SECTION I: INFORMATION FOR ALL CONTRIBUTORY MEMBERS
1. Q: What types of service credit can be purchased?
A: Several types of previous County service and certain other government service may be purchased.
Previous County service may include:
- Temporary County service
- Permanent County service prior to LACERA membership
- Redeposit of withdrawn contributions
- Sick Without Pay (SWOP)
- Conversion of prior General service to Safety service
Other government service may include employment with:
- U.S. military
- U.S. government (federal)
- State of California
- Other public agency within California
Note: Various eligibility requirements apply. Purchasing Non-County service will increase your total years of service credit, but will not count toward meeting the minimum service credit requirement to retire or to qualify for a nonservice-connected disability, pre-retirement survivor benefits, or to defer your retirement.
2. Q: I worked part-time for the County for two years. May I purchase this time?
A: Yes. The purchase of prior County service is permitted on the basis of full-time months, provided eligibility requirements are met. At your request, LACERA will determine the full-time equivalent of your part-time service credit and provide you with a purchase contract based on the conversion. For example, 24 months of service at half-time will convert to 12 months of purchasable service credit.
Note: No more than 12 months of total service credit shall be allowed in any one 12-consective-month period.
3. Q: I have three years and five months of prior service. May I purchase that exact amount of service credit?
A: Yes. The purchase of prior County and/or non-County service is permitted on the basis of full-time months (provided eligibility requirements are met). The amount of service credit you purchase cannot exceed the length of the time period during which the service was performed. For example, 12 months of credit shall be allowed for all service in any one period of 12 consecutive months.
4. Q: I am an active member with five years of County service credit. May I purchase credit the eight years I spent in the U.S. military prior to joining LACERA?
A: The amount of previous non-County service you purchase cannot exceed the amount of County service credit you have earned. As such, to purchase your eight years of prior military service, you must have earned eight years of County service credit by the end of your purchase contract. You may purchase five years. (1-29-16)
5. Q: Where can I find the specific details of each service credit category?
A: The full descriptions, eligibility requirements, contract terms, and calculation methods that apply to each purchasable service credit category can be viewed online in the Benefits section of lacera.com.
6. Q: What are the advantages of purchasing service credit?
A: LACERA retirement benefits are based, in part, on service credit; the more years of service credit you have, the higher your monthly retirement allowance will be.
7. Q: How can I determine the affect of a service purchase on my monthly retirement allowance?
A: Try the retirement calculator to see the affect that purchasing service credit would have on your monthly retirement allowance.
Your retirement allowance will be based upon four factors: retirement plan, retirement age, years of service credit, and final compensation. In Plans A, B, C, and D, final compensation is an average of your highest monthly compensation during any one year. (Certain restrictions may apply to deferred members.)
8. Q: Does service credit affect the cost of LACERA-administered retiree health insurance?
A: Yes. The County subsidizes retiree medical/dental insurance based on a member’s years of service credit; the more County service credit you have, the more the County pays toward your premiums. For a member with ten years of service credit (excluding ARC and reciprocal service credit), the County contributes 40 percent of the selected plan premium or 40 percent of the benchmark plan premium, whichever is less. For each additional year of County service credit, the County contributes an additional four percent, up to a maximum of 100 percent for a member with 25 years of service credit.
Minimum requirements and other conditions may apply; for more information call 800-786-6464 and press 1 to speak with a LACERA Healthcare Benefit Specialist.
9. Q: I terminated service, withdrew my contributions, spent time in the military, then returned to County Service. May I redeposit my withdrawn contributions and purchase my military service?
A: You may either redeposit your withdrawn contributions or purchase your military service; you may not do both. We recommend you compare the benefits of each situation to determine which purchase is more advantageous. A LACERA Retirement Benefits Specialist can assist you in understanding the differences.
10. Q: Do special rules apply to service credit for military service?
A: In most cases, you may purchase service credit for time spent in active military service. However, under certain conditions, such as being called to serve during a time of war or national emergency, the County may award you service credit (at no cost to you) for military service that interrupts your County employment. Contract terms for the purchase of credit for military service vary depending on certain eligibility requirements. For additional information speak with a LACERA Retirement Benefits Specialist at 800-786-6464. (1-29-16)
11. Q: How much does service credit cost?
A: The cost of your eligible service varies depending on the type of service credit purchased, your date(s) of membership in LACERA, and your prior and/or current retirement plan. The actual cost can’t be calculated until LACERA receives your Application to Purchase Retirement Service Credit and verifies your service. (See Section III: Initiating Your Service Credit Purchase.) The total lump-sum cost, including interest, is calculated through the expiration date on the Payment Contract.
If you choose to purchase service credit through monthly payroll deductions, the purchase amount will include interest that is calculated and applied over the entire term of the contract.
12. Q: What payment options are available?
A: You have a choice of three payment options: lump-sum payment, payroll deductions (on a before- or after-tax basis), or a combination of both.
- Lump-Sum Payment: a single payment for the total cost of your service credit, including interest calculated through the contract expiration date.
- Payroll Deductions: automatic monthly deductions from your paycheck, determined by dividing the total dollar amount of your contract by the term (number of months) of your contract. Interest is calculated over the term of the contract; therefore, the total amount you pay through payroll deductions is greater than it would be through a lump-sum payment.
- Combination Lump-Sum Payment/Payroll Deductions: allows you to pay a single up-front payment (in an amount you determine) and pay off the balance of the contract through monthly payroll deductions.
13. Q: What contract terms are available for purchasing service credit?
A: Terms vary according to the type of service credit; some types must be purchased within five years and others may be purchased within ten years. Terms on purchases of temporary service or periods of absence without pay due to illness are limited to the number of months you are purchasing. The Payment Contract you receive from LACERA will indicate your options regarding the length of your contract.
14. Q: How is interest calculated on my Payment Contract?
A: The calculations used vary according to the type of service you are purchasing, the date you entered membership, and your current and prior retirement plan.
(If you were formerly a Plan E member, see Section II: Former Plan E Members.)
On purchases of previous County service earned under a contributory plan, the cost includes the interest your contributions would have earned had they been on deposit with LACERA from the date you became a member (or from the date you withdrew your funds) to the expiration date on your Payment Contract.
The cost to purchase other types of service credit is based on the present value of the additional retirement benefits you will receive (and not on back interest). Your current age and salary are factors that most affect the purchase cost.
If you choose payroll deductions, your monthly deduction will be calculated using a projected semi-annual interest crediting rate, set by the Board of Investments, for the term of the contract. At the end of your contract, LACERA will reconcile your balance and adjust your deductions to prevent any over or underpayment.
15. Q: What is a semi-annual interest crediting rate?
A: According to the law, interest is credited (at a rate set by the Board of Investments) to member contributions on deposit in the retirement fund. Interest crediting is applied twice a year (semi-annually) on June 30 and December 31 to all member contributions that have been in the retirement fund for at least six months immediately prior to the date of credit.
16. Q: What types of funds may I use to purchase service credit?
A: Under the Pension Protection Act, service credit may be purchased with any of these types of funds:
- Payroll deductions (using before- or after-tax dollars)
- Qualified Plans: 401(k)/401(a)/KEOGH
- 457 Fund Plan Transfers: In-Service or after Termination
- IRAs: Non-Roth/Non-After Tax
- After-Tax Dollars
17. Q: What is the significance of before-tax and after-tax dollars?
A: Before-tax dollars are funds that are not subject to income tax at the time they are earned; rather, they become taxable when you receive them as retirement benefits, terminate County service, or when your beneficiary receives them upon your death. Payroll deductions and rollovers from your County 457 plan and/or other tax qualified plans are examples of before-tax dollars. By electing payroll deductions using before-tax dollars, you reduce the amount of your taxable income.
After-tax dollars are funds — such as proceeds from mortgage refinancing or savings accounts — that were subject to income tax at the time they were earned. Since they have already been taxed, they are not subject to income tax at retirement, termination, or death.
If you use after-tax dollars for a lump-sum payment, a portion of your retirement allowance equal to the amount of after-tax dollars you paid will be considered non-taxable income. That portion will be excluded from taxability until you have recovered the full amount of your non-taxable payment.
Consult with a professional advisor regarding tax and legal matters pertaining to your individual situation; LACERA does not offer tax or legal advice.
18. Q: Will I be permitted to change or revoke my contract after I sign it?
A: The ability to change or revoke your contract depends on the type of payment method you select:
- Once you sign a contract that includes before-tax payroll deductions and/or payments using other before-tax funds, the contract is irrevocable.
- Only contracts based on payments made exclusively with after-tax dollars may be revised or revoked.
If you revoke your after-tax dollar contract before it is paid in full, LACERA will prorate the amount you have paid and credit your account for years and months of service credit accordingly. This does not apply if you are redepositing withdrawn contributions. If you do not complete the redeposit of your withdrawn contributions, your prior County service will not be restored.
In either case, LACERA cannot refund the money you already paid until you retire or terminate County service; if you die, the money will be paid to your beneficiary.
19. Q: Will the years and months of service credit I purchase count toward meeting the minimum service credit requirement to retire?
A: If you are currently a member of Plan A, B, C, or D (and have never been in Plan E), service credit you purchase for prior County service will count toward the 10-year service credit minimum required for a service retirement. It will also count toward the five years required for a nonservice-connected disability retirement, pre-retirement survivor benefits, or to defer your retirement. (If you were previously a member of Plan E, see Section II: Former Plan E Members.)
20. Q: What happens if I receive a disability retirement before completing my Payment Contract?
A: If you are granted a disability retirement before completing your Payment Contract, your account will be credited for the years and months of service credit paid up to the date your disability retirement was granted. If you elect to complete the Payment Contract, you must do so within 120 days of the date your disability was granted.
21. Q: How does purchasing Sick Without Pay (SWOP) time work?
A: With medical verification, contributory members may purchase up to 12 consecutive months of service credit for each period of uncompensated leave of absence due to illness or injury (including maternity leave). Up to five months of maternity leave – the month of birth, two months prior to the birth, and two months immediately following – may be purchased with the submission of a valid birth certificate; other medical verification is not required. To be eligible to purchase SWOP, you must have returned to work for at least one day following the absence.
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SECTION II: FORMER PLAN E MEMBERS
1. Q: Under what circumstances are former Plan E members permitted to purchase credit for service prior to LACERA membership?
A: As a former Plan E member, you may purchase certain types of prior service,* provided:
- You completed a transfer to Plan D from Plan E, or
- After a prior period of LACERA membership totaling less than ten years (non-vested), you returned to County service and reentered LACERA as a Plan D member.
*May include Temporary County service, Non-vested Plan E service, Prior Plan A, B, C, or D service, and/or certain Non-County government service; subject to eligibility.
2. Q: I was previously a Plan E member. What type of service credit am I eligible to purchase?
A: The following types of service credit may be purchased by former Plan E members, subject to eligibility:
- Temporary County service performed before you became a LACERA member.
- Non-vested Plan E service if you worked less than ten years as a Plan E member, then terminated County service.
- Prior Plan A, B, C, or D service if you terminated County service, withdrew your retirement contributions, later returned to County service as a Plan E member, and subsequently became a Plan D member.
- Non-County Service - Employment, prior to the date you became eligible for LACERA membership, by any of the following agencies:
- U.S. government, including military service
- State of California
- Any public agency in California
These purchases of service credit will increase your total years of service credit, but will not count toward meeting the minimum service credit requirement to retire.
3. Q: I was previously in Plan E, how is interest calculated on my purchase contract?
A: The cost to purchase service credit earned under Plan E is based on the present value of the additional retirement benefits you will receive (and not on back interest). Your current age and salary are factors that most affect the purchase cost.
If you choose payroll deductions, your monthly deduction will be calculated using a projected semi-annual crediting rate, set by the Board of Investments, for the term of the contract. At the end of your contract, LACERA will reconcile your balance and adjust your deductions to prevent any over or underpayment.
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SECTION III: INITIATING YOUR SERVICE CREDIT PURCHASE – ALL CONTRIBUTORY PLANS
1. Q: How do I initiate a service credit purchase?
A: Review the details on the various types of service credit and the qualifications for purchase in the brochure entitled Q&A: Purchasing Service Credit and online in the Benefits section of lacera.com. If you believe you qualify, complete an Application to Purchase Retirement Service Credit and return it to LACERA. The application can be ordered by calling 800-786-6464.
2. Q: What happens after I submit my purchase application to LACERA?
A: After verifying your service and calculating the cost to purchase it, we will send you a Cost Notification Letter, along with a Service Credit Payment Schedule and Payment Contract. If you are interested in making a service credit purchase, return the completed paperwork to LACERA.
3. Q: When do I begin making payments?
A: If you select monthly payroll deductions, your deductions begin on the 15th of month, within 60 days of LACERA’s receipt of your signed Payment Contract.* On some contracts (depending on the type of service credit you are purchasing) you may choose the month your deductions begin, provided the month you select is prior to the contract expiration date. For additional information, call 800-786- 6464 to speak with a LACERA Retirement Benefits Specialist.
On lump-sum payments, you must include your check or money order with your signed Payment Contract. If you use a rollover or transfer for a lump-sum payment from a Horizons 457 Plan or County 401(k) Plan, you must call Great-West at 800-947-0845 to request a rollover/transfer form and send the completed and signed form to LACERA. For rollovers of other before-tax funds, you must sign and complete the member section of a LACERA Rollover/Transfer Certification Form and send the form to your plan administrator to complete, sign, and return to LACERA. We must receive a completed and signed Rollover/Transfer Certification Form directly from the Plan Administrator before your rollover or transfer can be accepted. A Rollover/Transfer Certification Form is available on the Brochures & Forms page.
*Processing time may vary.
4. Q: What happens if I retire, terminate County service, or die before completing my Payment Contract?
A: If you terminate employment or retire before your contract is paid in full, you may complete payment within 120 days after your termination or retirement date. If you die, your eligible surviving spouse or domestic partner (or minor child) would be eligible to complete payment within 120 days after the date of death. If not paid in full, the retirement allowance or survivor allowance would be prorated to include service credit for whole months already paid.
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