Further Clarification on Illinois Pension Reform

Updated information on this subject can be found in our latest blog post. This post follows up my initial posting about Illinois Pension reform and specifically how it impacts State University Retirement System (SURS) members.  You can read my original post here.

Notwithstanding the likely legal challenges of pension reform, many items are subject to interpretation in the new law.  It is likely additional legislative guidance will be needed to fully understand the impact of these reforms.  This post is based on information from a knowledgeable representative of SURS, but may change in the future.

Pensionable Earnings Limits

See the original post for complete details on this change.  A question that arose is, if your income currently exceeds the limit, how would your future contributions be affected?

SURS interpretation is that your contributions will be based on pensionable earnings.  Similar those who contribute to social security, no SURS contributions will be required on salary exceeding the limit.  If your salary is grandfathered in, contributions are up to your grandfathered salary.  No future pay increases exceeding the limit will increase your grandfathered limit or contributions.

For example, your salary in 2013 is $150,000.  The pensionable earnings limit is $110,631.26.  You receive a pay increase to $160,000.  Your pensionable limit remains at $150,000 and contributions are based on salary up to that limit.

Future raises will not increase your grandfathered limit, which is equal to the participant’s annualized rate of earnings as of June 1, 2014.

Money Purchase Changes

This was not mentioned in my last posting, but changes are also being made to the Money Purchase Formula, which is one of three options for calculating your defined benefit pension.  The annuity under this method is calculated by a cash value (determined from contributions made by the employee, employer, plus an effective interest rate determined annually).  If used, this system determines the annuity from cash value using an actuarial table.  The larger the cash value, the larger the annuity (up to limits).  The effective interest rate of that cash value going forward will be the 30-year US Treasury bond rate plus 75 basis points (0.75%).  Estimating the current 30-year US Treasury bond rate at 3.85%, the current Effective Interest Rate would be equal to 4.6%.  Compare this to the effective interest rate 7/1/12 through 6/30/13 of 7.5%.  As the interest rate is decreased, the potential cash value will grow more slowly therefore slowing the potential growth of the annuity.

This will also affect purchasing of service credit and the refund for those in the Portable system.

You should also note, the actuarial assumptions used in determining the annuity tables may now be revised annually.  If experienced lifespans are increased or earnings are decreased, annuities calculated under this system would also decrease.