Retiree & Beneficiary FAQs

Overview

Alameda Case Update
March 18, 2021

On March 15, 2021, the OCERS Board of Retirement took steps related to the implementation of the “Alameda” case (Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs Association et al v. Alameda County Employees Retirement Association and Board of Retirement of ACERA (S247095)).

The Board of Retirement approved a test and definition of normal working hours for the purposes of determining whether certain items of pay can be included in compensation earnable under the terms of the plan.

Additionally, the Board directed that updated policies and procedures be reviewed by OCERS’ Governance Committee on March 19, 2021.

It is anticipated that the OCERS team will return to the Board at the April 19, 2021 Board meeting, with a list of pay items reflecting the pensionable attributes as a result of the Board’s approved test definition of normal working hours.

It is important to note that OCERS must follow decisions made by California courts and lawmakers as it relates to legal findings that impact benefits. Specifically, the Supreme Court decision said that PEPRA amounted to a change in the law with respect to the pay items that may be included in the calculation of retirement benefits on and after January 1, 2013; and further, that retirement systems like OCERS have no authority or discretion to calculate pension benefits in a manner inconsistent with the CERL, as amended by PEPRA.

Supreme Court decision in Alameda Case

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Retirement Questions

How do I calculate my retirement benefit?

  • To calculate: Plan formula x age factor x service credit x final (monthly) average salary = gross monthly benefit amount. 

OCERS has an online benefit calculator on the public website as well as in the myOCERS online member self service portal. The myOCERS member portal uses the member’s actual account information to provide accurate estimates that can be run anytime. 

When a member submits a retirement application, OCERS provides a comprehensive benefit estimate reflecting the monthly benefit with the retirement date the member elected.

How do I start the retirement process?

Most members start with a phone call to the retirement specialist that handles their agency. The OCERS website has a list of agencies and the associated retirement specialist assigned to assist them in the retirement process. Comprehensive retirement counseling is conducted over the phone and continues with an appointment where we provide final average salary (FAS) information. Members are encouraged to submit their retirement application online. During the retirement appointment, members provide original birth and marriage certificates. The retirement application, tax withholding and direct deposit forms are reviewed. The benefit options are explained thoroughly to ensure a complete understanding.  (Medical insurance is not handled through our office so they will need to be directed to the appropriate office.)

How does my OCERS benefit affect my Social Security benefit?

As government employees, OCERS members are in a unique situation with respect to Social Security Benefits. Your OCERS retirement benefit may affect your Social Security benefit due to two federal laws: the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision.

Government Pension Offset

Government Pension Offset is a law that affects Social Security benefits paid to a spouse or widow/widower of an OCERS member. The law applies only if you receive a government pension (such as from OCERS) and are eligible for Social Security benefits as a spouse or widow(er).

For detailed information and to see the Social Security Administration’s fact sheet on “Government Pension Offset“.

Windfall Elimination Provision

Windfall Elimination Provision is a law that affects those who work for an employer who doesn’t withhold Social Security taxes, such as for a government agency or an employer in another country. If you are an OCERS member and are entitled to a Social Security benefit based on your own work and earnings, the Windfall Elimination Provision may reduce your Social Security benefits. This law determines how your Social Security retirement or disability benefits are computed if you receive a pension from work not covered by Social Security.

For detailed information and to see the Social Security Administration’s fact sheet on “Windfall Elimination Provision“. 

How much money will I receive when I retire?

Your retirement allowance will be based upon four factors: plan type, retirement age, years of service credit, and final compensation. Final Compensation is an average of your highest monthly compensation during any one or three years, depending on your plan.

You can calculate your retirement benefit by using the Benefits Calculator on our website or log onto your myOCERS account and calculate your benefit based on your actual plan, service and salary data.

NOTE: If you plan to retire within the next six months, contact OCERS to request an official Benefit Estimate.

I am approaching retirement age. When should I contact OCERS to begin the process?

We suggest you attend the Pre-Retirement Sessions at least three years prior to your retirement and also submit your birth and marriage certificates at our office.

When you are nearing retirement, make sure you have already enrolled in the myOCERS Portal via OCERS’ Web site. You will then have the ability to access the “Online Retirement Application” area of the myOCERS Portal. You will be able to complete the Application for Service Retirement, Retirees Authorization for Electronic Deposit of Retirement Checks and Tax Withholding Election form paperwork. Once received, an OCERS retirement specialist will contact you to set up a one-on-one meeting if necessary.

For more detailed information, click here to view the Retirement Checklist.

What are the retirement payment options?

The OCERS Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs) list all the options our members have when they retire; we direct them to our website to review each one carefully. During retirement counseling, this is a routine item staff discusses since the payment election is irrevocable after receipt of their first benefit payment. 

OCERS has 5 payment options: 

  • The unmodified option provides them with a maximum retirement allowance available and provides for a continuation of 60% of the allowance to an eligible spouse, qualified domestic partner or eligible child upon the members death.
  • Option 1 pays a reduced monthly allowance until the member’s death and at that time the designated beneficiary receives a refund of any remaining member contributions and interest.
  • Option 2 pays an actuarially reduced monthly allowance to the member until death, and their designated beneficiary receives the same monthly allowance (100%) for the remainder of their lifetime – members cannot change the
  • designated beneficiary.
  • Option 3 pays an actuarially reduced monthly allowance until the member’s
  • death and then the designated beneficiary receives half, or 50% of the member’s allowance for the remainder of their lifetime – members cannot change the designated beneficiary.
  • Option 4 allows for multiple designated beneficiaries and may select other survivor payment percentages if approved by the Retirement Board. OCERS’ actuary calculates each Option 4 benefit – designated beneficiaries cannot be changed once the member receives their first benefit payment.

Will my monthly retirement allowance run out when I’ve received the total amount I contributed to my OCERS retirement plan?

No, your OCERS plan is a defined benefit plan. “Defined Benefit” means that your benefit is a guaranteed monthly allowance paid for the rest of your life. Your benefit is based on your final average salary, retirement age, and years of service, not your retirement contributions.

How long do I have to be married before my spouse becomes eligible for survivor benefits?

Under the Unmodified Payment Option, your spouse or registered domestic partner will be eligible for survivor benefits if you have been married/registered at least one year prior to your date of retirement. 

If you are married/registered less than 1 year prior to your date of retirement or are married/registered anytime after retirement, your spouse or registered domestic partner must be married/registered at least 2 years prior to your death and be at least 55 years old.

If you are choosing/have chosen a payment option other than Unmodified, you may contact our office for additional information. 

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Disability Questions

How long does the disability process take and where can I get a disability application?

The disability process takes approximately 9-12 months. Processing time depends on the complexity of the case.

You may request a disability application by calling our office during regular business hours.

What is the difference between a Service Connected Disability and Non-Service Connected Disability Retirement?

A Service Connected Disability is when the member cannot perform the duties of their job and the disabling injury, illness, or condition was caused by the member’s employment.

A Non-Service Connected Disability is when a member can no longer perform the duties of his or her job, but the disabling condition is not caused by their employment. A member must have a minimum of five years of service credit in order to be eligible for a Non-Service Connected Disability Retirement.

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Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Questions

I hear that the best time of year to retire is on or before April 1 because I will be eligible to receive the cost-of-living adjustment on April 1. Is this true?

Possibly. The yearly COLA of up to 3% is credited to all members who retire on or before April 1 of each year. Many members take advantage of the April 1 COLA by retiring on or before that date. It is best to consult with a Retirement Benefits Specialist as factors like birth date and age are also important in choosing a retirement date.

What is a COLA Bank?

A COLA Bank is established for each retiree when the amount of the annual comparison for the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI) is greater than the maximum amount of COLA (3%) that can be granted by the Board of Retirement. 

The difference between the maximum amount of COLA and the CPI is credited to each retiree’s COLA bank. The COLA Bank is used to supplement any future COLAs whenever the amount of COLA approved by the Board is less than the 3% maximum amount allowed.

What is COLA and how is it determined?

COLA stands for cost-of-living adjustment. It is an annual adjustment to your retirement benefit to offset a change in purchasing power, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI). Each year the Board of Retirement determines the amount of COLA, if any. The maximum amount of COLA that can be applied to a benefit is 3% per year and is effective April 1.

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General Questions

How do I inform OCERS of my new address?

Active employees should report a Change of Address to their Human Resources department. Their employer will then forward the information to OCERS electronically via the bi-weekly payroll records. 

Retired and Deferred members may report changes to OCERS directly by logging in to their myOCERS portal account or by completing a Change of Address Form and returning it to OCERS. The form can be printed from the forms section of our website.

How does a Defined Benefit plan differ from a Defined Contribution plan?

In a Defined Benefit plan, the employer promises to pay a specified benefit upon the employee’s retirement. That benefit is a lifetime benefit. The employer invests funds through the Retirement System and bears the risk of adverse investment performance.

Defined Contribution plans, such as 401(k) and 457 plans, are savings accounts. Benefit payments (withdrawals) under these plans stop when your money runs out. In these types of plans the employee decides how to invest the funds and bears the risk of adverse investment performance. Benefit amounts in defined contribution plans are determined by investment performance and the amount of contributions.

OCERS’ retirement plans are defined benefit plans and provide a guaranteed monthly allowance paid for the rest of the member’s life. OCERS benefits are based on your final average salary, retirement age, and years of service.

I need to report the death of an OCERS member/payee. What information does OCERS need? 

Please contact OCERS at (714) 558-6200 to report the death. Information regarding what is required will be provided at the time the death is reported to OCERS.

What is final compensation?

Final compensation is one factor used to calculate your monthly retirement allowance. It is an average of the your highest monthly pensionable income during any one-year or three-year period, depending on your plan.

Would OCERS send a representative to my home to verify my account information?

No. OCERS staff would never go to your home to verify your account information. OCERS takes protecting your confidential member data very seriously and it is not necessary for our staff to come to your home to verify information on your account.

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Website & myOCERS Portal

What is my Security PIN?

All users are required to provide their unique “SECURITY PIN” when registering to create your myOCERS account. Security PINs are provided to all new members in your Welcome Letter/1st Benefit Letter.  If you do not remember what your SECURITY PIN is, please Contact Us for assistance.

How do I unlock my myOCERS member portal account?

After three unsuccessful attempts, you must call our office at (714) 558-6200 and speak to someone in our Member Services department to assist you. After identification is verified, staff can unlock your account and walk you through the process until you are logged in

What if I have forgotten my password?

If you have forgotten your myOCERS password, please click on the “Forgot Password” link located beneath the User Log section on the myOCERS log in page.  When prompted enter your myOCERS username.  Our system will send a temporary password to the email address we have on file for you.  The temporary password is only good for 2 hours.  During that time you must retrieve the temporary password from your email and use it to log on to the myOCERS portal.  Once you have sucessfully logged in, you will be prompted to create your new password.  If you need assistance please Contact Us.

What if I have forgotten my Username?

If you have forgotten your myOCERS username, please click on the “Forgot Username” link located beneath the User Log section on the myOCERS log in page.  When prompted enter the email address we have on file for you.  If you do not receive an email and need  assistance please Contact Us.

How do I enable Pop-ups on my PC so that I can view certain pages on the OCERS website?

Some of our links open to new windows which may be blocked if you have your pop-up blocker enabled. To allow pop-ups from the OCERS website please consult the following links for instructions on how to enable pop-up windows on the OCERS website.

Internet Explorer

Google Chrome

Mozilla Firefox

Why does the text overlap when I log into myOCERS?

If you log into the myOCERS Portal, and the text overlaps either on your screen or when you print, it is most likely due to the text size you have set on your browser. To check this, open your Internet Explorer browser window and go to the OCERS Web site. 

  1. On the Menu bar, click on “Tools”
  2. Scroll down to “Text Size”
  3. Select “Medium” text size (“Medium” is the default and the recommend viewing size for the myOCERS Portal)
  4. Log into the myOCERS Portal

If the Text size is set to “Medium” the text on screen should not overlap. A setting of “Large” or “Largest” will cause the text to overlap. OCERS is aware of this issue and is working to update the myOCERS Portal to allow for the larger text settings.