Frequently Asked Questions

 

What factors are used to compute my retirement allowance?

Your allowance is based on your age at retirement, highest final average monthly compensation, years of service credit and benefit tier.

 

How is the highest final average monthly compensation period computed?

Compensation for retirement purposes includes base pay plus other items of cash compensation paid to you. Certain items of pay, however, are excluded from final compensation for retirement purposes. Excluded items include overtime pay and certain lump sum payments made upon retirement, such as payouts for accrued annual leave or accrued overtime. Your final compensation for retirement purposes may, therefore, be different from the compensation you actually received. Final average monthly compensation, for Tier I and Tier II, is your highest 365 consecutive day’s average compensation during your employment with a covered employer. Final average monthly compensation for Tier III and Tier IV is three (3) independent consecutive 365 day periods with the highest of average compensation during your employment with a covered employer. Final average monthly compensation for Tier V uses the average of the three (3) highest consecutive years.

 

What can I do to maximize the service credit to calculate my retirement allowance?

Certain types of prior public service (for some Special Districts), previous county/district employment or eligible leaves of absence may be purchased to increase your retirement service credit.

Request for Service Credit Calculation Form

 

When is the best time to retire?

That depends on your personal situation. Generally, good times to retire are your birthday, your membership anniversary, April 1st, or one year after your last salary increase, however, you can choose to retire at any time as long as you meet the eligibility requirements to service retire.

  • The benefit calculation uses your age as of your last full quarter-year of your birth. Each full quarter-year of age increases your retirement allowance up to age 62. For example, if you plan to retire on December 14th, but you will be a quarter-year older on January 1st because your birthday is July 1st, you may wish to postpone your retirement date until January 1st.
  • Retiring on or before April makes you eligible to receive any cost of living adjustment (COLA) granted by the Board that year. However, it might be advantageous for you to retire after April 2nd if a COLA will not be granted that year due to a negative
    Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the prior calendar year.

You can find more information on the COLA here.

 

Which is the best retirement option to choose?

That is a personal decision that only you can make. However, the Unmodified Option pays the highest monthly amount and provides a 60% continuance to an eligible spouse or domestic partner upon your death at no cost to you. But, depending on your individual circumstances, it may be to your advantage to select one of the other retirement options. These options are designed to be actuarially equivalent.

 

How does my FCERA retirement affect my Social Security benefits?

While you have choices on how to receive your FCERA retirement benefits, your FCERA pension has no impact on your Social Security benefits. You are entitled to whatever level of Social Security benefits for which you qualify regardless of your FCERA pension. However, if you are eligible for a public retirement benefit from an agency that does not participate in Social Security, your Social Security may be impacted.

 

What is Temporary Annuity Option (TAO)?

The Temporary Annuity Option is one that is intended to “level out” your total retirement income, including Social Security payments, should you retire prior to age 62. The Temporary Annuity Option provides a slightly higher initial benefit prior to age 60, with a larger permanent reduction for life beginning at age 62. We encourage anyone interested in the Temporary Annuity Option (TAO) to discuss it with a Retirement Specialist in a counseling session.

 

Who is eligible for the Temporary Annuity Option (TAO)?

Members who retire for service before age 62 and who are integrated with Social Security are eligible to choose the Temporary Annuity Option (TAO). Members who are granted a disability retirement are not eligible for this option.

 

How does Temporary Annuity Option (TAO) work?

The Temporary Annuity will apply to whichever retirement option you choose, except Option 4. With the Temporary Annuity Option, your FCERA benefits are increased by a pre-determined Temporary Annuity amount until you reach age 62. At that time, the Temporary Annuity ceases AND your FCERA benefit is reduced, and you should apply for your Social Security benefit to “level out” your retirement income. The reduction in your FCERA benefit will occur whether you elect to delay your Social Security entitlement or even if your entitlement is less than the estimate used to determine your FCERA benefit.

 

Does Temporary Annuity affect my beneficiary?

No. The Temporary Annuity Option does not affect survivor continuances to your beneficiary. Survivor continuances will be based on your base retirement benefit allowance without respect to adjustments for Temporary Annuity.

 

How do I receive an estimate for Temporary Annuity?

You must obtain an estimate of your Social Security benefits from the Social Security Administration and provide this document to FCERA. We will then provide a retirement estimate that includes the Temporary Annuity Option (TAO). Visit www.ssa.gov for more information on your Social Security Benefit.

 

Can I change my option election after I retire?

No. The option you choose for retirement is irrevocable once you cash your first FCERA payment or receive your first direct deposit. Your choice is permanent for the rest of your life and for the life of your spouse and/or beneficiary.

 

Can I rescind my retirement at a later date?

You may rescind your retirement application any time prior to cashing your first FCERA payment or receiving your first direct deposit. Whether you can continue employment after rescinding your retirement is up to your employer.

 

What if I am disabled before I retire?

If you are permanently disabled and unable to perform the duties of your job, you may apply for a disability retirement. If your disability is job-related, you are eligible on your first day of employment. If your disability is not job-related, you must have at least five years of retirement service credit to be eligible. If you become disabled, contact us for additional information.

 

Who is an eligible spouse in the Unmodified Option?

An eligible spouse is a person to whom you were married for at least one year prior to your retirement date. OR someone to whom you were married to for two (2) years at the time your death AND your spouse is at least age 55 at the time of your death.

 

Who is an eligible domestic partner?

An eligible domestic partner is a person with whom you have entered into a registered domestic partnership for at least one year prior to your retirement date. OR someone to whom you were registered for two years at the time of your death AND is at least age 55 at the time of your death.

 

Who should be my beneficiary?

You can name anyone as your beneficiary. A married member normally names his/her spouse as the beneficiary because of the community property laws in California and the substantial survivor benefits available to a spouse in the event of the member’s death. The
name of the beneficiary may be changed by the member at any time prior to retirement.

Request to Change Beneficiary Form

 

Can I change a beneficiary after retirement?

It depends. You may change your beneficiary designated to receive a lump sum benefit after retirement (Option 1). You may not change your beneficiary designated to receive a continuance of your benefit under Options 2, 3 and 4. If you remarry or enter a registered domestic partnership after retirement, your new spouse or partner can be named as a beneficiary to receive a continuance under the Unmodified Option as long as the new spouse or partner meets eligibility requirements. See “who is an eligible spouse” or “who is an eligible domestic partner” above.

 

What will happen to my contributions if I were to die while still working?

A death benefit is payable to your beneficiary upon your death before retirement. The basic death benefit consists of your accumulated contributions, interest, one-twelfth (1/12) of your last year of compensation earnable multiplied by your completed years of service (excluding any public service credit purchased), but not to exceed six years. If you have completed at least 5 years of service, your surviving spouse or dependent children may elect to receive, in lieu of the basic death benefit, a continuing benefit.

 

What will happen to my retirement after my death?

The amount of your retirement and survivor benefits will depend upon the option you chose during your retirement process.

 

Do I have to come to the retirement office to sign my final retirement papers?

No, a retirement application and other documents needed can be processed through the mail. However, we strongly encourage members to come in and speak with a Retirement Specialist or set up a counseling session by phone.

 

Can FCERA withhold other voluntary deductions from my retirement benefit?

With written authorization, FCERA will withhold deductions from your retirement benefit for the Retired Employees’ of Fresno County (REFCO) dues, County of Fresno Health Insurance, State and Federal withholding taxes, and support/alimony garnishments.

 

What about health insurance coverage after retirement?

Retiree health insurance programs for County of Fresno retirees are available through Human Resources Department.

 

Can I cancel or change my voluntary deductions?

Yes, for cancellation of membership dues, you must notify Retired Employees’ of Fresno County (REFCO). Contact County of Fresno Human Resources Department of the changes you wish to make regarding health insurance. If you have supplemental benefits deducted, you will need to contact those agencies directly.  These agencies will then notify FCERA. To make changes to your State and/or Federal withholding taxes, you may submit a new Federal Withholding formCalifornia State Withholding form, or Out-Of-State Withholding form

 

When will I receive my first payment?

We advise members to plan for a gap in income between employment and retirement. Generally, we would need 2 months to process your retirement application, maybe longer if you have reciprocity and/or divorce.  Your completed and signed option forms and tax forms must be received in the office by the 25th of the month to receive your first check the following month.

What if I change my address?

Notify the FCERA office immediately by mail or in person using the Name and Address Change Form. For your protection, all requests for address changes must be made in writing and submitted by mail or drop off to our office. If you have health insurance or REFCO dues being deducted, you will need to contact these agencies to notify them of your change of address.

 

Is it possible to withdraw (or borrow against) my retirement contributions without terminating employment with a FCERA Plan Sponsor?

No. There are no provisions for withdrawing or borrowing funds from FCERA while still employed for a FCERA Plan Sponsor or a reciprocal agency. Internal Revenue Service regulations and FCERA plan provisions prohibit the withdrawal of funds except when a member terminates plan membership.

What happens if I terminate employment prior to being eligible to retire?

Please see Leaving Employment for more information

If you leave your job before you are eligible for retirement you have several options available to you.

  • Deferred Retirement – leave your contributions on deposit until you meet the criteria for retirement at some point in the future.
  • Deferred Retirement with Reciprocity – leave your contributions on deposit and establish reciprocity with an eligible public employer.
  • Rollover – transfer your tax-deferred contributions directly into a qualified retirement plan (ex: IRA or employer based plan like 401K, 403b or 457b).
  • Direct Refund – take payment for all of your contributions, less 20% Federal withholding and State withholding taxes. Contact your tax accountant or financial adviser. FCERA staff is not qualified to provide tax advice.
  • Direct Rollover and Direct Refund – transfer your tax-deferred contributions directly into an IRA or other eligible retirement plan and a lump sum refund of any remaining contributions. Member will only pay taxes and fees on the amount of the direct refund.

 

If I withdraw my contributions and interest, will I have to pay taxes on them?

Federal income taxes are currently withheld at the rate of 20% from the taxable portion of your distribution unless you elect a direct rollover into a qualified retirement plan (ex: IRA or employer based plan like 401K, 403b or 457b). FCERA does not deduct state taxes unless requested to do so by the member. For tax advice, consult your tax accountant or financial adviser. FCERA staff is not qualified to provide tax advice. Members may be subject to early withdrawal penalties in addition to taxes.

 

What is a direct rollover?

A direct rollover is a tax-free transfer of your retirement contributions and interest from FCERA to a qualified retirement plan (ex: IRA or employer based plan like 401K, 403b or 457b) that accepts rollovers.

 

Am I still a member of FCERA if my employment is terminated and I take all my money out?

No. Once you withdraw your contributions as either a refund (paid directly to you) or a rollover, you terminate your rights to membership (including disability and subsequent retirement benefits) in FCERA and you are not entitled to any FCERA benefits.

 

Can my employer access the Retirement Association funds to use for other purposes?

No. All assets of the FCERA are trust funds and, as such, are protected by the California Constitution. The contributions and investment earnings coming into FCERA are considered to be placed in trust with the Board of Retirement. The Board has a fiduciary responsibility to safeguard these assets in order to provide benefits.

 

How long does it take to get a refund of my contributions?

Federal law allows up to six months to process a refund of contributions.  However, at FCERA, most refund checks are issued within 90 days of receipt of paperwork requesting the refund of contributions, providing that termination has occurred at the time of receipt.

 

How much time do I have after termination to establish reciprocity?

You must become a member of a reciprocal agency within six months of your termination date. If your entry into that system happens after the six months has lapsed you are not eligible to establish reciprocity.

 

Can I withdraw my contributions later?

Yes, as long as you have not returned to work for a plan sponsor or established reciprocity, you may withdraw your contributions at any time. Please keep in mind that if you choose to withdraw your contributions you forfeit any rights to a service or disability retirement at a later date.

 

Can I withdraw my contributions after establishing reciprocity?

No. If you choose to defer your retirement with reciprocity, you have established a contractual link between the two systems allowing you to obtain the benefits from both systems calculated on the highest compensation earnable from either system.

 

If I choose a deferred retirement when can I retire?

You may retire when you have met the minimum eligibility requirements for retirement.

General members in Tiers I-IV are eligible beginning at age 50 with at least 10 years of retirement service eligibility, or at any age with at least 30 years of retirement service eligibility.

General members in Tier V are eligible beginning at age 52 with at least 5 years of service.

Safety members in Tiers I-IV are eligible beginning at age 50 with at least 10 years of retirement service eligibility, or at any age with at least 20 years of retirement service eligibility.

Safety members in Tier V are eligible beginning at age 50 with at least 5 years of service.

 

What happens if a terminated member is re-hired by the County or other plan sponsors?

Members who received a lump sum refund while terminated and then return to permanent, regular employment will re-join FCERA as active members. As with other members, they will then earn new service credit for all periods in which they work and contribute to FCERA. The member may choose to repay or “redeposit” the prior refund with interest; these members will then have their prior service credit restored by FCERA and may be eligible to participate in a different retirement tier.

 

Do members need to notify FCERA when they terminate employment?

No, members do not need to notify FCERA when they terminate employment because FCERA is officially notified of changes in employment status via the payroll process. When FCERA receives this information, staff reviews the contribution history and service credit accrual for the affected members and provides them with a Disposition form and Instructions This form provides more detailed information regarding the options available to you.

 

What happens to service purchase or redeposit agreements when members terminate employment?

Termination with Service Credit Purchase in progress

Medical leaves of absence – If any individual leave is not fully paid at termination, member is refunded amount that has been paid prior to termination unless member elects to purchase balance owed by lump sum payment within 30 days of termination date. Members who leave their funds in the plan (deferred, suspense, inactive, deferred with reciprocity) have an opportunity to purchase service credit, not already purchased at termination, at any time prior to retirement.

Military leaves of absence – Member receives service credit for amount of time purchased prior to termination. Members may purchase balance owed by lump sum payment within 30 days of termination date.  Members who leave their funds in the plan (deferred, suspense, inactive, deferred with reciprocity) have an opportunity to purchase service credit, not already purchased at termination, at any time prior to retirement.

Prior County Service – Member receives service credit for amount of time purchased prior to termination. Members may purchase balance owing by lump sum payment within 30 days of termination date.  Members who leave their funds in the plan (deferred, suspense, inactive, deferred with reciprocity) have an opportunity to purchase service credit, not already purchased at termination, at any time prior to retirement.

Redeposit –  If redeposit is not paid in full within 30 days of termination date, the member will be refunded all amounts previously paid and receive no service credit.  Members who leave their funds in the plan (deferred, suspense, inactive, deferred with reciprocity) have an opportunity to purchase service credit, not already purchased at termination, at any time prior to retirement.

Only terminated members who meet the qualifications for code section 31831.3 may purchase refunded contributions after termination. Must have been in a Safety position with FCERA or currently in a Safety position with reciprocal agency.

Members with a Service Credit Purchase in progress at the time of termination will be notified of their options as a part of the termination process.