of hours worked.
  • Governor-appointed officials earn service based on the standard rules of the plan—full credit is applied when you work at least 70 hours in a month, with partial credit for fewer hours.

Can you purchase credit for past terms?

You can purchase service credit for past elected terms, but you cannot purchase past service for governor-appointed terms.

What if you retired from a DRS plan before you were elected or appointed?

You can choose to remain retired and continue receiving your DRS retirement benefit while in office. Or you can return to active membership—this will stop your ongoing benefit, but resume your contributions and service credit accumulation for a larger benefit when you reapply for retirement.

For additional assistance, contact the Elected Official Team at 800-547-6657, extension 47966.

Educational members of PERS

If you’re an employee of the Washington State School for the Blind, the Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss, or an institution of higher learning:

  • If you begin working in September in an eligible position and earn compensation during at least nine months of the school year, you can receive 12 service credit months for the school year if you are compensated for at least 810 hours of employment. Six service credit months can be awarded if you start in September and are compensated for at least 630 hours but fewer than 810 hours during the school year.
  • If you earn compensation in fewer than nine months of the school year, you will receive service credit based on the number of hours you are compensated for each month.

Plan resources

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