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In case you want your pension money back…

Thursday, Jan 24, 2013

* Every so often a few public employees will demand in comments to be allowed to withdraw all the money they contributed to their pension funds so they can invest it themselves. Well, if SB40 passes, they might be able to. From the bill’s synopsis

Provides that a person who is a member on the effective date of the amendatory Act may file a written notice of election not to participate in the General Assembly Retirement System within 24 months from the date of becoming a member or 18 months after the effective date of the amendatory Act, whichever is later. Provides that a person who makes that election shall, upon written request, receive a refund of his or her total contributions, without interest.

The bill is sponsored by Republican state Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon).

…Adding… And, yes, the bill as written only applies to GARS. But it’s a step.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wizard - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 8:40 am:

    As someone noted yesterday, anyone who is close to retirement would withdraw it is not doing the math. It would be too late to realize a decent return on the dollars. However, someone just starting out might consider this option. One other thing, is that should an employee opt out, they should be required to set up an alternative plan, not just take the money as some would take the money and spend it. When one is young, he/she often is bullet proof and going to live forever. Retirment is not on the agenda.

  2. - Small Town Liberal - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 8:45 am:

    Excuse my ignorance, but I don’t get it, doesn’t this only apply to GARS?

  3. - not really - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 8:46 am:

    This bill only applies to GA pension participants. The rest of us can elect to take the money when we separate service (as a lump sum subject to tax or can roll into an IRA), but there is no way for a current employee to get the money out (either money already paid in or money going in from each check). I have heard of people resigning to get their money out (for a major purchase like a house) and coming right back onto the state roll, but this was years ago.

  4. - Dirt Diver - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 8:56 am:

    An interesting story that not many are talking about….GARS is currently the worst funded State Retirement System, I believe it is around 25-30%. Which is interesting because it is also the smallest State fund. Due to this political grandstanding of opting out of GARS (mainly talking about those freshman legislators who denied to participate and who are also Tier 2) their actions of not participating in GARS will have a negative effect on the fund, and therefore on the state. Remember, Tier 2 is a great deal for the state. We want as many Tier 2 members as we can get, due to the fact that the benefit is so meager as compared to Tier 1. Tier 2 members also contribute at the same rate as Tier 1 members. Therefore, since these new members are not contributing, this is less assets coming into the fund, so now the difference will have to be made up by the State (GRF money). Another example of a campaign tactic that will have a negative fiscal impact on Illinois taxpayers.

    To SB 40, as far as Tier 1 GARS members opting out and receiving only their employee contributions as a refund, that would have a huge positive impact on the fund. I would like to FOIA that information (who takes such a refund) if this were ever to become law. Either that person is an idiot or is the most patriotic Illinois citizen I have ever met.

  5. - dupage dan - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 8:57 am:

    Without interest? Other than someone wishing to do so at the start of a state career I can’t see many folks partaking.

  6. - foster brooks - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 9:19 am:

    Tim bivins soon to be the recipient of two pensions. Yes folks 2 pensions.

  7. - Fred's Mustache - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 9:33 am:

    I stand by my comment yesterday that such a move would be a poor financial decision for state employees. Id like to see what happens when your typical state employee tries to invest their pension contributions. Let me tell you that most are not going to be able to invest in a way that provides income anywhere near the amount they would receive from their pension.

  8. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 9:33 am:

    Exactly what I was thinking Dan. If they want to pass something like this to provide an option, let’s try to at least be fair to the employee, and give them interest based on the rate of return gotten by the pension systems over the time the payments have been in the fund.

    Also agree with Wizard. I think it’s a dumb move in any case.

  9. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 9:35 am:

    Besides, if the bill is sponsered by a Republican, I’d say employees beware.

  10. - PublicServant - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 9:36 am:

    Of course the Dem bills are a joke too. LOL, let’s start a new party that puts the middle class first.

  11. - langhorne - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 9:38 am:

    if i am not mistaken,newly elected decatur dem rep sue scherer has opted out of the GARS. she will have to squeak by on her $5,000 per month teacher’s pension, plus her $60,000+ legislator salary. this should allow her plenty of freedom from financial worry, so she can a) keep too much public funding from going to chicago, and b) go thru the budget line by line to straighten things out.

  12. - walkinfool - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 9:41 am:

    “Dumb move, but looks good politically — I’ll do it.”

    That’s the thinking on too many issues.

  13. - Bluefish - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 9:54 am:

    If a legislator opts out does he/she automatically go into Social Security instead? Seems cheaper for the state to keep underfunding GARS rather than be forced into SS payments for these legislators. The bill is silent on this.

  14. - Demoralized - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 10:00 am:

    The state has done this before, only at that time you had to leave state government if you did it. My ex-wife took advantage of it in 2004 when we decided that should would leave work to stay home with our children. If you weren’t vested you could leave the state and they would double whatever you had contributed to the system. The state could do something like that again and allow people to remain with state government. I think it would create more of an incentive for people to leave the retirement systems and would certainly reduce the liability to those systems.

  15. - Anon - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 10:15 am:

    Little confused about this SURS members already have the option to invest their funds in a “Self managed plan” SMP as new employees and have had it for sometime. It includes the employer match so why the employees would opt to not take it seems pretty crazy since they won’t receive SSI, which their employer hasn’t paid. Of course if you accept the lump sum now you wouldn’t have accrued any investment growth so no it’s not a good idea to switch mid stream, I think anyway.

  16. - Liberty_First - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 10:26 am:

    SURS allows you to withdraw your contributions with something like 5% interest…. You are not credited with the state “match” until you apply for your “annuity.” Of course you never really get matching funds except your account shows you the total. When the lawsuits begin it will be interesting to see how the courts interpret use of the terms annuity and annuitant.

  17. - USMCJanitor - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 10:27 am:

    ===I stand by my comment yesterday that such a move would be a poor financial decision for state employees===

    It probably is a bad move IF they keep paying benefits at the rates today. If we get to a point that they stop paying maybe not.

    If all the money I have put in my 401k and IRA were not “mine”. And I was told… “look over 30 years you have amassed 450k in retirement money, but, uh… you may only get 400 back because we spent “your” money elsewhere” I may then be thinking I want to be in control of MY money.

  18. - USMCJanitor - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 10:27 am:

    With all these pensions and underfunding, etc, etc I am reminded that anything that cannot go on forever, wont.

  19. - Dirt Diver - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 10:33 am:


    I think you are confused as to how SURS works. When you are talking about “SURS allows you to withdraw contributions with 5% interest”. For 1 am assuming you are talking about their SMP. You don’t get a fixed rate of 5% (for interest) you get the interest in which account actually earned. You are entitled to the employer match once you have reached 5 years regardless of whether or not annuitize. For the SURS traditional DB plan, a member can take a refund of contributions upon terminating service and would receive interest @ 4.5%.

  20. - Robert the Bruce - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 10:47 am:

    Interesting concept.

    And I could see people taking the money out. Even though it means less money than they are entitled to, it is a bird in the hand.

    You are state employee near retirement age and are counting on your pension from the state, but are understandably scared of pension reform potentially cutting your pension.

    Would you rather have your $200,000 in real money to invest, or would you take your chances that you’ll actually get the full $250,000 that you are entitled to?

  21. - Liberty_First - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 10:50 am:

    Dirt, Defined benefit, 4.5% - the point is anyone can get their money back…. of course in the SMP or Portable plans, you get your money.

  22. - thechampaignlife - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 11:03 am:

    I’d like to be able to buy additional years worth of service credits in order to retire early. Just tell me the actuarial value and I’ll contribute my portion, the state’s portion, interest, and even a premium above that amount. Since that would be a new “benefit”, they could set the premium to whatever they want to actually help pay down the unfunded liability. It would be an early retirement program.

  23. - Quinn T. Sential - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 11:05 am:

    {When the lawsuits begin it will be interesting to see how the courts interpret use of the terms annuity and annuitant.}

    Please refer to the Plan Document (contract) for definitions of key terms.

  24. - Nearly Normal - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 11:35 am:

    I know a teacher who took her money out of TRS back when she was a young mother. She withdrew the first three years worth of her pension. Then after her kids were old enough she went back to work as a teacher. When she retired, she got credit for years of service BUT she did not replace what she had withdrawn. Her pension was cosiderably less than she had expected.

    She griped that TRS had “cheated” her. They did not–she cheated herself.

  25. - Dirt Diver - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 11:37 am:


    You only get a refund by terminating service. Under SURS, I can’t take the refund and remain in current service.

  26. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 12:00 pm:

    This is a terrible idea. It destabilizes pension funds and jepordizes the whole system.

  27. - RNUG - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 12:02 pm:

    Just to clarify things … of the mandated retirement systems, only SURS allows the employee a choice on how to “direct” their retirement “funds/investments”.

    Participants in SERS and TRS don’t have any choice; when they are hired they get the defined benefit plan. Since the 1970 - 1972 timeframe, SERS members have to also participate in Social Security and TRS do not participate in Social Security.

  28. - Wumpus - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 12:43 pm:

    Would this create a “run” on the pension funds? I know it is in the red already, but this could break the system completely, no?

  29. - Dirt Diver - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 1:10 pm:

    In theory yes it could create a run. However since all the member would be rec’ing is their “employee contributions only without interest” the elimination of the liability that results from the service credit forfeit in exchange for the refund will far out weigh the money that member has received from their refund. However, if they decide to provide a generous interest rate on top of their contributions, that would be a different story. Also, I doubt very few legislators will take this deal.

  30. - Dirt Diver - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 1:11 pm:

    I meant “I doubt very many legislators will take this deal”.

  31. - Fred's Mustache - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 1:13 pm:

    === Would you rather have your $200,000 in real money to invest, or would you take your chances that you’ll actually get the full $250,000 that you are entitled to? ===

    What State employee has actually contributed $200,000 in “real money” into the pension system to expect only $250,000 in return. Seriously people, for those that pay into social security, you get 4% taken out of your check. For a person making 50k a year, thats $2k a year. If you work 30 years thats $60k.

    Now take that employee and give them their full pension benefits. Say their pension pays out between $20-$25k a year. (not even factoring in COLAS). Now I understand that there will be investment returns (or losses) and other factors (commissions, fees, etc.) that would affect that amount. Its a considerable difference.

    Now come up with an investment strategy in a 401(k) or IRA that can come close to such a return on your money that your pension would give you. I’m seriously curious as to how this can be done.
    Im not so sure that it can (unless you hit the jackpot on some speculative stock that makes it big).

  32. - Joe M. - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 1:27 pm:

    Even if one could take out THEIR money that they have contributed, to do so would loose any contribution from the State as employer. Someone doing this would have worked their years without the State as employer contributing a single penny towards their retirement.

    McDonalds contributes more towards the retirement of their part-time high school employees (6.2% into Social Security) than the State would have contributed for someone who would withdraw their money.

  33. - cassandra - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 2:15 pm:

    I’m with Fred’s M. Don’t do it. If you are strongly tempted, read a good book about the stock market first. I recommend the one by the guy who ran the Yale endowment, may still run it. Can’t remember the name, but it’s good.

    Perhaps this bill, if implemented, would give us one tool to measure the financial sophistication of our esteemed legislators though.

  34. - RNUG - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 2:33 pm:

    To repeat what I wrote yesterday:

    “… And if you quit and withdraw from the system, all you get back is your original contributions … no interest, no match, none of the money the state was supposed to have been putting away for you. And unless you properly roll the money to an regular IRA, you’ll be paying both taxes and early withdrawal penalities. Definitely not a good financial choice if you have very many years in.”

  35. - SIUPROF - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 2:39 pm:

    The legislature needs to be careful. By forcing new or existing people out of the defined benefit program (tier II or scaring people into accepting an offer of taking out their contributions or converting their contributions into a self managed plan, they just might dry up employee contributions into the defined benefit plan. If that happens, cash flow will suffer. An underfunded plan can continue to operate as long as their is enough cash coming in to pay benefits (kind of like a ponzi scheme). They need to accept the reality that the state has borrowed money from the pension systems and it is time to pay up. Adopting a version of Ralph Marti’s flat payment reorganization plan (perhaps at a bit lower amount over a few more years) makes the most sense. And extend the sales tax to services to help service the debt.

  36. - SIUPROF - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 2:40 pm:

    there-hate spellcheck

  37. - NoNameNick - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 2:45 pm:

    Seriously? Who has contributed $200,000 to their retirement system. I’ve been at it for 20 yerars and only had about $36,000 taken out of my pay. This exageration of the amopunts is what drives most of the rank and file crazy about these pension discussions. Like we have these huge pensions lined up. If I retired today my pension would be $1800/month. Any takers for the lifstyle that will afford?

  38. - Robert the Bruce - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 2:52 pm:

    ==And if you quit and withdraw from the system, all you get back is your original contributions … no interest, no match, none of the money the state was supposed to have been putting away for you.==
    I still think that this is an interesting concept - allowing early withdrawals. But it truly seems to be a terrible offer. If it was instead something like 75% of the present value of your earned pension (including what the state’s contribution should have been), then employees would have an interesting choice to make - 75% of a guaranteed pension or the chance that their pension will be fully funded, not reduced, not tampered with in any way. If enough said yes, it’d ultimately reduce the state’s pension obligation, but if too many said yes, the state wouldn’t have the money to pay.

  39. - reformer - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 4:37 pm:

    Do legislators who abstain from GARS have to pay Social Security with the employer match? If so, would legislators who withdraw from GARS have to start paying Social Security?

  40. - RNUG - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 5:49 pm:

    reformer @ 4:37ppm,

    It depends.

    From the 2012 GARS Handbook, page 4:


    You automatically become a member of
    GARS unless you file an election with the
    Board of Trustees not to participate. Your
    written decision declining participation must
    be filed within 24 months from becoming a

    If you choose not to participate in GARS,
    you are subject to mandatory social security
    coverage unless contributing a minimum of
    7.5% of your legislative salary to a qualified
    Deferred Compensation Plan.

  41. - RNUG - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 5:52 pm:

    Should have added to the previous post …

    If that Deferred Comp is a 457 plan, once you leave government employment you can pull the money out of a 457 regardless of age and just pay straight income tax on it.

  42. - Flan - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 6:31 pm:

    I cannot imagine anyone would take their money out of SERS. I think we estimated once that a person with 30 years of funding in there would burn through their own contributions in about 6 years of retirement; after that you’re on the money the GA puts into the retirement system. That’s crazy talk.

  43. - rat - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 6:43 pm:

    Some math to think about

    45 years old/$85,000 per year/16 years for the state.

    $45,000. Estimated pension with interest

    Retire at age 65 (20 more years)

    $45,000 (Base Amount)

    8% Interest (What the pension system calculates as rate of return)

    $5,100-Annual deposit (6% of salary invested per year) Employees pay 4% State wants 2% more

    You would have $473,708 with your name on it. If you also saved 6% of your own money, you would have $725,711 with your name on it.

    What if you started at 30 years old?

    The state wants to start paying pension when you are 65 and not give cost of living increases. I could live on $725,000 with deferred compensation. Also, this would be a choice therefore constitutional. The state would get rid of future pension liabilities and we could actually plan for our future. Sweet!!!!

  44. - WazUp - Thursday, Jan 24, 13 @ 7:32 pm:

    ==Tim bivins soon to be the recipient of two pensions. Yes folks 2 pensions.==

    He can’t be that dumb to introduce a bill like that and then not opt out can he?

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