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«Teacher Retirement System of Texas Benefits Handbook trs.texas.gov/December 2015 This handbook has been written in nontechnical terms wherever ...»

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Teacher Retirement System of Texas

Benefits Handbook

www. trs.texas.gov/December 2015

This handbook has been written in nontechnical terms wherever possible. However, if questions of

interpretation arise as a result of the attempt to make retirement and other benefit provisions easy to

understand, TRS laws and rules must remain the final authority.

The TRS Benefits Handbook is revised every two years. This edition is based upon TRS plan terms

in effect as of December 2015. The TRS plan terms are subject to changes due to modifications to the law, as enacted by the Texas Legislature; to the rules and policies, as approved by the TRS Board of Trustees; and to federal law relating to qualified retirement plans.

Links to the state laws and TRS rules can be found on the TRS website (www.trs.texas.gov), and a

copy of the TRS Laws and Rules publication is available during normal business hours at:

Teacher Retirement System of Texas 1000 Red River Street Austin, Texas 78701-2698 Brian K. Guthrie, Executive Director Members’ Right to Know*

1. With few exceptions, individuals are entitled to request to be informed about the information that TRS collects about them.

2. Individuals are entitled to receive and review that information upon request.

3. Individuals are entitled, as provided in the law, to have TRS correct information about them in TRS records that is incorrect.

*In accordance with Ch. 559, Tex. Gov’t Code ii Table of Contents Foreword


Establishing Your Membership in TRS

Refund of Your TRS Contributions

Your Responsibilities as a Member or Annuitant

Establishing TRS Service Credit

Determining Annual Compensation

Beneficiary Designation by Members

Active Member Death Benefits

Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP)

Your Retirement Benefits

What Is My Tier?

Tier 1

Tier 2

Tier 3

Tier 4

Tier 5

Tier 6

How Much Will My Service Retirement Benefit Be?

Disability Retirement

Proportionate Retirement

Applying for Retirement

Termination of Employment Before Retirement

Negotiation for Return to Employment

Required Break in Service

Ready to Retire?

Employment After Retirement

Information for Retirees

Post-Retirement Beneficiary and Payment Plan Changes

Retiree Survivor Benefits

General Information for all TRS Participants

Health Benefit Plans

How to Reach TRS

iii FOREWORD Welcome to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). You are a member of a retirement system that is among the largest in the United States and that was specifically created to serve your needs. Today, more than one million public education employees and annuitants participate in TRS.

TRS has two core responsibilities — to deliver retirement and related benefits that have been authorized by the Texas Legislature, and to manage the trust fund that finances member benefits.

The TRS Benefits Handbook is designed to help you understand your retirement plan benefits. It is organized chronologically to reflect the sequence of events that you may experience while participating in the retirement plan. For example, the TRS Benefits Handbook begins with an explanation of how to become a member and a description of member eligibility requirements. It continues with an explanation of how to apply for and receive retirement benefits.

The TRS Benefits Handbook presents retirement eligibility information by “Tier.” Because the retirement plan has grown more complex as the laws have changed, TRS is using the “tier” structure to help you locate the information that applies to you. To navigate through the various service retirement eligibility requirements, start with the Tier Placement Map on pages 33-34, and then you can go directly to the information for your tier.

If you are interested in how the retirement plan has changed as a result of 2015 legislation or recent TRS rule changes, you can locate this information next to a star-shaped icon as shown at left here. To keep you informed of current developments, TRS also publishes a newsletter, the TRS News, at least twice a year. Also, several brochures that provide in-depth information about various topics are available (see page 74). You can also find a wealth of information about TRS benefits on our website (www.trs.texas.gov). When you are at the website, take a minute to register for MyTRS, which provides you access to your personal TRS account information and offers you the opportunity to receive TRS publications electronically.

We hope you find this handbook and other TRS materials informative and helpful. Should you have questions, the TRS staff welcomes the opportunity to assist you.


The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) administers a pension trust fund that has been serving the needs of Texas public education employees for over 75 years. In November 1936, voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution creating a statewide teacher retirement system, and in 1937, TRS was officially formed. The system is governed by a nine-member board of trustees appointed by the governor with the approval of the Texas Senate.

The TRS retirement plan provides service and disability retirement benefits and death benefits. The plan is administered as a qualified governmental retirement plan under the provisions of Section 401(a) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended. In addition, monthly member contributions are made on a pre-tax basis, meaning that at the time you receive your salary, you do not pay federal income tax on the portion of your salary used to make the contributions. Federal income tax on the contributions and interest is deferred until you receive a distribution from TRS, such as a refund or a retirement annuity. Amounts accumulated in your member account or your retirement benefits become taxable income in the years in which they are paid to you. As a governmental plan, TRS is not an “ERISA” plan under the federal Employees Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

The TRS retirement plan is a defined benefit plan. This designation means that the amount of the benefit you are paid is determined under a formula established by law. Once you begin service retirement under the rules of the plan, you are eligible to receive a monthly benefit for life. Your monthly benefit is “defined” by the formula; it is not limited by the amount of your member contributions to your retirement account.

TRS also administers three other benefit programs established by state law. These programs are separate from the TRS retirement plan and have different eligibility requirements.

Funding for these programs is separate from funding for the retirement plan.

These programs are:

• TRS-Care, the health benefit program for eligible retirees and their eligible dependents,

• TRS-ActiveCare, the health benefit program for eligible active public school employees and their eligible dependents, and

• TRS Group Long-Term Care Insurance, available to eligible TRS members, retirees, and certain members of their families.

The funds of TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare are maintained in separate trust funds.

This handbook focuses primarily on your retirement plan benefits but also includes a brief summary of eligibility for these three health benefit programs. For more detailed information on the health benefit programs administered by TRS, please refer to the TRS website or to specific publications that are available for these programs.E Establishing Your Membership in TRS Your membership begins on your first day of eligible employment with a TRS-covered employer. Your employer provides TRS with information about you and your employment such as your full name, current mailing address, Social Security number, date of birth, date of hire, and the type of position you hold. Retirement plan membership offers you not only service retirement benefits when you qualify based on age and years of service credit, but it also offers you disability retirement benefits and death benefits from the beginning of your career in Texas public education.

TRS will send you a “Welcome to Membership” letter and a Designation of Beneficiary form (TRS 15). You should designate a beneficiary on this form and mail the original directly to TRS as soon as possible. Your employer is not authorized to receive this form on behalf of TRS.

When you send TRS your beneficiary designation, you ensure that benefits payable at your death will be paid to the person or persons you choose. The death benefits are significant and available to your beneficiary from the first day of your TRS membership at no additional cost to you. For example, for members employed in TRS-covered positions, possible death benefits include a lump sum amount that is equal to twice your annual salary, with the lump sum amount payable capped at $80,000. Please see the “Beneficiary Designation by Members” section of this handbook for information to help you complete this form. See the section titled “Active Member Death Benefits” for information on the valuable benefits your beneficiary may be eligible to receive.

As a TRS member, you contribute a percentage of your eligible compensation as your share of the funding for your benefits. The contribution rate is set by the Texas Legislature.

Your employer is required to deduct the contributions from your salary on a pre-tax basis and forward them directly to TRS for each month of eligible employment. Membership in TRS is required by law for eligible employees; participation in the retirement plan cannot be waived.

Covered Employment

Employment that makes you eligible for membership in TRS is:

• regular employment with a single public, state-supported educational institution in Texas that is expected to last for a period of 4½ months or more,

• for one-half or more of the full-time workload, and

• with compensation paid at a rate comparable to the rate of compensation for other persons employed in similar positions.

An employee of a public, state-supported educational institution in Texas is considered to meet these requirements if the employee’s customary employment is for 20 hours or more each week at a single employer and for 4½ months or more in one school year. Employment with an institution of higher education, including community and junior colleges, meets these requirements if the member’s employment is expected to continue for more than one full semester or continues for more than one full semester in the same school year. Beginning Sept.

1, 2015, you must establish TRS membership under a single employer. This new requirement does not prohibit you from working for more than one TRS-covered employer during a school year, but you cannot combine work with more than one employer to establish membership eligibility for that school year.

Full-time workload. Full-time service is employment that is usually 40 clock hours per week.

If the TRS-covered employer has established a lesser requirement for full-time employment for certain positions, full-time service includes employment in those positions. In no event may fulltime employment require less than 30 hours per week.

One-half or more of the full-time workload. If there is no equivalent full-time position for a position, a minimum of 15 hours of service is required per week to qualify the position for TRS membership. This requirement now applies to all positions except adjunct faculty in higher education. Bus drivers no longer have a separate eligibility standard.

Adjunct faculty in higher education. An adjunct faculty position is defined as an instructor position that is filled on a semester-by-semester basis, compensated on a per-class basis, and whose duties include only those directly related to the instruction of students. A minimum of 20 hours per week is required for adjunct faculty to qualify for membership.

When determining whether an employee of an institution of higher education meets the requirement of working one-half time or more, employment measured in semester or course hours or credits, instructional units, or any other unit representing class or instructional time is to be converted to clock hours and counted as a minimum of two clock hours for each clock hour of instruction in the classroom or lab. If the employer has established a greater amount of preparation time of each hour in the classroom or lab, the employer’s standard will be used to determine the number of clock hours scheduled for work. Time spent teaching online classes is counted as two clock hours for every college or semester hour assigned to the class. Time spent teaching continuing education classes, adult education classes and other classes not offered for college credit is evaluated for membership on the number of clock hours worked. The standard of counting each hour of instruction in the classroom or lab as two hours worked is applied only to classes taken for college credit or taken to prepare the student for college level work and expressed in semester or course hours or credits. For adjunct faculty positions, the minimum number of clock hours of employment required for TRS membership eligibility is 20.

All regular employees of the public education system in Texas (employed for 4½ months or more, for one-half time or more, and paid at a rate comparable to other persons employed by that employer in similar positions) must participate in TRS, unless an exception to TRS membership applies.

The following types of Texas public education employees are not required or permitted to

participate as active members in the retirement plan:

• a TRS retiree,

• higher education faculty members and other eligible employees who elect to participate in the Optional Retirement Program (ORP),

• an employee of an institution of higher education who is required to enroll concurrently as a student in the employing institution as a condition of employment and who has no other membership eligible employment,

• a substitute, as defined by TRS rules (to be considered a substitute, the individual must be serving temporarily in a position currently held by another employee and paid at a rate-of-pay that does not exceed the rate for substitute work established by the employer), or

• a person employed on a temporary (less than 4½ months), part-time (less than one-half time), seasonal, or irregular basis.

Creditable Compensation Creditable compensation is an important component in the calculation of your retirement benefit, as well as some types of active member death benefits.

Creditable compensation, for TRS benefit purposes, is defined as eligible salary and wages paid or payable to a member for services rendered during a school year (a 12-month period beginning Sept. 1 and ending Aug. 31). The salary and wages must be payments of money for service, the right to receive the compensation must be earned or accrued proportionately as the service is rendered, and must be paid in normal periodic payments. A member employed in a position eligible for membership through one employer must make contributions on all eligible compensation received from all TRS-covered employers. Employers must report and TRS credits compensation in the month it is paid.

State and federal laws limit the amount and type of compensation creditable with TRS.

Some compensation that you may receive from your employer is non-creditable for TRS purposes. Non-creditable compensation cannot be used in determining the amount of TRS

benefits. Examples of non-creditable compensation include:

Unused compensatory leave. Payments for unused compensatory leave, including compensatory leave for FLSA overtime worked, are non-creditable compensation. Payment required by law for overtime worked is creditable only if it meets all criteria for salary and wages, including payment of money at fixed intervals, generally at the end of each pay period.

When FLSA overtime is not paid at the end of each pay period in which the overtime was worked but instead the employee is awarded compensatory leave in lieu of salary or wages and paid later, such as in an annual payment for the unused leave, the payment is non-creditable.

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