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About this Handbook

This Handbook summarizes the main provisions of laws that provide benefits to certain State of Georgia employees. Unless otherwise specifically indicated, the Handbook describes these laws as in effect on July 1, 2012.

It is important to remember that this Handbook is only a summary of the law, and therefore provides only general information. A summary cannot deal with every possible set of circumstances. Also, from time to time, the laws will be amended, and while we make every effort to update this Handbook in a timely fashion, there may be a period of time during which the Handbook does not reflect recent changes in the law. If something is not covered in detail in this summary, or if this summary can be read to be inconsistent with the governing laws, the law will control.

It is important that you read the entire Handbook. Reading only portions can be confusing and misleading.

Introduction

About the Benefits Described in this Handbook

The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) was established and began administering retirement benefits for certain State of Georgia employees on January 1, 1950, as provided by laws enacted through the Georgia General Assembly.

Laws governing ERS provide for service retirements, death and disability benefits, or refunds of contributions and interest to members who leave State employment. Employee and Employer Contributions are paid into the retirement fund for the welfare of members and their beneficiaries. All benefits are paid from this fund. Benefit structures have changed over time, and this Handbook will describe the differences between each. However, any benefit provisions which no longer apply to any active member or apply only to a small population may not be covered in detail.

An independent actuarial firm specializing in pension and retirement plans examines the fund every year. The actuarial firm prepares an annual valuation on the ability of the fund to meet future obligations, and every five years performs an actuarial experience study. The System is also examined annually by an independent accounting firm.

A Board of Trustees is responsible for the administration of ERS. Daily operations are under the direct administration of the ERSGA Director and staff. For more information about the Board of Trustees, please visit our website.

Contacting ERSGA

Through this website, you can:

  • Download this Handbook, pamphlets, and various forms
  • Review frequently asked questions
  • Obtain information about legislation under consideration by the Georgia General Assembly
  • Link to other websites

Log in to your account (using the Log In button at the top of the page) to:

  • See your personal account information
  • Conduct transactions such as designating a beneficiary and estimating your retirement benefits
  • Terminated members with less than 10 years of Creditable Service can request a refund of contributions

Inquiries related to retirement or general inquiries about ERS can be emailed to: ers.contacts@ers.ga.gov.

Mailing address:

Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia
Two Northside 75, Suite 300
Atlanta, GA  30318

Phone numbers:

General Number:  404.350.6300
Toll free: 1.800.805.4609 (outside metro Atlanta area)
Fax:  404.350.6310

Hours of Operation:  8:00 am to 4:30 pm ET

To contact Peach State Reserves, call toll free: 1.866.694.2777

Membership

Generally, membership in ERS is a condition of employment for any person employed by a participating department or agency on a full-time basis.  For purposes of determining membership eligibility, full-time status requires employment with the department or agency that:

  • Is a person’s primary occupation
  • Is full-time (requiring employee to work at least 35 hours per week for a minimum of 9 months per year)

Note: Special Service Retirement Benefit Formula provisions apply to Court of Appeals Judges and Supreme Court Justices. See Appendix A for details.

A person who meets the requirements is considered an Employee.  However, you are not considered an Employee if you are classified by an employer as an independent contractor or a leased employee within the meaning of Section 414(n) of the federal Internal Revenue Code, even if you are later reclassified as a common law employee by the Internal Revenue Service. 

Employees become ERS Members on the first day of their full-time employment with an Employer.  This Handbook will refer to Employees who are Members as Members. 

A list of departments and agencies participating in ERS as of July 1, 2018 is provided in Appendix C.  These participating departments and agencies are called Employers in this Handbook.

Special Membership Eligibility Rules

  • If a Member first becomes an Employee at age 60 or later, they may elect not to become a Member of ERS. The election must be submitted in writing to ERSGA within 30 days of the date of becoming an Employee. The election to not become a Member is irrevocable.  

    Note: If a Member declines ERS membership, they will not be eligible to participate in the Peach State Reserves 401(k) Plan and will not be entitled to Employer contributions under that Plan. Unless the employer is not covered by the GDCP plan, declining ERS membership will also result in mandatory enrollment and employee contributions into the Georgia Defined Contribution Plan (GDCP). Employment for GDCP Members is NOT covered under Social Security. 
  • Any vested member of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia (TRS) who becomes an Employee of an Employer may elect to remain a Member of TRS instead of becoming a member of ERS.  The election to opt out of ERS membership by remaining a Member of TRS must be made in writing to ERSGA and TRS within 60 days of the date hired by the Employer. 
  • A vested ERS Member who accepts a position covered by TRS can opt out of TRS membership and remain an ERS Member by following the same procedure.
  • Employees of a county official (tax commissioner, tax collector, or tax receiver) who were hired prior to July 1, 2012 have the option to elect to become a Member of ERS. The election must be made in writing within 180 days of employment.
  • Employees of a county official (tax commissioner, tax collector, or tax receiver) who are hired on or after July 1, 2012 will become a Member of ERS if (a) the county has provided a resolution to offer such membership and assume responsibility for all associated Employer Contributions, and (b) the employee is not covered under a local retirement plan for the same period of employment.

Please note:  A final conviction of certain crimes can affect a person’s ERS status, as well as the claim to any benefits earned through ERS.  Please contact ERSGA directly with questions regarding the right to benefits under these circumstances.

When becoming a Member of ERS, that Member is covered by the benefit structure in effect at the time of membership. There are three primary defined benefit structures in ERS, which include:

  • Old Plan
  • New Plan
  • Georgia State Employees’ Pension and Savings Plan (GSEPS)
Old Plan Membership
  • Current Members continuously employed on a full-time basis since before July 1, 1982
  • Members originally employed before July 1, 1982 who are re-employed on or after July 1, 1982 without having received a refund of their annuity savings fund account, retiring, or rendering less than one year of service within a period of five consecutive years as a Member
New Plan Membership
  • Employees first or again becoming ERS Members on or after July 1, 1982 and before January 1, 2009 as a result of: 
    • Their initial employment as an Employee of an Employer
    • Their rehire before 
  • January 1, 2009 as an Employee of an Employer after receiving a refund of their annuity savings fund account, retiring, or rendering less than one year of service within a period of five consecutive years as a Member
  • Employees who were ERS Members on June 30, 1982 who chose to become a New Plan Member
  • Employees first or again becoming ERS Members on or after July 1, 1982 who are re-employed on or after January 1, 2009 without having received a refund of their annuity savings fund account, retiring, or rendering less than one year of service within a period of five consecutive years as a Member 
GSEPS Membership
  • Employees first or again becoming ERS Members on or after January 1, 2009 as a result of:
    • Their initial employment as an Employee of an Employer
    • Their rehire on or after January 1, 2009 as an Employee of an Employer after receiving a refund of their annuity savings fund account, retiring, or rendering less than one year of service within a period of five consecutive years as a Member
  • Employees who were ERS Members on December 31, 2008 who chose to become a GSEPS Member

Contributions

The benefits paid from this plan are funded through Employee Contributions and Employer Contributions.  This section of the Handbook describes the contributions made on behalf of each participating Member.

Employee Contributions

Old Plan
  • A total of 6.5% of a Member’s Earnable Compensation less $7 is contributed on a Member’s behalf each payroll period. While all of these contributions are considered Employee Contributions, the Member’s employer actually pays a portion of the contributions on the Member’s behalf.  These employer paid contributions are called “pick up contributions.”

    ​Pick up contributions are not made on behalf of tax officials and their employees, or State court employees. These employees pay the full contribution amount.
  • Employee Contributions are made through payroll deductions in the amount of 1.5% of the Member’s Earnable Compensation. Of the 1.5%:
    • 1.25% is put into the Member’s annuity savings fund account
    • .25% goes towards the Member’s GTLI premiums
  • Pick Up Contributions make up the remainder of the per payroll contributions as follows:
    • 4.75% less $7 of the Member’s Earnable Compensation, which is put into the Member’s annuity savings fund account, and .25% of the Member’s Earnable Compensation, which goes towards the Member’s GTLI premiums.
New Plan
  • A total of 1.5% of a Member’s Earnable Compensation is contributed to ERS through payroll deductions each payroll period. Of the 1.5%:
    • 1.25% is put into the Member’s annuity savings fund account
    • .25% goes towards the Member’s GTLI premiums
GSEPS

A total of 1.25% of a Member’s Earnable Compensation is contributed to ERS through payroll deductions each payroll period.  The entire amount is put into the Member’s annuity savings fund account.  There is no GTLI coverage for GSEPS members.

    Note: Special Contribution rates apply to Court of Appeals Judges and Supreme Court Justices. See Appendix A for details

    The Employee Contributions put into the Member’s annuity savings fund account start earning 4% interest (compounded annually) after being in the account for one year. Earned interest is posted on June 30 of each year to annuity savings fund accounts belonging to Members who are employed at that time. Interest is not posted to any annuity savings fund account belonging to a Member who has terminated employment.

    Members who have attained age 65 may elect to stop contributing to ERS by providing their Employer with a signed Discontinuation of Contributions Form.  If you stop contributing, you will stop accruing Creditable Service.  See the Handbook section titled Creditable Service for more information.

    Employer Contributions

    In addition to the Employee Contributions made to ERS on a Member’s behalf, the Member’s Employer makes additional contributions in order to fund the benefits payable under ERS.  The Employer Contribution amount is an actuarially determined percentage of a Member’s Earnable Compensation.  It is not applied to the Member’s annuity savings fund account, and it is not refundable to the Member.

    Peach State Reserves 401(k) Plan Contributions for GSEPS Members

    GSEPS Members who contribute a portion of their compensation to the 401(k) Plan are eligible to receive an employer-funded matching contribution.  For more information about the 401(k) Plan, please see the Peach State Reserves 401(k) Plan Handbook.

    Earnable Compensation

    Earnable Compensation generally means the full rate of regular compensation payable to a Member for his or her full normal working time.  For example, if a Member missed a portion of a month of work due to a Leave Without Pay (LWOP), the member would be credited with Earnable Compensation as if they had worked the entire month.  

    Note: If a Member misses an entire calendar month of work, the Member will not be credited with Earnable Compensation for that month.)

    • Examples of items contained in Earnable Compensation include:
    • Regular pay for normal working hours
    • Vacation pay
    • Shift differentials
    • Certain bonuses
    • Contributions to a qualified transportation plan (effective July 1, 2003)
    • Contributions to a cafeteria plan (effective July 1, 2003)
    • Employee contributions to the Peach State Reserves 401(k) plan (effective July 1, 2003)

    Examples of items not included:

    • Overtime pay
    • Expense reimbursements
    • Supplements from local funds

    ​If a Member is subject to any furlough period(s), the Plan will treat the member as though they were working during the furlough(s).  This means that the Member will receive Earnable Compensation and Creditable Service for the furlough time.  This also means that the Member is responsible for Employee Contributions based on the pay the Member would have received had they not been on furlough.

    For Member hired on or after July 1, 2009, any increases in Earnable Compensation above 5% paid in the 12 months before retirement will not be included in the calculation of your benefit.

    Note to Employers:  Under the terms of House Bill 476, effective July 1, 2009, for Members hired prior to July 1, 2009:

    • The definition of Earnable Compensation did not change for purposes of calculating the Member’s retirement benefit.
    •  The Member’s Employer will be invoiced for the cost of any additional retirement benefit (and actuarial fees for the calculation of that cost) arising from pensionable compensation increases in excess of 5% in the 12 months prior to the Member’s retirement effective date.

    Your Employee Contributions made to ERS under the Old Plan, the New Plan, or GSEPS are based upon your Earnable Compensation.  Please see the Handbook section titled Contributions for further information.

    Creditable Service

    Creditable Service is used to determine:

    • Whether a Member has earned a right to a retirement benefit (vesting)
    • A Member’s eligibility for certain Plan benefits
    • The amount of benefits payable upon a Member’s retirement

    For more information about how a Member’s rights to retirement benefits are determined, please see the Handbook section titled Benefits Eligibility.

    Creditable Service is made up of Prior Service plus service for which a Member is credited while they are a Member.  It can be earned, transferred into ERS, or, in some cases, purchased.

    A Member earns Creditable Service for each month of active ERS membership for which Employee Contributions are deducted. If a Member contributes for only part of a month, the Member will receive a pro rata portion of that month toward Creditable Service. When a Member has partial months of service during a year, the total months credited for the year are rounded to the nearest number of months.

    Note: Additional Service provisions apply to Court of Appeals Judges and Supreme Court Justices. See Appendix A for details.

    For more information about how retirement benefits are calculated, please see the Handbook section titled Service Retirement. 

    Prior Service

    If a Member was employed by an Employer (including the Georgia National Guard or Georgia State Guard) as a temporary full-time employee prior to becoming an ERS Member, they may be able to receive Creditable Service for prior employment.  A Member must:

    • Become an ERS Member by beginning full-time, permanent employment with an Employer
    • Apply in writing requesting Creditable Service for the period of prior employment within 24 months after becoming an ERS member
    • Have the former employer certify the prior employment with ERS
    • Pay all Employee Contributions and Employer Contributions, with interest, pertaining to the period of prior employment

    Members under the New Plan and GSEPS may acquire no more than 12 months of Creditable Service in this manner.  Also, membership in the Georgia Defined Contribution Plan during prior employment, will not receive Creditable Service for that period of employment.

    If a Member has previously worked for the State, they may contact ERSGA to determine eligibility to receive Creditable Service for your prior employment.

    Forfeited Leave Service

    Forfeited leave time consists of the following:

    • Forfeited annual leave
    • Forfeited sick leave
    • Accrued sick leave

    Forfeited may be converted to Creditable Service at retirement if a Member has accrued a total of at least 960 hours. 

    • 160 hours of forfeited leave = one month of Creditable Service
    • To receive credit for forfeited leave, it must certified by your last Employer
    • Forfeited leave service cannot be counted toward the 10 years of Creditable Service needed for vesting in an ERS retirement benefit
    • Forfeited leave service cannot be counted for the 18 years of Creditable Service needed to retain GTLI coverage (if applicable) after termination but before retirement
       

    Job Related Temporary Disability / Leave Without Pay

    • Take a LWOP due to either a mental or physical issue caused by a job-related disease or accident
    • Return to work and apply for the service credit in writing
    • Pay ERS an amount equal to the applicable Employee Contributions, plus 4% interest
    • Make the payment within six months after returning to work

    Refund Buyback

    A Member who terminates employment but has not yet retired (or is not eligible to retire) has the option to receive a refund of Contributions plus Interest (also referred to as the annuity savings fund account).  If a Member receives such a refund, they forfeit all Creditable Service for the period of employment covered by the refund.

    With a return to active Membership, a former Member can re-establish Creditable Service via a Buyback.  To do so, the Member must be employed for two additional years.  At that point, re-establishment of ERS membership is dependent upon a lump sum payment equal to the refund amount originally received, plus 4.25% interest (compounded annually from the refund date to the buyback date).

    For more information about how to receive a refund of your annuity savings fund account, please see the Handbook section titled Refund of Contributions and Interest. 

    Military Service

    The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) provides Members with certain rights regarding employment and retirement benefits, if qualified military service is performed.  Upon return to employment after a military leave, Creditable Service may be received for the period of leave with the following conditions:

    • Application with ERS in writing to establish the service
    • The applicable Employee Contributions for the period of service are paid by the Member within a period up to three times the length of your military service or five years, whichever is less
       

    Example: If you were deployed for 1 year, you have up to 3 years after returning to work to pay your Employee Contributions.  If you were deployed for 3 years, you have up to 5 years after returning to work to pay your Employee Contributions.

    If a Member is actively employed and called to active duty in the National Guard or Reserves, the Member may make Employee Contributions during the active duty period.  The Member must provide ERS with a copy of the orders as soon as you they are received.

    Note: If a Member left State employment to perform military service prior to October 13, 1994, please contact ERS for information about the rights to establish Creditable Service.

    Air Time

    Active members may also increase their retirement benefit when submitting a retirement application by directly purchasing up to three additional years of Creditable Service.  This is commonly known as purchasing Air Time.  If a Member wishes to purchase Air Time, they must pay the full cost of the additional service (not just the Employee Contribution amount), as calculated by the Plan’s actuary.

    Air Time cannot be counted toward the 10 years of Creditable Service needed to become Vested in an ERS monthly retirement benefit.

    Transferring Service from TRS

    If a Member worked in a position covered by the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) of Georgia and later takes a position covered by ERS, the Member may have theirTRS Creditable Service and TRS annuity savings fund account transferred to ERS as well.  The Member will need to submit a transfer request to ERSGA in writing.

    If a Member previously a TRS member, and received a refund of  TRS contributions, the Member may perform a refund buyback of TRS service and establish that service with ERS after two years of active ERS Membership.

    Prior Law Enforcement Service

    If a Member was employed as a full-time law enforcement officer with a local government prior to becoming an ERS Member, and is not eligible to receive a benefit from a pension or retirement plan for such service (excluding Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund), the Member may be eligible to purchase up to five years Creditable Service for prior employment with the following requirements:

    • 10 years of Creditable Service
    • Currently be in a law enforcement position
    • Former employer must certify prior employment
    • Provide P.O.S.T. certification records for requested service period
    • Pay the full actuarial cost of the additional service as calculated by the Plan’s actuary
       

    If a Member has worked as a law enforcement officer prior to State service, please contact ERS to determine eligibility to purchase additional Creditable Service.

    Benefits Eligibility

    The retirement benefits available to a Member under ERS are based upon a Benefit Formula and are funded through both Employee Contributions and Employer Contributions.  Members always have a nonforfeitable right to Employee Contributions.  However, a Member must earn a right to receive other benefits.  This right is referred to as a vested right.

    The word vested means that a Member has a nonforfeitable right.  Member Contributions to ERS are always 100% vested. Once a Member earns 10 years of Creditable Service, they have a vested right to a service retirement at age 60, even if the Member terminates employment before reaching age 60.

    When a Member terminates employment, the Member may be eligible for one of the following types of benefits from the plan:

    • Normal Retirement Benefit
    • Early Retirement Benefit
    • Terminated Vested Retirement Benefit
    • Refund of your Contributions and Interest
    • Disability Benefit
    • Death Benefit

    A Member’s benefit may be forfeited under two situations:

    • Conviction of a state or federal crime 
    • A withdrawal of contributions and interest

    The rules governing benefit eligibility and the benefit formula used to compute the benefit depend on which of the three plans (Old Plan, New Plan, or GSEPS) the Member participates in.

    Note: Special Benefit Eligibility provisions apply to Court of Appeals Judges and Supreme Court Justices. See Appendix A for details.

    Service Retirement

    There are three different types of Service Retirement you can apply for in this Plan:  Normal Retirement, Early Retirement, and Terminated Vested Retirement.

    Note: Special Benefit Eligibility provisions apply to Court of Appeals Judges and Supreme Court Justices. See Appendix A for details.

    Normal Retirement

    Under the Old Plan, the New Plan, and GSEPS, once you have reached Normal Retirement Age, you can retire and begin receiving monthly benefits.  Normal Retirement Age is defined as the earlier of:

    • the attainment of age 60 and 10 years of Creditable Service, or
    • the attainment of 30 years of Creditable Service

    Certain Law Enforcement Members reach Normal Retirement at Age 55 with 10 years of Creditable Service. See Appendix B for details.

    Early Retirement

    Under the Old Plan, the New Plan, and GSEPS, you can commence Early Retirement benefits at any age before your Normal Retirement Age once you have attained 25 years of Creditable Service.  The benefit payable at Early Retirement will be an amount equal to your Normal Retirement benefit earned at that time, reduced by either 7% for each year you are commencing benefits prior to age 60, or 7% for each year under 30 years of Creditable Service you have earned, whichever reduction is less.  The reduction cannot exceed 35%.

    Terminated Vested Retirement

    If you terminate employment after attaining 10 years of service, but prior to age 60, you will be eligible to start drawing a retirement benefit once you reach age 60. You should contact ERS within 90 days prior to your 60th birthday.

    Your effective retirement date will be the first day of the month in which your retirement application is received at ERS, or if later, the first of the month following your final month of employment.
     

    If you withdraw your contributions and interest at any time, you will automatically forfeit the monthly benefit payable at age 60.

    Service Retirement Benefit Formulas

    The benefit formula used to calculate Normal Retirement benefits under each of the three plans (Old Plan, New Plan, and GSEPS) is: 

    Formula
    Salary
    x Benefit Formula 
    Factor
    x Creditable 
    Service
    x Maximum Plan 
    Benefit

    As shown above, the benefit formula calculates the amount payable at Normal Retirement Age under the Maximum Plan Benefit.  

    Maximum Plan Benefit is the highest monthly benefit available; does not provide a monthly benefit to a beneficiary.

    Formula Salary is the average of the highest 24 consecutive calendar months of Earnable Compensation while an ERS Member. There are minor differences in Formula Salary between the plans, which are highlighted below.

    The Benefit Formula Factors used in the above benefit formula differ for each of the three plans. Creditable Service is generally determined the same way for all three benefit structures. The following provides specific details about how benefits are calculated for each benefit structure.

    Benefits may be reduced if applying for an Early Retirement Benefit or if selecting an optional form which provides for a survivor benefit to the beneficiary upon the Member’s death.

    Note: Special Service Retirement Benefit Formula provisions apply to Court of Appeals Judges and Supreme Court Justices. See Appendix A for details.

    For a reduction in benefit, the Member may elect to provide survivor benefits to a beneficiary instead of a benefit for only the Member’s lifetime. See the section titled Optional Forms of Payment.

    Old Plan

    Formula Salary is the average of the highest 24 consecutive calendar months of Earnable Compensation while an ERS Member.  Any Pick-Up Contributions paid on the Member’s behalf are added to their actual compensation to calculate retirement benefits.

    For more information about Pick-Up Contributions, please see the section of this Handbook titled Contributions.

    Using the table on the next page, the Benefit Formula Factor is determined by how many years of Creditable Service you have attained.

    Under the Old Plan, if you retire after attaining 34 years of Creditable Service, your benefit will be calculated as if your service with your Employer continued until you would have attained age 65 and as if your compensation remained unchanged until then.

    Benefit Formula Factors:

    Years of Creditable Service Benefit Formula Factor
    10-28 .0200
    29 .0202
    30 .0205
    31 .0208
    32 .0211
    33 .0214
    34 .0217
    35 or more .0229

    Normal Retirement Calculation Example:

    You choose to commence benefits at age 65 and have elected benefit payment Option 3, which provides for a monthly payment for your lifetime.  Upon your death, your beneficiary(ies) will receive a monthly benefit for their lifetime equal to 50% of the monthly benefit you were receiving.

    Age at Commencement 
    of Benefits
    Beneficiary’s Age Years of Service Formula Salary
    65 60 20 $2,088.00
    Step 1: Calculate the Normal Retirement Benefit

    Formula Salary x Benefit Formula Factor x Creditable Service 
    $2,088.00 x .02 x 20 years = $835.20 per month (Maximum Plan Benefit)

    Step 2: Calculate the Option 3 Benefit

    Maximum Plan Benefit x Option 3 Factor
    $835.20 x .9094* = $759.53, monthly benefit payable to you 

    $759.53 x 50% = $379.77, monthly benefit payable to your beneficiary(ies)

    *The Option 3 factor is dependent on your age and the age of your beneficiary(ies) as of your retirement effective date.