This article appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of The Classroom Teacher.

Whether you’re considering retiring soon or are years away, it’s important to understand the details of your TRS benefits and how the system works.

Do I need to look at that TRS statement I get every year?

Absolutely! This is one of the most important things you can do to avoid unpleasant surprises when you’re getting ready to retire. Our legal department often talks to members who find that they have not received TRS credit for a year they thought they had earned. The deadlines to remedy errors or to claim credit can be short, so even if you’re not planning to retire soon, you should check your TRS statement regularly. Anytime you have an atypical year involving a lengthy absence — a common example is an employee who has been injured on the job and is taking leave with worker’s compensation benefits — you run the risk of not receiving credit at TRS for your year of service. 

(Don’t confuse your TRS service credit record with the service record that determines your place on the salary schedule — they are two different records with different rules. You can receive a year of credit in TRS without getting credit for that year on the salary schedule, and vice versa.)

Is my retirement number the Rule of 80 or Rule of 90?

It’s the Rule of 80 (or age 65 with at least five years of TRS credit). There is no requirement that anyone meet a Rule of 90 for normal retirement. But there are variations — generally speaking, some employees who want to take advantage of the “partial lump sum option” will have to meet a Rule of 90, and newer employees can retire upon meeting the Rule of 80 but will also have to be at least age 60 or age 62 to receive full benefits. Check the TRS Benefits Handbook to figure out what “tier” you’re in and how that affects your retirement eligibility and benefits.

I’ve heard I don’t have to work a whole year to get a year of TRS credit — how does that work?

The rules differ depending on whether or not you’re retiring that year. If you are in your last year of employment before retiring, you only have to work the full fall semester to get credit for the year. 

If you are not retiring, you can get credit for the year by working at least 90 days between Sept. 1 and Aug. 31. The fall semester typically does not include 90 work days starting with Sept. 1, so you will likely need to work additional days after the winter break to meet this requirement. Keep in mind there may be contract issues associated with leaving mid-year; for employees who are not yet retiring, taking advantage of this provision is most common in situations of urgency such as maternity leave, health problems or family emergencies.

I need a large sum of money for personal reasons — can I withdraw money from TRS or borrow against it?

No, your TRS funds can only be accessed by retiring or by withdrawing the full amount after leaving TRS-covered work. 

I’m leaving teaching but I’m not yet eligible for retirement. Should I take my money out of TRS?

If there is any chance you might come back to the profession, it is generally not wise to withdraw your funds. When you return, you’ll be treated as a new employee for TRS purposes and will be subject to the newest retirement eligibility requirements, including a minimum age of 62 for full benefits. In addition, you will have to pay to restore the years of credit you withdrew, and the cost goes up every year. Other factors to consider if you do not retire through TRS are that you will lose your eligibility for TRS-Care, and that a TRS pension might be your only opportunity for a guaranteed monthly check (unless you are eligible for Social Security or have access to pension payments via your spouse).

I am hoping to go back to a job at my school after I retire — what do I need to know to make sure I don’t jeopardize my monthly TRS check?

The best place for comprehensive information about retire/rehire is TRS’s online brochure “Employment After Retirement.” But the basics are:

  • You must sit out at least a full calendar month after retiring before you can return to a job with a TRS-covered employer.
  • If you sit out for a full 12 months without any TRS-covered employment (e.g., no substitute teaching), you can return full time without penalty.
  • You can return after the one full calendar month, without the 12-month break, as a substitute or as much as half time in a non-substitute position. But check TRS’s rules carefully to make sure you understand their definition of “substitute” and the rules about the limits on hours and days worked.

This article is not intended to serve as financial advice; check with TRS or your financial advisor.