State Retirement System of Illinois  
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Bruce Rauner, Governor

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   Tier 1 Member's Frequently Asked Questions   

Retirement

Q: If I retire and receive pension payments amounting to more than my contributions, will my spouse still be entitled to survivor benefits if I die?

A: Regardless of the pension payments made to you, your spouse will be entitled to a survivor benefit, assuming he/she is otherwise qualified.

Q: What is the Retirement Systems' Reciprocal Act?

A: The Retirement Systems' Reciprocal Act provides that if an employee has at least one year of pension credits established in more than one Retirement System covered under the Reciprocal Act will be considered together at the time of retirement or death of an employee. The purpose of the Act is to ensure full and continuous pension credit for service in public employment in the State of Illinois, and the transfer of employment from one governmental unit to another.

Q: I contributed to SERS and Social Security. When I retire, will my SERS benefit be reduced because of Social Security?

A: No, there is no SERS offset. However, if your pension is calculated using service not covered by Social Security, this service may affect your Social Security benefit. Contact the Social Security Administration for more information.

Q: What is the Level Income option?

A: This option allows members who have paid into SERS and Social Security to receive their benefits at a level amount throughout their retirement years by combining their Social Security and SERS benefit. The Level Income option can be helpful when a member retires before the age when they qualify for a Social Security benefit.

Under Level Income, SERS pays an amount (based on your estimated Social Security benefit) in addition to your regular retirement benefit until you qualify for Social Security benefits. At this time, your pension is reduced regardless of when you actually begin receiving Social Security and regardless of how much this benefit actually is. This reduced amount will be paid for your lifetime.

Q: Will my pension benefit cease after I receive payments equal to the contributions I made to SERS as an active employee?

A: No. Pension benefits are payable to a retired member for life, regardless of contributions.

Q: How soon should I request an application for a SERS pension?

A: Approximately 90 days prior to your retirement, you should contact your agency's Retirement Coordinator or SERS and request a pension application.

Q: When is my first pension check paid?

A: Benefits are paid as soon as we receive your final payroll information and forms from you and your agency. In general, it takes approximately 8 weeks after your removal from the payroll to receive your first check.

Q: When will I receive my future pension checks?

A: Continuing pension payments are mailed on the 19th of each month, unless the 19th is on a weekend or holiday. In this case, payments are mailed on the last business day before the 19th.

Q: What is the best time of the month to retire?

A: We recommend resigning from your agency in the second pay period of the month (from the l6th through the end of the month), preferably the last day of the month. The reason for this is your pension and group insurance begin with SERS on the first of the month following your resignation. If you resign too soon in the first pay period of a month, your insurance would be terminated, you would have a lapse in coverage (unless you pay a COBRA premium), and insurance benefits would not start until the first of the next month. If you resign in the second pay period of the month, you will not have a lapse in insurance coverage.

Q: Can I set up an appointment with a SERS representative to calculate my benefits?

A: Due to limited resources, appointments are necessary in the Chicago office but an appointment is not necessary at the Springfield office. You may come to our Springfield office Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and a representative will discuss your benefits with you.

Q: Can my pension benefit be divided because of a divorce?

A: Yes, if a Qualified Illinois Domestic Relations Order has been issued by an Illinois Court. A QILDRO does not establish a new benefit, nor does it create a new member or beneficiary.
Generally, the QILDRO orders the payment of a benefit to the ex-spouse as the alternate payee. It may also be payable to a child or other dependent as the alternate payee. The QILDRO does not apply to survivor annuities, or disability benefits. ( To download information and forms for a QILDRO, click here.)


Disability

Non-Occupational Disability Benefits

Q: Do disability benefits come out of my retirement contributions?

A:No. In fact, each month you receive a disability benefit, you also accumulate additional retirement contributions and service credit.

Q: Does my disability affect my pension benefit amount?

A: During the period when an individual is receiving disability benefits, contributions and service credit are credited to the account of the benefit recipient. This will increase the pension benefit amount.

Q: Do I notify SERS if I need a disability application packet?

A: It is your responsibility to notify SERS when you need an application packet. You can call SERS directly or your agency's Retirement Coordinator can help you with your request.

Q:Should I notify SERS when I return to work?

A: You must notify SERS if you return to work. Failure to do so may lead to an overpayment of benefits.

Q: How long will it take to receive my first disability check?

A: From the time you stop working, it takes six to eight weeks for you to receive your first disability payment. It is important to return your application packet to SERS as soon as possible. No action can be taken on your claim until this information is received.

Q: Can I work and still receive a disability benefit from SERS?

A: You cannot work for the State of Illinois and receive disability benefits from SERS. You can work outside of state employment and earn up to $2,490.00 in any calendar quarter without interfering with your disability benefit. This amount changes periodically and SERS will update you as changes occur. If you earn in excess of the earning limit, disability benefits will be interrupted and may also be terminated as well as creating an overpayment.

Q: What is the difference between occupational disability benefits and non-occupational disability benefits?

A: Occupational disability benefits are paid when you become disabled due to a work-related injury or illness. You must receive benefits under the Workers' Compensation or Occupational Diseases Act to be eligible for occupational disability benefits. Non-occupational disability benefits are paid when your disability wasn't caused by your job duties.

Q: Once I begin receiving disability benefits, will I receive an increase in my benefits can I expect?

A: Each disability benefit paid by SERS is increased 7% on January 1 after four years of being granted the benefit. On each January 1 following the date of the 7% increase, there is a 3% benefit increase.
Example: You started receiving a disability benefit of $1,000 per month on July 15, 2013. This amount is reduced by $500.00 due to Worker's Compensation Benefits. A 7% increase of $70 would be applied January 1, 2018 (7% of the gross benefit). On January 1, 2019 you would receive an increase of $17.10 (3% of $570.00). Each year thereafter the 3% would be compounded to the net benefit.

Q: Why do I need a copy of my birth certificate to receive disability benefits?

A: A copy of your birth certificate assures that we have the right date of birth. This information is used to help determine how long you may be eligible for disability benefits.

Q: How much will my non-occupational disability benefit be?

A: Non-occupational disability benefits equal 50% of your salary or average final compensation, whichever is higher, on the date you are removed from the payroll.

Q: If I pay into Social Security and am over 65, is my SERS non-occupational disability benefit reduced by the amount payable from Social Security.

A: If you are over age 65, your SERS benefit is reduced by the amount of the benefit you receive from the SSA. Example: If your SERS non-occupational disability benefit is $1,000 monthly and you're eligible for a Social Security benefit of $600 monthly. Your net SERS benefit is $400 monthly.

Q: What is the process for determining if I am eligible for Social Security disability benefits?

A: You may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if your disability lasts more than twelve months. SERS contracts with a firm specializing in assisting members through the Social Security disability application process. If your case is accepted, you will be contacted to begin the application process. If your case is not accepted, and you remain disabled for more than twelve months, you must apply directly to Social Security for disability benefits. SERS will give you specific directions about the filing process.

Q: What impact will my claim for SSA disability have on any SERS benefits I'm receiving?

A: While your disability claim is reviewed by the Social Security Administration, you will receive full SERS benefits. If you become eligible for Social Security benefits, your SERS disability benefit is reduced by the amount of your Social Security benefit. You must repay SERS the Social Security benefits paid to you during the review period. This lump sum repayment should be made when you receive your initial Social Security payment.

Q: Will future increases in my Social Security disability benefit be subtracted from my SERS benefit?

A: No. Your SERS benefit will be reduced only by the initial monthly award amount from the Social Security Administration. Any annual increases or other types of benefits will not be subtracted.

Q: How long can I receive non-occupational disability benefits if I have a long-term illness?

A: Your non-occupational disability benefits will stop when one of the following occurs:

*You are no longer disabled.
*You resume gainful employment.
*Your disability payments have been made for a period of time equal to 1/2 of your eligible service credit.
*Five years have passed since your benefits began and you were over age 60 when your benefit began.
*You become age 65 if your benefit began prior to age 60.

Q: Is there a 30-day waiting period before my non-occupational disability benefits can begin?

A: Yes, but your sick or vacation time can be used to fulfill this waiting period. If you have enough sick and vacation time to fulfill the waiting period, you begin accruing benefits when you are removed from the payroll.

Q: Do I have to use my sick and vacation time to qualify for non-occupational disability benefits?

A: Before non-occupational disability benefits can begin, you must deplete all sick time. You do not have to use any vacation time or personal days.

Occupational Disability Benefits

Q: Do disability benefits come out of my retirement contributions?

A: Disability benefits you receive do not come out of your retirement contributions. In fact, each month you receive a disability benefit, you also accumulate additional retirement contributions and service credit.

Q: Does my disability affect my pension benefit amount?

A: During the period when an individual is receiving disability benefits, contributions and service credit are credited to the account of the benefit recipient. This will increase the pension benefit amount.

Q: Who is responsible for notifying SERS if I need a disability application packet?

A: It is your responsibility to notify SERS when you need an application packet. You can call SERS directly or your agency's Retirement Coordinator can help you with your request.

Q: If I am receiving a disability benefit, who should notify SERS when I return to work?

A: It is your responsibility to notify SERS if you return to work. Failure to do so may lead to an overpayment of benefits.

Q: How long will it take to receive my first disability check?

A: From the time you stop working, it takes six to eight weeks for you to receive your first disability payment. It is important to return your application packet to SERS as soon as possible. No action can be taken on your claim until this information is received.

Q: Can I work and still receive a disability benefit from SERS?

A: You cannot work for the State of Illinois and receive disability benefits from SERS. You can work outside of state employment and earn up to $2,490.00 in any calendar quarter without interfering with your disability benefit. This amount changes periodically and SERS will update information going to the membership as the changes occur.

Q: What is the difference between occupational disability benefits and non-occupational disability benefits?

A: Occupational disability benefits are paid when you become disabled due to a work-related injury or illness. You must receive benefits under the Workers' Compensation or Occupational Diseases Act to be eligible for occupational disability benefits. Non-occupational disability benefits are paid when your disability wasn't caused by your job duties.

Q: Once I begin receiving disability benefits, what kind of increase in my benefits can I expect?

A: Your disability benefit is increased by 7% of the gross benefit amount on January 1 following four years from the effective date of your benefit. Thereafter, your benefit will be increased by 3% of the net benefit being paid.
Example: You started receiving a disability benefit of $1,000 per month on July 15, 1999. This amount is reduced by $500.00 due to Social Security disability benefits (non-occupational disability) or Workers' Compensation Benefits (occupational disability). A 7% increase of $70 would be applied 1-1-2004 (7% of the gross benefit). On 1-1-2005 you would receive an increase of $17.10 (3% of $570.00). Each year thereafter the 3% would be compounded to the net benefit.

Q: Why do I need a copy of my birth certificate to receive disability benefits?

A: A copy of your birth certificate assures that we have the right date of birth. This information is used to help determine how long you may be eligible for disability benefits.

Q: What impact does Worker's Compensation benefits have on my SERS Occupational Disability benefits?

A: SERS occupational disability benefits equal 75% of the employee's salary or their final average compensation, whichever is higher. Benefits must be paid under Workers' Compensation in order to qualify for SERS occupational disability benefits.
* If the employee is receiving Total Temporary Disability (TTD) benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act, the amount of the TTD payment is subtracted from the SERS occupational disability benefits.
* If Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) is paid as a lump sum, this amount is broken down and subtracted as follows:
* PPD (SERS uses 60 % of the average weekly wage) times 52 (weeks) divided by 12 (months). This equals the amount of the monthly offset from SERS occupational disability benefits. Subtract attorney fees, expenses documented in the Workers' Compensation Commission contract, and future medical payments from the total payment. This is the total amount of offset that will take place.
* To determine how long the offset will apply, divide the monthly offset into the total amount of the award/settlement. Once the total amount of the award/settlement has been offset, the employee is eligible to receive the full occupational disability benefits, assuming the other qualifying criteria is met.
* In addition, when SERS' occupational disability benefits are paid, the employee's SERS account will be credited with contributions and service time. It is important to keep in mind the Workers Compensation Commission creates no liability on SERS other than to evaluate the disability as an occupational disability claim.

Q: Do I automatically receive disability benefits from SERS if I receive Workers' Compensation Benefits?

A: No. Your Workers' Compensation benefits determine the type of disability you may receive from SERS. Workers' Compensation benefits do not automatically qualify you for SERS occupational disability benefits. You will still need to meet the qualifying criteria.

Q: What impact will Social Security disability benefits have on my SERS occupational disability benefits?

A: Social Security disability benefits have no impact on SERS occupational disability benefits.

Q: What if my claim for Workers' Compensation benefits is denied?

A: SERS offers temporary disability benefits if your claim for Workers' Compensation benefits is denied and you appeal that denial with the Workers' Compensation Commission. Temporary disability benefits can be paid until:

* You are paid disability benefits for one-half of your eligible SERS service time.

* You reach age 65 if your disability began prior to your 60th birthday.

* Five years expires if you became disabled after age 60.

* You receive a determination on your claim for benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act by the Workers' Compensation Commission.

Q: What if my Workers' Compensation Total Temporary Disability benefits terminated?

A: If the Workers Compensation benefit you are receiving is terminated, your Occupational Disability benefit with SERS will also stop. However you may be eligible for a temporary disability benefit if;

* SERS determines that you are still disabled.

* You have at least 18 months of credited service with SERS.

* You submit the required forms to SERS.

* You have filed an appeal with the IL. Workers' Compensation Commission and requested an emergency hearing under the 19b1 of the Workers' Compensation Act.

* You have served a 150 day waiting period, or received a decision from the IL. Workers' Compensation Commission on your emergency hearing.

* You have submitted a written request for a Temporary benefit.

Death Benefits

Q: How can I determine who I have listed as my beneficiaries?

A: We can't give you this information over the phone because of confidentiality reasons. A verification letter can be sent to your address with a list of your beneficiaries from our database.

Q: Can I call our office and request that a portion of my contributions designated to a deceased beneficiary go to the children of the deceased beneficiary?

A: No. This can only be done by submitting a new beneficiary form to our office.

Q: At the time of my death, how long will my eligible survivor receive monthly benefits?

A: A survivor remains eligible to receive benefits until death. A child remains eligible until age 18 (22 if attending school full-time), or the child marries. Disabled adults may continue to receive benefits as long as their disability continues and they aren't gainfully employed.

Q: If my spouse is working at the time of my death and is qualified to receive a survivor benefit, could he/she receive the monthly benefit and continue working regardless of where the employment is?

A: Yes, your spouse may work and qualify for survivor benefits.

Q: At the time of my death, if my spouse qualifies for a survivor's benefit, who should he/she contact to apply?

A: In the event of your death, your spouse should contact SERS to begin the process of receiving death benefits.

Q: If my wife and I both receive a state pension from SERS and one of us dies, will the surviving spouse continue to receive their pension and also be entitled to receive survivor benefits?

A: If the surviving spouse qualifies for survivor benefits, they would be entitled to receive their pension and survivor benefits.

Q: Is there a way for me to eliminate the survivor benefit offset so my spouse can receive my full survivor benefit?

A: At retirement, you may elect to reduce your retirement benefit by 3.825% to remove the Social Security offset from your spouse's survivor benefit. You may also make an irrevocable election to eliminate your pension reduction if there is a change in your marital status due to death or divorce

Optional Service

Q: I want to purchase my military service time. How much of this time can I purchase and what forms do I need to start the process?

A: You can buy up to 48 months of active duty time. We must have a legible copy of your DD-214, or the appropriate separation or discharge papers verifying active duty. For more information, refer to pages 10 & 11 of your SERS handbook.

Q: What other service credit can I purchase?

A: You may purchase qualifying periods, short periods, leaves of absence of less than one year that began on or after 1-1-82, emergency and temporary employment, and repayment of a refund(s).


Q: What if I retire before I finish buying back service credit?

A: Optional service credit must be paid in full before retirement. You should contact the Service & Refund Division prior to retirement to have your payment recalculated.

Q: I disagree with the amount of service credit listed on my annual Benefit Statement. Can I get a record of my service on a month-by month basis?

A:You can request a service credit report by calling the Accounting Division at (217) 785-7191. You should receive your service credit breakdown within 5-7 working days.

Q: I am applying for a loan and my bank wants a current copy of my contributions with SERS. Can I get a letter from SERS showing this amount?

A: You can order a Statement of Account with SERS by calling the Accounting Division at (217) 785-7191. You should receive your Statement of Account within 5-7 working days.

Q: Can I use my Deferred Compensation money to purchase optional service credit?

A:Yes, as long as you have enough money in your Deferred Compensation account to cover the full amount owed to SERS.

Q: Can I purchase the time when I worked under a public reciprocal system?

A: Not with SERS. Instead, contact the respective reciprocal system. You must have at least one full year of service credit to make use of the Reciprocal Act.

Q: Can I purchase the time when I was laid off from state employment?

A: Under current law, you cannot purchase the time when you were laid off.

Q: I came into some money. Can I pay off an irrevocable payroll agreement before the end date?

A: You may not pay off a payroll agreement early unless you leave the state payroll.

Q: Can I purchase contractual employment?

A: Under current law, you cannot purchase contractual time.

Q: If I purchase optional service credit that requires the payment of contributions and interest, what happens if I request a lump sum refund at a later date?

A: Your would receive the employee contributions only.


Refunds

Q: How long does it take to receive a refund from SERS?

A: More than 90% of SERS refunds are consistently paid within 15 days. Remember that we must have your completed refund application, plus a certification from your former employing agency before your refund can be paid.

Q: I am leaving state service and want to take a refund. When can I apply, and what forms do I need?

A: The law governing SERS requires that you be off the payroll for 14 days before you are eligible and can apply for a refund. Federal law mandates that we advise you of the amount in your SERS account and the tax consequences for receiving a refund.

Q: Can I get a refund for the state-paid portion of my contributions?

A: When you terminate state employment, you are eligible for the employee contributions paid by you or "picked-up" by the State of Illinois.

Q: Can I take a partial refund and leave the rest of the money in my SERS account?

A: If you take a refund, you can only receive the full amount.

Q: Is there a hardship provision for withdrawing money from my SERS account?

A: You may not withdraw money from your SERS account for a hardship provision.

Q: Can I borrow money from my SERS account?

A: You may not borrow money from your SERS account for any reason or condition.

Q: Is interest paid as part of a refund?

A: No. By law, you are entitled to receive the employee contributions only.

Q: Can my refund of contributions be divided because of a divorce?

A: Yes, if a Qualified Illinois Domestic Relations Order has been issued by an Illinois Court. A QILDRO does not establish a new benefit, nor does it create a new member or beneficiary.
Generally, the QILDRO orders the payment of a benefit to the spouse as the alternate payee. It may also be payable to a child or other dependent as the alternate payee. The QILDRO does not apply to lump sum death benefits, survivor annuities, or disability benefits. ( To download information and forms for a QILDRO, click here.)

Taxes

Q: How can I change my federal income tax withholding?

A:
Changes in withholding require completion of a new W-4P or you may submit the change in writing. The written request should include your name, last 4 digits of Social Security number, and written signature along with the changes requested. SERS is unable to accept any request to change taxes via a phone call.

Q: What types of taxes are deducted from my SERS benefit?

A: Benefits paid by SERS (with the exception of occupational disability or monthly occupational death benefits) are considered ordinary income and are subject to federal withholding income tax. Benefits paid by SERS are exempt from Illinois tax.

Q: Even though I don't pay State of Illinois tax on my benefit, can I have it withheld?

A: Yes. Upon request, SERS will provide a form for Illinois income tax withholding on which you may elect any dollar amount.

Q: I completed a W-4P for withholding, but nothing is being deducted. Why?

A: Federal withholding tax is deducted according to the tax table provided by the IRS. Allowances are made for your marital status, number of exemptions, plus any nontaxable income. If, after these allowances, your taxable gross income is below the minimum required for withholding, nothing is deducted; however if you want taxes withheld, you may designate a percentage or dollar amount withheld monthly.

Direct Deposit

Q: How do I sign up for Direct Deposit?

A: A SERS Depository Agreement Form must be completed to participate in Direct Deposit. This form is available through our website or by calling 217-524-8806 to receive a form by mail.

Q: How long does it take for Direct Deposit to take effect?

A:
SERS updates financial institutions information at the beginning of each month. Although the date fluctuates slightly each month, generally speaking if the Depository Agreement form is received by the 6th of the month, Direct Deposit becomes effective that same month.

Q: I signed up for Direct Deposit and received my first benefit payment in the mail. Why?

A: The first benefit payment is sent by regular mail. Direct Deposit usually starts with the second payment provided that the Depository Agreement Form is received and all information is accurate.

Q: Will I receive a payment stub when I sign up for Direct Deposit?

A:
Once your benefit is processed through Direct Deposit, you can securely view your monthly earnings statement through the SRS Member Services website. To view your account information, you may register through our website at www.srs.illinois.gov and navigate to the link “View PDF version on how to secure an ID”. You will find the instructions for the one-time registration process that must be completed to access your account information online.


Q: When are the monthly checks deposited electronically?

A:
Monthly payments are deposited on the 19th of each month. If the 19th falls on a holiday or weekend, the deposit is made the last business day before the 19th. Note: Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits are deposited on the 28th of the month. If the 28th falls on a holiday or weekend, the deposit is made the last business day before the 28th.

Q: I am receiving disability benefits. Can my check be electronically deposited?

A:
Yes. All types of Disability benefits may be deposited electronically, including TTD (combined Workers’ Compensation) benefits.


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